An undercover investigation has uncovered Saudi Arabia’s massive global investment strategy aimed at creating a demand for its oil and gas in developing nations. Detractors argue that this plan is meant to addict countries to its damaging products.
Limited information was available on the oil demand sustainability programme (ODSP), however, the inquiry was able to acquire comprehensive details regarding efforts to increase the reliance on fossil fuel-powered vehicles, buses, and airplanes in Africa and other regions, as wealthier nations continue to transition towards renewable energy sources.
The ODSP aims to speed up the progress of hypersonic air transportation, which consumes three times as much jet fuel as traditional aircraft. It also plans to collaborate with an automaker to manufacture affordable combustion engine cars on a large scale. Additionally, there are plans to promote the use of power ships, which rely on heavily polluting fuels like heavy fuel oil or gas to generate electricity for coastal communities.
The ODSP is managed by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, and includes the country’s largest entities, such as the $700 billion Public Investment Fund, the world’s biggest oil company, Aramco, the petrochemical company Sabic, and the most critical government ministries.
The program is often advertised as removing obstacles to energy and transportation in underprivileged nations and promoting sustainability. One example of this is providing gas stoves to replace traditional wood burning methods.
The Centre for Climate Reporting and Channel 4 News have uncovered that all of the proposed projects involve a significant increase in the utilization of oil and gas. An official stated that this is a major goal of the investigation.
The leader of the World Bank recently stated that wealthy nations and corporations must assist developing countries in transitioning away from past economic growth fueled by fossil fuels and instead implement renewable energy sources. According to Ajay Banga, failure to do so will prevent achieving the goal of eliminating carbon emissions by 2050, which scientists have repeatedly emphasized as crucial in preventing a climate disaster.
Saudi Arabia has reaffirmed its dedication to the objectives of the Paris agreement, which aim to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius and strive for a maximum increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius. In order to meet these goals, there must be a rapid decrease in fossil fuel emissions and a large portion of oil and gas reserves must remain untapped. This poses a major risk to the country’s revenue, as climate policies, such as promoting electric vehicles, directly impact the profits of this oil-rich nation.
One of the main concerns at the upcoming United Nations Cop28 climate summit, starting on Thursday, is whether nations will fulfill their promise to decrease or eliminate the use of fossil fuels. This year, the ongoing climate crisis has resulted in record-high temperatures and intensified extreme weather events that have caused loss of life and damage to livelihoods globally.
Mohamed Adow, the director of the thinktank Power Shift Africa, said: “The Saudi government is like a drug dealer trying to get Africa hooked on its harmful product.
Other countries are moving away from using harmful fossil fuels, but Saudi Arabia is trying to find new customers in Africa. This is disgusting.
Africa cannot advance at the same pace as other nations by following the path of polluting countries. This would result in missing out on the advantages of modern energy solutions that Africa has the potential to utilize through its abundant renewable energy resources. The advantage of being a latecomer means that Africa can bypass traditional methods and make a significant leap towards a truly sustainable energy transition.
In 2021, the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, emphasized the importance of international aid in helping African and other developing nations shift towards clean and sustainable energy sources, bypassing polluting development practices.
The Ministry of Energy in Saudi Arabia did not provide a response to the request for comment.
The English version of the program’s website refers to it as the oil sustainability program, but the Arabic version states that it is the oil demand sustainability program.
The Arabic website’s goal is to maintain and enhance the use of hydrocarbons as a cost-effective energy source, while also improving its economic and environmental impact. This should be achieved while ensuring that the kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a sustainable energy mix during the transition.
A statement made in June to the Saudi stock exchange regarding a memorandum of understanding between ODSP and the Saudi Industrial Export Company initially stated that it would allow for “efforts to maintain the demand for oil.” A correction issued the next day revised this statement to mention enabling “efforts to improve energy accessibility.”
The ODSP’s project information was revealed when undercover journalists pretended to be interested investors and met with Saudi government officials. This uncovered a common theme among the proposed projects: a growing need for oil and gas in developing nations.
According to the officials’ presentation, the goal is to increase demand in emerging markets by investing in infrastructure to improve energy access and remove barriers.
When questioned by the journalists about the intention to artificially boost demand in specific markets, a spokesperson replied: “Yes, that is one of the primary goals we are aiming to achieve.”
It is unlikely that developing countries can bypass the use of fossil fuels, as a well-established infrastructure is necessary for the widespread adoption of electric vehicles.
Many countries in Africa currently lack sufficient electricity from the grid to meet their daily needs. We believe it is important to provide them with access to the necessary energy for their development. In the future, they can focus on improving or transitioning to more efficient sources of energy.
According to officials, the ODSP’s 46 chosen projects were evaluated based on their potential for incremental demand. The programme helped to secure the necessary funding for these projects.
There are three types of projects: transportation, utilities, and materials. The third category focuses on replacing cement, steel, and wood traditionally used in construction with plastics made from oil.
An official stated that the goal of the transportation industry is to improve the overall sustainability of fuel used for transportation. This includes diesel, gasoline, and jet fuel. The plan also includes funding for road infrastructure.
Our goal is to speed up and improve the influence and acceptance of internal combustion engine (ICE) technology and optimization.
“We also have the chance to improve accessibility and use of affordable vehicles, particularly in developing countries. Currently, only 3% of the population in Africa owns a car.”
The presentation outlines a strategy to collaborate with a car company to create and manufacture a cost-effective vehicle that will bring revenue to the kingdom through oil sales.
According to the presentation, the ODSP is focusing on supporting bus, ride-sharing, and delivery services with the goal of deploying ICE fleets in developing countries to meet the growing demand for gasoline and diesel.
In the field of aviation, the ODSP is aiming to expand the number of flights by encouraging investments in a low-cost airline. According to officials, efforts have also been initiated to expedite the development of commercial supersonic aviation, which uses significantly more energy per kilometer per seat compared to subsonic commercial aircraft.
According to an official, the electricity production strategy involves implementing “oil-powered mini grids.” These grids would utilize diesel or heavy fuel oil for energy. Additionally, investments will be made in ships that function as “floating power plants” powered by either heavy fuel oil or gas.
In November, Saudi Arabia entered into agreements with Rwanda to increase the use of hydrocarbon resources, with Nigeria to enhance cooperation and strengthen their partnership in the oil and gas industry, and with Ethiopia to work together on oil supply.
Adow stated that the reason for African countries being easily deceived is due to the neglect of the developed polluting nations in fulfilling their promises for climate finance.
“We require financial support from wealthy nations who claim to prioritize addressing climate change. Without it, we may continue to see unjust agreements like this one, which not only put Africans at risk but also undermine the global mission of achieving a secure and thriving climate for everyone.”