LIMA (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s top climate negotiator said on Monday that growing pressure to phase out fossil fuels does not help the UN climate negotiations and that a new climate deal should help oil producers diversify their economies.
As UN climate change negotiations enter their second week in Lima, chief Saudi Arabian negotiator Khalid AbuLeif said a deal on climate change to be finalized next year in Paris should address the "vulnerabilities" of countries whose economies are dependent on a single resource or sector.
But pressure from environmentalists to end fossil fuel use and the possibility of a climate deal that calls for zero emissions by mid-century could get in the way of progress, he said.
"With a concept like zero emissions and ‘let’s knock fossil fuels out of the picture’, without clear technology diffusion and international cooperation program, you are really not helping the process," he told reporters Monday.
The future climate deal is inherently at odds with the objectives of oil exporters, AbuLeif said.
“Inevitably oil producers are going to be faced with huge liabilities if the implementation of the convention is advocating a move away from fossil fuels."
AbuLeif's remarks came as green groups protested at an event co-sponsored by Royal Dutch Shell Plc and the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute on the sidelines of UN talks on reconciling climate targets with economic growth and fossil fuel use.
"Without tackling the influence of the fossil fuel industry, we're never going to stop dangerous climate change," environmental group 350.org said.
Green groups have argued that the current period of low oil prices, which have slumped 40 percent since the summer, should encourage investors and energy companies to weigh both the environmental and financial risks of burning all the world's known oil, gas and coal reserves.
Low oil prices have also raised concerns that policymakers will be less motivated to jumpstart renewable energy development.
AbuLeif said abandoning fossil fuels is premature because "2 billion people do not have access to energy."
A deal that offers new technology and money to help countries rely less on a single sector such as oil, tourism or agriculture would be key, he said.
"We know we are in a race with time. Climate change and economic diversification for us is hand in hand," AbuLeif said.
Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Lisa Shumaker