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Surprise, Saudi Arabia Not Excited About Carbon Cuts

At the climate talks in Bonn this week, Saudi Arabia's top climate negotiator told Reuters that, guess what, he wasn't thrilled with the move to rein in global greenhouse-gas emissions. "It's a matter of survival for us, also," Mohammad Al Sabban said. "So we are among the most vulnerable countries. Saudi Arabia has not done that much yet to diversity." Still, Al Sabban insisted that Saudi Arabia would try to play a constructive role in treaty negotiations this time around, even though the country has been accused of hijacking and filibustering discussions at past climate talks.

Some of Saudi Arabia's lost of demands for the Copenhagen treaty talks this December sound fair enough—it wants climate regulations and taxes to focus primarily on carbon rather than energy per se, which would somewhat benefit oil, since it's less carbon-intensive than coal. (That's why cap-and-trade systems tend to raise gasoline prices only modestly, which means that attempts to influence driving behavior through price usually require a separate gas tax—something the Saudis would presumably oppose.) The country also wants to eliminate subsidies for biofuels, which doesn't seem too preposterous, given the total mess our corn ethanol dalliances have caused, creating more pollution than gasoline and jacking up food prices. Biofuels of the future may fare better, but so far the picture's been grim.

But the most eye-catching proposal is that Saudi Arabia wants assistance to adapt to a low-carbon world. Now, many poorer countries have called for a global adaptation fund to help them adjust to things like rising sea levels and increased drought—just look at Bangladesh, where the salt water from rising seas are already destroying rice fields and local shrimp farms, and catastrophic floods have become more frequent. So far, rich countries have been stingy about contributing to that fund, and that's likely to be a major sticking point going forward. And now Saudi Arabia wants assistance to adjust not just to climate change, but to climate policies—its oil-centric economy, after all, will be seriously impacted by carbon caps. Not sure how far they'll get with that argument...

Flickr photo credit: Pulicciano

--Bradford Plumer