Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, aims to significantly reduce carbon emissions by 2060, a target set by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at a summit on climate change Monday in Paris.
The 34-year-old crown prince called the measures necessary to give the planet a “healthy environment, a stable climate and sustainably a productive society.”
Saudi Arabia’s goals include generating a fifth of the country’s energy from solar power by 2040 and shutting down its oil-burning power stations, according to the Saudi Arabia Petroleum Ministry.
Prince Mohammed also called for the development of the Saudi nuclear program, insisting that nuclear power will become an additional source of renewable energy to take advantage of improving technology.
The meeting in Paris — the first to be convened by the United Nations in a decade — comes as delegates from more than 190 countries seek to strike a deal to curb carbon emissions through a deal aimed at limiting global warming.
The leadership of Saudi Arabia — whose leaders have faced criticism in recent years for responding to unrest with a wave of arrests and the push to adopt the strict Islamic Shariah law system — was met with widespread skepticism when it met with U.N. and international environmentalists last year to announce its target to achieve a net-zero carbon emissions by 2060.
The goal marked a significant policy change for Saudi Arabia, a Gulf Arab country with a vast oil industry that has been criticized by international environmentalists for its record on climate change.
Saudi Arabia had faced repeated criticism for its role in blocking efforts for a U.N. climate pact to apply to its oil-rich country and other nations in the Middle East. Those efforts faded after the world saw the devastation caused by record-breaking heat waves and droughts that scientists say was caused in part by the same heat and dry weather that has been seen in the Middle East.
“I don’t expect anything groundbreaking out of this summit,” said James Hansen, a NASA climate scientist who is also a special adviser to the U.N. Environment Program.
However, he said the Saudi crown prince’s stated commitment to the shifting energy mix could open the door to the country, which relies on fossil fuels for the vast majority of its electricity and transportation fuel needs, including carbon-based fuels for electricity, achieving its targets.
Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said last year that the country was targeting diversifying its energy mix to 60 percent from fossil fuels by 2040.
“I don’t think they will be able to hit any of those numbers by 2060, but we should look forward to this weekend’s outcome to be a positive step toward achieving them,” said Lars Pedersen-Larsen, director of the U.N.’s oceans and atmosphere program.
Saudi Arabia has the world’s fourth-largest proven oil reserves, or some 264 billion barrels.
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