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DUBAI: Two new Saudi initiatives are generating buzz and enthusiasm for environmental protection and climate change mitigation far beyond the Kingdom’s borders. Unveiled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on March 27, the Saudi Green and Middle East Green initiatives call for regional cooperation to address the environmental challenges facing the Kingdom and the region as a whole.

From conflict and hunger to energy and diplomacy, Saudi Arabia has always been a leading force in shaping the policies of GCC regions and coordinating crisis responses. The green initiatives, which are part of the Vision 2030 reform strategy, will put Saudi Arabia at the center of regional efforts to meet international climate change mitigation goals, and help it achieve its own goals.

Indeed, the Saudi plan is already a major topic of discussion ahead of the United States’ Climate Leaders Summit on April 22, which also marks the fifth anniversary of the day the Paris Agreement was opened. to the signature.

The initiatives are a forward-looking and laudable initiative on the part of the Saudi leadership to seriously reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat the negative effects of deforestation in the region, Koichiro Tanaka, professor at the University Keio and former Managing Director of the Institute of Energy Economics in Japan. , Arab News said.

The Saudi Vision 2030, with its ambitious goals, has already demonstrated the Kingdom’s determination to significantly reduce CO2 emissions through the concept of the circular carbon economy.

The Saudi Green Initiative involves the planting of 10 billion trees in the Kingdom, the restoration of 40 million hectares of degraded land, the production of 50% of electricity from renewable energies by 2030 and the elimination of over 130 million tonnes of carbon emissions. Under the Middle East Green Initiative, 40 billion trees will be planted in the region, 200 million hectares of degraded land will be restored and carbon emissions will be reduced by 60 percent.

The objectives are certainly ambitious. But as Yousef Al-Balawi, an environmental risk assessment specialist at the National Center for Environmental Compliance in Saudi Arabia, explains, the tree planting process will be scrutinized by specialists and experts, with an emphasis on native trees that can survive with minimal amounts. some water. Most of the Kingdom’s more than 2,000 plant species are well adapted to the region’s hot and arid environment.

Plants greatly help reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide responsible for global warming and the associated negative effects on the environment, such as desertification and land degradation, he told Arab News.

In addition, different plants eliminate different harmful gases. Thus, a green belt can help purify the atmosphere of cities in addition to absorbing and reducing traffic noise, among other things.

The decarbonization of the economy is presented as an opportunity to create jobs for the future of the regions. (Reuters)

With vegetation cover being a pillar of three important systems that support the global economy (farms, forests and pastures), Al-Balawi says planting 10 billion trees under the Saudi Green Plan will equate to rehabilitating around 40 million. hectares of degraded land. land, which in turn will result in a 12-fold increase in the Kingdom’s existing tree cover.

The initiatives will actively contribute to the preservation of the planet and the protection of the environment to improve the quality of life, which confirms the Kingdom’s pioneering role on common international issues, he told Arab News.

The adoption and launch of the Saudi Green and Middle East Green initiatives will enhance the role of vegetation in air purification through the process of photosynthesis, carbon dioxide uptake and oxygen production. Preserving the environment is the responsibility of all governments and citizens.

Sounding an equally positive note, Mohammed Al-Ghazal, co-founder and CEO of Noor Energy, said the initiatives of the Saudi Crown Princes could facilitate a leap forward in the quality of life and the environment in Saudi Arabia. , in the Middle East and beyond. This is all the more critical given that climate change and public health are global challenges today.

Mohammed Al-Ghazal, co-founder and CEO of Noor Energy. (Provided)

Few plants in Saudi Arabia are native to the region. The country is also a powerhouse of fossil fuels, which continues to rule the world. Yet Saudi Arabia has boldly taken the world to higher levels of reforestation of sandy deserts and greening of energy supplies, he told Arab News.

It is an extension of the leadership role of the G20 in Saudi Arabia, to make the world a better place for all.

While the GCC region has long been a leading global supplier of fossil fuels, renewables complement its own energy mix, offering environmentally friendly alternatives such as clean hydrogen to decarbonize and reduce gas emissions. .

It is gratifying to see different countries in the region working together towards a common goal under the aegis of the Kingdom, Al-Ghazal said. This will spur similar initiatives around the world, with Saudi Arabia as the core of an ambitious green revolution.

With an estimated 70 to 90 percent of the Arabian Peninsula threatened with desertification, due to past and ongoing human activities, a massive reforestation and land restoration initiative gives hope for millions of hectares of degraded land.

The benefits of such a project go far beyond carbon sequestration, as it will help rebuild degraded soils, improve the water cycle, restore biodiversity, increase income and livelihoods, as well as increasing the resilience of regions to climate change, Seta Tutundjian, director of programs at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture in Dubai, told Arab News.

In the long run, it can even change local weather conditions. Unfortunately, many still view the environment as a resource to be exploited for economic and social purposes, with very little thought about the ecological implications. Therefore, initiatives and campaigns that aim to protect the environment can play a major role in changing this mindset.

The decarbonization of the economy is presented as an opportunity to create jobs for the future of the regions. (Reuters)

For Tatiana Antonelli Abella, founder and CEO of UAE-based green social enterprise Goumbook, Saudi Arabia’s transformation from one of the world’s largest oil producers to a leader in creating a greener world is extremely encouraging.

The crown prince recognizes the kingdom’s responsibility in promoting the fight against the climate crisis and appears ready to act while preserving the economy and protecting the environment, she told Arab News.

The Saudi Green Initiative is a clear initiative to diversify the economy from its dependence on oil. Even today, less than 1% of the Kingdom’s energy comes from renewable energies.

As intimidating as it may be, the Saudi Green target of 50% electricity generation from renewable sources by 2030 fits perfectly with that of at least one neighbor: the UAE is hoping to meet the same target of by 2050, although Abu Dhabi has set itself a more ambitious deadline: 2030.

Such is the scale and range of global environmental challenges that no country can tackle them alone, said Abella. They require a joint and cross-border approach, aligned, hopefully, with the United Nations sustainable development agenda for the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

Antoine Vagneur-Jones, partner at BloombergNEF, said the Saudi initiatives made sense when you consider the fact that carbon dioxide emissions were skyrocketing in the region before the pandemic struck. He noted that progress in decoupling Saudi Arabia’s economy from fossil fuels had been made over a short period, although oil still accounted for two-thirds of tax revenue in 2019.

Decarbonizing the economy can offer a myriad of opportunities, from job creation linked to new technologies to producing hydrogen from clean energy, Vagneur-Jones told Arab News. The Kingdom aligned the initiative with the existing goals. In order to drive the transition, the headlines must translate into strong policy and concrete action.

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Twitter: @CalineMalek

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