Princess Noura bint Turki has said Saudi Arabia is charting its own path towards boosting sustainable development and achieving net-zero emissions, with policymakers and young people in the kingdom working closer together than ever before.
Those goals are at the heart of Princess Noura’s work as a senior figure at Aeon Strategy, a consultancy in Riyadh that is focused on sustainable development, and the Aeon Collective, a non-profit group that works to promote inclusive and equitable development.
"Our culture is fundamental to our society, our national heritage is very important to our identity as a nation, which goes hand in hand with social development,” Princess Noura told The National.
She became interested in causes that helped Saudi Arabia and the community while growing up, she said.
She began to learn about climate and energy policies, carbon management and the geopolitics of energy and climate while studying for her master’s degree in international affairs at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, she said.
"I never thought I would be in the energy sector until I went on to do my graduate studies," she said.
"I focused on urban development in the context of international affairs and I got more interested in the talk around the impact of environmental and climate issues.
"I started applying myself to the science behind climate and environment issues, and not just the policy side.
"Coming from Saudi Arabia, an oil-producing country, this is extremely important to us. I took an interdisciplinary approach to it and designed my own programme around it."
Her research showed her that she had an “inherent knowledge I guess I just grew up with when it comes to energy, oil policy” and she wanted to put it to use.
After returning to Saudi Arabia, she began working as an assistant director at the King Faisal Centre for Research and Islamic studies in Riyadh, leading the think tank's group on energy studies.
At Aeon Strategy, she works with co-founder Princess Mashael bint Saud Al Shalan, who studied the same programme at Columbia.
"When we opened Aeon we conducted a few projects, but one thing we have strongly contributed towards was the circular carbon economy [CCE]," Princess Noura said.
"In 2016, we were looking at what a pathway to net zero could look like for the kingdom and people were rolling their eyes."
She considers one of Aeon’s proudest achievements to be a white paper it produced in 2020 on the circular carbon economy.
That came during Saudi Arabia’s presidency of the G20, when the group’s energy ministers endorsed an important new approach to the CCE and its three "Rs" — reduce, reuse and recycle.
"We also added points the kingdom would need to consider to reach net zero, and a lot of words we used made it to and were approved by all countries," she said.
"It's a small contribution but we are proud of it and where it's leading now that [CCE] is front and centre of the government's strategies."
The kingdom plans to spend more than $180 billion to reach that goal, as well as moving to renewable energy and planting billions of trees.
"For me to hear all about changes and commitments is fantastic, but to see these actions on ground is inspiring and eye-opening and really something to be proud of. It's such a boost for morale – and I'm not saying that because I am Saudi," Princess Noura said.
"The opportunities are vast but you have the commitment of our leadership. Mashael and I always say that we are creating a new narrative for social and economic sustainability and not applying foreign concepts."
Princess Noura said she was optimistic about the future and development of the kingdom.
"One couldn't dream of working shoulder to shoulder with ministers, and today the youth is doing that and winning accolades for its scientific and other achievements around the world with the support given to them by the leadership of our country," she said.
"From global security to environment and tech development, we are advancing on all these fronts and I hope we continue to do our best to really see this dream come true."