According to a Saudi Press Agency report, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has given directives to curb climate change. He says Saudi Arabia will produce half of its energy from renewables by the end of this decade. The Arab country’s head also announced his administration would back an initiative to plant 10 billion trees in the following decades. Bin Salman revealed that his country’s economy was in a tight spot due to increased desertification, dust storms, and air pollution that also impacted citizens’ health.
The Saudi Green Initiative endorses this announcement and, on its part, pledges to transform the Kingdom into a global leader in forging a greener world. Saudi Arabia is the leading producer of oil globally, and diversifying the economy is sustainable than doing away with fossil fuels entirely as it could hurt its livelihood. “We reject the false choice between preserving the economy and protecting the environment. Climate action will enhance competitiveness, spark innovation, and create millions of high-quality jobs,” said Bin Salman.
Saudi Arabia’s neighbors and allies have backed this initiative, including Pakistani head Imran Khan, Patricia Espinosa, UN Climate Change head, and International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). “I am delighted to learn of Green Saudi Arabia and Green Middle East initiatives by my brother, His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman,” tweeted Khan. “I congratulate Saudi Arabia for the new Saudi Green Initiative and the Green Middle East Initiative that aim at planting 50 billion trees in the region,” said Espinosa in a tweet.
Energy experts term this green initiative as massive. “Coming from the world’s largest oil producer, it’s a pretty bold statement,” said Tanzeed Alam, a climate change consultant. Saudi Arabia’s best shot at reaching its 2030 green target is solar power. Despite a wind power potential in the mountainous parts, giant solar modules in the desert will produce enough electricity cheaply. “Solar photovoltaic (PV), if deployed at large scales and under favorable climatic conditions, can be very cost-competitive,” said International Energy Agency in December 2020 report.
Alam noted that Saudi Arabia has “a lot of work to do” to achieve its energy goals. Renewable energy coupled with energy storage systems will upscale the Kingdoms potential. The Public Investment Fund and private investors will come together to support the Kingdom’s ambitions through a competitive tendering process.
The government is diversifying its clean energy efforts by turning them into clean hydrocarbon projects. According to Valerie Marcel, an analyst at Chatham House, clean hydrocarbon projects produce fossil fuels in a way that emits limited carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. These ways include carbon capture and storage, reducing methane leaks, and using renewable power to extract fossil fuel. On the planting tree initiative, Alam said there are areas in the desert country that are fertile to support afforestation. However, a soil ecologist noted that the government has to consider the impacts of massive tree planting on the water table.
“It is always encouraging to see governments discussing climate mitigation, but it is important to understand that there are no simple solutions. A holistic approach which takes into account not just carbon sequestration but also land and water resources, biodiversity, and livelihoods will be the key to sustainable mitigation,” said Nina Lindstrom, a soil ecologist.