Green Saudi Arabia


Dr. Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan

While the world is now indulged in the Biden Climate Change conference and invitation cacophony the Prime Minister in its tweet congratulated the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman on its noble initiative of planting 10 billion trees, as part of ambitious to tackle climate change and reduce carbon emissions.

While sharing the grand plan Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman announced the Saudi and Middle East Green Initiatives,” He was of the opinion that the Kingdom, the region and the world needed to act much faster in combating climate change.

He proudly stated that the 10 billion trees would be planted in the country over the coming decades, in addition to working with regional neighbours to plant a further 40 billion trees in the Middle East.

During his statement he showcased his country holistic approach to combat with the increasing levels of carbon footprints in the region as well around the globe and claimed that the total planting of 50 billion trees in the region would be “the largest reforestation program in the world,” twice the size of the Great Green Wall planting project in the Sahel region of North Africa, which seeks to combat desertification.

Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said that Saudi Arabia, the world’s top crude oil exporter, would reduce carbon emissions by generating 50 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. 

According to latest Climate Action Tracker (CAT) the kingdom’s current emissions rated in the “critically insufficient” category, far off being consistent with the Paris Agreement target to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. He highlighted sense of responsibility in advancing the fight against the climate crisis, and desired to lead the coming green era.

He lamented the technological inefficiency in oil production in the Middle East, and stated that the share of clean energy produced in the region was only 7 per cent.  He showed his willingness to work with international community and countries to transfer knowledge and share experiences which would contribute to reducing carbon emissions by more than 60 percent. He termed the joint effort would reduce more than 10 percent of global emissions.

In January 2021 Bloomberg reported that oil company Saudi Aramco, which launched the world’s biggest public listing in 2019, had significantly understated its carbon footprint to potential investors by excluding emissions from its refineries and chemical plants. 

The said report estimated that including all such facilities could nearly double Aramco’s self-reported carbon footprint, adding as much as 55 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents to the emissions produced by Portugal.

The new green initiative forms part of the kingdom’s Vision 2030 strategy to move away from oil reliance and to modernize the kingdom. On his part earlier this year he launched “The Line,” an ambitious plan to build a new eco-city in a 170km straight line that would have no cars, roads or carbon emissions. 

The newly announced green initiatives aim to chart a path for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the region in protecting the planet, by clearly defining an ambitious road map that rallies the region and significantly contributes to achieving global targets in confronting climate change.

HRH the Crown Prince highlighted that The Kingdom and the region face significant climate challenges, such as desertification, an immediate economic risk to the Kingdom and the region (USD 13Bn is currently lost due to dust storms in the region every year), Air pollution from greenhouse gases also is estimated to have shortened average Saudi life expectancy by 1.5 years.

He planned to work through the Saudi Green Initiative (SGI) to raise vegetation cover, reduce carbon emissions, combat pollution & land degradation, and preserve marine life. He outlined that this initiative will include a number of ambitious initiatives; the planting of (10 billion) trees within the Kingdom in the upcoming decades, the equivalent to rehabilitating roughly (40 million) hectares of degraded lands, translating to a 12-fold increase from current tree covers, this represents the Kingdom‘s contribution of more than (4%) in achieving the goals of the global initiative to limit the degradation of lands and fungal habitats, and (1%) of the global target to plant (1 trillion) trees.

Furthermore, Saudi Arabia will also coordinate to raise the percentage of protected areas to more than (30%) of its total land area, representing roughly (600,000) square kilometers, exceeding the current global target of (17%), in addition to launching a number of ambitious initiatives to protect Marine and Coastal Environments.

HRH the Crown Prince further outlined that the Kingdom’s SGI will also work to reduce carbon emissions by more than (4%) of global contributions, through an ambitious renewable energy program that will generate (50%) of the Kingdom’s energy from renewables by 2030, and several other projects in the fields of clean hydrocarbon technologies, estimated to eliminate more than (130 MT) of carbon emissions, alongside raising the rate of waste diversion from landfills to reach 94% in the Kingdom.

HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman further announced to start working on The Middle East Green Initiative (MGI) in coordination with neighboring and sister countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and Middle Eastern countries to plant an additional (40 billion) trees in the Middle East.

He termed the regional (50 billion) tree planting program as the largest reforestation program in the world, twice the size of the Great Green Wall in the Sahel (the second largest such regional initiative).

According to him the SGI & MGI will restore an area equivalent to (200 million) hectares of degraded land, representing (5%) of the global target of planting (1 Trillion) trees and reducing (2.5%) of global carbon levels.

He shared that the share of clean energy production in the Middle East did not exceed 7%, and technologies used in hydrocarbon production in the region remained efficient, therefore the Kingdom will work with regional partners to transfer knowledge and share our experiences, which will contribute to reducing carbon emissions resulting from hydrocarbon production in the region by more than (60%), adding that these joint efforts and various other initiatives, will achieve a reduction in carbon emissions by more than (10%) of global contributions.

He highlighted that these two green initiatives mainly SGI & MGI resultant of the environmental efforts in the Kingdom over the past few years in line with our Vision 2030. These two initiatives testified the Kingdom’s serious desire to address the environmental challenges it has faced, from increase in temperatures and dust waves to low levels of rain and desertification he added.

In this context, the Kingdom has carried out a comprehensive restructuring of the environmental sector, established The Environmental Special Forces in 2019, raised the percentage of natural reserves from (4%) to more than (14%) and increased vegetation cover by (40%) in the past 4 years, the kingdom was also able to achieve the most efficient levels of carbon emission of hydrocarbon producing countries, alongside other initiatives that have already started on the ground and resulted in tangible positive results for the environment. This is all part of the Kingdom’s efforts to promote public health and raise quality of life for its citizens and residents.

HRH the Crown Prince showcased numerous meaningful policy measures to control the ratios of carbon footnotes in the country which highlighted KSA leadership role in climate change ranging from its presidency of the G20 summit during 2020 adopting the concept of Circular Carbon Economy (CCE) and the first environmental taskforce was established, alongside the launching of two global initiatives to reduce land degradation and protection of coral reefs.

To conclude the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman stressed the need that the region and the world need to go much further and faster in combatting climate change.

Being prominent regional expert of GCC & MENA I submit that the KSA SGI & MGI will enhance competitiveness, spark innovation, and create millions of high-quality jobs. It will promote new culture of a cleaner, greener and more inclusive future.

It hopes that the KSA will coordinate with all international partners to further develop SGI & MGI and the various programs to control high ratios of climate change.

Survival of humanity at large and efficient working of regional as well as international productive channels is heavily rest on the control of climate change. Green is the name of game changer, sign of future economic development. Green is also the icon of massive diversification of economies and massive industrialization.

Let us hope that holy country Saudi Arabia will follow a holistic approach to achieve these goals of largest planation drive in the world in the days to come. In this regard, diplomatic sources reveal that KSA approached Pakistan to be part of this Saudi and Middle East Green Initiatives which will be another source of income and foreign revenue for the macro-economy.

The writer is the Director: Geopolitics/Economics

Member Board of Experts, CGSS Islamabad