Climate change mitigation: What Saudi Arabia and Japan can learn from one another

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Two shinkansens, or high speed bullet trains, N700A series, leaving and arriving in Tokyo as Mount Fuji, Japan's highest mountain at 3,776 meters (12,388 feet), looms in the distance. (Photo by Charly Triballeau / AFP)
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People look at the cherry blossoms at Ueno park in the Japanese capital Tokyo on March 19, 2020. (Photo by Behrouz Mehri / AFP)
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Solar panels are pictured in Yufu, Oita prefecture on October 14, 2019. (Photo by Charly Triballeau / AFP)
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This handout picture taken April 8, 2020 shows a tulip field managed by Sakura City, Chiba Prefecture. (Photo by Handout / Sakura City / AFP)
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Updated 15 April 2021

Climate change mitigation: What Saudi Arabia and Japan can learn from one another

  • Both countries have launched bold initiatives to reduce carbon emissions and prioritize renewables
  • Saudi Aramco recently shipped “blue” ammonia to Japan in a demonstration of clean energy cooperation

DUBAI / BOGOTA: Late last year, Yoshihide Suga, the prime minister of Japan, unveiled a major policy shift, pledging to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero and realize a carbon-neutral society by 2050.

As Saudi Arabia launches its own ambitious environmental initiatives, experts say the two countries have much to learn from one another as both the Kingdom and Japan remain heavily reliant on fossil fuels.

Japan is the world’s fifth-biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, making timely steps towards renewable energy use and cuts in fossil fuel imports imperative for the country to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.




Responding to climate change is no longer a constraint on economic growth, says Japan's PM Yoshihide Suga. (AFP)

“Responding to climate change is no longer a constraint on economic growth,” Suga said in his first policy address to parliament. “We need to change our thinking to the view that taking assertive measures against climate change will lead to changes in industrial structure and the economy that will bring about great growth.”

Building on Suga’s speech, Japan presented its “Green Growth Strategy in line with Carbon Neutrality in 2050” in December, setting out an industrial policy that marries economic growth with environmental protection.

As part of his plan, Japan will energize research and development in solar cells and battery technology, promote carbon recycling, and expand digitalization of the economy. Infrastructure projects, including vast offshore wind farms, are already in the pipeline.

“Achieving the aim of carbon-neutrality by 2050 will require Japan to substantially accelerate the deployment of low-carbon technologies, address regulatory and institutional barriers, and further enhance competition in its energy markets,” the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in its March 2021 country report.

Suga’s carbon-cutting plans could be as trailblazing for East Asia as Saudi Arabia’s environmental initiatives, unveiled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on March 27, could prove for West Asia.

The Saudi Green Initiative calls for regional cooperation to tackle environmental challenges and includes plans to generate 50 percent of the Kingdom’s electricity using renewables by 2030 and to eliminate more than 130 million tons of carbon emissions. The Middle East Green Initiative likewise sets out to reduce carbon emissions by 60 percent across the region.

There are also plans to plant 10 billion trees in the Kingdom and restore 40 million hectares of degraded land, while across the wider region there are plans for 50 billion trees and the restoration of 200 million hectares of degraded land.

These initiatives are designed to work in tandem with Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia’s commitment to diversifying its economy away from oil, empowering its citizenry and opening up to global visitors and investors.

Koichiro Tanaka, a professor at Tokyo’s Keio University and a former managing director at the Institute of Energy Economics in Japan, said Saudi Arabia’s regional approach in mitigating climate change is unique.

“This is the reason why numerous countries from South Asia to West Asia have voiced their support and expressed willingness to join the initiative,” he told Arab News, adding: “If there is room for a country like Japan to cooperate and collaborate, it should definitely benefit both parties in its effort to address climate change.”

Japan’s transitional experience could prove instructive for other economies, both advanced and developing, eager to cut their own emissions.

Roland Kaeppner, executive director of hydrogen and green fuels at NEOM — Saudi Arabia’s forthcoming smart-city project — believes Japan’s biggest challenge now is adapting its highly developed economy and embedded legacy infrastructure to meet its low-carbon commitments.

“All developed and developing economies need to be able to meet their nation’s energy needs while combating climate change,” he told Arab News.

“Since nuclear has dropped out of the energy mix in Japan, it has exacerbated the problem and increased reliance on energy imports. However, they have developed clear road maps to change the mix and meet environmental targets.”




An aerial view shows the quake-damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant in the Japanese town of Futaba, Fukushima prefecture on March 12, 2011. (JIJI Press photo via AFP)

Japan suspended its nuclear reactors in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima disaster pending a safety review. As a result, Japan’s already heavy reliance on imported fossil fuels ballooned further.

In 2019, fossil fuels accounted for 88 percent of Japan’s total primary energy supply — the sixth-highest share among IEA countries.

Although there remains widespread public mistrust of nuclear power, the Japanese government sees its reactors as a realistic means of meeting its carbon-neutral goals. It now intends to raise the share of its power sourced from nuclear to between 20 and 22 percent by 2030.

Kaeppner said one way Japan hopes to clean up its legacy infrastructure is through decarbonization of its coal-fired plants using clean ammonia as a fuel additive. It also has a detailed hydrogen strategy, which the NEOM experts considers one of the world’s most advanced.

Indeed, hydrogen is expected to play a central role in Japan’s clean energy transition. By 2030, Japan aims to have 800,000 fuel cell vehicles, more than 5 million residential fuel cells and to establish an international hydrogen supply chain, according to the IEA.

FASTFACTS

  • In Oct. 2020, Japan said it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero and become a decarbonized society by 2050.
  • In Dec. 2020, Japan unveiled a Green Growth Strategy in line with Carbon Neutrality in 2050.
  • The Green Growth Strategy identifies 14 sectors with high-growth potential toward the 2050 targets.

It is also experimenting with large-scale power generation based on hydrogen — all of which will provide valuable lessons for the international energy community.

“Japan’s willingness to embrace innovation while pursuing its targets is probably at the heart of creating a strong renewable energy mix, which can be seen by their ambitious strategic hydrogen road map,” Kaeppner said.

Saudi Arabia is well placed to serve these new demands. Saudi Aramco has already shipped 40 metric tons of “blue” ammonia to Japan in a widely commended demonstration of clean energy cooperation.

Blue ammonia, created from the byproducts of current fossil fuel production and usage, is 18 percent hydrogen, making it a viable alternative energy source. In fact, hydrogen power is a key facet of the NEOM project.

“NEOM goes one step further in creating a market which is completely carbon-free and is at the core of NEOM’s approach to build on a 100 percent sustainable supply chain,” Kaeppner said.

Japan’s transition will be a long slog, no matter the level of interest shown by politicians, the private sector, and civil society, said Tatiana Antonelli Abella, founder and managing director of UAE-based green social enterprise Goumbook.




This handout picture taken April 8, 2020 shows a tulip field managed by Sakura City, Chiba Prefecture. (Photo by Handout / Sakura City / AFP) 

“Japanese corporations lead the world in green technologies, such as hybrid automobiles, while both citizens and the state have endeavored to clean up polluted skies and waterways, reduce greenhouse emissions and adopt the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle,” she told Arab News.

And yet, Japan has a long history of deforestation, industrial pollution, rampant consumerism, wasteful state infrastructure projects, controversial stances on whaling and, of course, a heavy reliance on imported fossil fuels.

“Like many nations, Japan struggles to balance economic growth and environmental protection,” Abella said. “Unlike many nations, however, it has the affluence and motivation to develop green policies, technologies and practices.”

She added that “an over-supply of energy, a lack of strategic direction from policymakers, the economic effects of COVID-19, and continued dependence on fossil fuels” could pose challenges for other countries.

Still, Japan, with its ambitious government targets, political stability and solid regulatory and legal framework, is a model undoubtedly worthy of emulation.

__________

Twitter: @CalineMalek

Twitter: @RobertPEdwards

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Building on tradition: The enduring appeal of Hail’s mud houses

Updated 15 May 2021

Building on tradition: The enduring appeal of Hail’s mud houses

  • The region is replete with historical heritage because it is an ancient region known for its generosity and hospitality

RIYADH: Old neighborhoods in the heart of the city of Hail, in northern Saudi Arabia, are popular attractions, especially with older visitors who like to wander around and look at the traditional mud houses that remind them of their childhood days.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in the region in these buildings, both the surviving examples of those built a century ago and the more recent buildings that mimic their style.

Mohammed Al-Na’am is the supervisor of several Al-Na’am heritage houses. These properties, which are owned by his family and were built many decades ago, are open 24 hours a day to visitors and passers-by, who can stop by for a coffee and some food or even stay the night. There are many other houses across the Hail region that are similarly welcoming, he said.

His heritage houses are usually busy with visitors from Hail and beyond, who appreciate the generosity of their hosts, he said. Most of those who visit the houses, the origins of which date back as far as 1500 AD, are particularly impressed by the ornately decorated walls and ceilings, which have been restored and renovated with a modern touch, Al-Na’am added.

“Hail is replete with historical heritage because it is an ancient region known for its generosity and hospitality,” he said. “This explains the interest in the ancient buildings of the region.”

The traditional buildings in the region differ from those in other parts of the Kingdom, and some other Gulf countries, because they were designed and built with the help of Iraqi specialists and architects and so include distinctive plaster decorations in a variety of shapes and forms, he explained. Some examples have been well maintained and preserved while others are in need of restoration.

While this traditional style of building enjoys enduring popularity, Al-Na’am said, the high cost of constructing mud houses and the need for continuous maintenance means that modern versions are often built using concrete. This allows the classic mud-house style to be preserved while reducing the cost of construction and maintenance.

“Some modern buildings maintain the traditional design used in ancient buildings and use the same style of decorations, especially those in the city center,” he said. But this style of ancient buildings originally developed and spread in the villages of the region, not in the city.

HIGHLIGHT

The traditional buildings in the region differ from those in other parts of the Kingdom, and some other Gulf countries, because they were designed and built with the help of Iraqi specialists and architects and so include distinctive plaster decorations in a variety of shapes and forms. Some examples have been well maintained and preserved while others are in need of restoration.

One feature of these buildings is the design of the majlis or sitting rooms, which often have relatively high ceilings to make it easier to keep the room clear of smoke from the fire during the winter and keep it cool in the summer, said Al-Na’am.

“Most of the sitting rooms are decorated with plaster featuring geometric shapes,” he added. “However, today’s buildings use gypsum plaster and cement, which have lower costs.”

Some people continue to keep the old traditions alive by working with authentic materials. Abdullah Al-Khuzam, a member of the National Program for the Development of Handicrafts, has been passionate about building mud houses for more than 30 years.

He said he mixes the mud he uses, and that other materials used in the construction include tree trunks and palm-tree fronds. He described the Hail architectural style as durable and solid, with strong walls ranging in thickness from 30 to 40 centimeters. Mixing the mud is a delicate process that requires special skills, and is not as random as it might appear, he added.

“For example, certain parts of the building require a certain amount of mud and clay and a certain quantity of soil,” he explained. “For other parts, mud and soil are mixed and soft hay is added. The mixture is fermented for seven to 14 days before construction starts.”

Al-Khuzam, who is also a well-known fine artist, has taken part in many heritage exhibitions in the Kingdom and other countries.

“My participation in these events aimed to promote our traditional heritage and introduce the next generations to the traditional methods our forefathers used,” he said. The traditional designs and construction methods used in old buildings reflected the values and beliefs of the community, said Al-Khuzam. It was usual, for example, for doors in mud houses to be positioned in such a way that they did not reveal the interior of the house. A wall would block the view. Decorations were also an important part of the design process.

“Our forefathers paid special attention to the sitting room’s construction, which reflected their taste in art and architecture,” he said. “The majority of sitting rooms were decorated with engravings on the walls as well as Qur’anic verses, wise proverbs and drawings of plants.”

The majlis, where guests were hosted, was known as al-qahwa (the coffee area), he explained, and the area overlooking the yard was called liwan (summer majlis).

One feature that sets houses in Hail apart from those in other areas, according to Al-Khuzam, is the yard. Typically, it is a large space with an orange tree in the center. Orange trees live a long time and are a signature feature of yards in Hail. Some also have palm trees.

Another prominent feature of architecture in the region is something called a “dome,” which is located in front of the building. It is where the residents of the house traditionally spend most of their time during the summer. It also helps to shield the rest of the house from the sun and rain.

The previously mentioned majlis or sitting room in the heart of the house is where family members gather during the cold days of winter and light a fire to keep warm. The heads of the family occupy the main bedroom, while the children share rooms that are divided between boys and girls.

One of the nicest parts of a traditional Hail house is called “al-qubaiba.” Located off a corridor or a corner, it is a small space usually used by women, especially the elderly, to pray. A clay pot filled with water is stored there to keep it cool.

Al-Khuzam’s enduring passion for Hail’s old buildings is clear.

“I have been ready to do anything for the sake of this precious heritage and legacy,” he said. “I was glad when I heard that the Ministry of Culture had decided to restore the heritage sitting rooms in the city of Hail. These public places represent an important aspect of the traditions and values of the people of Hail, reflecting their generosity to visitors and passers-by. Some of them are open from after Asr prayers until midnight.

“I was a member of the team that restored these sitting rooms. I am grateful for the authorities’ support and for giving us the opportunity to put our touches on the historic buildings in the area.”

Mohammed Al-Halfi, a historian and doctorate student at King Saud University, said a house represents a part of a family’s identity and offers an insight into their history. Houses built close together are indicative of the close relationships between the people that lived in them, he explained.

They reveal how these people planned their lives together and built houses that reflected their environments and surroundings, he added. In the rural desert environment, known for its harshness and extreme summer heat, mud houses helped to manage the temperature.

“Using mud in architecture became an art hundreds of years ago, and still is,” said Al-Halfi. “Guest and living rooms in today’s houses have the same style as the old ones, and this reflects our pride in this identity and our heritage.”

He added that a study of the materials, design and construction techniques that were used to make the mud houses reveals the expertise of the builders. They took into account all factors to ensure the structures were perfectly suited to the local conditions, including the terrain and climate, and even the rising and setting of the sun.

“We must view mud houses as a historical source when studying any society,” said Al-Halfi. “These houses deserve to be studied, economically and socially, to get more information about the community at the time.

“That is why we find mud houses differ from one region to another, according to the cultures of their inhabitants and the building requirements available in their environments.”

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ThePlace: Tayeb Al-Ism, one of Saudi Arabia’s most stunning natural attractions

Updated 15 May 2021

ThePlace: Tayeb Al-Ism, one of Saudi Arabia’s most stunning natural attractions

  • Small streams run through the stones and groves of palm trees dot the inside of the valley

Tayeb Al-Ism is one of Saudi Arabia’s most stunning natural attractions. Visitors to the valley enjoy one surprise after another. The valley is located on the Gulf of Aqaba, 15 kilometers north of the coastal town of Maqna.

Palm groves and granite massifs surround the valley’s entrance, which is located between two massifs that appear to be split in half.

After leaving their cars, visitors follow a pedestrian bridge that gives hikers the impression that they are about to embark on a magical journey. Small streams run through the stones and groves of palm trees dot the inside of the valley.

Shade and the large number of streams help to regulate the temperature, ensuring conditions in the heart of Tayeb Al-Ism are always pleasant.

Moses is believed to have spent his voluntary exile in Madyan, the ancient name of the Gulf of Aqaba, and reached Tayeb Al-Ism, hence the name “Valley of Moses.”


Eligibility rules, amount of aid revealed for job seekers in Saudi Arabia

Updated 15 May 2021

Eligibility rules, amount of aid revealed for job seekers in Saudi Arabia

  • Under a new system, citizens and residents between ages of 20 and 40 can receive payments for up to 15 months

JEDDAH: The details of a financial aid system for job seekers, which was recently approved by Saudi Arabia’s Council of Ministers, have been revealed.

Payments will be made to eligible claimants for up to 15 months. They will receive SR2,000 ($530) a month for the first four months after a successful claim, SR1,500 a month for the following four months, SR1,000 a month for four months after that, and SR750 a month for the final three months.

To be eligible for the aid, applicants will have to meet a number of conditions. They must be Saudi nationals or permanent residents of the Kingdom, between the ages of 20 and 40, able to work, and seriously and actively looking for a job.

They must not already be employed in the public or private sectors, or receiving a retirement pension, income from social security, or any other allowance. The owners of commercial enterprises are not eligible for the aid, nor are students or trainees at any stage of their education or training.

FASTFACT

Payments will be made to eligible claimants for up to 15 months. They will receive SR2,000 ($530) a month for the first four months after a successful claim, SR1,500 a month for the following four months, SR1,000 a month for four months after that, and SR750 a month for the final three months.

In addition, an applicant will not qualify for aid if his or her wealth exceeds a certain amount, but the exact figure for this was not specified. Applicants must not previously have benefited from the job-search aid system or any other financial allowances paid to job seekers.

The authorities said the new system aims to regulate the system of financial aid for people looking for work and clearly define the rules for eligibility. In addition it is designed to support job seekers, motivate them to enter the labor market, and set out the rights, responsibilities and obligations of the Human Resources Development Fund and those who are looking for work.

Applications to the fund can be submitted online or through authorized representatives. Individuals whose applications are rejected have the right to file an appeal with the relevant authorities.

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Who’s Who: Sultan Al-Qahtani, spokesperson of KSA’s Citizen Account Program

Updated 14 May 2021

Who’s Who: Sultan Al-Qahtani, spokesperson of KSA’s Citizen Account Program

Sultan Al-Qahtani has been the spokesman and communication general manager of the Citizen Account Program since 2018.

Al-Qahtani, who received a bachelor’s degree in English translation from King Khalid University (KKU) in 2007, is an ambassador of the Charity Orphans Care Foundation (Ekhaa).

His KSA Awla initiative, which he started in 2010, has succeeded in helping thousands of young men and young women find suitable jobs. Moreover, he is a member of the Saudi Media National Association since 2020. 

After graduation from KKU, Al-Qahtani joined King Abdul Aziz and His Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity (Mawhiba), where he worked as a creativity prize administrator for nearly 16 months.

During the same period, he served at the leading mobile service provider, Zain KSA, as a marketing administrator for 10 months and as an application supervisor for five months. He also led Zain’s public relations team for more than a year.

For four months, Al-Qahtani worked for the Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul) as a media and public relations officer.

In October 2012, he started a new job with the Saudi mining firm Maaden, where he provided protocol support to the company’s president in regard to his visits, conferences, tours, and social functions. In December 2013 he moved to SAP, a producer of software for the management of business processes, where he managed marketing events and social media activities in Saudi Arabia.

In April 2017, Al-Qahtani joined the General Entertainment Authority, where he was the media relations manager for nearly a year before moving to the Small and Medium Enterprises General Authority (Monsha’at), where he administered its communication department for six months.


Worshippers at Two Holy Mosques thoroughly screened from coronavirus disease

Updated 15 May 2021

Worshippers at Two Holy Mosques thoroughly screened from coronavirus disease

MAKKAH: Worshippers deemed resistant to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) attended the Grand Mosque in Makkah and the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah to perform Friday prayers.

All those taking part in worship were required to show Tawakkalna app proof of immunity to the virus and follow strict health and safety protocols.

Entry was allowed for people who had received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, those where 14 days had passed since their first jab, and individuals who had recovered after contracting the virus.

The General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques has stepped up cleaning operations to 10 sessions a day at the Grand Mosque.