US climate envoy John Kerry discusses renewable energy, megaprojects in the Gulf

US climate envoy John Kerry discusses renewable energy, megaprojects in the Gulf
Climate envoy John Kerry sees the UAE as leading the region in transitioning to renewable energy, while noting strong potential in Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
3 min read
Washington, D.C.
02 July, 2021
John Kerry discussed renewable energy projects in oil-rich states [Getty]

As the world works to address climate change, some of the traditional oil producing countries could lead the way in transitioning to renewable energy, Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry told reporters on Thursday.

The online Q&A session, attended mainly by journalists from the Middle East, touched upon Kerry's travels to the United Arab Emirates and his upcoming trip to Saudi Arabia, where some of the world’s most ambitious renewable energy projects are taking place.

"I think the UAE has been one of the leaders, way beyond a lot of other countries.  They’ve deployed already one of the largest solar fields in the world,” said Kerry, who visited the country in April.  "They are planning more.  They have a number of major solar projects that are doing research.  They’re involved in green hydrogen research.”

He also gave credit to Saudi Arabia, which though much further behind the UAE in its economic and energy diversification, is nevertheless making strides in renewable energy projects.

"Saudi laid out for us a very developed, well-thought-out plan for how to make this transition and where they see the opportunity to reduce emissions in the largest amounts and the fastest," the secretary told reporters.

Saudi Arabia's petroleum sector accounts for 90 percent of export earnings and more than 40 percent of its GDP. The country has been trying to diversify away from oil since the 1970s. Over the past decade, with its falling GDP from lower oil exports, the country appears to be making more of a push for diversification.

"I think that the project at Neom, which seeks to deploy a massive amount of solar, which Saudi can do both in its ability to purchase as well as produce solar panels; but then, in addition, to use that as the energy provider for the electrolysis process that is necessary at a commercial scale to separate hydrogen from water and create green hydrogen," he said, referring to an under-construction cross-border smart city that will straddle Jordan and Egypt in the Red Sea area.

Furthermore, he pointed to Qatar’s plans for the first carbon-neutral FIFA World Cup.

"I think that Qatar is well placed to be one of those countries that helps in the transition that I talked about earlier," he said, calling it "an important first step." Qatar currently ranks as one of the world’s highest carbon emitters and among the highest water consumers per capita.

He added that regardless of concerns over climate change the oil economies of the Gulf would have to at some point transition away from oil.

"They know that no matter what happens, with or without climate crisis, oil and gas are not renewable.  They get used; they’re gone once they're used," he said.

The conference call mainly focused on megaprojects in oil-rich Gulf states. At no point was there any discussion of overconsumption of water, electricity, or the use resources in carrying out these massive projects.