The Machiavellian Nature of Saudi Oil

This week, negotiators are meeting in Bonn for discussions leading up to the 16th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (the UNFCCC CoP16). Faithful readers may remember that I was in Copenhagen for the 15th CoP in 2009. This year’s meeting is scheduled for late November/early December in Cancun, and already discussions are heating up. In addition to worries about what to do if no resolution is reached before the 2012 Kyoto Protocol deadline, Saudi Arabia is raising a red flag again: this time to ask for reparations for money they would lose if the world were to cut petroleum use.

The kicker here is that Saudi Arabia wants to be paid for oil they won’t–likely can’t–produce. There has been suspicion for several years that Saudi Arabia, along with other OPEC countries, has been progressively overstating the levels of their own oil reserves. Add to that that Persian Gulf states are using an increasing portion of the oil they do produce domestically (up to an additional 1.5 million barrels per day by 2030 just for electricity generation). Add to that that, by some accounts, Saudi oil production peaked in 2005 and shows no signs of rebounding.

This yields a picture of a situation where Saudi Arabia is faced with declining production and exports in coming years due to domestic use and geological fundamentals of supply. If only there was some way to get paid for all the oil that they don’t have to export! Enter the UN climate change negotiations. If declining production can be blamed on international pressure for climate change mitigation, rather than other factors, then perhaps the Saudis can still get paid. Who would foot the bill remains an unanswered question.

Copenhagen Presentations

I haven’t blogged in a while, so I thought I’d write a catch-up post. Back in December, I went to Copenhagen as part of my dissertation research into WWF’s Arctic programs. The actual negotiations were locked down pretty tightly, but they were not the main focus of my research so it was OK that I didn’t get in. In fact, since the only agreement that came out of Copenhagen was drafted at the last minute by a small group of international leaders, I could argue that most of the delegates should have spent their time marching in the streets or attending public meetings. One thing that I realized in Copenhagen, though, is that my research is completely tied to climate change science, activism, and policy. There are certainly other issues in the Arctic, but climate change is the 800-lb gorilla.

I also want my research to be part of a more public anthropology. That means not confining my research to theoretical minutiae in academic journals, but instead doing research that has some significance for Jane Doe on the street. And so far, Jane Doe wants to hear about climate change, based on questions from family and friends. I’ll be giving a presentation to the local Exchange Club next week and to the local Quaker group a few weeks later. So, I throw it out to my handful of blog readers: what do you think I should include in a 20-minute presentation? My inclination is to just touch on the science of climate change and focus more on the different issues debated in Copenhagen: climate debt, market mechanisms, climate refugees, localization vs. globalization. Thoughts?