When it comes to climate change talks, Saudi Arabia doesn’t play for popularity. During this past week's United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations in Bonn, Germany, the oil-rich Saudis continued to throw obstacles onto the rocky path to a global agreement on climate change.
The Saudis blocked an appeal made at Bonn for a study into the impact of a 1.5 degree Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) increase in global temperatures.
The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), along with the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), called for the study to better understand what global warming will mean for their countries and people. These vulnerable countries were aiming to keep the 1.5 °C target (dismissed by some larger countries as unrealistic) on the negotiating table.
The island nations lobbied extensively for their proposal, which was backed by the European Union, the U.S., Australia and Japan.
That didn’t stop Saudi Arabia and oil-producers Qatar and Kuwait from slamming down the proposal. The Saudi delegation told countries wanting more information about climate change to just “Google it,” the Youth Climate Movement reports.
Wendel Trio, Greenpeace International climate policy director, spoke with TakePart about what happened at Bonn last week.
After the first vote on Wednesday was blocked in the U.N. plenary, negotiations moved to small informal meetings.
“The AOSIS countries were of the impression that a compromise was found, but when the group went back to the plenary, Saudi Arabia voted against it again,” says Trio.
Talks were suspended until Thursday morning, when Venezuela tried to mediate a solution. The Saudi delegation, however, rejected the study for a third time in the plenary.
For Trio, the fact that a single country can use the consensus rule to derail the process is a weakness of the voting system.
“It is definitely a sustained strategy. The question is how long can they keep doing it?” he says.
“In the plenary, countries like Canada, New Zealand and Australia, which we know are not very happy about this, didn’t speak out against the proposal,” Trio says. These nations were reluctant to look like bullies in the very public U.N. forum.
Saudi Arabia, however, isn’t particularly concerned by democratic voices.
“There is hardly any environmental movement in Saudi Arabia,” Trio explains. “International NGOs have often complained about Saudi Arabia; so I think they don’t care much about their image in the international NGO community.”
Saudi Arabia’s slamming of the initiative stunned other delegations. The Bonn talks closed on Friday with sour moods. Current pledges would most likely allow global warming to exceed 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Farenheight), according to the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
"The survival of entire nations is at stake," Selwin Hart of Barbados said on behalf of AOSIS, Reuters writes.
"We find it ironic and alarming that our fellow developing countries would block such a paper that would assist other developing countries."
Protesters expressed their anger on Friday by smashing a “Saudi Arabia” sign and taking pictures of it in the toilet.
The Saudis have been reluctant members of the climate change negotiations for years, arguing that favoring renewable energies will undermine the country’s oil exports.
Since talks began in 1992, the Saudis have continued to demand compensation from wealthy countries to compensate them for the end of oil dependency.
They drew heated criticism last year for trying to get a share of the funding directed to states such as the Maldives, Tuvalu, and Bangladesh which are struggling to cope with rising sea levels and extreme weather.
The Persian Gulf nation has also been accused of using its membership in the Group of 77 alliance to undermine African states’ collective position.
"It's a matter of survival for us, also. So we are among the most vulnerable countries, economically," Mohammad Al Sabban, an official from the Saudi Ministry of Petroleum, told Reuters at talks in Germany a year ago.
Al Sabban rejected accusations that his delegation has obstructed the talks for years with filibustering and constant objections.
"We get used to these allegations," Al Sabban said. "We are faithfully engaging in these negotiations. Everybody here is coming to protect their interests; we are doing the same," he said.
Saudi Arabia has been ranked as the worst performer in Germanwatch’s annual International Climate Change Performance Index every year since 2006.
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