GCC chief calls for stronger Gulf cooperation to overcome pandemic challenges

Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Nayef Al-Hajraf says the bloc has achieved many accomplishments and integrative projects over the past four decades due to the vision and wisdom of the leaders of the member states. (File/Reuters)
Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Nayef Al-Hajraf says the bloc has achieved many accomplishments and integrative projects over the past four decades due to the vision and wisdom of the leaders of the member states. (File/Reuters)
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Updated 05 January 2021

GCC chief calls for stronger Gulf cooperation to overcome pandemic challenges

GCC chief calls for stronger Gulf cooperation to overcome pandemic challenges
  • Al-Hajraf makes plea ahead of GCC summit in Saudi Arabia
  • 41st meet will be held in Saudi Arabia's historic AlUla on Tuesday

RIYADH: Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) leaders meeting in Saudi Arabia this week will work to strengthen integration as the region recovers from the coronavirus pandemic, the bloc’s secretary-general said on Sunday.
The GCC has achieved many accomplishments and integrative projects over the past four decades due to the vision and wisdom of the leaders of the member states, Nayef Al-Hajraf said in an interview with Saudi state-run Al-Ekhbariya TV.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has invited Gulf leaders to participate in the 41st GCC Summit in AlUla on Tuesday.
Among the achievements, Al-Hajraf highlighted the Gulf common market, the customs union, the interconnective power grid, free capital movement and several other acquisitions enjoyed by GCC citizens, which establishes the next stage of the bloc’s “march to build a bright future.”
Al-Hajraf said that GCC transport ministers met on Dec. 24 and approved the establishment of the Gulf Railway Authority, a pioneering development project that will enhance the opportunities for intra-GCC trade, which contributed to around $95 billion in 2018. 
“This will increase if this system is completed, which will provide cheaper means of transporting goods and thus enhance the work of intra-GCC trade,” he added.
Al-Hajraf said “today the GCC is steadily moving toward five decades of cooperation due to the wisdom of the leaders of the GCC states,” in a statement issued by the Saudi Press Agency.
He said this year’s summit will be held in the historic city of AlUla despite the exceptional circumstances the world is facing in combating the coronavirus pandemic, which affirms the keenness of the leaders of the GCC states to preserve the bloc “as a cohesive system capable of overcoming difficulties and challenges and enhance its complementary march in all fields.”
He added: “Yesterday, we watched with pride the Saudi presidency of the G20 and how the Kingdom managed to lead the (international forum) to promote international cooperation.
“Today, as we witness preparations for the 41st session of the supreme council, we stress the importance of strengthening all areas of Gulf cooperation and integration and advancing the economic file, by strengthening and supporting joint action to contribute to restoring economic recovery and growth and returning to normal life to achieve sustainable development goals after the pandemic.”
He expressed his thanks to the GCC leaders for their efforts to strengthen the bonds of the “Gulf house” and consolidate its foundations, expressing hope that the outcomes of the summit would advance the march of joint Gulf action, in order to enhance the security and stability of the “indivisible” member states, and to fulfill the aspirations and hopes of GCC citizens toward more coherence, cooperation and integration.
Al-Hajraf also expressed his thanks and appreciation for the great efforts made by Saudi Arabia, under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in preparing for the summit “by harnessing all capabilities and overcoming difficulties to ensure the success of the summit,” which is being hosted by the Kingdom for the tenth time in the bloc’s history.
Al-Hajraf commended Saudi Arabia’s diplomacy, which is the “backbone and the main pillar of the GCC system, with its regional and international stature,” and its role in strengthening the bloc’s position “is what pushes this march to the desired horizons.”
The GCC Supreme Council is the bloc’s highest authority and consists of heads of member states and meets for a regular session every year. 
The 41st session represents a new stage in the GCC’s march to create new horizons for Gulf citizens and empower youth to be able to lead the region’s “economy and development in the long term, to build an empowered society that is proud of its past and its achievements and looks forward to the future and its ambition.”
Al-Hajraf said the GCC countries own four sovereign funds that are among the 10 largest funds in the world, and greatly contribute toward strengthening the global economy through their large and diversified investments. 
He added that the GCC countries constitute one of the largest economic blocs with a GDP equivalent to $1.6 trillion.
The secretary-general said the capital value of the GCC financial markets amounts to $3 trillion, noting that the listing of Saudi Aramco was a historic event that gave depth and strength to the GCC countries.
“These achievements are the result of a 40-year journey, despite the challenges that coincided with the beginning of each decade,” he said.
Al-Hajraf said that the “GCC countries are the center of a circle that includes two billion people,” and we must “look at this circle and the available capabilities, in terms of strategic location, waterways, airports, ports, transportation networks, and the attractiveness of the GCC countries for investments.”


Saudi Arabia announces 9 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 9 more COVID-19 deaths
Updated 18 min 40 sec ago

Saudi Arabia announces 9 more COVID-19 deaths

Saudi Arabia announces 9 more COVID-19 deaths
  • The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom has increased to 393,653
  • A total of 6,878 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced nine deaths from COVID-19 and 1098 new infections on Friday.
Of the new cases, 454 were recorded in Riyadh, 244 in Makkah, 171 in the the Eastern Province, 44 in Asir, 42 in Madinah, 28 in Tabuk, 23 in Jazan, 20 in Hail, 13 in the Northern Borders region, 11 in Al-Jouf, and 10 in Najran.
The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 393,653 after 1205 more patients recovered from the virus.
A total of 6,878 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far.
Over 7.8 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Saudi Arabia to date.


To prevent drug trafficking, Saudi Arabia bans import of Lebanese fruit and vegetables

To prevent drug trafficking, Saudi Arabia bans import of Lebanese fruit and vegetables
Updated 57 min 3 sec ago

To prevent drug trafficking, Saudi Arabia bans import of Lebanese fruit and vegetables

To prevent drug trafficking, Saudi Arabia bans import of Lebanese fruit and vegetables
  • The Kingdom has noticed an increase in drug smugglers in Lebanon targeting Saudi Arabia
  • Saudi customs foiled an attempt to smuggle Captagon pills hidden in pomegranates that came from Lebanon

RIYADH: Lebanese fruit and vegetable imports will be banned from entering Saudi Arabia or transiting via the Kingdom as of 9 a.m. on Sunday in a bid to prevent drug trafficking.
The Kingdom has noticed an increase in drug smugglers in Lebanon targeting Saudi Arabia, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Friday.
Lebanese products are being used to smuggle drugs into the Kingdom’s territory, either through consignments intended for Saudi markets or those that transit through the Kingdom on their way to neighboring countries. The most common products used to smuggle the drugs were fruit and vegetables, SPA said.
The ban will last until Lebanese authorities provide guarantees that they will take the necessary measures to stop systematic drug smuggling operations.
The Ministry of Interior will continue to follow up and monitor consignments of other products coming from Lebanon to see whether similar measures needed to be taken against them.

Meanwhile, Saudi customs at Jeddah Islamic Port foiled an attempt to smuggle more than 5.3 million Captagon pills hidden “artistically” in a consignment of pomegranates that came from Lebanon.

The intended recipient of the pomegranate consignment was arrested and the drugs were seized, SPA reported on Friday. 


Arab coalition destroys several Houthi drones targeting southern Saudi Arabia

Arab coalition destroys several Houthi drones targeting southern Saudi Arabia
Updated 23 April 2021

Arab coalition destroys several Houthi drones targeting southern Saudi Arabia

Arab coalition destroys several Houthi drones targeting southern Saudi Arabia
  • Arab coalition: We will take all measures to protect civilians in accordance with international law

RIYADH: The Arab coalition said it had intercepted a Houthi drone targeting southern Saudi Arabia, Al Ekhbariya TV reported early Friday.
A second drone targeting the city of Khamis Mushait and a third toward Jazan were also intercepted, according to the local broadcaster.  
The coalition, which is fighting to restore the legitimacy of the internationally recognized government in Yemen, had said it will take all measures to protect civilians in accordance with international law.


King Salman calls for global approach to tackling climate change

King Salman speaking at the virtual Climate summit. (Photo: Bandar Galoud)
King Salman speaking at the virtual Climate summit. (Photo: Bandar Galoud)
Updated 23 April 2021

King Salman calls for global approach to tackling climate change

King Salman speaking at the virtual Climate summit. (Photo: Bandar Galoud)
  • Saudi ruler tells summit of world leaders the challenges created by global warming do not respect national borders
  • Biden says US will reduce emissions by up to 52 percent by 2030; China, Russia also pledge to make cuts

NEW YORK: Boosting international cooperation is the “optimal solution” to tackling climate change, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman told a summit of world leaders on Thursday.

He said global warming threatens lives on our planet and that the challenges “recognize no national borders.”

“The objective is sustainable development, and in order to achieve this there must be a comprehensive methodology that takes into account the different developments and circumstances that exist around the world,” King Salman said during the Leaders Summit on Climate, which was hosted by the US.

He said the Kingdom has launched packages of strategies and introduced regulations with the aim of using clean, renewable sources to produce 50 percent of the country’s energy needs by 2030.

“Enhancing the level of international cooperation is the optimal solution to meeting the challenges of climate change,” the king said.

“During our G20 presidency last year we advocated the need to adopt a notion of a circular carbon economy, launching two international initiatives to curb land degradation and to protect coral reefs.”

He added that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman recently announced two new environmental plans: the Green Saudi Initiative and the Green Middle East Initiative. They aim to reduce carbon emissions in the region by more than 10 percent of current global contributions.

“These initiatives also aim at planting 50 billion trees in the region,” he said.

The Kingdom, he added, will work with its partners to achieve these goals and host forums for both initiatives later this year.

“Finally we would like to affirm our keenness and commitment to cooperation to combat climate change, in order to create a better environment for future generations, wishing success for our efforts to protect our planet,” he said.

Earlier, US President Joe Biden — who convened the summit with a view to building global momentum for climate action ahead of COP26, the UN’s

Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in November — pledged to cut US fossil fuel emissions by up to 52 percent by 2030.

“Meeting this moment is about more than preserving our planet,” Biden said. “It’s about providing a better future for all of us.” He called it “a moment of peril but a moment of opportunity.”

In his presidential campaign last year, Biden made tackling climate change one of his top priorities. While Republicans oppose his plans on the grounds they will cost jobs in the coal, oil and gas industries, Biden believes that a transition to cleaner energy sources will create millions of well-paid jobs, a stance echoed by many of the world leaders who attended the summit.

“This is not bunny-hugging, this is about growth and jobs,” said the UK’s Conservative prime minister, Boris Johnson.

Forty leaders are taking part in the two-day summit. The UN has described 2021 as a “climate emergency” year, with scientists warning that climate change caused by the use of coal and other fossil fuels is exacerbating natural disasters such as droughts, floods, hurricanes and wildfires. There are fears that the world now faces a race against time to avoid the disastrous extremes of global warming.

The world’s most powerful nations have announced various measures to address the crisis. They include targets for reductions in harmful emissions, plans to stop the public financing of coal, and a commitment to integrating climate action into economic-stimulus plans in an effort to “build back better” after the pandemic-related economic collapse, with the goal of “leaving no one behind.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin also made commitments to reduce emissions. Neither of them made any mention of their respective non-climate disputes with Biden.

Xi — whose country is the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, followed closely by the US — said that “to protect the environment is to protect productivity, and to boost the environment is to boost productivity. It’s as simple as that.”

Putin, who Biden recently referred to as a “killer” because of the Russian leader’s crackdown on opponents, said his country is “genuinely interested in galvanizing international cooperation so as to look further for effective solutions to climate change as well as to all other vital challenges.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined a number of other leaders who spoke at the summit in welcoming the US back to the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, from which President Donald Trump withdrew.

She told Biden: “There can be no doubt about the world needing your contribution if we really want to fulfill our ambitious goals.”

Small states and island nations, which contribute the least to greenhouse- gas emissions but face the most severe dangers and damage resulting from climate change as they are increasingly affected by hurricanes and rising sea levels, asked the major world powers for help.

Gaston Alfonso Browne, prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, said his people are “teetering on the edge of despair.” He asked the international community for debt relief and assistance to help his country recover from the effects of storms and the pandemic, to “prevent a flow of climate refugees.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the commitments made during the summit to achieving carbon neutrality as “a much-needed boost to our collective efforts to address the climate crisis ahead of COP26 in November in Glasgow.”

He added: “It is now urgent that all countries, especially other major emitters, present their 2030 climate plans well before COP 26.”

Guterres also urged leaders to deliver on $100 billion of climate commitments made to developing countries a decade ago.

“The world will be watching carefully, particularly those already experiencing severe climate impacts and an ongoing economic crisis,” he said.

“Today’s summit shows the tide is turning for climate action, but there is still a long way to go. To avert a permanent climate catastrophe, we must now urgently build on the momentum delivered today, in this make-or-break year for people and the planet.”


‘Let’s Make it Green’ campaign plants 10 million trees across Saudi Arabia

The campaign focused on planting native tree species which have adapted to Saudi Arabia’s environment and require limited irrigation. (Supplied)
The campaign focused on planting native tree species which have adapted to Saudi Arabia’s environment and require limited irrigation. (Supplied)
Updated 23 April 2021

‘Let’s Make it Green’ campaign plants 10 million trees across Saudi Arabia

The campaign focused on planting native tree species which have adapted to Saudi Arabia’s environment and require limited irrigation. (Supplied)
  • Efforts will continue to plant more trees, in line with the ‘Green Saudi’ and ‘Green Middle East’ initiatives

RIYADH: A campaign to plant 10 million trees in 165 sites across the Kingdom to develop vegetation cover and limit desertification has been successfully completed.

The Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture and the National Center for Vegetation Cover announced the success of the “Let’s Make it Green” campaign that was launched in October 2020. 

The campaign covered all of the Kingdom’s 13 provinces. The Eastern Province topped the list with more than 2.6 million trees planted, followed by more than 2.1 million in Madinah, over 1.3 million in Makkah, around 1 million in both Jazan and Riyadh, 462,000 in Qassim, and 270,000 in Asir.

Baha reached nearly 300,000, and more than 142,000 trees were planted in the Northern Border, followed by Jouf with more than 113,000, then Hail with about 85,000, Tabuk with over 75,000, and finally Najran with nearly 52,000 trees.

The campaign focused on planting native tree species which have adapted to Saudi Arabia’s environment and require limited irrigation. (Supplied)

The CEO of the center, Dr. Khaled Al-Abd Al-Qader, said that the campaign planted endangered trees and shrubs in areas that were environmentally degraded due to overgrazing, logging, uprooting, and urban sprawl.

“The campaign focused on planting native tree species which have adapted to Saudi Arabia’s environment and require limited irrigation,” he added.

The ministry ensured that the campaign was aligned with sustainability and water conservation requirements and by using treated wastewater or seawater for irrigation, in line with the best international practices.

The center and ministry worked in cooperation with various governmental authorities, private sector organizations, environmental associations, and community groups.

Minister of Water, Environment and Agriculture Abdul Rahman Al-Fadli said: “What we have accomplished is the result of the support and directions of the Saudi leadership to make the Kingdom a pioneer in protecting the Earth, achieve the international objectives in protecting the environment, increase the vegetation cover, reduce carbon emissions, combat pollution and land degradation, and preserve marine life.”

Efforts will continue to plant more trees, in line with the “Green Saudi” and “Green Middle East” initiatives, he added.

Al-Qader said that the “Let’s Make it Green” campaign has recovered biodiversity, rehabilitated degraded vegetation cover sites, promoted positive behaviors to preserve the nation’s environment and improve the quality of life in Saudi Arabia.