Pakistan-Saudi collaboration on climate change
In line with Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman’s philosophy to modernize Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom has pledged its share of contribution to protect the environment against adverse climate changes. Two landmark initiatives were launched last month: The Saudi Green Initiative and the Middle East Green Initiative. Both the plans will provide a roadmap to devise measures to control climate-induced crises both at the domestic and regional level. Any measure to control climate changes requires a consolidated and collaborative effort among territories and nations.
The world is in the grip of a climate crisis because of rising temperatures, melting glaciers, and ever more frequent extreme weather posing a danger to humankind’s very survival. The social implications of climate change is worsening inequality. To taper down climate change effects, the UNDP has called for a redefinition of progress that could skilfully deal with greenhouse gas emissions and the harm caused by consumerism.
Desertification and air pollution are two of the significant climate challenges the Kingdom is faced with. Last year dust storms caused the region a loss of $13 billion. Similarly, air pollution has shortened the life expectancy of an average Saudi national by 1.5 years.
The objective of the Saudi Green Initiative is to raise vegetation cover, reduce carbon emissions, combat pollution, reduce land degradation, and preserve marine life. Steps planned for these objectives’ achievements include the plantation of 10 billion trees, which will rehabilitate 40 million hectare of degraded land and build a renewable energy project, which will generate 50 per cent of the kingdom energy by 2030.
Last year, Saudi Arabia presided at the G20 summit and issued a dedicated environmental declaration, adopted the circular carbon economy concept, established the first-ever environmental task force, and two global initiatives were launched to reduce land degradation and protect coral reefs.
The Crown Prince’s clarity on tackling climate changes is reflected in this statement: “We reject the false choice between preserving the economy and protecting the environment.”
Given that billions of people globally are unable to access permanent sources of energy, Saudi Arabia has also been working on developing a “comprehensive and integrated energy-saving system through energy efficiency programs.”
But climate experts remain skeptical. According to Joanna Depledge, the editor of Climate Policy, a UK peer-reviewed journal covering climate change policy, and an expert on Saudi climate politics, “The carbon circular economy model looks for ways to capture and re-use CO2 rather than avoid the need to phase out oil.”
Conceptual and intellectual support aside, there is one area that can benefit Pakistan enormously: trained human resources on climate change. Pakistan has been exporting human resources frequently for various occupations to the Kingdom. However, a dedicated workforce trained in environmental sectors could be an ideal arrangement.
Saudi Arabia, like many industrial countries, has offered a recovery plan to bail out oil industries that have been hit hard during the pandemic. Climate or green measures seem to have been avoided in the recovery plan. This is not only limited to Saudi Arabia. Many countries have given unequivocal support to fossil fuel industries in the wake of the pandemic.
On the other side of the aisle, a campaign similar to the plantation of 10 billion trees has been started in Pakistan under the Clean & Green Pakistan and 10-Billion Tree Tsunami initiatives. Understanding that any climate change requires a collaborative effort, Prime Minister Imran Khan took to Twitter to felicitate the Kingdom on taking bold initiatives to reduce the negative fallouts of climate change and offered his country’s assistance in seeing the Crown Prince’s plans implemented.
“I’m delighted to learn of ‘Green Saudi Arabia’ & ‘Green Middle East’ initiatives by my brother, His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman! Have offered our support on these, as there are many complementarities with our ‘Clean & Green Pakistan & 10 Billion-Tree Tsunami.”
He further said Pakistan would be happy to lend and share its support in the form of its experience, knowledge and lessons from its environment and nature programs.
Conceptual and intellectual support aside, there is one area that can benefit Pakistan enormously: trained human resources on climate change. Pakistan has been exporting human resources frequently for various occupations to the Kingdom. However, a dedicated workforce trained in environmental sectors could be an ideal arrangement. It would increase Pakistan’s workforce presence in the Kingdom, which India has taken over for many years. Pakistan will also get a unique opportunity to develop its workforce’s expertise, which has been in question over the years.
Another avenue where both the countries can help meet the challenges of climate change is eliminating their support to fossil fuel, which will mean gearing towards alternative energy solutions. Pakistan’s expertise and Saudi Arabia’s resources can make this happen.
– Durdana Najam is an oped writer based in Lahore. She writes on security and policy issues.
She can be reached at [email protected]