The Saudi pavilion is a focal point of intellectual activity at COP26

The Saudi pavilion is a focal point of intellectual activity at COP26

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The pavilion of Saudi Arabia at the COP26 summit in Glasgow is a buzz of activity, with dignitaries from the Middle East and the global energy industry dropping by to say hello and swap stories after the first few days of the crucial gathering on climate change. There is a relaxed, conversational ambience.

But it is also a hive of serious intellectual activity, as the Saudi delegation invites to world to look in detail at the Kingdom’s plans to tackle global warming, and to persuade sometimes skeptical COP26 delegates that it is taking its climate change credentials seriously.

You can detect the mood changing perceptibly as activists and media, who may have had a cynical view of the motivations of the biggest oil exporter in the world, absorb the detail.

One side event session in particular pulled in a big audience. “Addressing climate change: The Circular Carbon Economy (CCE) framework” was an opportunity for some of Saudi Arabia’s leading experts to explain the fundamentals of the Kingdom’s strategy, and it played to a packed house.

Khalid Abuleif, special adviser to the energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman and chief climate change negotiator, kicked it off with a narrative about the roots and evolution of the CCE, from its origins as an element of the Vision 2030 diversification strategy, through its unveiling in 2019 as the key framework on energy transition, down to its current central role in the Saudi Green Initiative.

Adam Sieminski, senior adviser to the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Centre, told the session how CCE could help to get the Kingdom toward the goal of net zero emissions by 2060, recently unveiled as an ambitious element of the SGI, while Gassem Falattah, currently leading the National Program to implement the CCE, reinforced the message that CCE is core to the Kingdom’s strategy towards energy transition.

But it was left to Bill McDonough, American architect and innovator, to supply the intellectual ballast underpinning the CCE. He is well placed to do so, as the man who can lay fair claim to be the inventor of the concept.

McDonough first expounded the theory of circularity in his 2002 book “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things,” which explained how design and production could be adapted to reuse and recycle materials to enhance sustainability.

The visitors left the Saudi pavilion after the session with a new and deeper understanding of the Kingdom’s commitment to combat global warming and climate change.

Frank Kane

A chance meeting with Saudi officials in Davos led McDonough to explain his theories to leading energy policymakers from the Kingdom, and to get him thinking about the role carbon plays in the economic and biological process.

As he told the pavilion audience: “Carbon is not the enemy, it’s an innocent element. Carbon is the source of life. But it all depends what we do with it.”

Carbon comes in three forms, McDonough explained. Living carbon is everything in the biological world and the agricultural universe. Obviously that is good and beneficial for mankind.

Durable carbon — the materials we use in everyday life such as concrete, bricks and timber — can also be good, although not in some cases, like plastic pollution in the world’s oceans, which has to be mitigated.

The real problem comes with the third form — fugitive carbon. The main culprits are the greenhouse gasses, such as CO2 and methane, that we are increasingly pumping into the atmosphere and are the prime subject for discussion (and opprobrium) at COP26.

To restore the circularity of the world, fugitive carbon has to be reduced, reused and recycled, the first three Rs of the CCE framework. But — and this is the crunch for the planet — it also has to be removed from the biosphere.

A good deal of time is spent at COP26 discussing techniques such as carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) and direct air capture (DAC), which could, if made efficient, affordable and scalable, prove to be the “silver bullet” in the climate change conundrum.

“The Remove part is new and really exciting,” McDonough told the audience, “but the question is how we can all work on this together.”

The visitors left the Saudi pavilion after the session with a new and deeper understanding of the Kingdom’s commitment to combat global warming and climate change. Mission accomplished.

• Frank Kane is an award-winning business journalist based in Dubai.

Twitter: @frankkanedubai

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view