The Carbon Brief Interview: Saudi Arabia’s Ayman Shasly

Source: Carbon Brief

Ayman Shashly is a senior negotiator for Saudi Arabia at both the UNFCCC and IPCC. In his role as an international policies consultant with the ministry of petroleum and mineral resources in Saudi Arabia, he is a board member of the Green Climate Fund. He has also worked in China for Saudi Aramco, one of the world’s largest oil companies.

  • Shasly on why Saudi Arabia does not want to formally “welcome” the IPCC special report on 1.5C: “You would not say things like, you ‘welcome’ it…because that [means] we are giving legitimacy to some scientific report…that had its own issues of scientific gaps, knowledge gaps.”
  • On his country’s issue with the 1.5C report: “It didn’t say that how much space we need to make for developing countries to continue their development, without hitting 1.5C. That was not mentioned in the report.”
  • On his country’s problem with the 1.5C report’s “storyline”: “We all know it will cost the world a great deal of cost and all elements to achieve 1.5C…The storyline of the entire report shows that it is achievable, it’s doable, let’s all do it together, which is not fair. What is the equity in this? Where is history in this?”
  • On using up the remaining 1.5C carbon budget: “We’re all competing for this limited space. [The 1.5C report] did not really send a signal that someone needs to take more serious, more ambitious actions, for them to reverse their emissions, so that they make room for developing countries to develop.”
  • On Saudi Arabia’s vulnerability to climate change: “As a matter of fact, we are impacted by climate change, perhaps more than anybody else. We are a desert country that heavily relies on this single source of income. We have such a vulnerable economy, fragile economy, and with oil, we eat, we feed, we travel, we educated our people, we have medical care and everything.”
  • On when the world should end the use of fossil fuels: “Well, we hope we get rid of fossil fuel before anybody else. We don’t want to be dependent…We are undergoing – for Saudi Arabia, in particular – we’re undergoing a massive economic diversification plan. Like everybody else, we want to move away from fossil fuels as soon as possible.”
  • On why Saudi Arabia “needs time” before ending the use of fossil fuels: “We really would want to make sure that anything we do, that comes to energy, we do not impact the global economic growth. We do not impact the fight against poverty…We need time. Now, that could be within the next 15, 20, 30 years. It’s just a matter of supply/demand.”
  • On what he says to vulnerable, low-lying countries: “I’ll tell them: ‘Go and speak to the consumers, the large consumers, those who are emitting the most, those who are impacting the climate. You must talk to them. Tell them: what have you done over the last 200 years?’”
  • On the Paris Agreement: “We adore and we really like the Paris Agreement. We think it’s a balanced agreement that had everything, bits and pieces for all of us, and that’s why we want to protect it.”
  • On developed countries’ attitude to climate finance: “There is very little interest among developed countries to really put on the table what is needed to be able to operationalise the Paris Agreement…It’s now been shifted to developing countries through many forms of what’s called ‘innovative’ sources of finance, where they’re going to tax marine transport, aviation, goods and services. All of this would impact our own economies. We’re going to pay for that to go to climate finance, which is not fair.”
  • On who Saudi Arabia’s “friends” are at the UNFCCC: “If we’re all abiding by this principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and equity, that will give time and space for developing countries to develop, then we’re going to shake hands with [them]. Those are the people that are faithful to the Paris Agreement and our friends – and nobody else.”
  • On what will bring success at COP24: “A package for the modalities, procedures and guidelines that will operationalise the Paris Agreement in a balanced way…All the elements should be included. If we get that, we are all successful.”
  • On what, in Saudi Arabia’s view, scientists should have included in the 1.5C report: “You need to tell developing countries, scientists, what does it take as far as finance needs, as far as cost to your GDP…To say that there was a history of emissions…this history needs to be corrected so that you allow space for our countries to continue to develop without being impacted by climate change.”
  • On why the 1.5C report “gives a rosy picture”: “It tries to give a nice rosy picture about the impact of us trying to achieve 1.5C. This is against every other science that we are aware of…It’s as if we’re really losing some very good economic and social opportunities if we do not address 1.5C. This is a skewed perspective…It shows you only the opportunities. It doesn’t show you the price.”
  • On his message to other parties at the UNFCCC: “My message to all of us here at the UNFCCC is to stay away from the IPCC. Let the IPCC do its work and let them go about their scientific assessment. And we will receive.”

 

Carbon Brief: There’s been quite a lot of media coverage over the past few days over what happened with the end of SBTSA (at COP24) on Saturday night. A lot of the media was focused on four countries, including Saudi Arabia, that didn’t want to “welcome”, in the words of UNFCCC document language, they didn’t want to welcome the 1.5C special report from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). Can you explain in more detail why that was the case?

Ayman Shasly: By all means. Leo, thank you very much for the opportunity that I would speak to you about this. There are the dynamics of the negotiations that led to where we are in the SBSTA closing plenary. What we are prepared to do…there was a clean text that we all agreed on inside the negotiation rooms and that was tabled for us to adopt and we, Saudi Arabia and the other countries [US, Russia and Kuwait], we did not object to that text. We were ready to adopt, but the objection came from the small island developing states. They should have objected to it inside the negotiation rooms, not at plenary.

And you saw all this reaction of the media, which we can understand. We can understand where they are coming from. Let’s go back to the substance, the issue of the IPCC 1.5C report. We’re saying we “noted” it because noting it [means] you’re taking account of what the report is. You’re looking at it, you noted it. But you would not say things like, you “welcome” it, you’re welcome to “appreciate” it, because that [means] we are giving legitimacy to some scientific report, supposedly there’s a full-fledged scientific report that had its own issues of scientific gaps, knowledge gaps, and that was with the admission, with the exception of panel [inaudible], that this is an incomplete report. There are certain areas that we were unable to cover as part of the outline. We did discuss the outline for this report and there are very missing elements from the outline of this that was not covered by the report.

We were promised that this report, as it makes its way to the sixth assessment report [IPCC AR6] in 2022, they will work on the missing element. They will work on the missing gaps and the missing information, the missing science, and they’ll make it more complete as we go along. In its current state, it did suffer a great deal of gaps in science and knowledge. That is why we are saying we “note” it, but you cannot acknowledge it, one way or another, until you finish off the unfinished elements of the report.

CB: A couple of months ago, in South Korea, Saudi Arabia, along with all the other parties there, they adopted the summary for policymakers, they agreed with it. What is the difference between then and now? You’re talking about “missing science”, etc. What exactly do you mean? And why did you endorse it previously?

AS: Excellent question. Now, I’ll tell you what happened during that adoption of the 1.5C summary for policymakers [SPM]. The version that was submitted to us was in June 4. But not only since June 4, June…July, August, September, and through the night of the opening of the plenary for the IPCC. There was a new version that was issued.

So imagine. You are four months on a report and then just 12 hours before they open the doors, a whole new version is submitted to you for you to adopt. That was the dynamics that we were suffering during the adoption of that report.

CB: But the government version of the report, you had months with that…

AS: Exactly. Four months, but then in the night of the opening plenary of the IPCC, at 9 o’clock in the evening, a new version of the report was issued to governments. So imagine, what you would do with that? We had our experts take time and effort to review that report and then over, just as I said, 12 hours before the opening, you had a new version of the [SPM] that we had to deal with.

What happened? We sat down. We tried to identify all the different pieces of the report and we were told that there are missing gaps and elements. More particularly, the elements that are pertaining to developing countries: the impact on GDP; the costs for us to be able to address the 1.5 degrees. What is it there that we would need to do for us to maintain and continue our development when we need to go all the way to a level where, if we didn’t do nothing, we would have this 1.5C by 2030.

It didn’t say that some other developed countries need to regress, they need to go negate their emissions. We knew the storyline of the report and this is…I leave it to you. You read the storyline of the report, it says, up until now, we don’t have a problem, but the future is going to bring the problem. As if there is no historical responsibility of what has taken us up until now. And this now, all collectively, deal with the problem that is coming in the future.

It didn’t say that how much space we need to make for developing countries to continue their development, without hitting the 1.5C. That was not mentioned in the report. And I did discuss this report and there was, for example, one this figure, it’s called [figure SPM.4] for the report, if you can go and look at it. I discussed that figure 4 because it listed down all the sustainable development goals and it put the relevance of us trying to address the two sectors. In actual fact, there were three sectors – energy, land and ocean.

The full caption for this figure can be viewed on the IPCC website by clicking on “figures”.

They had land and ocean together. I asked the scientist: “How come we have land and oceans together when they are different sectors, different approaches to addressing climate change?” He said, “OK. You want to split?” So they took out ocean, all the way from the picture and they just put land. I questioned them: what kind of scientific activity [is that] when a representative asks for something and immediately they can change it? I realised that this table was a product of the [SPM] authors. It was not from the underlying scientific reports. It was just something that was created by the authors just to show that to achieve the 1.5C the situation is really right/rife/ripe [? inaudible]. The relevance to hunger, to poverty eradication, to health, is really minimum…the relationship, But the opportunities are really great. This has really skewed perceptions. We all know it will cost the world a great deal of cost and all elements to achieve the 1.5C. That did not come out in that figure. The storyline of the entire report shows that it is achievable, it’s doable, let’s all do it together, which is not fair. What is the equity in this? Where is history in this? Where is the finance, because there was very limited…actually there was one report by UNEP [? inaudible] that talked about finance, that they use for the report. There were significant gaps. There was no discussion around the negative impact of the actions taken to address 1.5C. It wasn’t there. As I said, there are a number of outlines that we agreed to back in October, 2016, in Bangkok, that was not covered by the report. That’s why we’re saying that while we “note” the report, we acknowledge that there are gaps in the science and the knowledge. We need to give time to the IPCC to work on it up until we get to 2022, when we have the sixth assessment report.

CB: You say that you need to wait to AR6, but it’s quite clear from AR5 and the 1.5C report that there’s very, very minimal space left in the carbon budget. You’re effectively asking the global community to wait another five years just to fill in…

AS: Thank you very much for brInging that up. We all know, since AR5, that there’s only one quarter of the space available for us to occupy. And the question is, who is going to use that quarter? Now, everyone is competing over it. Developed countries, annex II, annex I, along with developing [countries]. We’re all competing for this limited space. It did not really send a signal that someone needs to take more serious, more ambitious actions, for them to reverse their emissions, so that they make room for developing countries to develop.

Let’s go back to AR5. The special report on the 1.5C report was a result of a negotiation that I attended in Paris [COP21 in 2015]. We were sitting in that room and the [UNFCCC] secretariat did a synthesis report on the submitted INDCs at the time, and they measured it against AR5, which was just less than a year ago issued by the IPCC. Then there was this intervention from the small island states and they said: “Were we measuring against 2C, which is AR5. Why not 1.5C?” We said there is no literature available. IPCC did not develop such science with a way of addressing it. They said: “No, let’s ask the IPCC to do it. Let’s mandate the IPCC.” And this is how it came about. And that was the result…that we, as politicians, mandate a highly reputable organisation, such as the IPCC, that received the Nobel prize in 2007 for their report, now we, the governments, are asking them to do things against their own scientific ability to produce. They went and they tried to tap on anything that is available to produce this report. Just because government told it to do this. And here the logic is reversed. Instead of science telling governments what to do, now we are governments telling science what to do.

I’ll give you another example. Now there are calls from governments here [at COP24]…they are asking the IPCC to change the cycle of its products, its assessment reports, to match the global stocktake five-year cycle. Is this fair? Is this fair to science? When science is saying that they need 7-10 years to be able to produce something really scientifically sound, now we’re thinking, no, cut it down to five years because we wanted to be synchronised with the global stocktake. We’re not really doing justice to science and we are influencing science with politics to drive them into a certain direction. That is not fair.

That’s why we’re saying we fully appreciate and acknowledge the efforts done by the scientists, by the IPCC as an organisation, and we take “note” of the report, but we will work on it going forward to 2022 and we have the sixth assessment report. Nothing at this stage said that we’re totally ignoring the report. We’re saying we’re “noting” it, but using more words to “welcome” it “with appreciation”, as if you are accepting everything in the report, which is not the case… And I have to tell you one thing. Many of the people that you hear speaking in plenaries and in reaction and at SBSTA, they really didn’t know what the report is about. They really have not had the history of how this report came about. They just know it came one after another because it sounds good, but, in reality, it’s really not, and I mentioned that it has serious gaps in knowledge and in science.

CB: Saudi Arabia has, obviously, huge resources of oil and gas that generates an income. It generates money from this. A lot of people are viewing the reaction of Saudi Arabia and a small other group of countries over the reaction to the IPCC, as effectively being almost like a selfish attitude, like: “We’re Saudi Arabia. We’re OK. We’ve got this oil.” But are you not worried about that perception around the world? And are you also not concerned about your own impacts of climate change on your own communities?

AS: As a matter of fact, we are impacted by climate change, perhaps more than anybody else. We are a desert country that heavily relies on this single source of income. We have such a vulnerable economy, fragile economy, and with oil, we eat, we feed, we travel, we educated our people, we have medical care and everything. But this is not to say that we’re oblivious to the impact of climate change. You can come to Saudi Arabia and we can demonstrate to you, on the ground, how much we are doing to address climate change, be it on adaptation or mitigation. This is a great deal of misperception that because we are such an oil producer country that we don’t care about the climate.

We have had a number of high officials who have come and they saw for themselves what we are doing on the ground to increase efficiency in the use of fossil fuel, to minimise the impact of fossil fuels to the environment. And this is what we are asking the world: “Please, use this commodity that is available to fuel economies around the world in a more environment friendly [way]. That’s what we’re saying. We want to invest in technology and you can go to the [Saudi] pavilion [at COP24] now and you see an engine of a car that we invested in that will treble the amount of kilometres that you can get for the same amount of fuel that you use in conventional cars, which will, as a matter of fact, be very competitive to the Tesla car, in terms of the carbon footprint that it makes.

CB: When will the world stop using fossil fuels, in your view?

AS: Well, we hope we get rid of fossil fuel before anybody else. We don’t want to be dependent.

CB: Give me a date.

AS: We don’t know. We’re all trying. We are undergoing – for Saudi Arabia, in particular – we’re undergoing a massive economic diversification plan. Like everybody else, we want to move away from fossil fuels as soon as possible. Like everybody else, globally.

CB: Is that 2050? 2100?

AS: We really would want to make sure that anything we do, that comes to energy, we do not impact the global economic growth. We do not impact the fight against poverty. We did not impact the development of emerging and small economies. We really want to be balanced in our approach. All sorts of energies are needed and we have the largest programme for renewed energy globally. It is in Saudi Arabia, because we really want to move away from fossil fuel. But we need time. Now, that could be within the next 15, 20, 30 years. It’s just a matter of supply/demand. It’s a matter of how successful we are in addressing our economical diversification and the rest of it.

But we all have the same drive. We all have the same interest. As a matter of fact, we have much more interest in moving away from fossil fuels than anybody else, but we have to be given time to do it. Time is of the essence.

CB: But time is not something that the low-lying island countries, the AOSIS (Alliance of Small Island States) countries have. What do you say to them when they come up to you and they say: “Mr Shasly, you’re helping to produce these emissions all around the world by selling this product that the world is consuming, but this is going to overwhelm our nations.” What do you say to them?

AS: I’ll tell them: “Go and speak to the consumers, the large consumers, those who are emitting the most, those who are impacting the climate. You must talk to them. Tell them: what have you done over the last 200 years? I know what you’re going to do going forward: what is your commitment that you’re showing to us as far as providing finance and technology for all of us to move away from fossil fuel?” You would direct the question to them, that you are not standing up to your commitments. You’re leading the world for emission reductions and for providing the necessary means of implementation for all of us. They are the one in question, not us. They are the one who should really make the space for all of us, as developing countries, to at least develop to something closer to the level of development that is enjoyed by the industrial world.

CB: Is the success of the Paris Agreement really about moving finance from the richest countries towards, say, a country such as Saudi Arabia, which many people would perceive as being a very wealthy country?

AS: Well, I’ll tell you, the success of Paris Agreement is that, first of all, we adore and we really like the Paris Agreement. We think it’s a balanced agreement that had everything, bits and pieces for all of us, and that’s why we want to protect it. That’s why now, in Katowice, we want to come up with a “modalities, procedures and guidelines” that we [use to] operationalise all elements of the Paris Agreement. Let’s not forget, we ratified the Paris Agreement on the basis of its own merits. The balance. That’s how we managed to convince our governments and our parliaments that this Paris Agreement is balanced in its approach to climate change, and now we want to operationalise it in the same balance.

Now, finance is a big element of implementing the Paris Agreement. But go and listen to the discussions about the articles 9.5 and 9.7 [which both relate to how and when developed countries should “communicate” their financial pledges], and see the reaction from developed countries. There is very little interest among developed countries to really put on the table what is needed to be able to operationalise the Paris Agreement. For one, because it’s their commitment. For two, we need to have this international solidarity where we can all be able to accomplish the Paris Agreement the same. And the Paris Agreement is under the [UNFCCC] convention. The purpose of the Paris Agreement is to enhance implementation of the convention. Something is being watered down. Differentiation is being watered down. Equity is being watered down. All this commitment about the provision of finances is just being watered down.

As a matter of fact, it’s now been shifted to developing countries through many forms of what’s called “innovative” sources of finance, where they’re going to tax marine transport, aviation, goods and services. All of this would impact our own economies. We’re going to pay for that to go to climate finance, which is not fair. We’re going to pay for our own needs and we’re going to…which is something that should not be the case.

CB: In this [UNFCCC] process, who are your friends? Who are your key allies? Is it Donald Trump’s America? Who are your allies here?

AS: It’s all those who care about climate change. All those who are willing to sit down and have a balanced approach to implementing the Paris Agreement. Those are our people that we wish to sit and talk to. Those who really have a genuine interest in keeping the Paris Agreement as balanced as how it was created – and they’re willing to really do their part based on the elements of the Paris Agreement. Let’s not forget article 2 of the Paris Agreement, which says CBDR [common but differentiated responsibilities] and equity. If we’re all abiding by this principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and equity, that will give time and space for developing countries to develop, then we’re going to shake hands with [them]. Those are the people that are faithful to the Paris Agreement and our friends – and nobody else.

CB: At COP24, what, in your view, is success? What has to happen at COP24?

AS: Very simple. The package for the modalities, procedures and guidelines that will operationalise the Paris Agreement in a balanced way. All the elements come. All the elements should be included. If we get that, we are all successful.

Ayman Shashly at COP24. Credit: International Institute for Sustainable Development

CB: One last question, which is about the science. I have the 1.5C report here. [Carbon Brief hands Shasly a copy of the report.] Just to tell the scientists who worked on this, what specifically is the “missing science” here? The report is designed to show levels of uncertainty, so they say “medium”, etc. It’s designed in this way. Speaking to the scientists who wrote this, what are you saying is missing from this?

AS: Well, I’ll say, thank you very much, scientists, for the efforts that you spent and the time to do this. And for you to reflect on the comments that you received. There was thousands and thousands of comments. I think at some point there were close to 35,000 or something comments, and they responded to those comments. So thank you very much for all the hard work that you’ve done as scientists.

However, the report needs to be more complete. There are missing elements in the report. Go back, scientists, to the outline that we agreed to in the outline that we discussed in October, 2016, in Bangkok, when we said these are the elements to be covered. There were missing elements. They’re not here.

As I said, means of implementation, finance, technology is not covered. The impact of the actions to address climate change to achieve doing so is not covered. And many other elements. It is kind of concerning for us that were telling the world that it is easy. It’s OK that we can do something…it’s achievable to do the 1.5C, in a sense where it does not identify all those gains, because developing countries will not be able to do their part if we could not cover this areas. You need to tell developing countries, scientists, what does it take as far as finance needs, as far as cost to your GDP, and as far as the opportunities that you can, perhaps, be able to tackle [it] in a balanced way to achieve 1.5C.

To put it as such and say, up until now, we don’t have a problem. But we are now almost at the cliff. If we just take one more step, we’re going to fall. There is a skewed perception on 1.5C. To say that there was a history of emissions…this history needs to be corrected so that you allow space for our countries to continue to develop without being impacted by climate change. I would ask the scientists to please look at this, revise this, make it an integral element to the sixth assessment report that will come in two, three years time.

In the end, thank you very much for the work you’ve done, but we can acknowledge and we are mindful of the fact that you are unable to find some literature. But this is something should really be taken into account and fixing all those gaps. This figure 4 here, that shows the relevance…

CB: Can you show it?

AS: Let me see. Let me see. The figure 4 here, this one. This figure 4 here, it puts the sustainable development goals and it puts three elements – energy supply, energy demand, and land to address 1.5C. This is the one I was referring to. It was land and ocean, for you to imagine. And I said: “Why? How could you put land and ocean together, because they’re two different sectors?”. They said: “OK, we can split them and remove ocean.” And they put land. That made me worried. This is something that is not really very well supported by the underlying literature. Then I realised that this table never came in any of the underlying literature. It was just the making of the authors.

Look at what this table tells you. If you go to the first one [points at far-left column], what is this, poverty, it tells you that the relationship, the trade-offs, is minimal. But the synergies is really big. And the same thing for hunger. If you read it, it tries to give a nice rosy picture about the impact of us trying to achieve 1.5C. This is against every other science that we are aware of. For you to address 1.5C, you need to minimise land use and agriculture, which will impact food security significantly.

See all these “synergies”? [Points to figure 4.] When this says synergy, they mean opportunities. Look at all this colour here. It’s as if we’re really losing some very good economic and social opportunities if we do not address 1.5C. This is a skewed perspective. This is not concerning, not alarming to politicians, who really need to know that this is what it takes to address 1.5C. If we’re genuine about 1.5C, then tell them this is the price needed to address 1.5C. This table…it shows you only the opportunities. It doesn’t show you the price.

Anyway, this is a good example. Perhaps the author of this figure may not agree with me, but I had this debate with them and, as I said, they split the land and ocean, which tells you, for the scientist to put ocean and land together, and try to address 1.5C, it’s a mix of apple and orange. Then when asked why is it there, he said: “OK, I’ll remove ocean and I’ll put land.” It made me really in a very uncomfortable position to question really the scientific value of this figure, when just with comments from me, the figure has changed. Just from me.

Anyway, we’re really appreciative of the effort done by the IPCC and we always welcome their work. But sometimes we, as politicians, when imposing ourselves in special reports, this is the result of what would come out of it, because we asked them, at the time when we’re just less than one year [after] they produce their AR5, we told him, “no, that’s not good enough. Go and give us [one on] 1.5C.”

I would ask the question: if the IPCC was able to address 1.5C, would you think that they would not have done it themselves? They would wait for us to give them the mandate? That is not the IPCC we know.

IPCC is a very reputable, highly regarded organisation that takes initiatives on their own, and they are the ones who created this, not us, the ones whose mandated them on what to do and not to do. My message to all of us here at the UNFCCC is to stay away from the IPCC. Let the IPCC do its work and let them go about their scientific assessment. And we will receive…We should be at the receiving end, not at the initiation end of it, when we tell them to do this, do that for us. Otherwise, we will impact the integrity and the scientific reputation.

CB: In a decision text that comes out of this COP, what wording will you support around this?

AS: I had a proposal to the presidency to say: “we ‘note’ the IPCC special report, acknowledging the scientific and knowledge gaps in the report”. Just to be factual. Just to be factual, nothing else. I’m not putting anything from our side. The report acknowledges the scientific gap and knowledge gaps. Let’s just put that into the decision – that we “note” the report, while acknowledging the scientific and knowledge gaps. That will be mindful of the fact that, because of us, governments here have asked the IPCC to produce something out of nothing. This is the kind of product we get. [Points at report.]

I’ll just leave it there. Leo, thank you very much.

CB: OK. Thank you.

AS: Thank you very much.

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