Glasgow, Scotland – Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan today expressed grave concern at moves by the Saudi government to cripple the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow.

On Friday night Saudi negotiators moved to block the negotiations taking place over the creation of the so-called ‘cover decision’ for the final text. The cover decision is the top line message coming out of a COP that signals what the final outcome means for the world and is a vital part of any successful summit. Many countries, especially those facing existential risks, have been attempting to ensure that Glasgow’s cover decision focuses on accelerating action to keep 1.5C alive – thus the absence of any cover decision at all would cripple that effort and critically undermine the outcome in Glasgow. 

The Saudi government then blocked efforts to achieve progress on adaptation. A key pillar of the Paris Agreement, adaptation is the effort to help millions of people around the world cope with the impacts of rising temperatures. Lack of progress on adaptation would make it difficult for vulnerable countries, including the African block of nations, to embrace any final agreement, making success at COP26 less likely.

Saudi negotiators are able to undermine the talks because all decisions require a consensus across all 196 countries in attendance – meaning a single nation can veto progress. There are no agreed voting rules in the UNFCCC because Saudi Arabia has been blocking them since the body was created after the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. 

Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan has been to every single COP over the past quarter of a century and is a seasoned observer of Saudi tactics. She said:   

“Saudi Arabia is making its play. They’re at the chess board, manipulating the pieces in an effort to stop an outcome that keeps 1.5C within reach. The push on Friday night to block a cover decision was a textbook effort to strip ambition from the final text, while the move to dilute substance on the adaptation goal was designed to ensure vulnerable countries don’t get the support they need and therefore can’t sign up to a meaningful agreement at the end of this week. It’s smart, strategic and utterly cynical. Other governments now need to isolate the Saudi delegation if they want this COP to succeed for everyone, not just fossil fuel interests.”

The Saudi negotiators in Glasgow have also tried to block ambition via the Like-Minded Developing Countries (LMDCs) group, pushing back on the inclusion of the 1.5C temperature goal while demanding weak baselines.

Two weeks ago the BBC and Unearthed revealed that the Saudi government tried to influence the wording of a landmark UN climate science report, due out in March next year. Representatives from the Saudi oil ministry pushed the authors of the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report on mitigation to remove a reference to published literature that found fossil fuels need to be phased out if we’re to avoid the worst effects of climate change. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s biggest oil exporters. 

Jennifer Morgan added:

“Key to the strategy of fossil fuel interests like the Saudis is to dodge blame for wrecking the talks, so they always try to keep their fingerprints off. They light matches, drop them, start fires and walk away. No country is immune to the catastrophic threat of rising temperatures, Saudi Arabia included. Indeed, the Gulf region is warming even faster than the global average.”  

The actions of the Saudi government are in line with its approach to energy. The national oil company Aramco announced last month that it plans to increase its oil production capacity from 12 million to 13 million barrels a day by 2027. Two weeks later the government announced a pledge to reach ‘net zero’ by 2060 but failed to provide any evidence that the country’s leaders intend to implement policies to actually meet the goal.

Greenpeace acknowledges that the wealth and economy of Saudi Arabia is based on fossil fuels and that it will be a challenging transition, but the science has demonstrated that this is the only way to secure the future of humanity and they must be prepared to take on their share of responsibility. The Gulf region is rich in renewable energy potential, which can stimulate a vibrant economy with better jobs for a wide segment of society, based on equity and justice rather than concentration of corporate wealth.


Notes to Editors

The cover decision in Glasgow is a document also known as 1/CP.26, CMA3.

The Saudi effort to block progress on adaptation came in a Glasgow meeting on Friday evening under the auspices of the Nairobi Work Programme on Impacts, Vulnerability, and Adaptation to Climate Change. 

The Saudi government has a long history of attempting to sabotage climate talks, with varying degrees of success. Six years ago in Paris they strenuously resisted efforts to enshrine ambitious goals in the text. Their negotiators objected to the mention of 1.5C and demands for periodic reviews of climate plans. Saudi negotiators also demanded that if Small Island Nations like Kiribati be compensated for climate change, the Kingdom should also be protected from loss of future oil income.

The Like-Minded Developing Countries – LMDC – group is formed of Algeria, Bangladesh, Bolivia, China, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Mali, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela and Vietnam.

To request an interview with Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director of Greenpeace International, contact: Dannielle Taaffe, Media Advisor, Greenpeace International ([email protected])

Greenpeace International Press Desk: [email protected], +31 (0) 20 718 2470 (available 24 hours)