How the Saudi Green Initiative has moved from ambition to action, two years on

As a part of the Saudi Green Initiative, the Kingdom aims to plant 10 billion trees. (Supplied)
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Updated 29 March 2023

How the Saudi Green Initiative has moved from ambition to action, two years on

  • Two-year anniversary of SGI’s launch seen as a milestone on the path to a sustainable future
  • The anniversary is being celebrated as a whole-of-society effort to usher in a greener future

JEDDAH: When one thinks of Saudi Arabia, one imagines scenes of rolling sand dunes as far as the eye can see — a vision not far from the truth in some of the more remote corners of the peninsula.

Looking closer at this vast landscape and its sprawling urban areas, however, many would be surprised by the vast green spaces now changing the face of the Kingdom, from dense forests to lush city parks.

Two years ago, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched one of the world’s most significant climate initiatives, which set out to enhance the quality of life while integrating environmental protection, energy transition and sustainability programs.

Green cover of Riyadh. (RCRC)

Celebrating its second anniversary, the Saudi Green Initiative, an ambitious multi-entity collaboration, has already reached several important milestones since its launch.

It has made a significant dent in its target of planting 10 billion trees across Saudi Arabia, chalking up 18 million to date.

Of the 40 million hectares of degraded land it aims to rehabilitate, 60,000 hectares have been restored, while more than 60 sites have been set aside for the sustainable planting of trees across the Kingdom.


  • 2 Years since Saudi Green Initiative was launched. 
  • 10 billion Target number of trees to be planted.
  • 18 million Trees planted in Saudi Arabia in 2022.
  • 60,000 Hectares of land rehabilitated in 2022.
  • 250,000 Cultivated shrubs in AlUla nurseries.
  • 62 Sites approved for tree planting.
  • 150,000 Homes powered by renewable energy.
  • 1,200 Endangered animals rewilded.

Historically, most resources for conservation efforts have been invested in areas considered wild and, therefore, less populated. Preserving these “untouched” places is critical for many reasons.

However, due to a noticeable increase in annual heat waves and extreme weather patterns, scientists and urban planners have turned their focus on urban areas to develop new strategies for resilient built environments.

For decades, rapid urbanization across the Kingdom and the lack of sustainable development on the ground led to polluted air, soaring temperatures, severe dust storms, and other harmful byproducts.

Saudi Green Initiative: An overview

There is a mechanism for defining specific places for afforestation and selecting suitable species for cultivation. Experts and specialists supervise the selection of planting sites before implementing, where available space and assured protection of the sites are mandatory to ensure the preservation and maintenance of trees. This is in addition to the suitability of the trees planted in these sites, whose types are chosen to make them compatible with the type of the soil in which they are planted. The National Center for Vegetation Coverage Development and Desertification Control has selected about 26 sites in various regions of the Kingdom to serve as alternative sites if the partner agencies do not have sites to implement afforestation campaigns. These sites meet all the requirements, including for protection and care.

The Environmental Awareness Initiative is one of the many efforts of the National Transformation Program to enhance and raise societal awareness of environmental issues and establish a sense of individual and collective responsibility for preserving natural resources in the Kingdom. The initiative aims to contribute to reducing pollution of all kinds and achieving environmental sustainability. This is being achieved through afforestation campaigns and directing the efforts of agencies, institutions and individuals toward afforestation. Afforestation campaigns are being launched with the private sector or environmental associations in coordination with the National Center for Plant Cover Development and Combating Desertification. The “Let’s Make It Green” campaign aims to increase the green area in the Kingdom and combat desertification, in addition to rehabilitating degraded vegetation sites and raising awareness of the importance of reducing harmful vegetation practices. The objective is to improve the quality of life in Saudi Arabia per the goals of Vision 2030.

  • Saleh Bindakhil, spokesman for Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture.

This led to the rise of the urban heat island effect — a phenomenon that occurs when cities replace land with dense concentrations of buildings, pavement, and other surfaces that absorb and retain heat.

Scientists at Nanjing and Yale Universities analyzed satellite data from across 2,000 cities around the world from 2002 to 2021. They found that cities are warming by a rate of 0.56 degrees Celsius per decade during the day and 0.43 C per decade at night.

The study compared the rise in temperatures to that of rural areas and found that urban areas are warming 29 percent faster on average.

This data should ring alarm bells for any nation with growing ambitions and growing cities.

In recent years, an international team of climate scientists, economists, and energy systems modelers have built a range of new “pathways” that examine how global society, demographics, and economics might change over the next century.

They are collectively known as the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways, which analyze how the world might evolve in the absence of climate policy and how different levels of climate change mitigation could be achieved in five different ways.

According to the G20 Climate Risk Atlas, Saudi Arabia will experience severe climate impacts if it follows a high-emissions pathway. Without urgent action, the Kingdom will see an 88 percent increase in the frequency of agricultural drought by 2050.

Heatwaves will last longer, and the combination of sea level rise, coastal erosion, and more extreme weather events will cause chaos for Saudi Arabia’s economy, which stands to lose around 12.2 percent of its gross domestic product by 2050 if it fails to act.

Data analysis from the Climate Change Knowledge Portal’s simulations shows that a rise in temperatures in the Kingdom is evident in the coming decades.

However, research has also shown that large variations in afforestation-related climate cooling can modify local surface temperatures and reduce them.

Saudi Arabia is committed to making a sizable impact on rising temperatures through collaborations between government entities, the private sector, and local communities.


  • 2016 King Salman launches renewable energy initiative.
  • 2017 National Renewable Energy Program announced.
  • 2018 Launch of the National Environment Strategy.
  • 2019 Creation of the Special Forces for Environmental Security.
  • 2020 “Let’s Make it Green” campaign launched to halt desertification.
  • 2021 Inaugural Saudi Green Initiative Forum and Middle East Green Summit.
  • 2030 Target to plant +600 million trees, protect 30 percent of land and sea, cut CO2 emissions by 278 million tons per annum.
  • 2060 Target to achieve net-zero carbon emissions.

To increase vegetation in urban areas and mitigate the effects of climate change, 77 initiatives and programs were activated under the broader SGI umbrella.

The Green Saudi Cities initiative, launched by the Municipal, Rural Affairs, and Housing Ministry, aims to plant up to 32 million trees in public parks and gardens across the capital city, Riyadh.

The scheme will be conducted over three phases and will undertake new greening projects in Riyadh, equivalent to an area of 437.5 sq. km. The project is set to be completed by 2031.

The capital is also undergoing a massive overhaul as the Green Riyadh project sets out to increase the proportion of green space to 9 percent and to plant 7.5 million trees by 2030.

At the heart of it all, work is underway to establish the King Salman Park, the largest urban park project in the world, in which 11 sq. km of its planned 16.6 sq. km park will be covered in green spaces and more than a million trees.

Similarly, the “Green Qibla” initiative aims to plant 15 million trees in the holy city of Makkah. The project, led by the Royal Commission for Makkah City and Holy Sites, is projected to finish by 2036.

Abdulaziz Al-Moqbel, Director of the Green Riyadh Program, participating in planting the first seedlings in the afforestation project in Al-Jazeera neighborhood (east of Riyadh) on Thursday, March 16, within the activities of “Green Riyadh” program.‎ (Supplied)

Other viable paths to increase sustainability and mirror the projected positive effects of urban greening projects and afforestation initiatives are renewable energy and the use of electric vehicles.

Efforts within cities to transform high-emissions human activities such as transportation, energy production, and waste generation are increasing as 150,000 homes are now powered by renewable energy sources.

Last month, the Kingdom’s first electric public transport bus began operating in the western city of Jeddah. Studies have shown that electric public transport, powered through renewable energy, could cut 250 million tons of carbon emissions by 2030, improve public health, and reduce noise and air pollution.

“We are working on using other alternatives for taxis and public transport, and we have various tests to use alternatives that reduce carbon emissions, as a target for the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, until we reach a 45 percent reduction in carbon emissions in transportation, leading to clean energy,” Rumaih Al-Rumaih, acting chairman of the Public Transport Authority, told Arab News.

Environmental and wildlife conservation go hand in hand in changing Saudi Arabia. (NCW)

In 2018, a European Environment Agency report titled “Electric vehicles from life cycle and circular economy perspectives,” confirmed that the greenhouse gas emissions of EVs are approximately 17-30 percent lower than the emissions of petrol and diesel cars.

Although the study referred to EVs using the EU energy mix (petroleum products including crude oil, natural gas, renewable energy, nuclear energy, and solid fossil fuels), the report also stated that EVs emit zero exhaust emissions at the street level, improving local air quality.

Using such alternatives will not bring back the lakes and grassland that once spilled across the Arabian Peninsula centuries ago. However, tree planting is widely touted as one of the most effective tools to combat the climate crisis and restore biodiversity.

Government agencies, businesses, and communities across the Kingdom have all pledged to drive forward the large-scale tree planting initiative, not only to make the Kingdom greener but to create healthy ecosystems and improve the overall quality of life.


Saudi deputy foreign minister offers condolences to Iran over death of president

Updated 22 May 2024

Saudi deputy foreign minister offers condolences to Iran over death of president

  • Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian died on Sunday when their helicopter crashed in dense fog

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, Waleed Elkhereiji, on Tuesday offered condolences and sympathy to Iran following the deaths of President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in a helicopter crash.

Elkhereiji delivered the message, on behalf of Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, to the Iranian ambassador to the Kingdom, Alireza Enayatiat, at the nation’s embassy in Riyadh, the Saudi foreign ministry said. He was accompanied by Abdulmajeed Al-Samari, the deputy minister for protocol affairs, who similarly expressed his condolences.

The Iranian president, foreign minister and six other people were killed on Sunday when the helicopter they were traveling in crashed amid dense fog in mountainous terrain near the border with Azerbaijan.

Saudi ministry says no truth in circulated information about livestock withdrawal periods and disease in humans

Ministry has emphasized that the withdrawal period for veterinary drugs varies depending on the active ingredient and the method
Updated 21 May 2024

Saudi ministry says no truth in circulated information about livestock withdrawal periods and disease in humans

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture has said that information in the media on the subject of consumption of meat during the withdrawal period and its possible contribution to liver and kidney diseases in humans — which may include cancerous tumors — is inaccurate.

The ministry has emphasized that the withdrawal period for veterinary drugs varies depending on the active ingredient and the method of administering the dose, whether by injection or topical use. 

The ministry detailed that the scientific analysis in classifying drugs is based on infection-control vaccines which have a globally specified withdrawal period; viral diseases’ antibiotics, which have a precise withdrawal period; and external inflammatory diseases’ mastitis-abscess, which are subject to a temporary withdrawal period.

The ministry and the National Center for the Prevention and Control of Plants and Animal Diseases oversee slaughterhouses across the Kingdom to ensure that animals have not been injected with any veterinary products, by inspecting the animals post-slaughter.

This inspection covers more than 380 slaughterhouses across the Kingdom, supervised by more than 1,050 veterinarians who carefully examine over 22,000 carcasses daily to ensure they are safe and free of disease, injuries, or traces of injections, and confirm their suitability for human consumption.

The ministry has urged citizens and residents to have their animals slaughtered in official slaughterhouses that are subject to the supervision of the ministry and WEQAA.

The ministry has further indicated that, in cooperation with WEQAA, it monitors the use of veterinary products in animal health fields and conducts regulatory inspections at outlets selling veterinary products to ensure establishments abide by the necessary standards and requirements and clarify withdrawal periods to consumers.

Regulatory authorities in the Kingdom also play a meticulous role in approving veterinary drugs, with very high standards.

The ministry carries out field inspections of veterinary pharmacies, following specific requirements, to ensure proper drug storage conditions, expiration dates, and the extent of pharmacies’ commitment to precise prescription of medicines, in addition to providing accurate details to the consumer, including the withdrawal period, dosage, amount of time necessary for withdrawal, and method of administration, to raise awareness among breeders.

New world order must combat money laundering, says French senator Nathalie Goulet

Nathalie Goulet, French senator.
Updated 22 May 2024

New world order must combat money laundering, says French senator Nathalie Goulet

  • French politician stressed the need for sanctions, regulations to address financial crimes

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia plays an important role in the fight against money laundering, French politician Nathalie Goulet said during a forum this week in Riyadh on global uncertainties and their impact on the Middle East region.

Fighting money laundering would create a much more favorable business climate, Goulet said in an exclusive interview with Arab News.

The forum, held under the patronage of the King Faisal Islamic Studies and Research Center and in collaboration with the UN Alliance of Civilizations  and the Nizami Ganjavi International Center, covered key themes including the new world order, which will have to face up to several challenges that call for restrictive, even draconian, measures to weaken the action of parallel economies undermining development and peace processes around the world.  

The forum held in Riyadh covered key themes including climate change and its impact on the economies of the Middle East. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

Goulet, a senator for Orne since 2007 and a member of the Union of Democrats and Independents, said that money laundering was a global issue that impacted the stability of countries.

She said that money laundering represented 3 percent of gross world product, which amounted to more than $2,000 billion. “Not all money laundering is the financing of terrorism, but the financing of terrorism involves money laundering,” she told Arab News.

The issues of sustainable development, human rights and economic development are linked to the “parallel economy with money laundering, drug trafficking, human trafficking, plant trafficking, animal trafficking and, of course, corruption,” she said.

A few years ago, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched a campaign called ‘No Money for Terror.’ It was a first step, a very important first step, and one that was widely followed.

Nathalie Goulet, French senator

Stressing the need for regulations and frameworks to address the problem of financial crimes, Goulet said that migrant smuggling, which not only involved human beings but organ trafficking and drug smuggling, “brings in as much money as Finland’s national product.

“You have to put figures on it,” she added. “When you have figures, things take on a different consistency … So, it’s an absolutely necessary policy.

“Migrant smuggling alone is worth $7 billion. And you can see that the issue of migrant smuggling is disrupting our societies in Europe, in Italy, in France … (it) is driving up the extreme right.”

The fight against money laundering involved the intervention of a large number of international organizations, but it must comply with strict rules and the effective involvement of the legislative powers of governments and international organizations.

Speaking about efforts to combat corruption and money laundering, Goulet said: “Saudi Arabia has just taken a huge step forward. A few years ago, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched a campaign called ‘No Money for Terror.’ It was a first step, a very important first step, and one that was widely followed.”

Recently, Saudi Arabia entered a much more practical phase in the fight against corruption and money laundering. The Kingdom now fulfils almost all the obligations of international organizations, and the Financial Action Task Force and Egmont Group, which met a few days ago in Saudi Arabia.

Elaborating on practical measures that can be taken by countries and organizations, Goulet said that it was “important to hit traffickers in the wallet” through sanctions.

“So, we have all these sanctions, which are individual sanctions, we have collective sanctions, we obviously have all the United Nations sanctions on these issues, and then we have nations like France, which is now applying much tougher legislation on ill-gotten gains.”

Goulet added that it was important to “weigh up a number of criteria. For example, can we be a magnet, a hub for cryptocurrencies, but without trying to regulate them? Can we be a hub for ill-gotten gains from the misappropriation of resources in Africa and at the same time meet international criteria? Can we accept dirty money from Russia and at the same time fight for the liberation of Ukraine? And all this is ‘realpolitik.’”

The FATF’s grey list contains jurisdictions that have been placed under increased monitoring due to a country’s strategic deficiencies, which can significantly affect its business climate. The UAE, Goulet explained as an example, was recently taken off the list “because it has signed a number of conventions but remains on the European Parliament’s grey list of countries.”

If a country is on the list, which indicates that it does not comply with all the rules on money laundering, companies that have headquarters in that jurisdiction are more closely monitored and controlled and this significantly impacts the climate for doing business in.

The Kingdom became the first Arab nation to gain full membership of the FATF in 2019, in line with its efforts and financial and economic programs to achieve Vision 2030, which contributes to supporting the development of the national economy and enhancing the efficiency of the financial sector, one of the important objectives of the Financial Sector Development Program under the leadership of the Ministry of Finance.


Student club brings smiles with charity and community-building

Updated 21 May 2024

Student club brings smiles with charity and community-building

  • “Our activities have already had a significant impact,” Shata told Arab News

RIYADH: Aya Shata, 13, was on a mission to enhance mental well-being and school spirit when she started the Middle School Happiness Club at the American International School in Jeddah.

Engaging in charitable acts with her family, like distributing food packages or taking part in the Iftar Saem program during Ramadan, has been an important part of her life growing up.

By championing charitable and community growth initiatives within the learning institution, Happiness Club has quickly become an integral part of the school’s fabric to nurture social responsibility and personal development.

The club has organized various projects including delivering essential food items to more than 200 people across Jeddah, as well as Eid clothing drives. (Supplied)

The club was established recently but has quickly grown to include 30 members from various middle school grades. It is open to any student who wants to make a difference in the community. “Our activities have already had a significant impact,” Shata told Arab News.

The club has organized various projects so far, including a Ramadan food drive, where students delivered essential food items to more than 200 people across Jeddah, as well as multiple Eid clothing drives.

Shata, who is an accomplished athlete and an ambassador for the Saudi Gymnastics Federation, said: “Middle school is a time when many teens struggle with the stress of academic classes, making friends and loneliness. The Happiness Club can help us connect through acts of kindness and shared activities.

Aya Shata, American International School student

“I thought this club would be a great way to bring us all together, do good things for our community, and help us to balance school life with personal growth and community service.”

In the first Eid drive, the club organized a clothing collection across the school in partnership with Kiswat Al-Sayida Aisha. The young philanthropists gathered used clothes for all ages, which were then sorted and organized at Kiswat Al-Sayida Aisha’s facility. They also installed a donation bin in partnership with the organization at their school to collect clothes year-round.

Middle school is a time when many teens struggle with the stress of academic classes, making friends and loneliness. The Happiness Club can help us connect through acts of kindness and shared activities.

Aya Shata, American International School student

The club hascollaborated with AlOula, one of the Kingdom’s leading nonprofits, to distribute Eid clothing and iftar meals to orphans and other children in need. This is Shata’s third year working with AlOula and the club’s first. In the third drive, they visited families in Bahra to deliver toys, Eidiyat (or Eid money), and candy to children in need.

Egyptian student Amina Mohamed, 14, said that the club “is engaging in activities that promote positivity … we can put smiles on people’s faces, whether it’s seeing orphans, volunteering to donate clothes, or simply spreading kindness in our daily routine, I saw the Happiness Club as a platform to help make a difference in people’s lives and that’s why I joined it.”

The program has taught students of all ages and backgrounds about the power of community. “If we do this when we’re younger it grants us a better tomorrow and also because you get a good feeling when you’re giving to charity,” said 11-year-old Lebanese Moroccan student Rahaf Ibrahim.

At school, the club organized a Mother’s Day event in March in celebration of the dedicated caretakers of their community, as well as a middle school iftar during Ramadan.

The events brought together students, staff and families of various backgrounds, celebrating diversity as they all gathered around one table to share a meal and their collective experiences.

“It was a perfect example of how our club aims to bring happiness and unity to our community, fostering stronger connections and understanding among all participants,” Shata said.

Mahdiya Elegbede, a 13-year-old American student, said her biggest takeaways from joining the Happiness Club are learning the importance of kindness and creating significant impact on others’ lives.

“I hope to spread more charity and good in this school because I think it is a useful and nice thing to do. In the end, doing something good makes us feel good, as well as others, and that itself is wonderful. I am so grateful to join the MS Happiness Club this year, and I hope others will be inspired and will be more giving and kind, too,” Elegbede told Arab News.

Saudi student Hamza Al-Tayyar, 11, joined the club to give back to “my beautiful city of Jeddah,” while Aseel Al-Horaibi, 13, wanted to show how little things can impact others and spread positivity. “It taught me to be grateful for everything I have and never take anything for granted,” she said.

“I learned so much from all the activities we did, such as event planning and time management. One of the most important things is teamwork, and resolving conflicts as they arise,” 11-year-old Zuhair Al-Marzouki said. But ultimately, the true prize is what they can bring to others: “What is there better to give than happiness?

“I love to be in this group to share my ideas and time, and all resources possible to add one extra smile into this world,” Meral Noor, 12, said.

With immense support from the school administration, the club has many more plans underway to continue making a positive difference both inside and outside the school in Jeddah.


Riyadh conference to explore museum innovation

The Saudi Museums Commission will host the International Conference on Education and Innovation in Museums in Riyadh. (SPA)
Updated 21 May 2024

Riyadh conference to explore museum innovation

  • The winning team will earn a week-long educational trip to London, which will include expert-led museum tours and lectures

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Museums Commission is to host the International Conference on Education and Innovation in Museums, in Riyadh, from June 1 to 3, to help boost the sector in the Kingdom and beyond.

Leading museum professionals and educators will convene for knowledge exchange and collaboration, exploring best practices in museum education; the role of museums in fostering creativity and learning; and opportunities for international collaboration.

The three-day event will feature expert-led sessions, including panel discussions, workshops, and research paper presentations, addressing current museum issues and topics such as collaboration between museums and universities; beyond the textbook for active learning; beyond the museum walls for public engagement; and design thinking and innovation in museum management.

Additionally, the conference will host a competition in which participating teams will develop innovative solutions to enhance visitor engagement and museum experiences.

The winning team will earn a week-long educational trip to London, which will include expert-led museum tours and lectures.

Registration for the competition closes on May 25.