DUBAI: Saudi Arabia is able to retain its position as the largest exporter of oil worldwide while pursuing ambitious strategies to reduce the impact of climate change, an environmental policymaker from the Kingdom has told Arab News.
Dr. Osama Faqeeha is the deputy minister for environment and water. He stated that the main issue for the Kingdom and the entire world was to reduce the pollution from hydrocarbon production and explore other uses for oil products as well as renewable alternatives.
He said that we don’t see the problem with hydrocarbons. We see the problem with the emissions. He pointed out that many products, such as plastic, medical supplies, clothing, and other items, are made from hydrocarbons. The problem is CO2 emissions.
Faqeeha was a key participant in the implementation of the measures of Saudi Green Initiative last year. He was interviewed on Frankly Speaking.
He also spoke out about the ambitious plan to plant 10 million trees in the Kingdom, as well as the campaign to preserve its biodiversity and improve the air quality of Riyadh’s capital and other major cities.
Faqeeha explained that the SGI launched an environmental campaign as part of a comprehensive strategy to address the challenges of climate change.
Saudi Arabia has now launched the Circular carbon Economy approach to CO2 treatment. This basically involves taking CO2 and recycling it in different ways.
We must realize that there is no single solution to the global climate change problem.
We need renewable energy. We need the Circular carbon Economy. We also need recycling. We must stop deforestation and preserve habitats. He said that we must focus on all of these things.
The SGI’s ambitious plan to plant 10 Billion trees in Saudi Arabia over the next decades is recognized as a challenge because of the Kingdom’s desert climate, low rainfall, and high level of drought.
This is a challenging and ambitious goal. His Royal Highness, the Crown Prince (Mohammed Bin Salman) stated that the timeline will span the next few decades. Our main focus is environmental sustainability. We will achieve this goal with due consideration for environmental sustainability.
To achieve this, we will start by focusing on native plant species in the Kingdom. Believe it or not there are over 2,000 species of flora that have adapted to the harsh climate of Saudi Arabia.
He said that these plants actually thrived in this environment, and they (fully) adapted to it.
The tree planting program that is currently underway would focus on four main areas.
To avoid threatening precious groundwater, renewable water sources will also be used in the tree planting program. Rain harvesting and treated wastewater were just a few of the options available to environmental policymakers.
Saudi Arabia has miles of coastline along the Arabian Gulf and Red Sea. He stated that there are only two species of mangrove trees in the seawater, so we will also be focusing our efforts on those species.
One issue that has caused controversy in the Kingdom is traditional wood cutting for campfires. This is believed to be responsible for some desertification the SGI is trying to eradicate.
Local people love to picnic and enjoy the outdoors. They also like to light wood fires at family gatherings. These are local traditions that we treasure. It was however costly for the local vegetation.
Faqeeha explained that although the new environmental law imposes severe penalties on such practices it also offers incentives for wood fire alternatives so that these traditional values will not be affected.
Faqeeha disagreed with some WHO findings.
I’d like to draw attention to the difference between air pollution, and degraded quality. Sometimes, you can have a low quality air because it is not polluted by humans. He stated that the WHO uses particulate matter as the main parameter to measure air quality.
This is a great parameter for places like the US and Europe where there is extensive vegetation cover and the main source of particulate matter are power plants, factories, or other human activities. These particulate substances are known as anthropogenic particle matter (PM).
Particulate matter is dominated by natural causes in Saudi Arabia and the region. While dust storms do indeed affect air quality, no one can say that it is safe to be outside and inhale the dusty weather.
That’s what they (WHO), are really referring to. It is a result of natural particulate matter emitted from dust storms.
Faqeeha stated that the ministry was working on comprehensive measures to reduce dust storms, and improve air quality.
Some experts warned that Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf countries, would suffer more from the effects of global warming than other regions of the globe at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow last year.
Faqeeha acknowledged the importance of this issue for policymakers. We are taking climate change and global warming very seriously.
There are not many studies that examine the future of temperature. We don’t have a climate center for climate research in the entire region. That is why the Crown Prince announced that the Regional Center for Climate Studies was being created here. It will be led by the National Center for Meteorology of Saudi Arabia. He said that it will conduct studies at the national and regional levels on the long-term and mid-term outlook for climate changes.
He stated that the focus of Saudi’s environmental strategy is on reversing the trend toward land degradation and deforestation, which are major contributors to the generation of greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions can cost around trillions of US dollars.
Land degradation is the second-largest contributor to greenhouse gases. Land degradation is responsible in large part for about 50 percent of biodiversity losses. Faqeeha stated that land degradation has a large impact on agricultural lands as well as food security.
G20 summit under Saudi Arabia’s presidency in 2020 was a significant success.
Faqeeha also discussed the Kingdom’s new strategy towards waste management. He considers this an area that is ready for foreign investment and private sector involvement.
He said that the participation of the private sector is an important factor in achieving the objectives of the national environment strategy.
Many international companies are considering coming to the United States, and they feel that the regulatory environment is now highly favorable for their participation.