DUBAI: Saudi Arabia is able to retain its role of world’s largest exporter of oil while pursuing ambitious strategies to reduce the impact of climate change, Arab News has been told by one of the Kingdom’s top environmental policymakers.
Dr. Osama Faqeeha, deputy minister of environment, water, and agriculture, stated that the problem for the Kingdom was to address the polluting effects from hydrocarbon production while also exploring other uses of oil products and renewable options.
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 about the ambitious plan of planting 10 billion trees in Kingdom, the campaign for protecting its biodiversity, and efforts in improving the air quality in capital Riyadh as well as other large cities.
Faqeeha stated that the SGI’s environmental campaign was part of a comprehensive strategy for tackling the challenges of global warming and 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 need to recognize that there is no one-size fits all solution to the global challenge of climate change.
We need renewable energy. We need the Circular carbon Economy. We also need recycling. We must stop deforestation and preserve habitats. He stated that all of this must be our focus.
A striking feature of the SGI is the plan to plant 10 million trees in Saudi Arabia in the next decade. This is a significant challenge due to the Kingdom’s desert climate and low rainfall.
This is an ambitious and challenging target. His Royal Highness the Crown prince (Mohammed bin Salman), announced that the timeline will span the next few years. Our focus is on 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 in Saudi Arabia.
He stated that the plants thrived in this environment and were (fully) adapted to it.
The tree planting program is already in progress and will focus on four areas: Restoring natural vegetation in the mountains and valleys; urban greening programs for big cities; plantation of trees in agricultural areas to support food production; and tree planting along major highways in order to combat sand encroachment to enhance traveler experience.
To avoid threatening precious groundwater, renewable water sources will also be used in the tree planting program. The environmental policymakers have many options, including rain harvesting and treatment of wastewater.
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 sea water. Therefore, we plan to pay attention to those species.
One issue that has sparked controversy in the Kingdom is the tradition of cutting natural wood for campfires. This practice is blamed for some of the desertification that the SGI has promised to end.
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. However, it was costly to the local vegetation.
Although the new environmental law has severe penalties for such practices, Faqeeha stated that there are incentives to use wood fires instead of them so that these traditions will not be affected.
Faqeeha criticized some WHO findings and condemned Saudi Arabia and other Middle East countries for their low standards of air quality.
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 parameters for assessing air quality.
This is a great parameter for (places like) Europe and the US where you have extensive vegetation coverage and the main source particulate materials are power plants, factories, or other human activities. These particulate substances are known as anthropogenic particle matter (PM).
Particulate matter is most prevalent in Saudi Arabia, and throughout the region, due to natural causes, mostly dust storms. 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 caused by natural particulate matter 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 that this was a problem policymakers had to confront. Climate change and global heating are a serious global problem that we are taking very seriously.
There are not many studies that examine the future of temperature. There is no climate center in the region for climate studies. The Crown Prince announced the establishment of the Regional Center for Climate Studies. This will be supported by the National Center for Meteorology, Saudi Arabia. He stated that the center’s purpose is to conduct national and regional studies about the long- and mid-term outlook on climate change.
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 production of polluting greenhouse gases emissions that cost around trillions of US dollars.
The second largest contributor to greenhouse gases is land degradation. 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 described the Kingdom’s new strategy for waste management. He believes this area is ripe to attract foreign investment and private sector participation.
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 coming to Canada, and they feel the regulatory environment is very favorable to their participation.