Saudi Arabia Tries To Stall Global Emissions Limits Saudi Arabia's strategy on climate change has long been to deny the science. Saudis fear that reducing emissions will reduce oil exports and be catastrophic for their economy.
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Saudi Arabia Tries To Stall Global Emissions Limits

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Now to one powerful dissident at the Copenhagen Climate Conference: Saudi Arabia. The oil-producing giant has long played what many environmental groups call an obstructionist role in climate change negotiations. Saudis fear that reducing emissions will reduce oil exports and destroy their economy.

Kelly McEvers has the story from Riyadh.

KELLY MCEVERS: For years, the Saudi strategy was to deny the science. The evidence was uncertain. They and other oil-producing countries claimed that people cause climate change. Then, a few years ago, they shifted their focus to stall tactics, like inserting dummy text into agreements they knew no one would ratify or demanding payments of one to $200 billion to offset future losses in oil revenue. Now that e-mails have emerged supporting the so-called climate skeptics, Saudi negotiators are back to their original tactic: Deny the science.

Speaking through an interpreter during Monday's opening ceremonies in Copenhagen, Saudi Arabia's longtime climate negotiator, Mohammad Al-Sabban, talks about the great sacrifices his country would have to make to reduce carbon emissions.

Dr. MOHAMMAD AL-SABBAN (Negotiator, Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources): (Through Translator) The volume and the size of those sacrifices must be predicated on a sound scientific basis and must be built on a secure foundation of information, which is what we found now is not true and that our high level of trust has suffered.

MCEVERS: Sabban says before negotiations can continue, an independent body should investigate the so-called Climategate scandal - the e-mails suggesting that some scientists have suppressed research that shows people don't cause climate change.

Malini Mehra heads a nonprofit environmental group with offices in the U.K. and India.

Ms. MALINI MEHRA (Founder/Director, Center for Social Markets): Saying now that they are skeptical about the climate science shows just how transparent the agenda is. And that is one to try and deflect and subvert the attention away from the need for climate action right now.

MCEVERS: Mehra says studies show Saudi Arabia is in the top 20 carbon polluters in the world. But ask most Saudis and climate change isn't such a big concern. It's already hot here, the thinking goes, so what if it gets a few degrees hotter?

Mansour Al-Mazrouei, who heads a new center for climate change at a Saudi university, is trying to counter that thinking. He says the number of weather-related disasters here is on the rise, like sandstorms and long-term droughts followed by heavy rains. Such flooding killed more than 100 people last month on the country's west coast.

Dr. MANSOUR AL-MAZROUEI (Department of Meteorology, King Abdulaziz University): I think the link is not clear. But if this is going to be frequent, then this is an indication of climate change.

MCEVERS: Knowing this, why would Saudi Arabia continue to try and thwart negotiations at Copenhagen? One answer is that an exploding population here won't be able to survive on dwindling oil revenues.

Western diplomats and watchdog groups say the Saudis know an agreement to limit carbon emissions is likely. They're just trying to delay it as long as possible. That means using Saudi wealth and power to influence poor or weaker nations in the G-77 plus China, that's a group of developing countries that wants money from developed countries to help them curb emissions.

Again, Malini Mehra.

Ms. MEHRA: Saudi Arabia is one of the richest countries in the world. I mean it's quite ridiculous that it sits within the G-77. So they're hardly at the top of anyone's list for financial assistance.

MCEVERS: Now that China and India have pledged to curb their emissions, Mehra says the Saudis will have less influence in the G-77, which means less influence overall.

Mari Luomi is a researcher at a Finnish government think tank who wrote a recent paper on Saudi Arabia's role in climate change negotiations. She says, in the end, Saudi Arabia is likely to cooperate at Copenhagen. That's because if it wants help diversifying its economy and exploring new technology, like carbon capture and storage, Copenhagen is the place to get it.

Ms. MARI LUOMI (Researcher, Finnish Institute of International Affairs): Saudi Arabia will not stay outside alone if a treaty is agreed upon, because then its interests will be even less served than they are now.

MCEVERS: For NPR News, I'm Kelly McEvers, Riyadh.

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