Saudi Arabia’s 2060 net zero target is a challenge and an opportunity
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced that Saudi Arabia would hit net-zero emissions by 2060, pledging to invest more than $180 billion to support the move last October.
The target is daunting — but it also means that the benefits of achieving it would be profound. The Kingdom would establish itself as a leader in energy transformation and would lay out a roadmap for developing countries around the world who also face a steep climb toward decarbonization.
The country would need to work harder than most developed nations to achieve this groundbreaking target. But the key to turning challenges into opportunities is a well-planned strategy.
Saudi Arabia emitted 638 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2018. We project that its gross emissions will hit 931 million metric tons by 2060.
That means achieving net-zero emissions in 2060 would require 931 million metric tons of abatements. These are actions that cut emissions by improving efficiency, burning cleaner fuels, switching to alternative energy sources, or other measures that reduce carbon releases. Ninety percent of Saudi Arabia’s emissions in 2060 will come from the energy sector, with the remaining 10 percent distributed among industrial processes, waste, and agriculture.
By comparison, UK emissions in 2020 were 406 million metric tons, and were falling rather than rising. The UK still needs to make abatements, but at a far less ambitious scope. Decarbonization is like a race where every country in the world is headed for the same finish line — but many developed countries started the race, albeit at a much slower pace, 30 years ago.
The first checkpoint of this race is 2030 with Saudi Arabia having committed to abating 278 million metric tons of emissions by then. But even assuming that Saudi Arabia achieves those 2030 targets, its net-zero goal will require continued aggressive measures to cut emissions over the following three decades.
With the right moves, Saudi Arabia could build a new blueprint for energy transition.
Jose Alberich & Devansh Durgaraju
To paint a fuller picture of Saudi Arabia’s possible energy transition plans, we have developed three scenarios — baseline, optimistic and pessimistic.
In the baseline scenario, abatements grow at a 4.11 percent compound annual growth rate over three decades to achieve the 2060 net-zero commitment.
The optimistic scenario sees Saudi Arabia hit net zero by 2050, following the lead of several developed nations. This would require a 5.68 percent CAGR abatement, or the reduction of 26 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year.
In our most pessimistic scenario, the Kingdom’s abatement rate would come in at 3.11 percent CAGR a year, a rate similar to the plans of major developed countries.
In this scenario, Saudi Arabia would reach net-zero emissions in 2075, which is 15 years behind schedule.
These scenarios are based on the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s best practice energy mix to cut emissions. This is a balance between renewables, making up 25 percent of the mix, energy efficiency, 25 percent, electrification, 20 percent, carbon capture, utilization, and storage, 20 percent, and green hydrogen, at 10 percent.
With the right moves, Saudi Arabia could build a new blueprint for energy transition. This plan will be defined by choosing the right energy mix while ensuring the Kingdom’s ambitious economic and social targets are also met.
• Jose Alberich is a partner and Devansh Durgaraju is a manager at consultancy Kearney Middle East and Africa.