One of the world’s largest oil producers, Saudi Arabia, has announced it aims to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2060 to curb manmade climate change.
Alongside the pledge made on Saturday the Saudis made no mention of reducing investment in oil and gas or moving away from the production of fossil fuels. Riyadh is forecast to make $150bn (GBP109bn) in oil revenues this year alone.
The announcement, made by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the start of the kingdom’s first Saudi Green Initiative Forum, was made ahead of the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
The prince vowed Saudi Arabia will plant 450m trees and rehabilitate huge swaths of land by 2030, reducing more than 270m tons of carbon emissions a year and attempting to turn Riyadh into a more sustainable capital.
The kingdom joins the ranks of Russia and China on their stated net zero target date of 2060. The US and the EU have aimed for 2050.
Saudi Arabia criticises those who say fossil fuels must be urgently phased out, warning a premature switch could lead to price volatility and shortages. Leaked documents showed how the kingdom and other nations were lobbying before the Glasgow summit to change language relating to emissions.
Saudi Arabia said it will reach net zero through a so-called carbon circular economy approach, which advocates “reduce, reuse, recycle and remove”.
Experts said sharp cuts are needed worldwide as soon as possible to ensure global warming can be capped at 1.5C (2.7 degrees fahrenheit) as agreed in the 2015 Paris accord.
The kingdom – which has about 17% of known petrol reserves – supplies 10% of global oil demand.
Saudi Arabia said the transition to net zero carbon emissions “will be delivered in a manner that preserves the kingdom’s leading role in enhancing the security and stability of global energy markets”.
Prince Abdulaziz said every nation’s approach to cutting emissions will look different. “No one should be too facetious about what tool in the kit that everybody would have,” he said. “But if your tools in your kit and mine delivers emissions reductions, that’s the ask and that’s the objective,” he said.
The Cop26 president, Alok Sharma, welcomed the news. “I hope this landmark announcement … will galvanise ambition from others ahead of COP26,” he tweeted. He was looking forward to seeing more details on the Saudi plan, he said.