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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King Salman prays for ‘continued security and stability’

Updated 14 May 2021

King Salman prays for ‘continued security and stability’

  • All mosques and prayer areas maintain full health protocols

JEDDAH: King Salman performed Eid prayers in NEOM on Thursday. 

Earlier, he extended greetings to Saudi citizens and residents and Muslims all over the world.

In a tweet on Thursday, the king said: “We thank God Almighty for making the blessed Eid Al-Fitr a sign of good and satisfaction after completing the fasting and prayers of Ramadan. 

“Eid carries hope, optimism, and happiness, and we pray to God to cleanse the entire world of all evil, protect us from harm, and grant us continued security, stability, and tranquility.”

The king said this Eid is an occasion to overcome the ordeal that the world has suffered from the health, social and economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

King Salman said he was “optimistic about the positive steps in place to achieve stability in the Arab world, so that security and prosperity prevail for all parts of the globe.”

“Combating this pandemic that has befallen the world requires all of us to adhere to the health measures announced by the Ministry of Health, including social distancing, and the need to receive the vaccine, which will work to immunize our dear community of citizens and residents,” the king said.

Mask-clad worshippers entered Makkah’s Grand Mosque along socially distanced paths to offer Eid prayer. Worshippers at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah also followed COVID-19 protocols.

As Saudi families gathered to celebrate the first day of Eid Al-Fitr, the Kingdom’s health minister urged people to follow official health precautions to combat the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

“I need your attention on your Eid. Be careful, refrain from shaking hands completely, be sure to practice social distancing, and avoid large gatherings,” Tawfiq Al-Rabiah tweeted on the eve of festivities.

“Go to the Eid prayer with your own prayer mat, wear the mask constantly, sanitize your hands before and after receiving or giving Eidiya, and leave a safe distance between you and others,” he added. The minister also warned parents not to allow children to hug or kiss their grandparents, saying that such practices may endanger older members of the family.

Worshippers across the Kingdom performed Eid Al-Fitr prayers in 20,569 mosques and open-air prayer areas set up by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, Dawah and Guidance.

Mosques and prayer areas were equipped with facilities in accordance with the health protocols approved by the authorities to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

The imams spoke during the Eid sermon about the blessing of completing fasting and praying qiyaam, and the importance of the continuation of good deeds after Ramadan.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia reported 11 more COVID-19-related deaths on Thursday. The death toll now stands at 7,122.

The Health Ministry reported 1,116 new cases, meaning that 430,505 people have now contracted the disease. There are 9,244 remaining active cases, 1,344 of which are in critical condition.

According to the ministry, 377 of the newly recorded cases were in Riyadh, 320 in Makkah, 134 in the Eastern Province and 71 in Madinah. In addition, 1,129 patients recovered from the disease, bringing the total number of recoveries to 414,139.

Saudi Arabia so far has conducted 17,812,376 PCR tests, with 71,457 carried out in the past 24 hours.

Saudis and expats in the Kingdom continue to receive their COVID-19 jabs, with 11,195,164 people inoculated so far.


OIC: Continuing Houthi attacks against civilian targets tantamount to war crimes

Updated 14 May 2021

OIC: Continuing Houthi attacks against civilian targets tantamount to war crimes

  • The OIC announced on Thursday that it will hold an emergency meeting on Sunday, at the request of Saudi Arabia, to discuss the situation in Jerusalem and Gaza

JEDDAH: The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) strongly condemned the “cowardly, hostile action” by terrorist Houthi militias in Yemen, which on Thursday launched eight drones and three ballistic missiles at civilian targets in the Kingdom.

The Arab coalition fighting the Houthis in support of Yemen’s internationally recognized government said it intercepted and destroyed the drones and missiles before they reached their targets.

OIC Secretary-General Yousef Al-Othaimeen praised the coalition forces for their vigilance and professionalism in responding to the Houthi’s attack, which took place on the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Fitr, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

“The continued launch of ballistic missiles and drones toward civilians and civilian objects is considered war crimes, and a flagrant defiance of international laws, customs and agreements,” he said.

He also reiterated the OIC’s solidarity with the Kingdom in all the steps Saudi authorities take to deter Houthi aggression and protect civilians.

Hamdan Al-Shehri, a political analyst and international-relations scholar, told Arab News: “This is a particularly special day for Muslims, Eid Al-Fitr, and all Muslims are also preoccupied by what is happening in Palestine.

“We always hear Iran making threats, but instead of standing with Palestine it is targeting Makkah, Madinah and the Kingdom. This demonstrates the Houthi’s futility, and the extent of Tehran’s malice and how it is always standing with the Houthi forces.

“As we’ve seen, such events are always against civilians. Iran and the Iran-backed Houthi militias have their weapons aimed at civilians because they want civilian victims.” Al-Shehri added: “These are war crimes. The global community should do something, especially about the hundreds of ballistic missiles and drones. The world is only watching.” Meanwhile, the OIC announced on Thursday that it will hold an emergency meeting on Sunday, at the request of Saudi Arabia, to discuss the situation in Jerusalem and Gaza. The meeting of the foreign ministers of OIC member nations will address the continuing Israeli attacks in the Palestinian territories, which have escalated since Monday.

Israeli troops were massing at the Gaza border on Thursday. Meanwhile Hamas targeted Israel with rocket attacks. The increasingly intense hostilities have caused international concern and provoked clashes between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

With fears growing that the violence could spiral out of control into full-blown war, the US announced on Wednesday it is sending an envoy, Hady Amr, to the region.


Saudis divided between electronic, traditional Eidiya

Updated 14 May 2021

Saudis divided between electronic, traditional Eidiya

  • Due to the ongoing pandemic, many Saudis turn to electronic payments to give out Eidiyas this year as opposed to cash in hand

JEDDAH: As Muslims around the world are celebrating Eid Al-Fitr in their own unique ways, children in every nation tend to always steal the spotlight with their tireless demands for Eidiya money.

Similar to Halloween in the west, children wait eagerly for this time of the year so they can dress up, visit one household to the next, and receive as much Eidiya money (and chocolates) as possible.

However, due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many Saudis turned to electronic payments to give out Eidiyas this year. Still, others prefer the old-fashioned way of handing out Eidiyas in cash while also taking COVID-19 health precautions into consideration.

Saudi dentist Jameela Al-Ghamdi, 29, said being deprived of family gatherings for Eid Al-Fitr last year was frustrating. 

“It was so strange to go through,” she told Arab News. “We never skipped visiting our families on such special occasions.”

She is now relieved because people in her family susceptible to the virus have received the vaccine jab and these special occasions can happen again. 

“I am so happy to dress up with my sisters and also visit family members I have not seen in an unfairly long time,” Al-Ghamdi said.

Her family, although mostly vaccinated, prefers to give out Eidiyas electronically, as Al-Ghamdi says she is a fan of technology. 

“We tried giving out Eidiyas through STC Pay last year and it was very quick, simple and convenient. No need to break down SR100 at minimarkets anymore,” she said.

Ali Mansour, a 33-year-old Saudi industrial engineer at Saudia airline, said the best part of Eid is visiting family. He also added the occasion is not the same without gatherings. Mansour’s family started giving out Eidiyas electronically long before the pandemic because of its convenience.

HIGHLIGHTS

•Similar to Halloween in the west, children wait eagerly for this time of the year so they can dress up, visit one household to the next, and receive as much Eidiya money (and chocolates) as possible. •However, due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many Saudis turned to electronic payments to give out Eidiyas this year. Still, others prefer the old-fashioned way of handing out Eidiyas in cash while also taking COVID-19 health precautions into consideration.

“Way before the pandemic and the creations of such platforms like STC Pay, we gave out Eidiyas through bank transfers,” he told Arab News. “Electronic payments are not something new to us. My dad would always transfer the Eidiya into my account, never in cash.” He added that the last time he received Eidiya in cash was probably back in high school.

Young children are the most significant part of the Eid celebration, said Mansour, as they will receive Eidiyas in cash since they cannot use devices.

Saudi Lujain Al-Jehani, 27, said Eid Al-Fitr is extra special this year because people were deprived of the holiday gatherings last year.

“Due to the pandemic, we did not have the opportunity to celebrate together,” she told Arab News. “We are so excited and thrilled. We are going to prepare cakes and activities that we were deprived of last year.”

Al-Jehani’s family prefers to give out Eidiyas in person: “The experience is different, holding cash in your hand,” she said.

Al-Jehani added that most of the elderly in her family do not know how to use electronic payment platforms.

Saudi medical student Renad Bajodah, 25, said Eid celebrations are important experiences and will have a lasting impact on a child’s memory.

“Eid means joy to me. It means coming together and honoring the days of our lives, and celebrating after the completion of the holy month of Ramadan,” Bajodah told Arab News. 

“The excitement of Eid’s eve is what is most beautiful to me, seeing kids wearing their new pajamas all happy on the night of Eid. It also teaches parents how to give to their children. To give them the best experience and beautiful childhood memories.” 

While Bajodah’s family still prefers Eidiyas in cash, they sanitize them thoroughly before delivering in carefully closed envelopes. They like the “traditional old school style,” he said.

Saudi Yara Ahmad, 27, who works in the market research industry, said Eid Al-Fitr means a lot to her. The whole experience from new clothes, delicious food and candy, family gatherings and Eidiya money is something adults and children alike look forward to every year.

Electronic Eidiya did not bode well for her family which continues to distribute cash to children while keeping in mind the sanitization part and necessary precautions.

Saudi Salman Al-Otaibi, 32, who prefers the old-fashioned way of giving out Eidiyas while following hygienic measures, said a new voting poll for Eidiyas that has been circulating a week before Eid Al-Fitr takes away a special element.

“The idea has nothing to do with the purpose of Eidiyas and bringing a smile on children and adults’ faces,” he told Arab News. 

“Because it has become a contest and everyone is running after people in groups and social media sites to vote. I think it is far from what Eidiya is supposed to mean.”


Taif rose oil a ‘treasure to be discovered’, says French envoy

Updated 14 May 2021

Taif rose oil a ‘treasure to be discovered’, says French envoy

  • Taif roses have, throughout history, expressed the cultural identity of Taif city, says Mayor Ahmed Al-Qathami

TAIF: “Treasure to be discovered,” were the words used by the French ambassador to the Kingdom describing the rose oil industry in Taif, after his recent visit to the 14th Taif Rose Festival held at Al-Radf Park and organized by the Taif Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Ludovic Pouille toured the old town of Taif at night with representatives from the province and the Ministry of Culture, expressing his happiness to discover the vital market on the eve of the celebrations of Eid Al-Fitr, and to drink traditional coffee in the historic neighborhood of the capital of roses.

He also discovered the traditional professions in the old city of Taif, discussing with the mayor the tourist capacity of the city and opportunities to cooperate with France.

Mesmerized by the fragrance and the pink scenery around him, the envoy walked the roses’ stairway in the festival covered in roses from both sides, describing it as a “stairway to heaven.”

French Ambassador Ludovic Pouille

Dr. Ahmed Al-Qathami, mayor of Taif Province, said that the visit of the French envoy reflects the importance and reputation of Taif roses across borders, “one of the most important tools in promoting the Kingdom’s tourism, culture and economy.”

Al-Qathami told Arab News that Taif roses have, throughout history, expressed the cultural identity of Taif city, symbolizing its beauty thanks to their odor and perfume.

“Taif roses are a source of cultural inspiration to all Saudis for whom the roses are a way of life and a cultural destination that attracted dignitaries and important figures throughout history,” he added.

He added that the visit of the French ambassador indicates the depth of friendship and love he has for Saudi Arabia. “This visit reflects his knowledge and appreciation for the efforts made to sustain the Taif rose industry, and develop its products and promote them at local and global levels.”

Al-Qathami pointed out that Taif roses were, and still are, an “honorable image” for Taif province, and all the celebrations and festivals held in the past and the accompanying exhibitions contributed in shaping its identity as a cultural hub that helped in strengthening the
ties of communication between the city and those who love and admire it.

Adel Al-Nimri, a rose factory owner in Al-Hada, Taif, said that the prominent and important figures who visit Taif and admire the great efforts “give us the impetus to continue and improve the product to reach the highest standards of
production, and export them abroad after gaining widespread fame.”

He stressed the importance of caring for the Taif rose industry and teaching people about it for future generations, adding that Taif roses are known for their purity and fragrance.


Saudi interior minister greets security personnel for Umrah success

Updated 13 May 2021

Saudi interior minister greets security personnel for Umrah success

RIYADH: Saudi Interior Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Saud bin Naif on Thursday conveyed the congratulations of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the personnel of the Ministry of Interior and security sectors on the success of security plans for the Umrah season and the advent of Eid Al-Fitr.

Prince Abdul Aziz, who is also the chairman of the Umrah Supreme Committee, expressed thanks to the leadership for the support that enabled the security sectors to perform their duties in this year’s exceptional Umrah season, expressing his pride in the efforts made by security men in the service of Umrah performers and visitors.

Muslims performed Eid Al-Fitr prayer throughout Saudi Arabia on Thursday.

In Makkah, the prayer was performed at the Grand Mosque and led by the Imam of the Grand Mosque Sheikh Saleh bin Abdullah bin Humaid. The prayer was attended by Makkah Gov. Prince Khalid Al-Faisal and a number of princes.

In Madinah, the prayer was performed at the Prophet’s Mosque. The prayer was attended by Madinah Gov. Prince Faisal bin Salman.

The prayer was also performed in various regions and attended by regional governors and senior officials.

The imams who led the prayer congratulated Muslims on Eid Al-Fitr, praying to Allah to accept their fasting, prayers, charity and good deeds.