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Sharm El Sheikh: Good cop, bad cop

The practical plans of the Saudi oil producers at Cop27 compared favourably with the more heated debates and protests at the climate summit

Cop27 Reuters/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
Climate activist protests at Cop27 contrasted with the pragmatic approach of oil producers

In the early hours of last Sunday the crowd in Sharm El Sheikh’s Hard Rock Café by Laguna Beach was beginning to resemble the first week of the Cop27 climate summit a few kilometres down the road in the Egyptian resort – noisy, quarrelsome and increasingly directionless.

As the Cop27 revellers cranked up the volume, it was easy to forget that this event was intended to tackle perhaps humanity’s most pressing challenge, the battle against climate change, rather than simply another monster seaside rave.

But I suppose the youthful Cop27 attendees needed some release after the first week of the summit, which was marked by division, acrimony and intolerance. Many of them must have learned that this climate change business was rather more complicated than a call to “just stop oil”.

The first week had revealed deep divisions between the advanced economies of the West, and the developing world.

On a whole range of issues – climate “reparations”, financial assistance from west to east and north to south for the energy transition, and accelerated commitment to Paris Agreement targets – the Blue Zone (the high security area where negotiators meet) was a mass of contradictions and conflict.

Even the presence of hydrocarbon industry representatives, which had been welcomed as a common-sense approach to climate change issues, was a source of discontent, with many environmental activists openly hostile to the “suits” and their lobbyists, according to reports.

How you can begin to tackle climate change without the vital engagement of the hydrocarbon industry is beyond me.

This fractiousness was in such stark contrast to the atmosphere at the Saudi Green Initiative (SGI) – the kingdom’s contribution to the climate change debate, hosted on the sidelines of the main Blue Zone event – that it was almost as though there were two Cops going on simultaneously in Sharm.

The SGI was a very different affair. Sober, practical, and pragmatic, it was a gathering of industry experts and energy policymakers who, while by no means underestimating the scale or urgency of the climate change challenge, talked sense based on scientific and commercial reality.

And who, in the theme of the event, were keen to proceed from ambition to action, amid an increasing confidence that the Paris Agreement goals could be met.

So, Saudi policymakers announced a string of practical steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate climate change.

Saudi Aramco, for example, unveiled a hub for carbon capture and storage in the Jubail industrial City that will remove 9 million tonnes of CO2 per year from the economic cycle – a big step towards the 2035 target of 44 million tonnes.

It was also announced that in the past year Saudi Arabia has planted 18 million trees as the first step towards a phase one target of 600 million that will swell to 10 billion in the decades to come; detailed plans for a voluntary market in carbon credits based in Riyadh; and the roll out of a project to provide clean cooking fuels to 750 million people in energy-poor parts of the world.

The kingdom’s Public Investment Fund, which has already launched its first multi-billion dollar “green” bond, also committed itself to reaching net zero in its own operations by 2050.

Set against these tangible actions, over at the official Cop27, there are of course still some days to go, and it is in the nature of these things that the negotiators could pull off a breakthrough deal in the closing hours  – on finance, on coal usage, or on increased commitments regarding emission targets.

How they would party in the Hard Rock Café if that happens. But don’t hold your breath.

Frank Kane is a communications adviser and an award-winning business and finance journalist

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