Experts laud Saudi plan for confronting climate-change challenge head on

1 / 4
Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman briefs King Salman on the Riyadh Green program. (SPA file photo)
2 / 4
Decarbonizing the economy is being touted as a job-creation opportunity for the region’s future. (SPA)
3 / 4
4 / 4
Decarbonizing the economy is being touted as a job-creation opportunity for the region’s future. (SPA)
Short Url
Updated 05 April 2021

Experts laud Saudi plan for confronting climate-change challenge head on

  • Saudi Green and Middle East Green initiatives aim to reverse environmental degradation and tackle climate change
  • Twin initiatives will help rebuild degraded soils, enhance water cycle and restore region’s biodiversity among other things

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 tackle the environmental challenges facing the Kingdom and the region as a whole.

From conflict and hunger to energy and diplomacy, Saudi Arabia has traditionally been a leading force in shaping the GCC region’s policies and coordinating responses to crises. The “green” initiatives, which are part of the Vision 2030 reform strategy, will place Saudi Arabia at the center of regional efforts to meet international targets on climate change mitigation, as well as help it achieve its own goals.

Indeed, the Saudi plan is already a major talking point in the run-up to the US-hosted Leaders’ Climate Summit on Earth Day (April 22), which is also the fifth anniversary of the day the Paris Agreement was opened for signature.

“The initiatives are a forward-looking and commendable move by the Saudi leadership to seriously curtail greenhouse gas emissions and combat the negative effects of deforestation in the region,” Koichiro Tanaka, professor at Keio University and former managing director of the Institute of Energy Economics in Japan, told Arab News.

“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 entails the planting of 10 billion trees in the Kingdom, restoring 40 million hectares of degraded land, generating 50 percent of electricity from renewables by 2030 and eliminating more than 130 million tons 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 targets are ambitious to be sure. 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 examined by specialists and experts, with a focus on indigenous trees that can survive on minimal amounts of water. Most of the Kingdom’s 2,000-plus species of plants are well adapted to the region’s hot, arid environment.

“Plants greatly help in reducing 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.

“Moreover, different plants remove different harmful gases. Thus, a ‘green belt’ can contribute to purifying the atmosphere of cities in addition to absorbing and reducing traffic noise, among other things.”

Decarbonizing the economy is being touted as a job-creation opportunity for the region’s future. (Reuters)

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

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

“Adopting and launching the Saudi Green and Middle East Green initiatives will enhance the role of vegetation in purifying the air through the process of photosynthesis, the absorption of carbon dioxide and the production of oxygen. Preserving the environment is the responsibility of everyone — government as well as people.”

Sounding an equally positive note, Mohammed Al-Ghazal, co-founder and CEO of Noor Energy, said the Saudi Crown Prince’s initiatives could facilitate a quantum leap in quality of life and environment in Saudi Arabia, the Middle East and beyond. This is especially critical as climate change and public health are global challenges today.

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

“Not many plants in Saudi Arabia are native to the region. The country is also a powerhouse of fossil fuels, which continue to run the world. Yet Saudi Arabia has boldly taken the world to higher levels of re-foresting sandy deserts and greening energy supplies,” he told Arab News.

“This is an extension of Saudi Arabia’s leadership role of the G20, to make the world a better place for all.”

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

“It is rewarding to see different countries of the region working together toward a common goal under the umbrella of the Kingdom,” Al-Ghazal said. “This will spur similar initiatives the world over, with Saudi Arabia as the nucleus of an ambition green revolution.”

With around 70 to 90 percent of the Arabian Peninsula facing the threat of desertification, owing to past and ongoing human activities, a massive afforestation and land restoration initiative holds hope for millions of hectares of degraded land.

“The benefits of such a project go far beyond the carbon sequestration, as it will contribute to rebuilding degraded soils, enhancing the water cycle, restoring biodiversity, growing income and livelihood opportunities, as well as increasing the region’s resilience to climate change,” Seta Tutundjian, director of programs at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture in Dubai, told Arab News.

“In the long term, it can even alter local weather patterns. Unfortunately, many still view the environment as a resource to exploit for economic and social gain, with very little thought for the ecological implications. Therefore, initiatives and campaigns that aim to protect the environment can play a huge role in changing this mindset.”

Decarbonizing the economy is being touted as a job-creation opportunity for the region’s future. (Reuters)

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

“The Crown Prince recognizes the Kingdom’s responsibility in advancing the fight against the climate crisis, and seems to be ready to act while preserving the economy and protecting the environment,” she told Arab News.

“The Saudi Green Initiative is a clear move to diversify the economy away from its oil dependence. Even today, less than 1 percent of the Kingdom’s energy comes from renewables.”

As daunting as it may be, the Saudi Green goal of 50 percent electricity generation from renewable sources by 2030 dovetails nicely with that of at least one neighbor: The UAE hopes to achieve the same target by 2050, although Abu Dhabi has set for itself a more ambitious deadline: 2030.

“Such is the scale and range of global environmental challenges that no single country can tackle them alone,” Abella said. “They require a joint, cross-border approach, hopefully aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 2030 Agenda.”

Antoine Vagneur-Jones, associate at BloombergNEF, said that the Saudi initiatives make sense when one considers the fact that carbon dioxide emissions were soaring across the region before the pandemic hit. He noted that progress in decoupling Saudi Arabia’s economy from fossil fuels has been made over a short time, although oil still accounted for two-thirds of fiscal revenues in 2019.

“Decarbonizing the economy can yield a myriad of opportunities, from job creation linked to new technologies, to producing hydrogen from clean power,”  Vagneur-Jones told Arab News. “The Kingdom has aligned the initiative with existing objectives. In order to drive the transition, the headlines must translate into a robust policy and concrete measures.”


Twitter: @CalineMalek


Film AlUla to boost Saudi film industry

Updated 10 April 2021

Film AlUla to boost Saudi film industry

  • New film commission will shine a light on Saudi Arabia by attracting international producers

DUBAI: A new regional film commission is launching in Saudi Arabia, Film AlUla, which is being set up by the Royal Commission for AlUla in the northwest region of the country.

Located 1,100 kilometers from Riyadh, AlUla is a place of natural beauty and heritage. It is home to Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hegra, which is a 52-hectare ancient city.

AlUla is also home to other historical and archaeological sites, including an old town surrounded by an ancient oasis and the Lihyan Kingdom, which is considered one of the most developed cities of the first millennium B.C. in the Arabian Peninsula.

Extreme E, the off-road electric race championship, will hold this year’s inaugural race in AlUla.

Arab News spoke to Stephen Strachan, film commissioner at Film Alula, to learn more.

Give us a little background on AlUla’s new film commission, Film AlUla. 

Film AlUla is a new regional film office, established in 2020 and launched officially earlier this year by the Royal Commission for AlUla at the Berlin International Film Festival. It was met with a positive reaction from both the film industry and international media.

Film AlUla has been tasked with the mission of promoting the county of AlUla as a filming destination and attracting local, regional and international productions to shoot films, TV series, commercials and documentary projects. The Film AlUla team is made up of local and international industry professionals who offer a range of services, expertise and resources to support production projects in AlUla. 

A view of an old town in ALUla surrounded by an ancient oasis. (Supplied)

What is Film AlUla’s objective? 

We have a range of objectives. Firstly, we want to attract production companies to shoot film projects in AlUla so as to showcase this county of outstanding natural beauty and cultural significance, which has, until recently, remained undiscovered by filmmakers and the world at large.  

This in turn will encourage tourists from around the world to visit AlUla, and to discover the region and the rest of the country, in support of Saudi Arabia’s 2030 vision. Developing our film industry also puts us in a position to shine a spotlight on the wealth of Saudi talent and to provide a platform to champion and support emerging and established creatives here.  

We aim to build a film hub centered in AlUla that generates local and regional employment and educational opportunities for those interested in pursuing a career in the film industry.  

What is the investment in the film and production industry in the city?

AlUla has been identified as one of Saudi Arabia’s most promising destinations. We are confident that the stunning landscapes, wide range of diverse locations and millennia-old archaeological sites will attract film productions and make AlUla a major filming destination. Preserving our heritage sites and landscapes remains a priority in AlUla and the sustainable building of our local screen industries.

A robust financial strategy is in place to make the AlUla region the Kingdom’s cultural capital. Archaeological, cultural and touristic complex plans are underway so we can support film productions with world-class infrastructure and a range of accommodation options, from luxury and unique hotels to eco-friendly, desert canyon resorts, designed to raise the profile of AlUla on the international stage.

What are the incentives being offered to producers?

Production companies are encouraged to get in touch with the Film AlUla team directly to discuss our financial incentives. 

Production companies can also benefit from a range of incentives such as free bespoke production support; location scouting; expert knowledge of filming in AlUla and the rest of Saudi Arabia; assistance in sourcing equipment and professional crew locally and regionally; and, of course, year-round sunshine.

With a temperate climate nine months of the year, AlUla presents filmmakers with an uninterrupted extended period of time during which to shoot their productions. 

What are the procedures and guidelines for local and foreign companies to shoot their productions in AlUla?

We are very excited to open AlUla’s doors to film production and share with the world the wealth of beauty, history, and diversity on display here. We welcome all types of production, and as a member of the Association of Film Commissioners International (AFCI), we follow best practices as laid out by the AFCI.  

We have a very effective regulatory system in place that is simple and straightforward to ensure production and crew have all the necessary permits in place. Hosted on our website is a Film Production and Location guide that provides a comprehensive overview of all the benefits of choosing AlUla as your production destination. Of course, preserving and protecting our landscape and heritage remain paramount. And, for anyone interested in filming in AlUla, we suggest you reach out to us so we can support you during every step of the process and ensure a successful and enjoyable filming experience.

For more information, please visit

Can you comment on the Extreme E races being filmed in AlUla?

We are thrilled to be the first location featured in the inaugural Extreme E five-stop global race next month, designed to highlight the impact of climate change and promote switching to electric vehicles to protect the planet.  

AlUla will make for an extraordinary and thrilling backdrop for the event. And with Extreme E set to be aired around the world, this is the perfect opportunity to capture the attention of global audiences, enabling them to see the majestic, cinematic landscapes and breathtaking natural wonders of the region for themselves.

Who’s Who: Prince Waleed bin Nasser Al-Saud, founder and CEO of Mukatafa

Updated 10 April 2021

Who’s Who: Prince Waleed bin Nasser Al-Saud, founder and CEO of Mukatafa

Prince Waleed bin Nasser Al-Saud is the founder and CEO of Mukatafa.
Mukatafa is a Saudi firm that, according to its website, aims to “build an ecosystem of collaboration between the private and public sectors that empowers Saudi Arabia to grow as a prosperous nation with a sustainable future,” in line with the goals of Saudi Vision 2030.
Prince Waleed has previously served as CEO for a group of private business initiatives in the Kingdom, vice president of the People and Shared Services department at McDonald’s, Saudi Arabia, and vice president of marketing and business development at NAFA Enterprises, a Saudi holding company.
Prince Waleed is also a member of several business groups, including the Restaurant and Cafes Association (Qoot), the Grocery Store Association (Mo’an), and the Fashion, Jewelry and Beauty Association (ZY).
He sits on the supervisory committee of the Trade Franchise Center at the Small and Medium Enterprises General Authority and is on the board of directors at both Alfa Co. for Operation Services and Tamkeen Human Resources. Additionally, he is a member of the advisory committee for investment in the municipal sector and a member of the commercial committee in the Riyadh Chamber.
Prince Waleed holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing, graduating with honors from the University of Tampa in Florida, and a master’s degree in accounting, graduating with honors from King Saud University, Riyadh. He also holds certificates in advanced leadership, strategic management, project management, and human resource management programs.

Islamic Development Bank president receives Chinese envoy to Saudi Arabia

Updated 10 April 2021

Islamic Development Bank president receives Chinese envoy to Saudi Arabia

The president of the Islamic Development Bank, Bandar Hajjar, met in his office the Chinese ambassador to the Kingdom, Chen Wei Cheng, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Friday.
They discussed partnerships between China and the bank, in its member states, in a number of fields, including the transfer of knowledge and expertise, science, innovation, scholarships and laboratories.

Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah prepares for Ramadan amid pandemic

Updated 09 April 2021

Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah prepares for Ramadan amid pandemic

  • Three million bottles of Zamzam water will be distributed to worshipers and visitors during Ramadan
  • Each worshipper will be individually presented with dates and water for Iftar

MADINAH: The General Presidency for the Affairs of the Prophet’s Mosque is intensifying efforts to prepare the mosque ahead of the holy month of Ramadan in line with COVID-19 precautionary measures.
Only people who have received two doses of a coronavirus vaccine or have recovered from the virus or have had one shot of a vaccine more than 14 days prior to visiting the mosque may visit or pray in the Rawdah, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.
The Rawdah lies between the Sacred Chamber (known as the Prophet’s house), and the Prophet’s Minbar (pulpit).
Each person’s vaccination status will need to be registered on Saudi Arabia’s COVID-19 app, Tawakkalna.
Three million bottles of Zamzam water will be distributed to worshipers and visitors during Ramadan which amounts to 100,000 bottles of water per day, the presidency said.
Each worshipper will be individually presented with dates and water for Iftar and social distancing is to be observed at all times.
Arranging and distributing sahoor meals in the mosque’s courtyards is prohibited, the presidency said.
Itikaf (staying in a mosque for a certain number of days whilst devoting oneself to worship) will be suspended for the second year running due to the pandemic.
Worshippers are also required to use the national parking app “Mawqif” to facilitate their exit from the mosque.
Ramadan 2021 is due to start on either Monday or Tuesday in the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia calls on people to sight Ramadan crescent on Sunday evening

Updated 09 April 2021

Saudi Arabia calls on people to sight Ramadan crescent on Sunday evening

  • Ramadan 2021 is due to start on either Monday or Tuesday in the Kingdom

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court has called on people in the Kingdom to try and sight the crescent moon signalling the beginning of the month of Ramadan on Sunday evening.
Anyone who sights the crescent, either with the naked eye or with the help of binoculars, should inform the nearest court of the sighting, the court said.
The start of Ramadan is determined by the lunar calendar which, unlike the Gregorian calendar, follows a 29- or 30-day cycle determined by the cycle of the moon.
Ramadan 2021 is due to start on either Monday or Tuesday in the Kingdom.
Muslims anticipate the end of Shaaban, the month preceding Ramadan, by watching for the absence or presence of the crescent moon, which indicates the continuation of Shaaban or the beginning of Ramadan.