How Saudi Arabia is moving towards a green economy

A Saudi man under the shade of a solar panel at a solar plant in Uyayna, north of Riyadh. This year Saudi Arabia announced a deal with Japan’s SoftBank to build the world’s biggest solar plant. (AFP)
Updated 16 November 2018

How Saudi Arabia is moving towards a green economy

  • Renewable energy and energy efficiency are the buzzwords as Gulf countries shift away from their traditional base of oil
  • There is a need to invest in the green economy, as climate change is perceived as a pressing risk

DUBAI: With climate change perceived as the most pressing risk for the world today, government officials and energy experts are emphasizing the importance of shifting toward a global green economy.
According to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Thematic Investing report, the 17 warmest years on record occurred in the 21st century, and 2018 could be the 42nd consecutive year where global temperatures rise above the 20th-century average.
This year’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also warned that we are currently heading toward a 3C rise in temperature, with the 1.5C barrier potentially breached in 12 years, by 2030.
As extreme weather is recognized as the foremost global risk today, affecting 10 to 12 percent of the globe compared to 0.1 to 0.2 percent from 1951 to 1980, the frequency and severity of heatwaves, hurricanes, floods and droughts are intensifying. But green capital, digital transformation and social engagement can play a fundamental role in nations helping fight the cause by transitioning to a green economy.
Regionally, countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE are leading the movement with a number of initiatives in renewable energy and energy efficiency.
“What Saudi Arabia is doing by moving away from petroleum makes a lot of sense, because you have to maintain and change the economy’s base as you can’t depend on a source that is finite,” said Dr. Jorge Chediek, director at the UN Office for South-South Cooperation, who’s also the envoy of the secretary general on the topic.
“It’s finite for geological reasons and because there are technologies that are starting to (emerge). You can see on the horizon that, in some number of years, the commodity will become less valuable and, at the same time, you need to do it to broaden the base of the economy, so the reforms that are currently taking place make complete sense.”
As countries around the world prepare to decarbonize their economy, others, such as the US and potentially Brazil, were criticized at last month’s World Green Economy Summit in Dubai for pulling out of the Paris Agreement. Established within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), the agreement deals with the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, adaptation and finance, starting in 2020. The UNFCC will gather its parties during its next conference, COP24, in Poland in December.
“In international politics, we have a bifurcated reality,” said Christina Figueres, former secretary general at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. “We have the reality that science has dictated and another reality. The current position of the US federal government has made it quite difficult for other countries to come together and collaborate at the international political level. So, it’s no surprise that the two major developing countries, China and India, are having a very hard time continuing to negotiate under the Paris Agreement.”
She said, however, that this difficult international political reality is in stark contrast to the real economic reality, which is one that is in absolute and incontrovertible decarbonization. “China has already met the targets that they promised under the agreement, and India is really ahead,” she added. “You have a very different reality. All this will mean more food security, water security, more liveable cities, better transport and energy independence, cleaner air and less pollution.”
Renewables and energy efficiency have the potential to move the world more than 80 percent of the way toward a safe 2C warming scenario by reducing Co2 emissions by 40 percent to 2040. “We need to transform and go through this energy transition,” said former French president Francois Hollande at the World Green Economic Summit last month. “I trust today that all financial institutions have finally accepted the green economy within their strategies, but I cannot hide my worries: We need to know what the US’ behavior will be in the medium term.”
He spoke of an undisputable acceleration of the planet’s degradation that has the potential to shake up the entire globe. “My worry is that, despite the efforts by all participating countries, we have seen more Co2 emissions in 2017 than in 2016,” he added. “What I see today is we have a lot of doubts when it comes to the performance of investments in the green economy.”
He called it a threat to our planet, which will require, in the coming years, a stronger concerted effort to achieve all the commitments in the agreement.
According to the Thematic Investing report, 74 percent of the population could experience extreme heatwaves for more than 20 days a year by 2100 if emissions continue to grow, compared to 30 percent today. Even in a scenario with declining emissions, 48 percent of people will still be affected. As such, a strategy for decarbonization is urgently needed.
“To reach this level, we need to agree on a carbon price on a global level, but also in every single country,” Hollande said. “The price of carbon will provide to all economic actors in the world a possibility to reach, on the short and long term, a sign of economic growth and investments. Measures need to be taken for this, while using emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence.”
The report notes that $14.1 trillion will be required in investment in renewables and a further $30.3 trillion for energy efficiency up until 2040. But the world’s three largest greenhouse gas emitters — China, the US and Europe — are all making major strides and it is estimated that, by 2040, the world’s electricity intensity is projected to fall by 25 percent and carbon intensity by 58 percent.
Disruptive technologies are also transforming every sector, including climate mitigation, where tech-enabled tools, such as smart grids, forest monitoring and data-driven energy reductions are expected to help to solve climate challenges more effectively at a previously unseen pace.
“The green economy is becoming more and more important every day,” said Dr. Thani Al-Zeyoudi, UAE Minister of Climate Change and Environment. “It is the only way in which we will be able to do business in a more sustainable manner. In many cases, it might not be available due to a lack of technology, but innovative solutions can lead this change.”
The digitalization of energy is an element that would have been impossible last century. “We can increase efficiency with which we produce and use energy,” Figueres said. “We’re applying AI thanks to digitalization, which takes the optimization of energy production, use and distribution to new levels. This is a complete energy revolution, the likes of which we’ve never seen in the history of humankind, and it’s all possible only because of technology and knowledge.”
Renewable energy is increasingly being perceived as an economically feasible alternative. Wind and solar are at, or at better than, grid parity in most regions globally and uptake of energy storage is needed to make renewables viable. “There are 40 jurisdictions around the world in which solar is cheaper than coal, including India and the UAE,” she added. “The next step is storage, which needs to be invested in to make a combination of renewables with storage the cheapest source of energy. We still have 1.3 billion people unelectrified on the planet, which is completely unacceptable and, through fossil fuels, it’s not possible to reach them, but with solar panels, we can go anywhere on the face of the earth.”

A Saudi app that promotes Arabic reading

Updated 9 min 5 sec ago

A Saudi app that promotes Arabic reading

  • Lamsa was launched in Saudi Arabia in 2012
  • It provides an innovative way of motivating children to learn

DUBAI: The most crucial year in a child’s education may be the age of 8, or third grade, according to a study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.The organization, which focuses on improving the wellbeing of American children, found this to be the developmental phase when children transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”

The research also established that third graders who lack proficiency in reading are four times as likely to become high-school dropouts.

The significance of this pivotal point in early childhood development is what drives Badr Ward, CEO of Arabic edutainment app Lamsa, to develop innovative ways of motivating kids in the Arab world to read and learn in their language.

“If we don’t encourage reading at that age, we could be taking the risk of them having a life-long issue with catching up,” Ward said.

Since children already spend a considerable amount of their time on connected devices, Ward is convinced that edutainment — media designed to educate through entertainment — is the best way to make screen time “relevant and meaningful.”

Badr Ward, CEO of Lamsa. (Supplied Photo)

Launched in Saudi Arabia in 2012, Lamsa provides an ad-free platform featuring animated literature, rhymes, songs, interactive games and educational videos in Arabic for children aged between 2 and 8.

Ward said: “We have to face reality. Education systems across the world are legacy systems. Whether we like it or not, technology has changed the way we consume information. Children today have access to devices from the moment they are born. So whether it’s reading on paper or e-books or interactive storytelling, we need to look at encouraging them to read, and to love to read and learn.”

Ward explains that much like a favorite teacher impacts a child’s interest in a subject, edutainment has a significant effect on their curiosity about a topic.

He modelled the characters in the edutainment app after his daughter Joory and son Adam, whose lack of interest in reading prompted him to start Lamsa.

Ward sought advice from his friend Leonard Marcus, an author, historian and expert on English language children’s literature. Marcus recommended taking the kids to a comic book store and letting them explore without forcing them to buy anything.

“So I did that,” Ward said. “We went to the comic book store, and I let them roam around. They were fascinated by the images.”

“Arabic is not just a language. It’s so important for children to understand their heritage and culture.”

Badr Ward, CEO of Arabic edutainment app Lamsa

He then asked his kids if they wanted anything, and they asked to have some of the comics. “In the evening, I found my children opening the comic book and just laughing,” he said.

“Because of that start three years ago, they can’t let go of books now.”

Ward said seeing the power of images and illustrations has made him support using pictures to captivate children.

The lack of quality and culturally relevant educational material in Arabic remains a challenge, he said. For this reason, Lamsa’s content library has been developed to celebrate Arabic not just as a language but as a source of heritage, culture, literature, music and food. The app team works in partnership with Arab authors, illustrators and organizations.

“Arabic is not just a language,” Ward said, adding that for Arab children everywhere, understanding cultural context is crucial to their values, beliefs and identity.

“It’s so important in the development of children to have a clear understanding of where they come from. In order to establish understanding of other cultures and learn tolerance, you need to start with your own. It’s fundamental to confidence, identity and heritage.”


 The Middle East Exchange is one of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Global Initiatives that was launched to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai in the field of humanitarian and global development, to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. The initiative offers the press a series of articles on issues affecting Arab societies.