“I have lived in Taif for over 45 years. When I was a child, we didn’t have an AC at home, not because of the lack of money, but the weather was nice & cool in the middle of summer during daytime. In the past ten years, I had to install an AC to beat the heat of afternoons. However, the weather of the Taif mountains is still cool”, said Fayez, a middle-aged private sector employee in Taif when asked by Majalla on whether or not he felt the climate change in Saudi Arabia.
Global warming is not restricted to environment reports issued by the ministries of environment and UN organizations; people everywhere in the world feel it themselves. Saudi Arabia, which intends to play a more impactful role in the international scene, has launched several initiatives that are meant to combat climate change on the margin of the Middle East Green Initiative Summit, which was held on the 25th of October. The Summit, which witnessed the attendance of global & regional leaders, comes as part of the Saudi Green Initiative, which aims to make the planet more sustainable for generations to come.
The Kingdom is leading the effort to reduce global warming by imposing a self-commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2060, increase the green cover, and adopt the circular economy. But how are those goals going to be achieved by an oil-based economy that produces the one of the highest carbon rates in the world currently?
CARBON EMMSION PEAK
Cutting carbon emissions means reducing gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) & other greenhouse gases, which are released in the atmosphere each time we use of fossil fuels.
“Saudi Arabia has joined more than 100 countries that vowed to reach net zero carbon emissions, including Western countries, Russia, China & Arab countries like the UAE. For those countries to reach their goals efficiently, they need to specify when they are going to reach the peak of their carbon emissions before the rates start to fall”, Hadi Noman, an Arab geography and environment researcher, told Majalla.
“China, for example, is going to reach the carbon peak in 2030 according to recent stats. However, Saudi seems to be more ambitious as it intends to cut carbon emissions by 30% in 2030 according to the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. This means the Kingdom has reached or will reach the carbon emissions peak in a very few years before reduction occurs in 2030”, he added.
Some think that the Saudi pledge means that it should give up the oil industry. This is not possible; the Kingdom plans to use the revenues coming from selling oil to proceed with its energy transformation and joining forces to fight global warming.
Expert Hadi Noman explains:” This does not mean that Saudi Arabia has to cut oil production or shut down its factories to reduce carbon emissions. What is more important now is to focus on responsible environment practices such as planting more trees, reducing pollution, and speeding up renewable energy use. We must take into consideration that long-term plans are subject to modification & improvement. Nobody knows what would happen in 40 years. The world keeps changing. The most important thing is to have a clear vision with an action plan”.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the Kingdom would invest around USD 180 bn to reach the goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2060. However, he stressed the fact that his country will continue producing oil for decades.
EXPANDING GREEN COVER
The Middle East Green Initiative includes planting 50 billion trees in the region with one fifth of the total (10 billion trees) to be planted in the Kingdom, making this the largest tree-planting program globally. The initiative involves the land reclamation of 200 million hectares of land.
The green cover expansion will help capture carbon, fight desertification, and creates a better environment for people, animals, and trees while keeping biodiversity. But the question to be asked here: How is Saudi Arabia going to provide water for this huge number of trees?
“One of the biggest initiatives that were launched during the Middle East Green Initiative Summit is the development of a regional program of cloud seeding, a technique discovered in the 1940’s to improve clouds’ ability to produce rain or snow by adding chemicals. If done properly, this could help provide water for the tree-planting program”, said Hadi Noman.
“Saudi Arabia has a population of 35 million, which means that water re-use could be one of the resources to provide water to expand the green cover. This means the Kingdom should invest more money in water re-use. It is good to note that trees that consume less amounts of water such as Sidr & Arak are the best options. Saudi can benefit from the Chinese experience of turning deserts in food-planting areas”, he added.
It is not the government alone that is going to achieve the goal of planting 10 billion trees. Charities, non-profit organizations, and individual/group volunteering initiatives are expected to join forces with the government to increase the Saudi green cover. Other regional countries need to find ways to reach the goal of planting 50 billion trees.
“It is not an easy job, but planting trees is one of the most effective ways to combat desertification, which is the real threat in the Middle East”, concluded Expert Noman.
Recently, more and more governments are talking about circular economy. It works opposite to linear economy, where raw materials are extracted, manufactured, and thrown away. With circular economy, priority is given to production and re-cycling while staying committed to the best environmental practices. The energy that is used for production comes from renewable, clean resources.
Saudi Arabia intends to adopt circular economy in the future. In fact, NEOM and its sub-project “THE LINE” will be run by circular economy. This is the level where carbon emissions disappear. Saudi Arabia has announced two initiatives to fund the “circular carbon economy” and provide “clean fuel” to help feed more that 750 million people worldwide. The cost for the two initiatives is more than USD 1 bn.
“Circular economy provides more job opportunities as the recycling industry is booming. Saudi Arabia has already adopted the circular economy in the Saudi Public Investment Fund projects such as NEOM and Red Sea. This kind of economy creates quality jobs for citizen and attracts the world’s best minds to further develop the country”, said Fahad Al Sheikh, a Saudi economic analyst.
“The transformation from a hydrocarbon-based economy to a circular one cannot happen overnight. However, it is inevitable if we want to leave a sustainable economy and limit the threats of global warming for generations to come”, he concluded.