Saudi Arabia urges level playing field for all energy forms

Saudi Arabia's Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman. (AFP)
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Updated 16 January 2020

Saudi Arabia urges level playing field for all energy forms

  • Kingdom wants to be part of the solution, Prince Abdulaziz tells Future Sustainability Summit in Abu Dhabi
  • Energy Minister said by 2040 a lot of oil, gas, coal and renewables will still be needed

ABU DHABI: Saudi Arabia is taking significant steps in shifting a part of its energy mix to renewables while reducing its carbon footprint, according to Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al-Saud, the Kingdom’s Minister of Energy.

Addressing the Future Sustainability Summit, a major event of the Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW), on Tuesday in the UAE capital, Prince Abdulaziz highlighted the changes underway in Saudi Arabia and their importance to ongoing efforts to combat climate change.

“The first part of the preparation was to move from calling our Ministry of Oil to Ministry of Energy,” he said. “As a minister, I am honored to have full command of the ecosystem that is necessary for an energy strategy and its execution.

“So, as the Energy Minister of Saudi Arabia, I have no excuses for not developing and executing an energy strategy, with all the enablers that an energy minister could have at his disposal.”

Prince Abdulaziz shed light on the various ways in which Saudi Arabia intends to implement its strategy for developing a sustainable energy ecosystem.

“What Saudi Arabia is endowed with is somewhat different compared with other countries,” he said. “The holistic notion of the world energy market should always be present in devising your own energy mix and energy strategy.”

A country like Saudi Arabia, which is one of the largest energy exporters in the world, cannot disassociate itself from its domestic considerations when it comes to such matters, he said.

“The more renewables and gas we use for our local market and our own consumption, the more we will be freeing (up) liquids, which are exportable to the world’s oil markets,” he said.

“We are adding to the amount of oil available to us for export, but that is not the (only) incentive we have.

“We are building an energy strategy focused more on the most effective and economical energy mix for Saudi Arabia, free of any biases of any nature.”

Saudi Arabia is now looking at the economics of the issue as opposed to preconceived notions, Prince Abdulaziz said, adding that the optimal energy mix for the Kingdom is gas and renewables.

“Certain areas of Saudi Arabia will have to settle for liquids due to constraints of distance, space and the amount of consumption,” he said.

By 2030, however, Saudi Arabia will be developing its gas resources, he said, adding: “We will be quite big in terms of our renewables use. Local energy reforms will reduce domestic consumption by 2 million boe/d.”

Prince Abdulaziz described renewables as not only a source of energy but also as a valuable tool for diversification for the manufacturing sector.

“Our aspiration, in terms of renewables, be it solar or wind, is not just in fulfilling our own demand domestically, but also involving ourselves in manufacturing, with huge amounts of exports, and developing our local companies and industries to ensure they become as competitive as Masdar,” he said, referring to the prominent Abu Dhabi-based developer and operator of clean-energy projects.

“We have ACWA Power, and we will have more (companies) like it.”

Prince Abdulaziz added: “Primarily we want to do it with a view that people could give all sorts of energy a fair, equitable chance so long as we mitigate these emissions.

“It is equally important to be realistic about what sort of an energy mix the global economy will have. Right now, we have quite a few technologies that are in use, such as carbon sequestration, and the rate of evolution of that is impressive.”

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has introduced the concept of a circular carbon economy, which Prince Abdulaziz described as the right solution and a way forward for the Kingdom to advance the notion that, regardless of the source of energy used, mitigating and sequestering the impact of emissions is vital for combating climate change.

“We are actually going further than that and viewing carbon as a material that has value, that you can manufacture, make use of and monetize. It will be a win-win situation,” he said.

To this end, Saudi Arabia is working to a holistic plan through its National Energy Efficiency Program (NEEP), whereby it can become a model for efficient, sound and environmentally friendly energy production.

“It is extremely important, as a producer country, that we present ourselves as an efficient user of energy,” he said.

“But for that to happen, you must have price reform, and we now have a very effective Energy Pricing Reform Program, which will lend support to the NEEP.”

Prince Abdulaziz said the Kingdom is also transitioning towards a more energy-efficient vehicular fleet with the same efficiency level as that of its American counterpart by 2025.

For good measure, Saudi Arabia has changed its building codes to ensure new structures are more efficient, and all utilities are being converted to achieve the same objectives, he said, adding that manufacturers of equipment ranging from air conditioners to refrigerators are following suit.

More broadly, Prince Abdulaziz said, Saudi Arabia is looking forward to the conversion of its energy mix, whereby it will use more gas and renewables to become part of the solution.

“Primarily, we want to achieve it assuming that people have to give all sources of energy a fair and equitable chance as long as we mitigate these emissions,” he said.

“It is equally important to be realistic about what sort of energy mix the global economy will have.

"By 2040 we will still need a lot of oil, a lot of gas and coal and a lot of renewables.

“You cannot attend to the security of supply issue if you say I don't want to rely on Middle East sources of energy and at once want to achieve sustainability development goals."

As Saudi Arabia prepares to host the summit of G20 leaders in November this year, it is embracing the concept of a circular carbon economy, with the brightest scientists in the field working with the Kingdom, Prince Abdulaziz said.

“We are advancing and pushing it for G20, and we are receiving a good reception,” he said.

“We have a story to tell and we have a roadshow. We are willing to be proactively engaged in serious but objective discussions, not emotional debates.”

Prince Abdulaziz concluded his address by saying that Saudi Arabia and the UAE have the same hopes and aspirations as well as the same energy and environmental agenda.

“We really see eye to eye in what we do,” he said. “We are ready. Last year, the Kingdom reduced its emissions by 2.8 percent and ranked fourth in terms of reduction of emissions among G20 countries. If that’s not a way to demonstrate our commitment, I don’t know what else we can do.”



A Sinai desert community in Egypt leads the way in agritourism

Updated 29 February 2020

A Sinai desert community in Egypt leads the way in agritourism

  • A Sinai desert community in Egypt leads the way in agritourism
  • It hosts a learning center that has partnered with universities to promote a new form of educational tourism

CAIRO: “Community is everything, surround yourself with beautiful souls and watch what happens. So much love, I feel it bubbling out of my chest,” writes Madison Cooper.

The experienced yoga instructor and assistant manager at The Kings Arms pub and music venue in Salford, UK, said this when describing her experience in the Habiba village, a remote beach community in the middle of Egypt’s South Sinai desert.

It was this feeling of peace and tranquility that brought Cairo-born Maged El-Said and his Italian wife Lorena to the Egyptian port city of Nuweiba to settle and eventually start the Habiba community in 1994.

The community is a village that hosts an eco-friendly beach lodge, an organic farm, the Sinai Palm Date foundation and a learning center partnered with universities and organizations around the globe to promote a new form of educational tourism by hosting professional certification courses in permaculture and agriculture ecosystems.

More than 90 percent of Egypt’s land is covered by deserts, Sinai being part of the Eastern desert that occupies more than 20 percent of the country’s surface area, with very few populated villages and cities along the Red Sea coastal strip.

“I am sure there is enormous potential to invest in our huge deserts. The hidden value is in the people if we learn from each other the best way of integrating management of resources,” El-Said said.

This, however, is easier said than done: El-Said, who is now in his sixties, spent almost 20 years taking “agritourism” from a concept to a meaningful business.

He succeeded in 2009, when tourists started coming to volunteer at the organic farm merely to enjoy the experience of isolated serene living.

Before that, El-Said spent several years doing a series of seminars and workshops and inviting local and international experts in organic farming to discuss the agritourism model.

His first introduction to the field was in Italy, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in Italian language and literature in the 1970s.

Italian agritourism gained traction around the time when the agricultural business became less profitable.

Farmers in Italy were giving up, transforming their farms and farmhouses into vacation homes where tourists could stay and experience farming.

“People come to enjoy the beautiful nature and the serene surroundings, eat clean food and leave with fresh ideas and a new perspective on life,” said El-Said when explaining the concept of agritourism.

While the idea is widespread in the US and many European countries, it remains nascent in MENA. Sporadic trials around the region are currently under way, including a licensing program launched by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities for farms willing to explore the concept and offer agritourism services.

Expanding the scope of its target community, the Habiba learning center has been working toward hosting a series of certificate program.

Among them are an internationally recognized Permaculture Design Certificate course that provides an introduction to sustainable living systems for a wide variety of landscapes and climates.

The move is intended to attract a more professional interna- tional audience and establish a new breed of educational tourism. El-Said has an ambitious plan for the future, hoping he can establish a desert research hub within his community and start replicating the model in other Egyptian resort cities by the year 2025.

“It is challenging but beautifully rewarding; people are resistant to change, but when they see a working model, it becomes easy for them to follow,” he said.

• This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.