Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister brushed off Western contributions to a recently established climate loss and damage fund, describing them as “insignificant,” while emphasizing Riyadh’s financial commitments to developing countries on Monday.

Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Abdulaziz bin Salman dismissed Western donations to a new climate loss and damage fund as “small change” as he trumpeted Riyadh’s pledges of cash to developing countries on Monday.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said that Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, but not a contributor to the new UN fund, had earmarked $50 billion for climate adaptation in Africa.

The loss and damage fund for vulnerable nations, a major win at the start of the COP28 climate talks in Dubai, has attracted about $655 million so far from donors, including the European Union and the United States, a sum criticized as insufficient by campaigners.

“Unlike the small change offered for loss and damage from our partners in developed countries, the Kingdom through its South-South cooperation announced in the Saudi Africa Summit in Riyadh last month the allocation of up to $50 billion,” Prince Abdulaziz said in a video message to the Saudi Green Initiative forum, held on the sidelines of COP28 in Dubai.

Such private funds have been criticized by campaigners for lacking transparency and because the pledges are non-binding and include loans and investments.

The prince’s remarks were the latest sign of sharp differences around tackling the climate crisis as negotiators from around the world attempt to hammer out an agreement in Dubai.

Arguments over the “phase-out” or “phase-down” of fossil fuels is another key battleground at the talks in the United Arab Emirates, one of the world’s biggest oil producers.

Saudi Arabia has revamped its energy sources, invested in renewables and improved energy-efficiency as it tries to decarbonize its economy by 2030, Prince Abdulaziz said.

But that target does not include emissions from the 8.9 million barrels of oil a day exported by Saudi Arabia.

Africa and its energy mix is an area of focus for both Saudi and the UAE, which pledged $4.5 billion in September for clean-energy investments in the continent.

At the Saudi-Africa Summit last month — where the kingdom unveiled a $45-billion investment package for the continent — Prince Abdulaziz said that attempts to provide financial support for poor nations hit by climate change had produced poor results.

In the lead-up to COP28, a report by the Centre for Climate Reporting and Britain’s Channel 4 News accused Saudi Arabia of artificially stimulating oil demand in Africa and Asia. Saudi authorities did not respond to a request for comment.

Khalil Wakim, with AFP