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Amin Nasser, CEO of Saudi Aramco, gestures as he speaks during a panel session on day three of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland on Thursday, January 23, 2020.

Jason Alden | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Amin Nasser, chief executive of Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil producer, on Monday urged world leaders to continue investing in the planet-warming fossil fuels for years to come, arguing that the assumption that the world could switch to clean energy “overnight” was “deeply flawed.”

Nasser, speaking at the World Petroleum Congress in Houston, Texas, argued that too rapid a shift to cleaner fuels could lead to runaway inflation and social unrest, and ultimately upend emissions targets for the people. nations to reduce carbon pollution.

“I understand that it will be difficult for some to publicly admit that oil and gas will play a vital and important role during the transition and beyond,” Nasser said at the conference, which focused on low carbon strategies and technologies.

“But admitting this reality will be much easier than dealing with energy insecurity, rampant inflation and social unrest as prices become intolerably high, and seeing countries’ net zero liabilities start to erode. “, he continued.

Nasser’s remarks come amid mounting pressure on the oil and gas industry to limit fossil fuel exploration and production and shift to renewable energy development, as countries set new targets to reduce carbon emissions. carbon to fight against climate change.

The International Energy Agency warned in May that investment in new oil and gas projects must stop immediately in order for the world to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

To prevent global temperatures from warming above 1.5 degrees Celsius, the world will need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by almost half over the next decade and reach net zero emissions by 2050, according to the Group intergovernmental experts on climate change. The Earth has already warmed by about 1.1 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and is expected to experience a temperature increase of 2.4 degrees Celsius by 2100.

But other global energy leaders at the conference, including CEOs of Exxon and Chevron, also argued that demand for oil and gas will remain high for years to come despite efforts to transition. towards a clean energy saving.

“Oil and gas continue to play a pivotal role in meeting global energy needs, and we play a critical role in delivering them in a low-carbon manner,” said Chevron CEO Mike Wirth, during the conference. “Our products make the world go round.”

Exxon on Monday unveiled plans to achieve net zero emissions from its operations in oil and gas fields in West Texas and New Mexico by 2030 as part of an effort to reduce emissions in all of its activities. During the conference, company CEO Darren Woods highlighted the continued need for fossil fuels as part of the clean energy transition.

“The fact remains, in most credible scenarios, including net zero trajectories, oil and natural gas will continue to play an important role in meeting the needs of society,” said Woods.

Global demand for fossil fuels has rebounded sharply this year as global economies recover from the coronavirus pandemic. And global carbon emissions from fossil fuel combustion are expected to reach 36.4 billion tonnes this year from 2020, an increase of 4.9%.

President Joe Biden announced last month that the United States, in coordination with China, India, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom, will mine the strategic oil reserve and release 50 million barrels in an attempt to calm the rapid increase in fuel this year. prices.

“While there may be a step back on my remarks today, I know that if we don’t speak out as an industry, no one else will on our behalf,” Nasser said.

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