Recent net zero emission pledges by major fossil fuel producing countries by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Russia represent high-risk development pathways as they do not include plans to reduce oil and gas production investments and are heavily reliant on carbon capture and storage applications, experts told Anadolu Agency.
Ahead of the United Nation's climate summit, COP26, which will take place in Glasgow, Scotland between Oct. 31 and Nov. 12, new climate pledges and announcements from several countries and companies have accelerated.
The last among these new commitments came from Russia and Saudi Arabia with a net zero target by 2060 and the UAE by 2050.
In an announcement last week, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said his country would reach a net zero emissions target without affecting the 'stability of global energy markets' with plans relying on the 'availability of the required technologies to manage and reduce emissions'.
Oil and gas major countries face criticism, as they mostly do not plan to reduce investment plans on fossil fuel production and lack short-term targets.
'Long-term targets to reach net zero can only be credible with short-term measures to deliver them. It is absolutely critical that these countries set ambitious 2030 climate targets that are aligned with their net zero commitments,' Tom Evans, a researcher at London-based think tank E3G's Geopolitics, Climate Diplomacy and Security program, told Anadolu Agency.
He noted that frontloading climate action in the 2020s - rather than delaying emissions reductions until later this century - is essential.
'We are on track for a 16% increase in emissions by 2030 under current plans. Yet we need to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030 to keep hopes of limiting global warming to 1.5C in reach. So net zero pledges from Saudi Arabia, Russia and the UAE also need to be complemented with immediate commitments to reduce emissions now,' Evans said.
He highlighted the inconsistency of committing to a net zero target while leaving plans to produce and export fossil fuels untouched. He urged oil-producing countries to deliver real progress on their climate targets now instead of pledging net zero targets that are divorced from this reality.
-Net zero pledges need to adjust to diversification strategy from fossil fuels
Pledges by the UAE, Russia and Saudi Arabia to achieve a net-zero emissions economy are on the one side a clear sign that major fossil fuel producers, in their own way, are starting to acknowledge the climate impacts on their economies, Maria Pastukhova, a senior policy advisor at E3G, said.
She said the commitments are primarily about managing the risk which non-action on climate change poses for the competitiveness of their economies amid the global energy transition.
But she advised that detailed strategies are needed as a follow-up, including a reduction in domestic coal and oil consumption.
'Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE aim for a renewables-dominated electricity mix, Russia is betting on coal-to-gas switch, deployment of new nuclear and renewables, a new electric vehicle concept is being negotiated,' she said.
Regardless of these positive developments, Pastukhova said the pledges in their current form represent a very high-risk development pathway, as they are also heavily reliant on carbon capture and storage (CCS) applications and the use of carbon offsets.
'It is theoretically possible to achieve a net-zero emissions economy relying to a large part on CCS and expansion of carbon sinks, but it is by no means certain that CCS applications can be commercialized and scaled up to a level for which these fossil fuel producing countries are hoping, potentially leaving them with massive stranded assets and far behind their own emissions reduction commitments by the mid-century,' she said.
She warned of the need for these countries to consider that their net zero pledges do not exist in a vacuum.
'While Saudi Arabia, UAE and Russia aim for net-zero emissions of their economy, for now they do not plan to drastically cut their exported emissions via cutting the oil and gas production and export and this is the biggest weakness of the current strategies,' she said.
Major fossil fuel consumers plan to reduce their demand for oil and gas dramatically starting in 2030. Furthermore, the International Energy Agency announced that no new investment in oil and gas is needed globally, which producer countries need to take into consideration.
'It is theoretically possible to achieve domestic net-zero emissions without cutting oil production for export,' Pastukhova said.
'However, the net-zero pathways for which these fossil fuel producing countries are now aiming are very high-risk, detached from the net-zero commitments made earlier by the major fossil fuel consuming countries and, unless adjusted to include an aggressive diversification strategy away from reliance on fossil fuel exports, are a danger to their economic coherence and competitiveness in the mid-term.'
The need for Gulf countries to diversify their economies that are reliant on oil and gas revenues is urgently increasing amid the global clean energy transition.
According to Axel Dalman, associate oil and gas analyst at Carbon Tracker, economic diversification is not a new policy priority in the petrostates but the drive for net zero offers an opportunity to kick it up into high gear.
'Luckily, the Gulf states also have enormous potential for renewable energy via solar, not just to decarbonize their own energy systems but also to leverage for more export-ready hydrogen production,' Dalman said.
Referring to a Carbon Tracker report, he said that as the energy transition and policy action disrupt fossil fuel demand, the majority of petrostates will see state revenue from oil and gas fall sharply, by at least half over the next two decades.
Oil and gas earnings account for around 70% of Saudi Arabia's government revenue and 50% of the UAE, according to Dalman, who says such reliance on hydrocarbon revenue is a fundamental threat to fiscal stability.
'While the Gulf states may have great potential for decarbonizing their own economies, they cannot rely on selling oil and gas at high prices to other countries in the meantime,' he noted.
-CCS technologies have 'very consistent track record of failure'
Dalman stated that as CCS technologies have a very consistent track record of failure, it would be a huge mistake to make them the centerpiece of any decarbonization strategy.
'Carbon capture just means adding a significant cost to fossil fuels whereas alternative technologies like renewables, batteries and hydrogen offer the chance to actually grow with and profit from the energy transition.
'Successful economic transformation will inevitably mean looking to the future, not trying to preserve the status quo,' he said.
By Nuran Erkul Kaya