How Saudi Arabia’s environmental initiatives are restoring the natural equilibrium

Short Url
Updated 06 June 2023

How Saudi Arabia’s environmental initiatives are restoring the natural equilibrium

  • Strides made by the Kingdom in increasing its protected habitats to 30% by 2030 in the limelight on World Environment Day
  • Initiatives such as SGI offer a road map for increasing vegetation, rehabilitating endangered species, protecting vulnerable habitats

JEDDAH: Centuries of abuse by human hands have challenged the globe’s natural cycle of biodiversity. On this World Environment Day, governments are working to restore balance, including in Saudi Arabia, a country with one of the harshest and most diverse natural environments on the planet.

Almost all organisms live in environments altered, to some degree, by human activities, causing habitat loss, species endangerment and extinction, pollution, and more. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations report on the world’s forests in 2022 stated that “as the window for action narrows, and as population growth and aspirations place new demands on physical resources, it seems clear that natural ecosystems are vital assets that must be restored, maintained and sustainably managed.”

Led by the UN Environment Programme since its inception in 1973, World Environment Day, the most influential global platform for environmental outreach, serves as a reminder of the issues and challenges plaguing the world, with millions of people engaging to protect the planet.

Conservation, “the care and preservation of natural resources,” is not a recent phenomenon, though it was undermined and ignored until the 21st century and the harsh realities of climate change became apparent, making crafting environmental policies an increasingly urgent task.

The Saudi Green Initiative, an ambitious national plan to combat climate change, was launched in 2021. (SGI)

It has often proven to be an uphill challenge. Realizing the consequences of inaction, there have been intense and determined campaigns to further the complex task of defining long-term goals at a time when nature is under assault, to issue guidelines and laws with profound changes in environmental infrastructure, and to promote environmental protection and conservation.

In 2021, the Saudi Green Initiative was launched, an ambitious national plan to combat climate change, improve quality of life and protect the planet for future generations. It coined the term “conservation” with initiatives such as environmental protection, energy transition, sustainability programs, and more under its umbrella. It has become a core message in every ambitious project, company environmental target, and social responsibility goal in less than two years.

Under the SGI, Saudi Arabia has committed to protecting 30 percent of its terrestrial and marine area by 2030. Its targets are clear — emissions reduction, afforestation, and land and sea protection, with 77 initiatives activated. To date, 66,000 sq. km of land and sea are currently protected, over 1,200 animals have been rewilded, and approximately 17 percent of the Kingdom’s land and sea are protected.

Ecosystems, particularly their living components, have always provided the capital to fuel human economies, a notion realized in Saudi Arabia as conservation efforts and development projects go hand in hand.

The Kingdom’s flagship giga-project, NEOM, is considered one of the most ambitious projects with sustainable development embedded in its core values.

While no universally acceptable, practical definition of sustainable development exists, the concept has evolved to encompass three significant points of view: economic, social, and environmental.

The economy is geared mainly toward improving human welfare, the environmental domain focuses on protecting the integrity and resilience of ecological systems, and the social domain emphasizes enriching human life and achievements and strengthening values and institutions.


  • 1,200+ Endangered animals rewilded in 15 Saudi locations.
  • $25m Fund for efforts to conserve critically endangered Arabian leopard.
  • 8m Hectares of degraded land to be rehabilitated by 2030.
  • 600m Trees to be planted by 2030.
  • 10bn Trees planted is equivalent to rehabilitating 40m hectares of degraded land. 
  • 16% Terrestrial and 5.5% marine protected areas.   

Speaking to Arab News, Dr. Paul Marshall, head of Nature Region, said that NEOM has embarked on an ambitious and innovative conservation mission that includes “re-greening” and rewilding while committing 95 percent of the project to nature, spanning 26,500 sq. km.

For “re-greening,” NEOM is planting native vegetation and reducing pressure on the landscape from livestock, which will protect and reverse the degradation of the land by planting 100 million shrubs, trees, and other plants by 2030. So far, more than 100,000 plants have been planted, with over 1 million trees, shrubs, and grasses to be planted by the end of 2023.

As for rewilding, it will reintroduce species that were once indigenous to the area but have since declined. Native species will initially be reintroduced to large, enclosed areas, and over time, as the landscape recovers and animal numbers increase, fences will be removed.

“An early indicator of the success of the rewilding project can be seen in the NEOM Nature Reserve’s first breeding season. Working closely with our partner, The National Center for Wildlife, the first release of native animals into our reserve took place in late 2022 with herds of Nubian ibex, Arabian sand gazelle, mountain gazelle and Arabian oryx successfully reintroduced. The total number of babies born this breeding season is 31. This is 23 Sand gazelle babies and 8 Ibex babies.

Arabian Sand Gazelle released at NEOM Nature Reserve in December 2022. (NEOM)

The achievement is challenging, as he explained that three elements are incorporated into NEOM’s animal distribution modeling. “The first assesses the immediately accessible areas to ensure a healthy and safe release environment, the second analyzes potential dispersal constraints, and the third simulate dispersal through time,” he said.

“For this, we work in conjunction with the plant rewilding team to ascertain where our animals’ potential food sources will be. This helps us model likely dispersal patterns and allows us to plot the regeneration of the reserve.

“In terms of a shift being needed to protect certain species, I think it’s fair to say that a century ago, if we had the tools, knowledge, expertise and capacity that we have now, the Nubian ibex, Arabian sand gazelle, mountain gazelle and Arabian oryx would never have disappeared from the region and would instead be thriving in a vibrant, rich and self-sustaining ecosystem. It is how we envisage NEOM’s land to be and what we are working towards.”

In a statement to Arab News on Sunday, NEOM said “the total number of babies born this breeding season is 31, including 23 sand gazelles and eight (Nubian) ibex. The total number of animals in the NEOM Nature Reserve is now 146.”

With its rich land and marine biodiversity, astounding wildlife, and breathtaking bird migrations passing above the Kingdom’s skies, it is difficult to disconnect the link between science from the initiatives.

Arabian Oryx being released into NEOM Nature reserve in December 2022 – the first time in more than 100 years the species walked the sands of this region. (NEOM)

There are 15 designated protected areas in Saudi Arabia managed by the National Center for Wildlife, including several royal reserves and natural reserves managed by other authorities that are home to over 10,000 species of animals, nearly 500 species of birds, more than 1,800 species of fish, whale, and dolphin, 330 species of coral reefs, and many more according to NCW.

Like land conservation, marine conservation is considered one of the world’s most pressing scientific issues. From space, Earth is a pale blue dot covered with more than 70 percent water.

According to UNESCO, the ocean functions as a life-support system for our “blue planet,” regulating the climate on a global scale and producing over half of the oxygen we breathe. Despite this, humanity has mistreated these life-giving oceans to the point where around 40 percent of marine ecosystems have been harmed.

Nestled in one of the Red Sea’s lagoons, the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology considers the body of water it neighbors as its biggest and most unique laboratory. and one of the Kingdom’s most vital strategic assets.

Coral reefs in the Red Sea. (Supplied) 

Considered one of the saltiest and warmest seas, it provides insight into the environmental stressors the rest of the world’s seas will face in the near future, the director of KAUST’s Red Sea Research Center, Michael Berumen, told Arab News.

“The marine life of the Red Sea has adapted to these challenging conditions, and we seek to understand the mechanisms facilitating this adaptation — ranging from genes and genomes to unique behaviors and physiologies.

“Careful management of Red Sea ecosystems is fundamental for conservation and to ensure that this national treasure remains as healthy as possible for generations to come. Particular attention has been paid to improved management of fisheries and habitat restoration capabilities. Faculty in the RSRC work very closely with KAUST’s Reefscape Restoration Initiative at Shushah Island, arguably the world’s most ambitious coral restoration program,” said Prof. Berumen.

“The lessons learned from the Red Sea can be transferred to many other regions of the world. In line with KAUST’s educational objectives, the RSRC facilitates the training and education of future leaders in marine science through student and postdoctoral support,” he added.

Wide angle view of plants on water and boats in the distance on the Mangrove Coastline. (Supplied) 

The world’s population is growing, with an estimated increase of nearly 2 billion people in the next 30 years, reaching 9.7 billion by 2050. The trend is toward migration into cities.

By 2050, it is projected that more than two-thirds of the world’s population — close to 7 billion people — will live in urban areas. There is a long-standing dispute about how much population growth causes environmental degradation.

Historical trajectories, local policies, and cultural preferences affect how compact or dispersed residential areas are built. “What is needed are solutions that see nature protected and restored, not spoiled by human development and increased urbanization,” said Marshall.


Cyprus’ ambassador says farewell to Saudi Arabia

Updated 5 sec ago

Cyprus’ ambassador says farewell to Saudi Arabia

  • Looking back at his fondest memories in the country, he cited the moment he presented his credentials to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman

RIYADH: Cyprus’ ambassador to Saudi Arabia has said goodbye to the Kingdom while reflecting on relations between the two countries during his time in the country.

Stavros Avgoustides told Arab News: “I don’t like the word farewell or goodbye. My goal is to return to this country, maybe as an official again, you never know.”

Avgoustides arrived with his family in August 2019 at the start of his mission.

He said: “I had never previously served in the Gulf region. For us it was a great opportunity.”

Noting the similarities between the two countries, including the “way of life,” “mindset,” and “mentality and culture and traditions,” he quickly began to feel at home.

He aimed at strengthening bilateral relations in the energy, tourism, and digital economy sectors.

“Our diplomatic relations had grown over the last five years so my mission was to enhance the bilateral relations between the two countries,” he said

“And of course, we focused on the exchange of the visits of officials.”

The ambassador said that these relations had grown exponentially, despite the impact of COVID-19, which he added was “harsh for everyone; it was difficult for everyone.”

He said: “I have to congratulate and take this opportunity to congratulate the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the way you handled this crisis. 

“It was tremendous the way you treated the locals and foreigners living here and the way you managed to control the spread.”

It is now time to look to the future, and the ambassador said: “We have to be pragmatic in our relations. We have to see the industries which Cyprus and Saudi Arabia could bring to the table and, in an equal manner, offer to this relationship.

“Us diplomats and government should not work for the present, we should build now for the next generations. For many, many years people will see the achievements in the coming years.”

The ambassador highlighted the need for continuous efforts to retain the strength between the nations, and reflected on strategic partnerships, startups and cooperation in digital infrastructure that have helped build mutual expertise to create a better digital world.

He praised the work of Deemah Al-Yahya, the secretary-general of the Digital Cooperation Organization, for her efforts and support in the sector.

Avgoustides added that he believed digital cooperation was one of his personal achievements during his time as ambassador, and that he will continue to support the organization.

He said the bond between Saudi Arabia and Cyprus was one based on “trust,” adding that it was a “relationship of trust.”

He said: “I have been trying to show the true face of Cyprus. We don’t have any hidden agenda in Cyprus, and we don’t have any means of gaining something special from Saudi Arabia other than your trust and friendship, and these are two important elements that made my duty here an easier task for me.”

Highlighting Cyprus’ support for the Kingdom’s bid to host Expo 2030, the ambassador said that “Cyprus was among the first countries around the world to offer their strong support for the candidacy for the Saudi Arabia Riyadh Expo.”

He added: “We are confident that you will win this huge event (Expo 2030) and we want to use Expo as an opportunity to promote the region and promote regional prosperity and peace, and to show all of the achievements of Saudi Arabia to the world.”

Avgoustides said that people-to-people relations were more important in the long term than trade or investment, adding that his mission had been to bring people closer together to understand each other’s culture and country.

Cooperation in education and direct flights connecting the countries helped toward achieving this end, he said.

Looking back at his fondest memories in the country, he cited the moment he presented his credentials to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman.

He said: “I will never forget the honor … It was a special moment for me because I have a particular respect for the leader.”

The ambassador felt meeting Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was a highlight.

He also enjoyed working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan.

Avgoustides is to be posted to Athens as the new ambassador to Greece at the end of his mission.

He said: “I’m greatly honored, but during my stay in Greece I will not stop looking to the East towards Saudi Arabia because I believe I can still offer a lot to this relationship.

“We have made friends here; we have made close associates. I never say goodbye; I just say ‘see you soon’ and inshallah this will be very soon.

“For us diplomats, when we visit foreign countries and stay there, we make it our home. When you leave, there is a piece in your heart. You always treasure the country you are in.”

The ambassador admitted he would “miss the next period towards 2030, which is a period of advancement, a period of prosperity, a period of peace, and I only wish the best to the leadership, government, and Saudi people.”

He said his message to the next envoy of Cyprus to Saudi Arabia would be: “Carry on the same momentum, become close to the people of Saudi, show the true face of Saudi, cooperate with the business and government community, and be creative.

“Be creative (as) diplomacy has to have some creativity to not be boring and to bring results.”

Goethe-Institut Saudi Arabia offers hundreds of students a pathway to all things Germany

Updated 40 min 54 sec ago

Goethe-Institut Saudi Arabia offers hundreds of students a pathway to all things Germany

  • The primary goals of the Goethe-Institut Saudi Arabia are to promote and establish the German language in Saudi schools

More than 1,200 students choose Goethe-Institut Saudi Arabia every year. The German cultural center serves as a dynamic hub, offering a variety of courses and internationally recognized standardized exams.

The experience can help shape students’ linguistic and cultural skills, and prepare their integration into German-speaking countries for education, work, business, or simply for tourism.

Germany offers world-class universities, companies and business opportunities. It is also home to many landmarks and recreational activities.

What awaits you at Goethe-Institut Saudi Arabia:

Linguistic journey

Online and on-site courses at different paces match your interests and needs. Students can also earn prestigious Goethe-Institut certificates in Riyadh and Jeddah to demonstrate their proficiency in the language.

Cultural immersion

Experience movie nights, game nights and Sprachcafe (Chatcafe) on Saturdays, or join the team and take part in the Riyadh Marathon.

Academic excellence

If you are thinking of a future in technical and scientific fields, the institute offers a one-year preparatory program (Studienkolleg) for German universities.

The primary goals of the Goethe-Institut Saudi Arabia are to promote and establish the German language in Saudi schools, support further qualification programs for German teachers and foster international cultural cooperation.

Aside from a wide range of standard face-to-face or online language courses, the institute offers specialized courses for medical and dental professionals, as well as professional German courses for tourism and hospitality.

For more details and for other queries, visit or email [email protected].

Saudi king, crown prince condemns terror attack in Ankara

Updated 29 min 7 sec ago

Saudi king, crown prince condemns terror attack in Ankara

RIYADH: In cables to Turkiye President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman condemned the terror attack on the Turkish capital, Ankara.

On Sunday a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device at the entrance of the country’s interior ministry injuring two policemen. Turkiye on Monday said it had carried out attacks on suspected Kurdish military targets in Iraq.

The PKK, which maintains bases in northern Iraq, claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing, according to a news agency close to the rebel group.

The Saudi leaders said that the Kingdom stands with Turkiye and its people, and wished the injured a speedy recovery.

About 300,000 students to undergo AI training for national olympiad

Updated 02 October 2023

About 300,000 students to undergo AI training for national olympiad

  • Registrations for the olympiad close on Nov. 28 and there will be two rounds of tests — Jan. 26-27 and April 23-27

MAKKAH: The National Olympiad for Programming and Artificial Intelligence for middle and high school students is to take place in the Kingdom.

The announcement was made by the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority, in partnership with the Ministry of Education, and the King Abdulaziz and His Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity.

About 300,000 students will be selected from 3 million in the Kingdom for training in programming and AI. 

Registrations for the olympiad close on Nov. 28 and there will be two rounds of tests — Jan. 26-27 and April 23-27.

Mawhiba’s Secretary-General Dr. Amal Al-Hazzaa told Arab News: “Our children, the Kingdom’s students of all educational levels, have become competitive and are keen to register in the various competitions and olympiads, as witnessed in recent years.

“There are several stages to the competition, during which our creative students will participate in great numbers. During the final stage, which is the Scientific Creativity Olympiad, 35 students from the Kingdom will be selected to represent their country internationally and in ISEF (the International Science and Engineering Fair).”

Those wishing to participate can register through the following link:

UK defense minister lauds ‘incredibly quick’ Saudi transformation

Updated 02 October 2023

UK defense minister lauds ‘incredibly quick’ Saudi transformation

  • ‘Forget everything you think you know about Saudi Arabia,’ says Grant Shapps
  • Kingdom has ‘women in the workplace at levels that would be unimaginable three or four years ago’

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s “incredibly quick” transformation is seeing women join the workforce at “unimaginable levels,” the UK’s defense minister has said.

Praising the Kingdom as a “strong ally” of Britain at an event on the sidelines of the Conservative Party conference, Grant Shapps lauded societal change in Saudi Arabia, The Times reported on Monday.

“Forget everything you think you know about Saudi Arabia. Actually, the country is changing incredibly quickly,” he said, citing “women in the workplace at levels that would be unimaginable three or four years ago.”

He added: “What you can’t underestimate is the impact that is having on their society and the way they govern.”

Saudi Arabia’s “society is moving very much in a way we have always called for societies around the world to move,” Shapps said.