Environmental protests, the greening of Aramco and Davos by train
What on earth is happening to my hometown? Judging from the TV pictures, London is engulfed in violence, chaos and anarchy as the Extinction Rebellion (XR) movement takes its protest about climate change to the UK capital.
What with that and Brexit, the British are close to losing their international image as suave and sophisticated people, and turning into the rebellious and anarchic French who are, ironically, despised by the Brexiteers.
I personally don’t think it matters very much to the Middle East if Britain leaves the EU or not. The UK’s interaction with the region is increasingly marginal in trade and political terms in comparison with Arab links to the US, China, Japan, EU members, and of course Russia.
But climate change does matter. The Arabian Gulf is the world’s biggest reservoir of fossil fuels in oil and gas, and also consumes far more of those carbon-producing products, per capita than anywhere else on the planet. So the region should follow the XR movement with keen interest.
The media mouthpiece for the XR is The Guardian newspaper, where I spent a number of happy years in journalism. The paper has always been the voice of the downtrodden and the oppressed against the establishment and the big corporate world, so you would expect it to side with the XR protesters, confronting big business and especially big energy.
It has done that with enthusiasm over the past couple of weeks as XR’s public campaign has intensified, with a series called “The Polluters” aimed at exposing the anti-environmental practices of the biggest corporations.
A recently published story was “Revealed: the 20 firms behind a third of all carbon emissions” and there, at the top of the Guardian table was … you’ve guessed it … Saudi Aramco. According to the paper, citing “world renowned researchers,” Aramco has pumped 60 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere since 1965.
That sounds awful but, when you get behind the headline, the figure is pretty meaningless. Of course Aramco produces CO2, it’s an oil company. There are also necessary processes behind bringing to market a product that increases the amount of carbon in the air, such as exploration and production.
The Guardian study also attributes to Aramco all the CO2 produced by the consumers of its products — cars, planes, industrial plants and power generators — which seems like double counting.
But the main problem with the study is that it takes no account of the fact that Aramco is by far the biggest single producer of oil in the world. It produces nearly as much oil as the next five private oil companies combined and yet, according to The Guardian, is responsible for only a third of their total CO2 emissions.
The Guardian should really be praising “green” Aramco for being an efficient, environmentally aware company that spends billions of dollars on research into renewable energy and innovative technology, as well as marketing the “cleanest” crude in the world. But I doubt that fits with the paper’s XR agenda.
Concern about climate is, nonetheless, real and legitimate as was proven by some startling news this week from the World Economic Forum (WEF).
The WEF announced its themes for this year’s annual meeting in Davos: “Stakeholders for a cohesive and sustainable world.”
Issues associated with the environment and sustainability will be at the forefront in Switzerland next January.
Professor Klaus Schwab, founder of the Davos gathering 50 years ago, has obviously been watching the TV footage from London. “People are revolting against the global elites they believe have betrayed them,” he said.
There was no obvious trace of irony in his words, despite the reputation Davos has earned over the years for being the global gathering of the global elites. The WEF is doing its best to shed that image, discouraging Davos attendees from using private jets and limiting the number of limos in the Alpine resort.
For 2020, it has come up with another wheeze. Leave the private jet at home and travel to Davos by environmentally friendly rail and the WEF will pay half of your fare — first class.
I’m just consulting the Dubai-Zurich railway schedule, and will report back.
• Frank Kane is an award-winning business journalist based in Dubai.