Riyadh to host next World Economic Forum regional summit

Riyadh to host next World Economic Forum regional summit
Riyadh to host next World Economic Forum regional summit

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - DAVOS: Rapidly becoming a highlight of the hectic Davos calendar is the Saudi reception and dinner, held for the past two years now at the InterContinental Hotel on the outskirts of the Alpine resort.

The egg-shaped InterConti is one of the bigger and newer establishments here, very different in style from most of the other traditional Swiss hotels. It exudes corporate power and influence and is a fitting venue for the most valuable company in history to host friends, clients and would-be partners for a few informal hours.

On Wednesday, the hotel was virtually an extension of Riyadh. In addition to the Aramco event, there was also a big presence by the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), with its slogan “Saudi Arabia: Now Live” in prominent view in the bustling lobby.

The Aramco event — hosted of course by chief executive officer Amin Nasser — was a gathering of some of the most powerful people in the Kingdom, as well as a number of the great-and-good of the energy world and representatives of the global elite.

The Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman chatted amiably with guests, none the worse for wear from the door-stepping he had got from the Western press earlier in the day, which had caused a storm of disapproval on Saudi domestic media. He had a few words for everyone.

Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of the Saudi Public Investment Fund and chairman of Armco, was in attendance too, enjoying the refreshments and canapes of the gathering.

The theme of the reception — held in the InterConti’s cavernous basement function hall — was “the art of the possible,” aiming to highlight Aramco’s huge investment in energy technology, its big global research and development commitment, and its awareness of climate-change issues. “We are more than just a petrol pump,” was the message.

One neat synergy between traditional Saudi life and modern technology was the story of Mohamed Amanullah, leader of Aramco’s Advanced Research Center, who devised a way of using discarded date seeds — suitably processed — as a filter in the oil-drilling process. “It shows heritage and sustainability in one place,” an Aramco aide explained.

The highlight of the soiree was an address from Nasser, who took the stage to thank guests for making the trek to the InterConti. He noted that Davos 2020 had the highest number ever of Saudi delegates.

“Last year was an exceptional year for Aramco, in a variety of areas; some of them planned, some not predicted,” he told the audience.

Among the foreseen events were the release of audited reserves estimates showing Aramco — officially — as the world’s biggest oil company; the record-breaking bond issue in spring; the finding by scientific experts that the Kingdom had the cleanest crude of any of the oil majors; and, of course, the biggest initial public offering in history last month and market recognition of the fact Aramco is the biggest listed company in the world.

Some unplanned events were also mentioned, notably the attacks on Aramco facilities last September that briefly halted most of the Kingdom’s oil industry, but which was overcome with rapid efficiency. The oil price spike was short lived.

“Our job is to fulfill the global need for affordable energy,” Nasser said, highlighting Aramco’s “responsibility and moral obligation” to help alleviate energy poverty in poorer countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

Nasser finished with a pledge that Aramco’s hi-tech capabilities will be enhanced and expanded for the benefit of the world. “I am confident that we can use technology to remove carbon dioxide emissions and methane from the atmosphere,” he said.

That is a mission worthy of the biggest energy company on the planet and provided food for thought for the rest of the Davos evening.

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