Guide To Durban Climate Talks and The Oil-Rich Middle East

durban-climate-change-oil-gulf-middle-eastGulf States have been drilling oil for decades now. Can we really get them to co-operate at the upcoming climate summit in Durban and re-think oil?

Climate negotiations to get world leaders to agree to a fair and binding agreement that will keep climate change in check have been ticking away in the background for a while now. Around six months ago, climate negotiations continued in Bonn and sadly, the Middle East wasn’t exactly making a positive contribution. Saudi Arabia was criticized for its attempts to delay progress and Kuwait, Oman and Qatar were awarded the ‘Fossil of the Day’ title for holding up the talks. So will this year be any different?

Well, not really. According to Gustav Boethius, a researcher at the Middle East Institute who is interested in energy security and climate change in the Gulf nations, unless oil-rich countries are presented with an alternative route to continue their economic development they will struggle to support a climate deal.

Saudi Arabia Has A Lot (Of Money) To Lose From Climate Deal

However, that doesn’t mean the Gulf nations are one monolith with the same agenda- rather they have slightly different economies which mean they have different stances. Saudi Arabia relies heavily on oil and so any attempt to limit its use (to cut carbon emissions) is seen as a threat to its economy.

In the past, representatives have tried to delay a climate agreement and demanded compensation for any lost oil revenue caused by a climate deal. Boethius argues that Saudis fear being singled out as an environmental culprit and see a climate deal as a greater threat than competition from oil rivals. Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman share the same concerns about the economic impact of a climate deal.

Qatar’s Bid To Host Future Climate Summit

Qatar plays a more complex role.  Boethius states that although the country hasn’t been outspoken on the issue, behind the scenes they are playing a constructive role and are one of two bidders hoping to host the next climate summit. “Qatar’s willingness to play this role [host for climate summit], and to accept such a political risk, should be seen as a genuine effort to bridge the gap between the talks’ opposing camps in order to achieve a positive outcome,” argues Boethius.

Taking a more progressive stance is the United Arab Emirates. They are a lot more open about their level of commitment and their limitations; as such they are playing a more constructive role at the talks.

Providing Alternative Economic Options To Oil

However, Boethius states that the UAE can afford to take this stance, as unlike Saudi Arabia, its economy doesn’t rely so heavily on hydrocarbons. And Qatar’s cleaner gas reserves are a greener alternative to oil. In sum, “when it comes to the GCC, the level of unwillingness to curb global greenhouse gas emission appears to be directly related to the degree of fiscal dependence on fossil fuel exports.”

Consequently, the climate talks will only get oil-rich countries on board with cutting carbon if they provide the hydrocarbon exporting countries with other economic options. Until then, we aren’t likely to see the Gulf nations of the Middle East embracing a climate deal.

::  Gustav Boethius at

: Image via David C. Foster/flickr.

For more on the climate talks see:

Faith Leader Prepare For Upcoming Climate Summit In South Africa

Bonn: The Latest Climate Talks and The Middle East

Cancun Ends On Slightly Better Note Than Copenhagen

The Middle Eastern View Of Copenhagen

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