October 2021 saw an improvement in Saudi Arabia’s commitment to climate action within its own borders when it updated its Paris Agreement pledge and announced a net zero target for 2060. We expect Saudi Arabia’s emissions to increase in the coming years but to stabilise in the second half of this decade. These changes lead to an improvement in its CAT rating from “Critically insufficient” to “Highly insufficient”.
Saudi Arabia’s commitments do not resolve concerns about its role as one of the world’s leading fossil fuel exporters. Its updated Paris Agreement pledge is explicitly based on a scenario with substantial fossil fuel exports and has a “getout clause” if international climate change policies negatively affect these exports. Shortly before the Saudi government released its updated emissions pledge, the national oil company Saudi Aramco announced it would aim to increase oil production capacity during this decade.
Saudi Arabia’s national emissions have recently decreased after peaking in 2015, partly due to a decrease in oil consumption in the electricity sector and, more recently, due to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the related global decline in oil consumption. Saudi Arabia has taken little concrete climate action beyond some investments into public and rail transportation, and initial steps to develop renewable energy.
Since 2013 the Saudi government has announced various renewable energy targets, but implementation is still missing. The latest target aims for 50% of electricity to be generated with renewable energy by 2030. Yet in 2019, only around 0.1% of electricity was generated with renewable energy.
For decades, oil production has been the backbone of the Saudi economy, and still contributes to a sizeable share of its GDP. The Saudi government is now promoting what it calls a ‘circular carbon economy’ to reduce emissions from oil and gas operations, with Saudi Aramco committing to net zero operational emissions by 2050. This, however, only addresses a fraction of relevant emissions in Saudi Arabia and globally, as most emissions related to oil and gas come from fuel combustion rather than extraction and processing.
Many of the world’s largest economies, and largest oil consumers, have already committed to net zero emissions by around mid-century—as has Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom’s current diversification plans away from heavy economic dependency on oil revenues do not adequately address scenarios in which global oil consumption significantly declines in the coming decades, in line with what is required to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement.
Saudi Arabia has announced it aims to plant 450 million trees by 2030—with a long-term target of 10 billion trees, and collaborative efforts to plant 50 billion trees in the Middle East. If Saudi Arabia plans to heavily rely on an increased forest sink, then emissions in other sectors, such as energy and transport, could increase significantly. The 2060 net zero target does not specify the extent to which it would rely on the forestry and land use emissions sink.
The CAT rates Saudi Arabia’s climate targets and policies as “Highly insufficient”. The “Highly insufficient” rating indicates that Saudi Arabia’s climate policies and commitments reflect minimal to no action, leading to rising rather than falling emissions and are not at all consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 temperature limit.
Saudi Arabia’s 2030 climate commitment is unclear, as the government has not published the baseline corresponding to its Paris Agreement target. Saudi Arabia’s 2030 emissions reduction target is rated as “Critically insufficient” when compared with its fair-share contribution to climate action, and is consistent with more than 4°C of warming. The 2030 target is rated as ‘Insufficient’ when compared to modelled domestic pathways, downscaled from global least-cost scenarios. Saudi Arabia’s policies could lead to its emissions peaking in the second half of this decade, but still only in line with 2°C to 3°C warming. Saudi Arabia still needs to strengthen its target for emissions reductions and implement additional policies to get a rating aligned to the Paris Agreement
We rate Saudi Arabia’s policies and actions as “Insufficient”. The “Insufficient” rating indicates that Saudi Arabia’s climate policies and action in 2030 need substantial improvements to be consistent with the 1.5°C temperature limit. If all countries were to follow Saudi Arabia’s approach, warming would reach over 2°C and up to 3°C.
Saudi Arabia has put few climate policies in place beyond some investments into rail and public transportation, and diversification efforts to move away from a fossil fuel-based economy have been slow. Emissions in the electricity sector have declined in the past years, largely due to a decrease in oil consumption in the electricity sector.
Saudi Arabia’s Paris Agreement pledge states it aims for 50% of electricity to be generated with renewable energy and 50% with natural gas by 2030—a target that is also confirmed in the updated Vision 2030 from October 2021. We estimate this could decrease emissions by nearly 100 MtCO2e compared to levels resulting from current policies. It could however also lead to substantial investments in natural gas, which also needs to be phased out in Paris-compatible pathways. It is unclear whether this target is in line with a previous Vision 2030 target announced 2019, aiming to achieve 27.3 GW and 57.8 GW of installed renewable electricity capacity by 2023 and 2030 respectively. Despite announcing its first renewables target in 2013, and despite its vast solar energy resource, Saudi Arabia had only installed about 0.4 GW of renewable energy capacity by 2020, generating around 0.1% of total electricity.
The government has announced it aims to plant 450 million trees by 2030 and 10 billion trees over the coming decades as part of the Saudi Green Initiative. According to government, this initiative foresees afforestation and land restoration measures increase the Kingdom’s forestry sink to 200 MtCO2e by 2030. In 2012, the latest year for which national data is available, the land use and forestry sink stood at just 9 MtCO2e, with forests covering a mere 0.5% of Saudi Arabia’s total land area in 2020.
The full policies and action analysis can be found here.
We rate the proposed 2030 reduction target levels as “Highly insufficient” when compared to domestic pathways (derived from global least cost modelled domestic pathways). The “Highly insufficient” rating indicates that Saudi Arabia’s domestic target in 2030 leads to rising, rather than falling, emissions and is not at all consistent with the 1.5°C temperature limit. If all countries were to follow Saudi Arabia’s approach, warming could reach over 3°C and up to 4°C.
We rate Saudi Arabia’s NDC “Critically insufficient”. The “Critically insufficient” rating indicates that Saudi Arabia’s fair share target in 2030 reflects minimal to no action and is not at all consistent with the 1.5°C temperature limit. Saudi Arabia’s target is not in line with any interpretation of a fair approach to meeting the 1.5°C limit. If all countries were to follow Saudi Arabia’s approach, warming would exceed 4°C.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced Saudi Arabia’s net zero target for 2060 at the first Saudi Green Initiative Forum in October 2021. It is unclear whether this target covers CO2 emissions only or all greenhouse gases. The contribution of the land use and forestry sink is also still unclear. However, given the preliminary nature and a lack of more detailed information, we have not yet evaluated Saudi Arabia’s net zero target. We will do so once further information is communicated by the government.