Frankly: Saudi Arabia can be a top oil exporter while fighting climate change, says deputy environment minister
DUBAI: Saudi Arabia can maintain its role as the world’s top oil exporter while pursuing an ambitious strategy to mitigate the effects of climate change, one of the Kingdom’s top environmental policymakers has told Arab News.
Dr. Osama Faqeeha, Deputy Minister of Environment, Water and Agriculture, said the challenge for the Kingdom and the world was to deal with polluting emissions from hydrocarbon production, while exploring other uses of petroleum products and renewable alternatives.
“I think we don’t see the problem in hydrocarbons; we see the problem in emissions,” he said, pointing out that “petrochemicals, plastics, medical supplies, clothing and the like are made from hydrocarbons; emissions are the problem, namely CO2 emissions.
Faqeeha, who is closely involved in implementing the Saudi Green Initiative measures unveiled last year, appeared on Frankly Speaking, the series of video interviews with leading policymakers and businesspeople.
He also spoke about the ambitious plan to plant 10 billion trees in the Kingdom, the campaign to protect its environmental ecosystem and biodiversity, and efforts to improve air quality in the capital Riyadh and other areas. big cities.
Faqeeha said the environmental campaign launched in the SGI was part of an overall strategy to address the challenges of climate change and global warming.
“In this situation, Saudi Arabia pioneered the circular carbon economy approach, which is really about treating CO2 like any other waste, taking it and recycling it in different ways.
“We must realize that there is no single approach that can alone meet the challenge of global climate change.
“We need renewable energy, we need the circular carbon economy, we need recycling, we need to stop this deforestation, preserve habitats, reduce marine plastics. We have to focus on all of that,” he said.
The plan to plant 10 billion trees in Saudi Arabia over the next few decades, a hallmark feature of the SGI, is recognized as a challenge given the Kingdom’s desert climate and relatively low level of rainfall.
“This is certainly a very challenging and ambitious goal. As His Royal Highness the Crown Prince (Mohammed bin Salman) has announced, the timeline will span the next few decades. Our goal is really environmental sustainability. We intend to achieve this goal with due regard to environmental sustainability.
“To achieve this, we will first focus on using plant species native to the Kingdom. Believe it or not, there are over 2,000 species of flora documented in the Kingdom that have adapted to the dry and arid climate of Saudi Arabia.
“So really, these plants have thrived in that environment and have (fully) adapted to it,” he said.
The tree-planting program — already underway — would focus on four main areas: Restoration of natural flora in the mountains and valleys; an “urban greening” program for major cities; planting in agricultural areas to support food production and rural communities; and planting trees along major highways to counter advancing sand and improve the traveler experience.
Renewable water sources would also be used in the tree planting program, to avoid endangering precious groundwater. Treated sewage and rain harvesting were among the techniques available to environmental decision-makers, along with greater use of marine resources.
“Saudi Arabia has thousands of miles of coastline on the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. There are two native mangrove species that grow in seawater, so we intend to focus on those species as well. “, did he declare.
One issue that has caused debate in the Kingdom is the traditional practice of cutting natural wood for campfires, held responsible for some of the desertification that SGI has pledged to eradicate.
“Local people love picnics and the outdoors, they love to light wood fires for family gatherings, and these are local traditions that we really cherish. However, this cost the local vegetation dearly.
The new environmental law imposed stiff penalties on such practices, but Faqeeha said there were incentives for alternatives to wood fires so that these traditions were not affected.
The World Health Organization has criticized Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries for their low air quality standards, but Faqeeha disputed some of the WHO’s findings.
“I would like to emphasize a distinction between air pollution and degraded air quality. Sometimes the air quality deteriorates not because it is polluted by human activities. The WHO uses particles as the main parameters to measure air quality,” he said.
“It’s a very good parameter for (places like) Europe and the United States, where you have extensive ground cover, and the main source of particles are power plants, factories and other human activities. We call these particulate matter Anthropogenic Particles or PM.
“Here in Saudi Arabia and in the region as a whole, the particles are dominated by natural causes, mainly from dust storms. Certainly, air quality deteriorates during dust storms – no one claims it’s healthy to go outside and inhale the dusty weather.
So that’s really what they (the WHO) are referring to. It is a degradation of air quality due to natural particles emanating from dust storms.
The ministry was working on comprehensive measures to reduce dust storms and improve air quality, Faqeeha said.
At the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow last year, some experts warned that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries would suffer more than other parts of the world from the health effects of global warming, including extreme heat, disease and air pollution.
Faqeeha acknowledged that this was a problem facing policy makers. “Definitely, climate change and global warming is a major global challenge that we take very seriously.
“In terms of the temperature outlook, there are very few studies. In the whole region, we do not have a climate center for climate studies and that is why the crown prince announced the establishment of the Regional Center for Climate Studies here, which will be championed by the National Center for Meteorology in Saudi Arabia . Its job is to carry out national and regional studies on the medium and long-term prospects of climate change,” he said.
One of the main thrusts of the Saudi environmental strategy, he added, is the desire to reverse the trend of land degradation and desertification, a major contributor to the generation of greenhouse gas emissions. greenhouse pollutants that cost approximately trillions of dollars worldwide.
“Land degradation is the second largest contributor of greenhouse gases. In fact, land degradation is the cause of approximately more than 50% of biodiversity loss, which is a significant contributor. Also, it has a huge impact on agricultural land and food security,” Faqeeha said.
Measures to reverse land degradation were a major achievement of the G20 summit under the Saudi presidency in 2020.
Faqeeha also outlined the Kingdom’s new waste management strategy, which he sees as an area ripe for private sector participation and foreign investment.
“The participation of the private sector is an important catalyst for achieving the objectives of the national environmental strategy,” he said.
“We have a lot of international companies coming in who feel the regulatory environment is now very conducive for them to participate.”