It’s not long now till the climate summit follow up to Durban, is held in Qatar later this year. And in response to the eyes that will be soon focusing on the Middle East, it appears that climate skeptics are being pushed away to the sidelines – if temporarily. In Saudi Arabia, the notoriously climate skeptic Mohammed Al-Sabban has been replaced by the well-respected Khalid Abuleif as the leading voice at the climate negotiations for the country. Kelly Rigg at HuffPost argues that this and a recent speech by the oil minister shows that Saudi may finally be prepared to play “a more progressive and less obstructionist role in the negotiations.”
At the Bonn climate talks, Saudi Arabia hit the headlines for trying to delay the progress by insisting that an agreement wasn’t necessary for another 18 months. For this and their demand to receive compensation for the loss of oil revenue in a post-oil future, Saudi Arabia was awarded the ‘Fossil of the Day’ by the Climate Action Network, an alliance of various green NGO’s. At Durban, Saudi was equally dubious about the talks and feared being singled out as an environmental culprit. The oil-rich country also sees a climate deal as a greater threat than competition from oil rivals.
Saudi’s (now replaced) lead climate negotiator Mohammed Al-Sabban also told BBC News in 2009 that, “Climate is changing for thousands of years, but for natural and not human-induced reasons. So, whatever the international community does to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will have no effect on the climate’s natural variability.”
However, in a speech delivered in late January the Saudi Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources said: “Greenhouse gas emissions and global warming are among humanity’s most pressing concerns. Societal expectations on climate change are real, and our industry is expected to take a leadership role. We are doing this in Saudi Arabia.”
The shift in rhetoric is quite something. Indeed, Rigg spoke to Wael Hmaidan of IndyACT who said that having the conference in the Arabian Gulf could well inspire change. “In practice this will mean higher-level involvement of decision makers, ruling families, civil society, and other stakeholders,” he said. “This could lead to more awareness of the importance of climate change, and thus a more progressive regional position in the negotiations.”
This change should, however, be taken with a pinch of salt. At this stage it’s hard to tell whether these changes signal a real shift in views or whether this is just window dressing in time for the Qatar summit. Even so, as Rigg remarks “When even the world’s leading oil supplier says it’s time to deal with climate change, it’s a strong sign that the decade-long climate denial campaign has failed.”
: Image via Bakar_88/flickr.
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