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Saudi oil minister praises renewable energy

Global warming 'among humanity's most pressing concerns'

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A call to acknowledge concerns over global warming (aka climate change aka climate disruption aka pseudoscientific fraud) has come from a most unlikely source: Saudi Arabia's oil minister.

"Greenhouse gas emissions and global warming are among humanity's most pressing concerns," said Ali Al-Naimi in a speech at the Middle East and North Africa Energy 2012 conference in London on Monday.

To be sure, Al-Naimi's "over-arching message," as he put it, was to reassure his audience that "Saudi Arabia will continue to be a stable supplier of crude oil to world markets for many decades."

He left no one in his audience in doubt that oil is a necessity of modern life. "The fact remains that oil will continue to play a major role in the overall energy mix for many decades," he said. "It is clear that a petroleum-free transportation system is decades away. And if you look at the vast range of products derived from crude oil, everything from lubricants to asphalt, medicines to plastics, it is clear petroleum is here to stay."

But he also emphasized the fact that his country is investing heavily in energy efficiency and in developing renewable sources of energy, particularly solar. "The Kingdom experiences roughly 3,000 hours of sunshine per year, emitting about 7,000 watts of energy per square metre," he said, noting that not only does Saudi Arabia have huge deserts that could host solar arrays, but it is also "blessed with deposits of quartz" that could be used in the manufacture of solar cells.

"The efficient use of energy is as much an issue for Saudi Arabia, with its huge natural resources, as it is for all countries," he added. "Increased efficiency makes sense environmentally, but also economically."

One reason that Al-Naimi cited for Saudi Arabia's interest in renewable energy was in direct contrast to what some US proponents of "drill, baby, drill" policies use to promote their agenda: jobs – or, in his experience, the fact that drilling, baby, drilling actually produces few jobs.

"We know that pumping oil out of the ground does not create many jobs," Al-Naimi told the conference attendees. "It does not foster an entrepreneurial spirit, nor does it sharpen critical faculties. So our investment is focused on creating jobs and employment opportunities."

What does create jobs, Al-Naimi said, are education, and research and development in emerging industries, notably renewable energy and "other critical areas, particularly healthcare and physical infrastructure."

Al-Naimi's talk, entitled "Investing for the Future in Turbulent Times", acknowledged the economic difficulties that the world – particularly Europe – is currently facing. But as he wound up his remarks, he quoted Winston Churchill, who said "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."

"Ladies and gentlemen, I am an optimist," Al-Naimi said. Whether you'd also call the Saudi Arabian oil minister a realist depends upon whether you concur with his opinions on climate change, energy efficiency, and renewable energy. ®

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