Saudi Arabia’s methane pledge is a big step forward in fight against climate change

Saudi Arabia’s methane pledge is a big step forward in fight against climate change

A view of Saudi Arabia's Hawiyah Natural Gas Liquids Recovery Plant in the Eastern Province. (AP file photo)
A view of Saudi Arabia's Hawiyah Natural Gas Liquids Recovery Plant in the Eastern Province. (AP file photo)
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Amid all the razzmatazz and big policy initiatives of the Saudi Green Initiative, one item perhaps did not get the full attention it deserves.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced that the Kingdom will join the Global Methane Pledge as part of its commitment to reduce world methane emissions by 30 percent over the coming decade — “part of its commitment to deliver a cleaner, greener future.”

It is a significant initiative on several levels. In environmental terms, while those concerned about the world’s atmosphere have tended to focus on CO2 emissions, methane is seen by some experts as an equally serious threat, and responsible for about 25 percent of total global warming.

While there is far more CO2 in the atmosphere, experts calculate that methane is up to 120 times more powerful as a warming agent and can stay in the air for as long as a decade.

Methane is a byproduct of energy production, especially gas output. As the world transitions toward relatively cleaner gas as a “bridge” to renewables in coming years, some experts predict a surge in methane could throw out the calculations on overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Saudi Arabia actually has a very good record on methane emissions. The practice of “flaring” gas as a byproduct of oil production — common in the US shale industry, for example — was ended many years ago, and Saudi Aramco is one of the leading oil companies in the world when it comes to mitigating methane as a gas byproduct.

Nonetheless, as Aramco ups its gas strategy, which CEO Amin Nasser highlighted once again at the SGI event in Riyadh, the methane challenge will grow, in the Kingdom and the rest of the energy world.

Having a major producer like Saudi Arabia within the pledge marks significant progress, and is a signal that global cooperation on the big issues of environmental policy can still be tackled effectively.

Frank Kane

The methods to control methane output consist of efficiency of production, and investment in technology that prevents it escaping or removing it from the air once it has seeped. Again, Aramco is leading the field in techniques on both counts, with significant sums committed to investment in research and development. 

In terms of energy diplomacy, Saudi Arabia joining the pledge is a significant step. The Global Methane Pledge was the result of a joint agreement between the EU and the US, and was portrayed as “a crucial step in tackling climate change and getting the world closer to the goals of the Paris Agreement to keep the global temperature rise to below 2 C.”

As such, it was a notable example of international cooperation in a world that does not always see eye-to-eye on energy policy. The Biden administration, in particular, sees the pledge as a crucial step forward, even as other parts of its domestic energy initiative run into difficulties.

Having a major producer like Saudi Arabia within the pledge marks significant progress, and is a signal that global cooperation on the big issues of environmental policy can still be tackled effectively.

If similar measures of international collaboration emerge from the COP26 meeting in Glasgow, it will be another sign that the problems of global warming and climate change can be effectively tackled. 

• Frank Kane is an award- winning business journalist based in Dubai. Twitter: @frankkanedubai

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view