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COP26 Host Urges UK Businesses to Reap Oil Profits in Saudi Arabia and Beyond

Nafeez Ahmed reveals that, while hosting the climate change summit on one hand, the UK Government is encouraging expansion of fossil fuel extraction with the other

Saudi Arabia Oil Refinery at Sunset. Photo: Art Directors & TRIP/Alamy

COP26 Host Urges UK Businesses To Reap Oil Profits in Saudi Arabia and Beyond

Nafeez Ahmed reveals that, while hosting the climate change summit on one hand, the UK Government is encouraging expansion of fossil fuel extraction with the other

Despite holding the presidency of this year’s COP26 UN climate summit, the Government is actively seeking to increase oil and gas production in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the world’s second-largest oil producer. 

The revelations are detailed in my new report for the British investigative journalism outlet Declassified UK

While Saudi Arabia has pledged to reach net zero by 2060, it has also pushed back against a fossil fuel phase-out, planning to continue aggressively exporting oil and gas to Asia and other regions. The Kingdom is among a range of UK allies including Norway, Brazil, Argentina, India, Japan and Australia which have attempted to water down a forthcoming UN climate science assessment report.

Yet documents published by the UK Department for International Trade (DIT) examined by Declassified UK reveal the British Government’s role in actively encouraging UK businesses to profit from expanding oil and gas production in these countries. 

In perhaps the most shocking case, the DIT’s Exporting guide for Saudi Arabia shows how the Government intends to collude with the Kingdom’s plans to continue expanding its oil and gas production, described as a “dangerous and delusional” approach to climate change by scientists critical of the Saudi plans. 

“There are significant opportunities in Saudi Arabia’s energy market for UK businesses, especially in oil and natural gas,” explains the DIT’s guide. Increasing the Kingdom’s natural gas production is a particularly lucrative area for UK industry: 

“Saudi Aramco is exploiting natural gas reserves off the Red Sea coast to support increased domestic demand. This will involve using deepwater technologies for drilling below 1,000 metres. This offers opportunities for UK engineering and service companies with experience in deepwater regions, such as the North Sea.”

In July, Conservative MP and COP26 President Alok Sharma travelled to Saudi Arabia to discuss the kingdom’s climate commitments. Later, on the eve of the UN summit, Riyadh received a visit from Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to explore a potential Gulf trade deal. 

Byline Times has previously revealed that Sharma was in receipt of political donations from a billionaire fossil fuel investor with major interests in increasing Indian gas production and crude oil imports. Saudi Arabia is currently India’s biggest oil supplier.

Saudi Arabia’s net zero plan is to aggressively expand fossil fuel production while reducing carbon emissions by using technologies such as carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) and direct air capture (DAC) to capture the carbon and store it in the ground. However, there is little scientific evidence that these technologies are feasible. 

Environmental scientist Dr Matthew Archer of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva described Saudi Arabia’s proposals as “dangerous and delusional” because they are based “on technologies that don’t exist yet.”

Earlier this year, scientists at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research concluded that CCUS could not be relied on to deliver carbon emission reduction targets and that the majority of existing CCUS facilities result in more oil extraction leading to continued emissions.

While much criticism has been levelled at Saudi Arabia, less attention has been paid to the Saudi-like net zero strategy of the current COP26 host. 

The UK industry body, Oil and Gas UK, predicts that oil and gas will continue to provide two-thirds of Britain’s primary energy by 2035. In the British Government’s new net zero strategy, CCUS plays a prominent role in purportedly reducing carbon emissions while ramping up fossil fuel production in that time frame.

As my Declassified UK investigation also reveals, other DIT Exporting guides to Norway, Brazil and Argentina reveal how the British Government wants UK businesses to get involved in a range of major fossil fuel expansion efforts. The DIT’s Exporting guide to Norway describes how the country’s “offshore oil and gas sector provides opportunities for UK companies.” 

Its Exporting guide to Brazil points out the country’s “demand for UK expertise” in “offshore equipment and services” as Brazilian oil production is predicted to “increase significantly by 2030.” In Argentina, the DIT refers to big British business “opportunities to partner, build infrastructure and offer goods and services” in support of the country’s fossil fuel industry which holds “some of the largest gas and shale oil reserves in the world.”

My Declassified UK story raises urgent questions about how Britain is exploiting its presidency of COP26. Instead of keeping fossil fuels in the ground and rapidly shifting to renewable energy technologies, Britain appears to be colluding with countries like Saudi Arabia to legitimise a “dangerous and delusional” strategy designed to profit from the fossil fuel system as long as possible. The biggest danger is that this delusion infects the thinking of world governments under UK influence at this pivotal summit.

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