Saudi 10bn trees plan answers Cop28 call for climate resilience

Climate talks in Germany hear time is running out to prepare for life on a hotter planet

Saudi Arabia plans to use tree-planting as a way of cutting its carbon footprint and providing shade. Reuters
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Saudi Arabia says planting 10 billion trees in the kingdom will be at the heart of its next climate plan, as countries were warned they are in a race against time to prepare for life on a hotter planet.

Climate negotiators in Germany heard Saudi Arabia's trees will cut its carbon footprint and provide shade, with the latter delivering on a resilience drive hailed as a "key outcome" of Cop28 in the UAE.

Last year's Dubai summit agreed adaptation to soaring heat should focus on seven key areas such as food and water, but it is now up to each country to make that happen in the face of accelerating global warming.

With countries also working on new emissions plans by 2025, Saudi Arabia says it is planning policies that tackle both the carbon footprint and preparedness sides of the coin.

Climate engineer Khalid Alharthi from Saudi Arabia's Energy Ministry said the country was "among the most vulnerable" to climate change as an arid, coastal nation with an oil-reliant economy.

He told UN climate negotiations in Bonn that Saudi Arabia is drawing on a clause in the Paris Agreement that says adaptation policies with carbon-cutting "co-benefits" count towards a country's contribution.

Saudi Arabia is "using this as a model and a guide" for its next climate plan, he said.

There are plans for 100 million mangrove trees along the Saudi coastline, which Mr Alharthi compared to Swiss army knives due to their role in capturing carbon, providing habitats and slowing coastal erosion.

In cities, the talks heard the extra tree cover could reduce temperatures by 2.2ºC.

Prof Piers Forster, a former author of the UN's top science reports, on Thursday warned temperatures now rising at 0.27ºC a decade – according to a new 15-country study – make it “even more challenging to build climate resilience”.

The global goal on adaptation at the heart of the talks in Dubai and now Bonn is “just as important” as efforts to cut emissions, he told The National at the talks in Germany.

“If you look around the world currently, we still have a lot to do to adapt to the situation we're in,” he said. “Action on climate is not one or the other – we have to both reduce our emissions and we have to adapt.”

Some resilience measures such as genetically modifying crops to withstand drought “takes significant time”, he warned, while temperatures are rising faster than ever.

Record heat in May means there have now been 12 consecutive months that were the hottest on record for that time of year.

“Just by reducing the emissions we can bring that rate of temperature change down and that should buy us more time for some of the key adaptation,” Prof Forster said.

Negotiators in Bonn are looking at how resilience can find a place in the new green strategies that countries must draw up by 2025, building on the deal known as the UAE Consensus.

The talks involve an assessment of the national adaptation plans submitted so far to UN climate chiefs, which numbered 53 as of the end of Cop28.

The UAE's Cop28 presidency said the adaptation framework was “one of the major pillars and key outcomes” of the Dubai summit late last year.

Adaptation is a “progressive process that must build on existing efforts” and should be “informed by the best available science and techniques”, said Abdelaziz Harib from the Cop28 negotiating team.

He called adaptation a “critical piece of ambition on climate action, in particular for developing countries that face not only increasing vulnerability but ultimately a broader set of development challenges”.

The Cop29 presidency team from Azerbaijan said it will “build on the work of previous Cops and enhance financial support for climate adaptation and resilience for all”.

While major efforts were pledged at Cop28 to slow the pace of global warming, the adaptation talks accept that some worsening of conditions is inevitable and already happening.

A UN adaptation committee has told delegates it cannot be everywhere at once amid eagerness to protect cities, coastal areas, cultural sites and many other areas.

The framework agreed on in the UAE put the focus on seven thematic goals of water, food, health, ecosystems, infrastructure, poverty eradication and cultural heritage.

Unlike with emissions cuts (mitigation in UN jargon), there is no simple way of measuring progress on adaptation.

Along with a fund for climate disasters, adaptation is one of the “hardest topics” to follow up on from the talks in the UAE, said Marine Pouget of the Climate Action Network.

“We are lacking methodologies to quantify the needs but also to quantify the impacts of adaptation policies,” she said. “So we first have a bit of a technical problem here.”

Resilience efforts can include flood defences, drought-resistant crops and in an extreme case even moving populations away from a threatened area.

In the Earth's Arctic north, a reindeer farmer from the indigenous Saami population told The National that climate change and efforts to fight it by using land for green energy were affecting livelihoods.

“We are forced to adapt to climate change that is happening in a dramatic speed in the Arctic,” Saami delegate Susanna Israelsson said.

She said there “seems to be a perception that adaptation is infinite” when in fact “the Arctic is boiling”. “We depend on functioning ecosystems and access to pastures,” she said.

“The remaining areas that we have are of utmost importance for well-functioning and resilient reindeer husbandry, for us to be able to exist.”

Updated: June 06, 2024, 5:13 PM