Saudi and Middle East Green Initiatives: crown prince reveals ambitious climate change plans

Schemes designed to mitigate adverse effects of pollution and position kingdom as global leader

A handout picture provided by the Saudi Royal Palace on November 12, 2020, shows Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attending a video meeting with the Shura council in the capital Riyadh.  - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / SAUDI ROYAL PALACE / BANDAR AL-JALOUD" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman unveiled on Saturday two initiatives to position the kingdom in the vanguard of the global fight against climate change.

The Saudi Green Initiative and The Middle East Green Initiative provide an ambitious roadmap for the kingdom and region to confront the generational challenge and meet worldwide emissions targets.

The kingdom recognises fully its share of responsibility in advancing the fight against the climate crisis, said the crown prince. He saw the measures as "just the start".

He also strongly rejected the notion that preserving the economy and protecting the environment are incompatible.

Climate action will enhance competitiveness, spark innovation, and create millions of high-quality jobs, he said, according to the Saudi official press agency.

Young people, both in the kingdom and the world, are demanding a cleaner, greener and more inclusive future, and we owe it to them to deliver on this, he said.

The Crown Prince said that just as the kingdom had underpinned energy markets during the oil and gas era, it is going to become a global leader in forging a greener world.

He highlighted desertification and air pollution as two of the significant challenges facing the kingdom currently.

Dust storms cost the region $13bn annually while air pollution from greenhouse gases is estimated to have shortened average Saudi life expectancy by one and half years.

To combat these threats the Saudi Green Initiative will raise vegetation cover, reduce carbon emissions, combat pollution and land degradation, and preserve marine life.

Saudi Arabia to meet one per cent of global trees target

The initiative comprises some transformative measures.

Ten billion trees will be planted in the kingdom in coming decades: a 12-fold increase on current levels and more than four per cent of the global goal to limit the degradation of lands and fungal habitats, and one per cent of the global target to plant one trillion trees.

The percentage of protected areas in Saudi Arabia will be raised to more than 30 per cent of its total land area, substantially higher than the current global target of 17 per cent.

The Saudi Green Initiative will work to reduce its global carbon emissions by more than four per cent by 2030

The focus is not just on land – marine and coastal environments will also be the targets of series of pioneering measures.

Consistent with the kingdom's Vision 2030 aspirations, the Saudi Green Initiative will work to reduce its global carbon emissions by over four per cent by 2030.

By the same date, the crown prince said 50 per cent of the kingdom's energy will come from renewables.

Clean hydrocarbon technologies is another area of focus with the goal of eradicating an eye-watering 130 MT of carbon emissions.

Climate change cannot be tackled in isolation and, in conjunction with the Saudi Green Initiative, the kingdom will work on the Middle East Green Initiative with other countries in the Gulf and wider Mena regions.

Here the aim is to plant an additional 40 billion trees, the largest reforestation programme in the world and twice the size of the Great Green Wall in the Sahel, the second-largest such regional initiative.

Camel Caravan in Sand Dune. Getty Images
Desertification is one of the climate challenges the Saudi Green Initiative aims to combat. Getty

The project will restore an area equivalent to 200 million hectares of degraded land, five per cent of the global tree planting target and 2.5 per cent of global carbon representing (5%) of the global target of planting (1 trillion) trees and reducing (2.5%) of the global carbon reduction target.

Saudi Arabia's role will be one of a guide in the project, transferring its knowledge to regional partners. At the moment just seven per cent of Middle Eastern energy production is clean, said the crown prince.

Initiatives a marker of kingdom's world-leading climate ambitions

Both initiatives are testament to the kingdom's desire to address the environmental challenges it has faced, and are part of its efforts to promote public health and raise quality of life for its citizens and residents.

They build on efforts to protect the planet made during Saudi Arabia's presidency of the G20 summit last year, in which a dedicated environmental declaration was issued and the concept of a circular carbon economy adopted.

The first environmental taskforce was also established, alongside two global initiatives to reduce land degradation and protect coral reefs.

Further details of the initiatives will be unveiled in the months to come, said the crown prince. with a global forum on the Middle East scheme expected to be held in the second quarter of next year.