Saudi Arabia: Environmental Issues (part two):
Saudi Arabia's rate of energy consumption has been climbing steadily. Since 1980, when total energy consumption was 1.7 quadrillion Btu (quads), the country's consumption has more than doubled, to 4.2 quads in 1998.
The country's increasing energy consumption is similar to that of other countries in the region, such as Iran, Turkey, and Egypt, all of which have seen their energy consumption nearly triple in the past 20 years. Overall, Saudi Arabia accounts for 1.1 percent of world energy consumption.
Of this energy consumption, the industrial sector accounted for the largest percentage with 41.3 percent, followed closely by transportation (40.3 percent), and then residential (12.3 percent) and commercial (6.1 percent). Not surprisingly, oil made up the bulk of this consumption--58.7 percent --with natural gas accounting for the remainder.
As Saudi energy consumption has grown, demand has started to tax the ability of energy producers to provide enough supplies. Saudi Arabia has warned consumers that skyrocketing power demand is threatening to overload existing capacity.
Thus, since mid-1999, the government has been conducting an energy conservation campaign that urges consumers to turn off their air conditioners when they are away from home--during peak periods, air conditioning accounts for as much as 70 percent of energy use in Saudi Arabia.
To reduce the amount of energy it consumes, Aramco has implemented an Industrial Waste Minimization Program. The program, which is mainly geared to reduce waste and lower associated costs, includes the installation of flare-gas compressors to recover gases and the use of flue-gas oxygen analyzers to optimize fuel consumption and limit emissions.
Carbon and Energy-Related Emissions:
Saudi Arabia's carbon emissions have risen in the past 20 years, but not at the same rate as the country's energy consumption. Between 1980 and 1998, Saudi Arabia's carbon emissions rose from 48.8 metric tons of carbon emitted to 73.8 metric tons.
This increase, while significant, is not as substantial as either Egypt or Turkey, which both saw their carbon emissions nearly triple during the same time period, or Iran, which surpassed Saudi Arabia in total carbon emissions over the past 20 years.
However, in terms of carbon emissions per capita, Saudi Arabia is still a regional leader. In 1998 the country's per capita carbon emissions were 3.2 metric tons of carbon.
This figure stands out all the more in comparison to Saudi Arabia's neighbors: per capita carbon emissions in Israel were 2.6 metric tons of carbon, in Libya 2.1, Iran 1.3, Turkey 0.7, and Egypt 0.5. Saudi Arabia's per capita carbon emissions level was still below that of the United States (5.5 metric tons of carbon per person).
Saudi Arabia is a signatory to the London Protocol, which calls for phasing out chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) gases harmful to the ozone layer by 2010, and Aramco, in keeping with the protocol on ozone-depleting substances, has been identifying its CFC-based cooling systems and converting them to alternative compounds.
However, under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Saudi Arabia, a non-Annex I country, is not required to reduce its emissions below 1990 levels. Although Saudi Arabia ratified the Convention, it is not a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol. Nevertheless, Aramco has installed a remote optical sensing system for atmospheric emissions monitoring.
A recent study by MEPA may begin to persuade Saudi officials of the need to make greater efforts to reduce its emissions. The study, which stated that global warming will adversely affect Saudi Arabia's weather, indicated that climate change is already having an effect on Saudi Arabia. Preliminary results of the study show that "there have been weather changes in the Kingdom and neighboring countries during summer months, when the concentration of gases causing the earth's heat retention (capacity) is doubled.
These changes have led to an increase in rainfall in the southwest Arabian peninsula and areas adjacent to the mid and south Red Sea." MEPA predicts in the report that climate change over the next three decades will cause even more extreme heat waves during the Kingdom's summer, as well as more extreme weather conditions in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea Coast.
Energy and Carbon Intensity
Oil production--from drilling and extracting to refining of finished products--requires a substantial amount of energy. As a result, development of Saudi Arabia's oil and gas resources makes the country very energy-intensive, even higher than that of other OPEC countries in the region.
Saudi Arabia's 1998 energy intensity was 35,100 Btu/$1990, compared to 34,800 Btu in Iraq, 26,900 Btu in Iran, and 22,600 Btu in Libya. In relation to non-OPEC states in the region, Saudi Arabia's energy intensity level of 35,100 Btu was higher than Egypt's 31,000 Btu, as well as Turkey's 13,800 Btu.
Likewise, Saudi Arabia's 1998 carbon intensity of 0.53 metric tons of carbon/thousand $1990 was higher than all other countries in the region (with the exception of Iraq, whose carbon intensity level was 0.63 metric tons of carbon/thousand $1990). By way of comparison, Saudi Arabia's carbon intensity was equivalent to Egypt's carbon intensity, but higher than Iran (0.47), Libya (0.44), and Turkey (0.23).
With the world's largest petroleum reserves and its greatest oil production capacity, Saudi Arabia lacks a true economic incentive to pursue the development of renewable energy sources. Consequently, the country's 1997 renewable energy consumption was 0.17 quads, an 11 percent decrease from 1996.
Since a huge percentage of the government's revenues are provided by petroleum exports, Saudi Arabia's main incentive in developing renewables may be to free up more fossil fuels for export. By using more alternative energy sources domestically, more oil would be available for export.
However, with little rainfall and a lack of perennial rivers or permanent water bodies, Saudi Arabia has little hydropower potential: although the government has built several dams in order to exploit rain and flood waters as efficiently as possible, these have functioned more for water reserves than for power generation.
One renewable source with abundant potential is solar energy. Saudi Arabia has contributed to solar energy research and developed a number of solar-power projects, including desalination plants and green house air-conditioning systems using solar energy.
In addition, in May 1999 Saudi scientists and engineers completed the design of a solar-powered car, the first to be designed locally. In coming years, solar energy will continue to be a focus of renewable energy development in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia in the 21st Century
The Saudi government has intensified its efforts to increase public awareness and encourage individual and group initiatives to protect the environment. In May 1999, Saudi Arabia established a national environment committee aiming to generate more public awareness about the environment.
The announcement, by the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry (CSCCI), was the first initiative taken by CSCCI to define Saudi Arabia's environmental strategy for the 21st century.
According to the World Bank, the country will have to invest substantial capital in the environmental sector in coming years in order to become more sustainable; the Bank has estimated that the Arab world will need to invest $100 billion in its environmental sector over the next 10 years to protect the environment.
Aramco has become a regional leader in safeguarding the environment, spending millions of dollars annually on safety measures to protect the land, air, and water from harmful pollution. However, while oil spill cleanup and response preparedness have improved, preventive measures are still needed.
Saudi Minister of Petroleum and Natural Resources Ali Al-Naimi recently called on Gulf countries to cooperate on a solution to illegal oil discharges in Gulf waters by oil tankers, proposing closer cooperation amongst Gulf Arab countries. Overall, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have begun to shift their thinking on environmental matters from crisis response to crisis prevention.
Note: The material is best available from July 2000.
Source: United States Energy Information Administration.
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)