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Ambition gap

What is Saudi Arabiaʼs pathway to limit global warming to 1.5°C?

1.5°C compatible pathways

Saudi Arabia’s conditional NDC is estimated to increase GHG emissions excluding LULUCF by 35-72% above 2015 levels, reaching 861-1105 MtCO₂e/yr by 2030.1

Saudi Arabia aims to annually abate up to 130 MtCO₂e/yr (132 MtCO₂e/yr in AR4 GWPs) by 2030 through contributions to economic diversification and adaptation measures that also entail mitigation co-benefits.1,2 This translates to emissions levels of 860-1120 MtCO₂e/yr excluding LULUCF in 2030, an increment of 35-72% above 2015 levels.1

In contrast, a 1.5°C compatible pathway for Saudi Arabia would see the country reducing its emissions by 39-51% by 2030 below 2015 levels, or 311-388 MtCO₂e/yr.

Considering the energy sector’s large share of Saudi Arabia’s overall emissions profile, a majority of emissions reductions will need to come from this sector followed by industrial processes and waste. Under current policies, GHG emissions are projected to increase by 46-62% above 2015 levels to 933-1035 MtCO₂e/yr by 2030.

Long term pathway

The Saudi Arabian government announced a commitment to achieve carbon neutrality, which would be interpreted as net zero CO₂ emissions, at a conference in Riyadh in January 2021.5 This is yet to be followed up with official communications.

To be 1.5°C compatible, Saudi Arabia would need to reduce its GHG emissions by 85% below 2015 levels, when excluding the contribution of LULUCF sinks, to reach 97 MtCO₂e/yr by 2050. CO₂ emissions reductions should be even higher at 93% below 2015 levels, reaching 36 MtCO₂yr.10

These positive remaining emissions will need to be balanced by negative emissions issued from carbon dioxide removal (CDR) approaches, from land sinks or technological options.11 This would require stringent and ambitious policies in sectors such as power, industry, transport, and oil and gas exploration.

1 Climate Action Tracker. Country Analysis: Saudi Arabia September 2020 Update. (2020).

2 Government of Saudi Arabia. The Intended Nationally Determined Contribution of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia under the UNFCCC. (2015).

3 International Energy Agency. Energy data and statistics. (2021).

4 Alnatheer, O. The potential contribution of renewable energy to electricity supply in Saudi Arabia. Energy Policy 33, 2298–2312 (2005).

5 Recharge News. We will be pioneering’: Saudi Arabia reveals 50% renewables goal by 2030, but is that realistic? (2021).

6 KPMG. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Budget Report A review of the Saudi Arabia 2020 budget and recent economic developments. (2019). Arabia2020BudgetReport.pdf

7 International Renewable Energy Agency. Statistics Time Series. (2021).

8 General Authority for Statistics. Indicators of Renewable Energy in Saudi Arabia 2018. (2018).

9 Balkan Green Energy News. Saudi Arabia to add 3.7 GW in solar power, achieves world’s lowest price. (2021).

10 In some of the analysed pathways, the energy sector assumes already a certain amount of carbon dioxide removal technologies, in this case bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS).

11 While global cost-effective pathways assessed by the IPCC Special Report 1.5°C provide useful guidance for an upper-limit of emissions trajectories for developed countries, they underestimate the feasible space for such countries to reach net zero earlier. The current generation of models tend to depend strongly on land-use sinks outside of currently developed countries and include fossil fuel use well beyond the time at which these could be phased out, compared to what is understood from bottom-up approaches. The scientific teams which provide these global pathways constantly improve the technologies represented in their models – and novel CDR technologies are now being included in new studies focused on deep mitigation scenarios meeting the Paris Agreement. A wide assessment database of these new scenarios is not yet available; thus, we rely on available scenarios which focus particularly on BECCS as a net-negative emission technology. Accordingly, we do not yet consider land-sector emissions (LULUCF) and other CDR approaches.

12 The 100%RE model (EWG_LUT) shows an oil phase out by 2030, the Low Energy Demand (MESSAGEix-GLOBIOM) shows an oil share of 22% by 2030, and the model High energy demand – Low CDR Reliance (REMIND_1.7) shows a share of 4% of oil by 2030. The two other models SSP1-High CDR Reliance (IMAGE-SSP1-19-SPA1-V17) and the SSP1-Low CDR Reliance (AIM/CGE SSP1-19-SPA1-V16), show an increase by 2030.


Saudi Arabiaʼs total GHG emissions

excl. LULUCF MtCO₂e/yr

Displayed values
Reference year
Reference year
1.5°C emissions level
Estimated NDC
Ambition gap
  • 1.5°C compatible pathways
  • Middle of the 1.5°C compatible range
  • Current policy projections
  • 1.5°C emissions range
  • Historical emissions
2030 emissions levels
Current policy projections
Estimated NDC
1.5°C emissions level
Ref. year 2015

Energy system transformation

The major sources of GHG emissions in Saudi Arabia is fuel combustion in the energy sector (electricity generation, industry, and transport), fugitive emissions (from extraction of oil and gas), and industrial processes. Clear and stringent policies are crucial for the transformation of these sectors.

To be compatible with a 1.5°C pathway, the share of fossil fuels in the primary energy mix would need to decline from almost 100% now to 30-40% in most scenarios by 2050. The country would also need to see a clear uptake of clean energy sources, reaching a share of up to 40-60% by 2050, with renewable energy sources accounting for 20-40% alone. Saudi Arabia would need to set ambitious energy efficiency and renewable energy targets across different sub-sectors and implement clear and stringent policies to transform the energy sector.

Saudi Arabia is strongly committed to the development of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) projects and its NDC specifically states the goal to build “the world’s largest carbon capture and use plant to capture and purify about 1500 tons of CO₂ a day for use in petrochemical plants”.2 For a country like Saudi Arabia whose economy is highly reliant on fossil fuels, betting on CCS could represent a risk of significant stranded-assets if this technology does not eventually become available at scale. CCS technologies also have a non-trivial sustainability footprint in terms of increased water use, higher resource demands and mining and production footprint. Also, the relative cost trend between CCS in the power sector and renewables means that CCS in the power sector is increasingly unlikely to be able to ever compete with renewable energy. As a water scarce country with high renewable energy potential, Saudi Arabia would benefit from transitioning to a fully renewable energy system that avoids reliance on CCS.


Saudi Arabiaʼs primary energy mix

petajoule per year

SSP1 Low CDR reliance
20192030204020504 0006 0008 000
SSP1 High CDR reliance
20192030204020504 0006 0008 000
Low Energy Demand
20192030204020504 0006 0008 000
High Energy Demand - Low CDR reliance
20192030204020504 0006 0008 000
  • Negative emissions technologies via BECCS
  • Unabated fossil
  • Renewables incl. Biomass
  • Nuclear and/or fossil with CCS

Saudi Arabiaʼs total CO₂ emissions

excl. LULUCF MtCO₂/yr

  • 1.5°C compatible pathways
  • 1.5°C emissions range
  • Middle of the 1.5°C compatible range
  • Historical emissions

1.5°C compatible emissions benchmarks

Key emissions benchmarks of Paris compatible Pathways for Saudi Arabia. The 1.5°C compatible range is based on the Paris Agreement compatible pathways from the IPCC SR1.5 filtered with sustainability criteria. The median (50th percentile) to 5th percentile and middle of the range are provided here. Relative reductions are provided based on the reference year.

Reference year
Reference year
Year of net zero GHG
incl. BECCS excl. LULUCF and novel CDR
Total GHG
Megatonnes CO₂ equivalent per year
295 to 386
128 to 176
78 to 104
Relative to reference year in %
−58 to −45%
−82 to −75%
−89 to −85%
Total CO₂
243 to 362
54 to 174
13 to 109
Relative to reference year in %
−59 to −39%
−91 to −71%
−98 to −82%