RIYADH (AFP) — OPEC, the cartel that pumps 40 percent of world oil, won praise on Thursday for tackling the subject of global warming at its summit here, a problem it is more usually accused of exacerbating.
The 12-member Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries has made "protecting the planet" one of three headline issues at a meeting of leaders in the Saudi capital.
"I think the debate here points to a constructive willingness to participate in international dialogue about climate change," the UN's top climate change official Yvo de Boer told a press conference.
De Boer, who took part in a debate about energy and the environment, said that OPEC had shown "recognition that oil is a major contributor to the greenhouse effect, but also a willingness to talk about how oil can be produced and brought to market in a cleaner way."
The summit, only the third in the organisation's 47-year history, is to tackle the themes of "providing petroleum, promoting prosperity and protecting the planet."
Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Nuaimi, who chaired the debate with de Boer, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said the host country was concerned and ready to act.
"We (Saudi Arabia) are willing to participate with others to help in reducing world emissions because like the rest of the world we are concerned about the environment," he said.
Leaders of the 12 member countries of OPEC plus the president of Ecuador, who is expected to seal his country's return to the organisation, are to arrive in Riyadh on Saturday for two days of talks.
On Thursday and Friday, oil ministers and delegates were discussing the future of the oil industry.
Daniel Yergin, chairman of Cambridge Energy Research Associates and author of a best-selling book on the history of the oil industry, said the emphasis on the environment was "striking."
"This (the OPEC summit) is now part of a global dialogue looking beyond the identification of the issue (of climate change) and looking for solutions," he told AFP.
"Ultimately the answer is going to be finding the technology (to reduce emissions). It is clear they'll (OPEC) take part in it."
The leaders are expected to issue a joint communique at the end of their meeting, which OPEC Secretary General Abdullah al-Badri said would discuss the environment.
De Boer urged them to pledge to invest in carbon storage and sequestration (CSS), a nascent technology to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and he promoted an idea to set up a joint investment fund with money from OPEC producers, industrialised nations and developing countries.
A commitment to look at investing in CSS would be "very constructive outcome of the deliberations at the heads of state level," he said.
CSS, with which oil producer Norway, a non-OPEC member, is leading the way, consists of trapping carbon dioxide and storing it long-term underground.
"I think we are going to see a lot of money and funds being very focused on innovation technology (and) a wave of innovation building up," said Yergin.
Other ways oil producers can improve their environmental record include stopping a practice known as flaring, the burning of natural gas extracted from oilfields.
Many producers, including OPEC members Algeria, Angola, Indonesia and Nigeria, have signed up to a voluntary initiative known as the Global Gas Flaring Reduction programme.
Badri, who will travel to Bali for a crucial international meeting on climate change next month, stressed that extracting oil created a relatively small proportion of global emissions -- a position backed by de Boer.
"The part of producing oil (in greenhouse gas emissions) is not that high, the cost of consuming oil is," he said.
"(CSS) needs a lot of money, investment and research. Developed countries have the technology to take the lead."
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