DUBAI: Experts on Sunday highlighted the positive role the private sector is playing in advancing sustainable development in Saudi Arabia.
The progressive picture emerged through a series of panel discussions held at the Saudi Pavilion on the fourth day of the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference, known as COP28, currently underway in Dubai.
The talks examined diverse subjects, including carbon removal, corporate sustainability, and domestic market mechanisms. Speakers from government organizations, companies, and international organizations, as well as think tanks and consultancies, provided insights into the current situation. The talks extended beyond carbon emission goals as agreed under the Paris Agreement, delving into conversations surrounding Vision 2030 as set out by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Private sector participation
As a core component of the Saudi Vision 2030 and a means by which to diversify the economy, Hajar Al-Gosair, sustainability head at Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Economy and Planning, noted while speaking on a panel on corporate sustainability that environmental efforts within the Kingdom cannot be restricted to the public or governmental sector alone.
Among the driving forces is a steering committee chaired by Saudi Minister of Economy and Planning Faisal Al-Ibrahim, with the participation of over 20 entities from private and governmental bodies, she outlined.
Al-Gosair cited key players such as the Capital Market Authority, the Ministry of Energy, and the Ministry of Investment, as well as private sector members, such as food company Al-Marai and renewable energy firm Desert Technologies, for their efforts in driving change.
At the panel, officials from Al-Marai and Desert Technologies outlined the actions taken by their respective companies to cut carbon emissions.
Saudi Aramco recently announced the launch of a $1.5 billion venture capital fund to invest in technology that will accelerate the net-zero initiative. “This is one of the things that one of the leading companies is doing,” Al-Gosair said.
Experts emphasize that the shift toward achieving net zero is not exclusive to large corporations, especially as the Saudi government is keen to promote the growth of small and medium enterprises. Therefore, adopting sustainable practices and the accessibility of green finance must extend to SMEs, aligning with the broader goal of promoting environmental responsibility across diverse business sectors.
“It has to come down from the very big projects into the middle of the market and the SME sector. As you would know, Saudi has a very strong ambition to build the SME sector as part of its economy. So, complementing that will be SMEs that are building technologies or involved in the ecosystem around ESG-compliant lending. So yes, it’s very important. We have quadrupled our commitments to the SME sector in the last 12 months, and much of that will be in ESG-compliant lending or ESG-compliant products, asset management products, or deposit products.” Tony Cripps, CEO of the Saudi British Bank, told Arab News.
When discussing sectors of the economy where green finance has been or could be applied in the future, Cripps expressed optimism for its impact on emerging technology and green transportation.
“Building green buildings is obviously important and our new head office is gold standard. But I think in the technology space is where it becomes very interesting. If you look at electric vehicles, if you look at battery storage, these are areas that will transform the environment … You’ve got technology providers from around the world looking to establish businesses in Saudi Arabia and build regional manufacturing infrastructure or even global manufacturing infrastructure around electric vehicles, around batteries. The data storage industry is exploding. So these are just some of the sectors that are very exciting,” Cripps said.
In her speech, Al-Gosair said that in early 2024, the Kingdom intends to launch sustainable development reporting standards for companies, making Saudi Arabia the first of the G20 countries to have a reporting standard aligned with international best practices.
A comprehensive approach
By framing the climate conversation as a silo, we cannot achieve anything, outlined Princess Nouf Al-Saud, CEO of the King Khalid Foundation, during her participation at the Saudi Green Initiative talks.
It must instead be acknowledged as a comprehensive issue with socioeconomic, health, and developmental ramifications and thus addressed in a comprehensive manner that intersects business, philanthropy, and government, she said.
The CEO underscored that businesses must be the driving force for change within societies, adding that companies must consequently take responsibility for the communities they benefit from.
She said: “We need governments to be contributing, businesses to be contributing properly and taking responsibility for their communities or the communities that they benefit or extract from.”
The CEO added: “Especially in this year, we’re seeing business and philanthropy at COP, so bringing the two pillars of society that are very important, along with the third that is government. It’s very important because it is business that elevates people out of one economic strata.”
Princess Nouf underscored that by 2030, there will be 38 million green jobs. Thus, the transition into the new economic model rooted in sustainability requires the integration of the youth in order to “re-skill” the workforce.
As it stands, green jobs are “very much tied with the megaprojects,” the CEO said, noting companies such as NEOM and Red Sea Global, which have been at the forefront of sustainability initiatives within the Kingdom.
Carbon capture & removal
In another session held at the Saudi Pavilion on Sunday, experts discussed the latest developments in the field of carbon capture, removal, and storage, which is being touted as one of the ways to get to net zero and mitigate the global temperature rise.
The executive director of the Oxford Net Zero Initiative and CO2RE Research Hub, Steve Smith, launched the discussions with a detailed status report on this sector, which has begun to attract interest from companies and governments. He said that though carbon capture has started to hit some traction, it is still minimal.
“The main problem we have that’s causing climate change at the moment is that we are emitting carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. We’re putting about 40 billion tons per year into the atmosphere and that’s causing the global warming that we’re experiencing. But we’re actually doing a little bit of carbon dioxide removal. That’s taking it back out through our activities. We’re taking about 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year out of the atmosphere and that’s mainly through planting trees in certain parts of the world.” Smith told Arab News.
As the technologies are still being tested and tried, Smith says that of the various regions, the Middle East and, notably, the GCC nations may have an edge due to numerous factors.
“There’s a lot of work to be done actually to work out where the best places might be. But we can look at some general factors that give us an indication that if we take the Middle East region, for example, we know that there could be very plentiful resources of renewables, low carbon energy, and that is going to be really important for processes that require energy, for instance, direct capture machines or maybe even kind of processing rock, which we can mineralize through capturing CO2.
"And we know that the Middle East region has plentiful geological resources to store carbon. Indeed, that carbon has actually been stalled for a million years in the forms of oil and gas. And so we know these geological formations on the ground are pretty good at storing things for millions of years. And as they are depleted, depleted with oil and gas, maybe we can actually fill them up with our waste CO2,” said Smith.