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Opinion
Liam Denning

Who’s Really Living in Oil’s La La Land?

Saudi Arabia calls the IEA’s vision of the future unrealistic. It may want to reconsider its own vision first.

Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, a realist.

Saudi Arabian Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, a realist.

Photographer: Donat Sorokin/TASS/Getty Images

Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, is a realist. This week, he compared the International Energy Agency’s recent net-zero emissions analysis to “La La Land.” Because a world in which the half-brother of an autocratic prince attempts to manipulate the price of a vital commodity in league with a clutch of other autocracies and struggling petrostates, even as that commodity stokes a climate disaster ... yes, that sounds totally normal and good.

The IEA’s “roadmap” is la-la land in the sense that it requires a “total transformation” of global energy. That is difficult precisely because, with the externalities of emissions largely unpriced, we rely heavily on an incumbent system predicated on “cheap” fossil fuels. But what then? The status quo means doubling down on climate change. That doesn’t sound particularly realistic; like “La La Land” except set in a noirish Los Angeles clouded by wildfire smoke.