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Saudi Arabia will diversify oil economy to slow climate change

[OSLO] Saudi Arabia, the world's largest crude oil exporter, plans to diversify its economy to help combat climate change in a move that could reduce expected carbon emissions by up to 130 million tonnes a year by 2030, the government said on Tuesday.

Opec member Saudi Arabia is the last of the Group of 20 major economies to submit a plan to the United Nations before a summit in Paris from Nov 30-Dec.11 about ways to slow global warming.

It said it was aiming "to achieve mitigation co-benefits ambitions of up to 130 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent avoided by 2030 annually through contributions to economic diversification and adaptation." The kingdom did not give details of its emissions. The World Resources Institute think-tank estimates that Saudi Arabia emits 527 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, or 1.22 per cent of the world total.

The mere submission of a plan by Saudi Arabia, which says its economy is threatened by a global shift from fossil fuels to renewable energies, is a positive sign for Paris. "Thanks Saudi Arabia," Christiana Figueres, head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat, wrote in a Tweet, saying it was the 158th such national plan meant to combat heat waves, floods, droughts, downpours and rising sea levels.

Saudi Arabia said its plan was based on a main scenario in which it would diversify the economy with a "robust contribution" from export earnings from oil.

Earnings would be channelled into lower emission sectors"such as financial services, medical services, tourism, education, renewable energy and energy efficiency technology to enhance growth," it said.

An alternative scenario, not planned for now, would involve using more oil at home to fuel carbon-intensive industries such as petrochemicals, cement, mining and metal production, it said, thereby increasing domestic rather than overseas emissions.

It said it aims to use energy more efficiently and invest in solar, wind and geothermal power.

Saudi Arabia said in April it aimed to save the equivalent of 1.5 million barrels of oil a day through efficiency measures, limiting domestic consumption to sell more oil abroad.

Saudi Arabia's climate plan says it aims to build a plant capturing and using 1,500 tonnes of carbon dioxide a day for use in other petrochemical plants. It would operate a pilot plant at the Othmaniya oil reservoir.

The kingdom has previously launched a pilot project to use solar energy to desalinate energy intensive seawater.

The government would also encourage investments in natural gas. It would seek to adapt to climate change, with measures ranging from reducing desertification to improving public transport.