Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia can be a leading oil exporter while also fighting climate change, says deputy minister for environment

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Updated 24 January 2022

Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia can be a leading oil exporter while also fighting climate change, says deputy minister for environment

  • Appearing on the video interview series, Dr. Osama Faqeeha points out that the problem lies not in hydrocarbons but emissions
  • He says Saudi Green Initiative target will be achieved with due consideration for environmental sustainability

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia can retain its role as the leading exporter of oil in the world while pursuing an ambitious strategy to mitigate the effects of climate change, one of the Kingdom’s leading environmental policymakers has told Arab News.

Dr. Osama Faqeeha, deputy minister for environment, water and agriculture, said that the issue for the Kingdom and the world was to deal with polluting emissions from hydrocarbon production, while exploring other uses for oil products and renewable alternatives.

“I think we don’t see the problem in the hydrocarbons; we see the problem in the emissions,” he said, pointing out that “petrochemicals, plastic, medical supplies, clothing and other things are made from hydrocarbons; the emissions are the issue — namely, CO2 emissions.”

Faqeeha, who is closely involved in implementing the measures of the Saudi Green Initiative unveiled last year, was appearing on Frankly Speaking, the series of video interviews with leading policymakers and business people.

He also spoke of the ambitious plan to plant 10 billion trees in the Kingdom, the campaign to protect its environmental eco-system and biodiversity, and efforts to improve the air quality in the capital Riyadh and other big cities.

Faqeeha said that the environmental campaign launched in the SGI was part of a comprehensive strategy to tackle the challenges of climate change and global warming.

“In this situation, Saudi Arabia has launched the Circular Carbon Economy approach, which is really to treat CO2 like any other waste, by basically taking it and recycling it in various ways.

“We have to realize that there is no single approach that can single-handedly address the global climate change challenge.

“We need renewable energy, we need the Circular Carbon Economy, we need recycling, we need to stop this deforestation, preserve habitats, reduce marine plastics. We have to focus on all of this,” he said.

The plan to plant 10 billion trees in Saudi Arabia over the coming decades, a striking feature of the SGI, is acknowledged as a challenge given the Kingdom’s desert climate and relatively low level of rainfall.

“Definitely this is a very challenging, ambitious target. As His Royal Highness the Crown Prince (Mohammed bin Salman) announced, the time frame will be over the next few decades. Our focus really is on environmental sustainability. We intend to achieve this target with due consideration for environmental sustainability.

“To achieve this, first of all we will focus on using native plant species in the Kingdom. Believe it or not, there are more than 2,000 documented species of flora in the Kingdom that have adapted to the dry and arid climate in Saudi Arabia.

“So, really these plants thrived in this environment and (fully) adapted to it,” he said.

The tree planting program — already under way — would focus on four main areas: Restoring natural flora in mountains and valleys; an “urban greening” program for the big cities; plantation in agricultural areas to support food production and rural communities; and tree planting along major highways to counter sand encroachment and enhance the experience of travelers.

Renewable water sources would also be used in the tree-planting program, to avoid endangering precious groundwater. Treated wastewater and rain harvesting were among the techniques available to environmental policymakers, as well as greater use of maritime resources.

Dr. Osama Faqeeha appears on Frankly Speaking. (Arab News)

“Saudi Arabia has thousands of kilometers of coastline on the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea. There are two species of native mangrove trees that grow in sea water, so we intend to focus on those species as well,” he said.

One issue that has provoked debate in the Kingdom is the traditional practice of cutting natural wood to make campfires, held responsible for some of the desertification the SGI is pledged to eliminate.

“Local people enjoy picnics and the outdoors, they like to light wood fires for family gatherings, and these are local traditions that we really cherish. However, it came at a high expense of the local vegetation.”

The new environmental law has imposed severe penalties on such practices, but Faqeeha said that there were incentives for alternatives to wood fires so that these traditions would not be affected.

The World Health Organisation has criticized Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East for low standards of air quality, but Faqeeha took issue with some of the WHO findings.

“I’d like to highlight a distinction between air pollution and degraded air quality. Sometimes you have a degraded air quality not because it’s polluted by human activities. The WHO uses particulate matters as the main parameters to measure air quality,” he said.

“That’s a very good parameter for (places such as) Europe and the US, where you have extensive vegetation cover, and the main source of particulate matters are power plants, factories and other human activities. We call such particulate matters anthropogenic particulate matter or PM.

“Here in Saudi Arabia and in the region as a whole, particulate matters are dominated by natural causes, mainly coming from dust storms. Definitely air quality becomes degraded during dust storms — no one claims that it is healthy to go outdoors and inhale dusty weather.

So, that’s really what they (WHO) are referring to. It is degraded air quality because of the natural particulate matters emanating from dust storms.”

The ministry was working on comprehensive measure to reduce dust storms and improve air quality, Faqeeha said.

At the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow last year, some experts warned that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries would suffer more than other parts of the world from the health effects of global warming, including extreme heat, diseases and air pollution.

Faqeeha acknowledged this was an issue that policymakers were confronting. “Definitely, climate change and global warming is a major global challenge that we are taking very seriously.

“In terms of the outlook for temperature, there are very few studies. In the entire region we don’t have a climate center for climate studies and that’s why the Crown Prince announced the creation of the Regional Center for Climate Studies here, which will be championed by the National Center for Meteorology in Saudi Arabia. Its job is to do national and regional studies on the mid- and long-term outlook for climate change,” he said.

One big focus of Saudi environmental strategy, he added, is the push to reverse the trend to land degradation and desertification, a major contributor to the generation of polluting greenhouse gas emissions that costs around trillions of dollars globally.

“Land degradation is the second largest contributor of greenhouse gases. In fact, land degradation is the cause of about more than 50 percent of biodiversity loss, which is a large contribution. Also, it has a huge impact on agricultural lands and food security,” Faqeeha said.

Measures to reverse land degradation were a major achievement of the G20 summit under Saudi Arabia’s presidency in 2020.

Faqeeha also outlined the Kingdom’s new strategy toward waste management, which he views as an area ripe for private sector involvement and foreign investment.

“Private sector participation is an important enabler to achieve the objectives of the national environmental strategy,” he said.

“We have many international companies that are coming, who feel the regulatory environment now is highly conducive to their participation.”

Saudi Arabia tells UN meeting on food security ‘global cooperation is vital’

Updated 19 May 2022

Saudi Arabia tells UN meeting on food security ‘global cooperation is vital’

  • Deputy Foreign Minister Waleed Al-Khuraiji said the KSA’s foreign policy attaches great importance to enhancing security and stability

RIYADH: A Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs official confirmed Wednesday that the Kingdom had taken crucial steps to enhance food security, put forward strategies to promote food growth and face climate change and water scarcity. 

Waleed Al-Khuraiji, Saudi deputy minister of foreign affairs, said these measures contributed to improving food security indicators in the Kingdom, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

During the Global Food Security Call to Action meeting at the United Nations on Wednesday, Al-Khuraiji said that the food security challenge proves that sustainable recovery depends on international cooperation.

He said despite progress in the development process, achieving the 2030 SDG (social development goals) had become extremely difficult, as global expectations and indicators show a deviation in the path towards achieving the second goal of the program, which includes the eradication of hunger.

“Among the global health challenges are the spread of pandemics, as the spread of the COVID-19 revealed to us the fragility of the international system in combating a virus that is not visible to the naked eye, which led to severe consequences that affected societies and economies,” Al-Khuraiji said, adding  that this affected people’s lives, their livelihood and declining economic indicators.

He said Saudi Arabia led a global response to the pandemic that accompanied the Kingdom’s G20 presidency, as it supported global efforts to confront this pandemic with $500 million, in addition to providing $300 million to help countries’ efforts to address the pandemic.

“The Kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030 focused within sustainable development efforts on building a sustainable agricultural sector, strengthening sectors that support food systems, developing systems and improving agricultural productivity, and worked to strengthen research and innovation capabilities to ensure sustainable progress in food security,” Al-Khuraiji said.

In this regard, he said Saudi Arabia presented crucial initiatives to the region and the world, and had created a road map for facing environmental challenges. These intuitive include the Saudi Green Initiative the Middle East Green Initiative, and the circular carbon economy initiative.

Al-Khuraiji said the  Kingdom’s foreign policy attached great importance to enhancing security and stability, supporting dialogue and peaceful solutions, and providing conditions that support development and achieve people’s aspirations for a better tomorrow, weather in the Middle East or the world.

He added Saudi Arabia had always reiterated its commitment to helping the disadvantaged and countries hit by natural disasters and humanitarian crises.

“The Kingdom is the largest donor of humanitarian and development aid at the Arab and Islamic levels, and is one of the top three donors at the international level,” he said. 

Saudi-US defense delegations review ties, discuss future cooperation

Updated 19 May 2022

Saudi-US defense delegations review ties, discuss future cooperation

  • Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid says the meeting was organized upon Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s directives

RIYADH: Prince Khalid bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s deputy minister of defense, on Wednesday met the US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in Washington, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The pair reviewed the Saudi-US partnership, and ongoing and future strategic military and defense cooperation between the Kingdom and US.

Prince Khalid expressed Saudi Arabia’s appreciation for the close cooperation between the two countries' defense bodies to achieve the two sides’ common interests and enhance security and peace regionally and internationally.



He also said that the meeting was organized based on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s directives.

Prince Khalid and US Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl, then, co-headed the Saudi-US joint strategic planning committee meeting.

The Saudi and US defense delegations join a photo session after their meeting in Washington on May 18, 2022. (SPA)

The meeting discussed regional and international developments, and a number of issues on defending common interests and global security and stability.

The meeting was attended by Gen. Fayyadh bin Hamed Al-Ruwaili, Saudi Chief of General Staff, and other Saudi and US senior officials.

Who’s Who: Majed Al-Sulami, humanitarian and development affairs chief at KSA’s UN mission in Geneva

Updated 19 May 2022

Who’s Who: Majed Al-Sulami, humanitarian and development affairs chief at KSA’s UN mission in Geneva

Majed Al-Sulami is a diplomat at the permanent mission of Saudi Arabia to the UN, where he is head of the humanitarian and development affairs department in Geneva.

His responsibilities are in the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, International Organization for Migration, International Committee of the Red Cross, UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Food and Agriculture Organization, World Food Programme, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and humanitarian assistance in areas affected by conflicts, armed disputes and natural disasters.

Al-Sulami attained his bachelor’s degree in English literature from King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah. He also received a master’s degree in international relations and diplomacy affairs from the University of Ghana, and another master’s degree in business administration for executives from Cardiff Metropolitan University, UK.

Al-Sulami also served as the chargé d’affaires at the Saudi Embassy in Ghana, and the deputy head and head of the consular section between September 2011 and 2013.

He was also the deputy head of the media section at the Saudi Embassy in London between September 2013 and 2017.

Al-Sulami also served as director of the specialized meetings at the permanent mission of Saudi Arabia to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation between September 2017 and 2020.

His participation included the 47th and 48th sessions of the OIC’s permanent finance committee, the 13th and 14th sessions of the OIC Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission and the workshop held by the OIC’s commission with the UN.

Al-Sulami was a political committee member for preparatory meetings and foreign ministers’ meetings and the OIC conference held in Makkah in 2019.


Experts from 29 nations gather in Jeddah for international sports sciences conference

Updated 18 May 2022

Experts from 29 nations gather in Jeddah for international sports sciences conference

  • ‘This conference is a novel idea, especially since Saudi Arabia has been recently bidding to be at the forefront of the developed world and sports,’ said Adnan Al-Humaidan, the university’s president
  • Delegates will discuss a number of topics, including sports governance, women’s sports, digital transformation, and ways in which sport can attract investment and support the economy

JEDDAH: Academics, researchers, specialists and lecturers from 19 countries gathered at the University of Jeddah on May 18 for the start of Sports Sciences: Economy, Health, Lifestyle, which is said to be the first international conference of its kind.

The two-day event, held under the patronage of the minister of education, began with a welcome speech by Adnan Al-Humaidan, the president of the university.

“This conference is a novel idea, especially since Saudi Arabia has been recently bidding to be at the forefront of the developed world and sports,” he said.

He said that the decision of the university to organize the conference reflects the aim of the Kingdom to be an international leader in sports sciences, to help contribute to achieving the goals of the nation’s Vision 2030 development and diversification plan.

Delegates will discuss a number of topics during the conference, including the relationships between sports, health and the quality of life program as part of Vision 2030, and the issue of governance in sport and its role in tackling corruption within sporting organizations.

The event will also explore women’s sports, the use of artificial intelligence and the digital transformation of the sports industry, and the role of sport in generating financial and human investments and supporting the national economy, and the contributions of software and technology to the development of sports.

Princess Reema bint Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the US and a member of the International Olympic Committee, delivered a keynote speech during the first session of the opening day, which was devoted to a discussion of the experiences of Saudi, Arab and international women in sport. 

Speaking via video link, she said: “Saudi women are making tremendous strides in the world of sports, starting with individual participation and progressing to official representation in regional and international competitions. And I am proud to see them right now in every sport and holding top positions in the various local sports federations.

“Today, sport emerges as an important component of the socioeconomic development of a country. Therefore women must be part of that development, not only to be athletes but also to seek other top positions in sports.

“As women increasingly participate in sport and occupy more leadership roles within the sporting sector, they influence the meaning of sport and the place of women in it.”

Other speakers during the opening session included Maha Juffali, president of the Saudi Special Olympics Federation, and Lina Al-Maeena, a pioneer of women’s sports in Saudi Arabia who broke new ground 18 years ago when she founded the Jeddah United women’s basketball team.

Other sessions considered the role of the sports media in promoting the adoption of a more healthy lifestyle, and how best to benefit from international and Arab experiences in the field of sports sciences.


Intense sandstorm envelops parts of Kingdom in gray haze

Updated 17 May 2022

Intense sandstorm envelops parts of Kingdom in gray haze

  • The thick blanket of sand made iconic buildings in Riyadh, such as Faisaliyah Tower, Kingdom Center, and other skyscrapers in the King Abdullah Financial District almost impossible to see
  • Cautioning motorists because of the the heavy sandstorm, the traffic department advised drivers to drive slow and exercise restraint, as well as keep their headlights on

RIYADH: An intense sandstorm engulfed several areas in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, hampering visibility due to the widespread dust, slowing road traffic and forcing authorities to issue a weather warning.

The sandstorm battered Riyadh, enveloping the Saudi capital’s skyline with gray haze. The thick blanket of sand made iconic buildings in Riyadh, such as Faisaliyah Tower, Kingdom Center, and other skyscrapers in the King Abdullah Financial District almost impossible to see from a distance of a few hundred meters.

Electronic signs along Riyadh’s highways warned drivers to reduce their speed because of the lower visibility.

Cautioning motorists because of the the heavy sandstorm, the traffic department advised drivers to drive slow and exercise restraint, as well as keep their headlights on.

The General Directorate of Civil Defense also advised Riyadh residents to avoid going to various outskirt spots in sands to avoid accidents during the blinding sandstorm.

There have been no flight delays or cancellations in Riyadh because of the sandstorm.

Issuing the daily weather forecast for the Kingdom, the National Center of Meteorology on Tuesday said: “The surface dusty winds will be active in the Eastern Region and some parts of Riyadh Region, reducing horizontal visibility, while the dusty wind will continue to occur in some parts of Qassim, Hail, Madinah, Makkah and Najran regions, extending to eastern parts of Baha and Asir regions, reducing horizontal sight.”

The report added that partly cloudy skies will be seen in some parts of Tabuk, the Northern Borders and Jawf regions.

The NCM added that surface wind movement in the Red Sea will be northerly to north-westerly at a speed of 25-45 kilometers per hour on northern and central parts, and westerly to north-westerly on southern parts at a speed of 15-35 kilometers per hour. Surface wind movement in the Arabian Gulf will be westerly to north-westerly at a speed of 25-45 kilometers per hour.

In Riyadh, the dusty weather has made it tough for outdoor workers, and residents have struggled to keep sand out of their homes.

Abdul Qadeer, a Bangladeshi construction worker, told Arab News: “The heavy sandstorm that started late last night and engulfed the city and its outskirts in gray haze this morning has made it really tough for us to continue working outdoors due to widespread dust.”

Though not infrequent for May — the sandstorm is the third to hit the Kingdom this month — Tuesday’s storm created unfavorable conditions, with the maximum temperature in Riyadh recorded at 38 degrees Celsius and the minimum at 24 degrees Celsius. The relative humidity was recorded at 11 percent.

Parts of Saudi Arabia typically experience sandstorms at the end of winter and advent of summer between March and May, with varying intensity.

Besides the Kingdom, Tuesday’s sandstorm has affected other countries in the region, including neighboring Iraq, which recorded its eighth sandstorm since mid-April, a phenomenon fueled by soil degradation, intense droughts and low rainfall linked to climate change.