Saudi Arabia — the world's largest oil-exporting nation — has unveiled a target of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2060, even as it continues to expand its oil and gas production capacity.

The country unveiled its target on Saturday, within days of the United Nations' COP26 climate talks beginning in Glasgow on 31 October.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said on Saturday at the Saudi Green Initiative Forum that the country aims to reach net zero emissions by 2060 “through the Carbon Circular Economy approach, in line with its development plans and enabling its economic diversification.”

Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler said the first package launched by the country for developing the green economy would involve more than 700 billion riyals' ($187 billion) worth of investments, in line with the nation’s 2030 Vision, Saudi Arabia’s official press agency SPA reported.

State-owned oil giant Saudi Aramco also announced on Saturday that it is targeting net zero Scope 1 and scope 2 greenhouse gas emissions across its wholly owned operated assets by 2050. It said it will reveal further details in its sustainability report during the second quarter of 2022.

Aramco chief executive Amin Nasserc said the company’s ambition to reach net zero emissions across its operations in less than three decades is a historic step forward that will help tackle the most pressing challenge facing humanity.

Reducing carbon emissions

Saudi Arabia plans to reduce carbon emissions by 278 million tonnes per annum by 2030, thus voluntarily more than doubling its previous targeted emissions reduction.

The Opec kingpin is the second Persian Gulf nation to have recently announced a long-term net zero target, in the build-up to the COP26 summit, despite spending billions of dollars on expanding its oil and gas production capacity.

Saudi Arabia’s Persian Gulf neighbour, the United Arab Emirates, recently said it aims to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and added that the UAE would invest almost $165 billion in clean energy by 2050 and would “play its global role in combating climate change".

Scaling up oil and gas production capacity

Despite the new Saudi net zero target, Aramco plans to scale up its oil production capacity to 13 million barrels per day from its current 12 million bpd capacity in the coming years, as the country races to retain its position as a leading global oil and gas exporter.

While state-owned giants in the Middle East region have made several announcements in the recent past to speed up their hydrogen infrastructure, tap solar resources, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and ramp up their carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) programmes, industry experts are still concerned about their long-term emission targets, as compared to the western energy giants.

Aramco, which has seen its carbon emissions increasingly targeted by climate activists, claims its upstream operations have one of the lowest carbon intensities globally and that it has managed to considerably cut down on gas flaring, whilst also focusing on CCUS projects.

Avoiding impact on oil exports

Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Abdulaziz bin Salman said: “The kingdom’s goal is to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2060, taking into account that this will not have an adverse financial or economic impact on oil exports.”

He said the country is making significant efforts to scale up the “share of gas and renewable energy in its energy mix to 50% for each of them by 2030”.

By end of this decade, Saudi Arabia "will be a model for the production of all energy sources and the best in terms of energy efficiency”, he said.

He added that Saudi Arabia’s energy-efficiency programmes have proved to be successful for more than 10 years, which has reduced 48 million tonnes of carbon emissions annually.

The country also has plans to reduce an additional 9 million tpa of carbon emissions in the coming years by focusing on industry, transportation and construction.

Saudi Arabia will also be joining the Global Methane Pledge, which aims to reduce methane emissions globally by 30% compared to the level of emissions in 2020, its energy minister said.