Those of you following me on Twitter have probably noticed that I was in Lebanon for a few days last week. I was participating in a media workshop on climate change organized by the League of Independent Activist aka IndyACT. The venue of the workshop was the MFDCL hostel and training center, located in a pristine, small forest in the quaint village of Ramlieh in the Aley District, Mount Lebanon, at an altitude of 800 m. It was a bit of a hassle to get there, but I was glad they chose this place, 40 Km away from Beirut and its tourists and humidity.
The goal of the workshop was to instill a sense of urgency over climate change, which has become a serious threat to humanity. That’s why the climate change summit that will take place in Copenhagen later this year possess a great significance. Officials from 192 countries will try to agree a new climate treaty as a successor to the Kyoto protocol. If no agreement is reached, life on earth will not be as we once knew it. Small, beautiful islands like the Maldives would simply disappear:
Environmental issues have never attracted enough attention in Saudi Arabia. Such issues do not seem like a priority for the government (what are their priorities, btw?) and the lack of a civil society mean that taking care of the environment is left to non-institutionalized, individual efforts. It is true that we as citizens should contribute as much as we can, but the challenge we face today calls for action on larger scale.
As the world’s biggest oil producer, Saudi Arabia must act responsibly and play a a constructive role in protecting the environment, but the fact that our economy is dependent on oil has made the government take a negative stance on the necessity of reducing greenhouse gases emissions. And it’s not only economics, it’s also about political influence that comes with oil. This stance is also shared by other oil producing countries like Kuwait. When asked how much of financial aid would it take for them to change their environmental policies, a Kuwaiti official explicitly said it’s not about the money.
Some environmental activists suggest that Qatar can work to exert pressure on Saudi Arabia here, but I really doubt that Qatar would sacrifice their recently improved relations with the big neighbour over an issue like climate change (shocking, I know). So counting on Qatar seems like wishful thinking to me.
The Saudi stance does not strike me as the result of ignorance or denial, but rather stems from underestimating how urgent the issue of climate change is. The government is also well aware that oil will not last forever, and they know it is not wise to be overdependent on its revenues in a volatile energy market. They are already moving in the direction of diversifying their economy by investing in different sectors and industries.
Saving the world is a very noble goal, but sadly it is not enough of a reason to convince countries to change their greedy policies. To win this battle you need to convince them what’s good for them in it. The Saudi attitude here reminds me of the US attitude. It took the US a change of administration to change their position. I don’t know what would it take to change the Saudi position.