RIYADH: Saudi Energy Minister Abdulaziz bin Salman (second right) participates in a panel during the annual Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in the Saudi capital Riyadh yesterday. - AFP

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia could go carbon neutral before its 2060 target if technology evolves quickly enough, its energy minister said yesterday, days before the COP26 climate summit. Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said new processes enabling the "circular carbon economy"-a concept where waste carbon is captured and repurposed-were key to the world's top oil exporter achieving net zero.

The kingdom, also one of the world's biggest polluters, is heavily promoting the virtues of the circular carbon economy (CCE) at the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, an elite business gathering dubbed "Davos in the desert". "CCE first and foremost depends on the evolution of technology," the minister told the conference, describing 2060 as a "dynamic baseline".

"Actually, if technology evolves even faster, we may not have to wait until 2060. It could bring it earlier." On Saturday, Saudi Arabia pledged to go carbon neutral by 2060. Two days later it announced a billion-dollar contribution to initiatives to fund the circular carbon economy and provide "clean" fuel for the world's poor. The United Nations says more than 130 countries have set or are considering a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by mid-century, an objective it says is "imperative" to safeguard a liveable climate.

World leaders will gather in Glasgow from Sunday for the UN's COP26, a historic summit billed as humanity's "last best chance" to get devastating climate change under control. "The most daunting challenge that we are all faced with is climate change," the energy minister said, before adding that he did not expect any drop in demand for oil. "I still argue it would not happen," he said. Oil production remains the fundamental plank of Saudi energy policy. This month, state-owned giant Saudi Aramco said it planned to raise production by a million barrels a day by 2027.

Two days after targeting carbon neutrality by 2060, and ahead of next week's COP26 global climate change summit, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman promised to contribute 15 percent of $10.4 billion to fund the "circular carbon economy" and provide "clean fuel" to help feed 750 million people worldwide. - AFP