Experts laud Saudi plan for confronting climate-change challenge head on

Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman briefs King Salman on the Riyadh Green program. (SPA file photo)
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Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman briefs King Salman on the Riyadh Green program. (SPA file photo)
Decarbonizing the economy is being touted as a job-creation opportunity for the region’s future. (SPA)
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Decarbonizing the economy is being touted as a job-creation opportunity for the region’s future. (SPA)
Experts laud Saudi plan for confronting climate-change challenge head on
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Decarbonizing the economy is being touted as a job-creation opportunity for the region’s future. (SPA)
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Decarbonizing the economy is being touted as a job-creation opportunity for the region’s future. (SPA)
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Updated 05 April 2021

Experts laud Saudi plan for confronting climate-change challenge head on

Experts laud Saudi plan for confronting climate-change challenge head on
  • Saudi Green and Middle East Green initiatives aim to reverse environmental degradation and tackle climate change
  • Twin initiatives will help rebuild degraded soils, enhance water cycle and restore region’s biodiversity among other things

DUBAI: Two new Saudi initiatives are generating buzz and enthusiasm for environmental protection and climate-change mitigation far beyond the Kingdom’s borders. Unveiled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on March 27, the Saudi Green and Middle East Green initiatives call for regional cooperation to tackle the environmental challenges facing the Kingdom and the region as a whole.

From conflict and hunger to energy and diplomacy, Saudi Arabia has traditionally been a leading force in shaping the GCC region’s policies and coordinating responses to crises. The “green” initiatives, which are part of the Vision 2030 reform strategy, will place Saudi Arabia at the center of regional efforts to meet international targets on climate change mitigation, as well as help it achieve its own goals.

Indeed, the Saudi plan is already a major talking point in the run-up to the US-hosted Leaders’ Climate Summit on Earth Day (April 22), which is also the fifth anniversary of the day the Paris Agreement was opened for signature.

“The initiatives are a forward-looking and commendable move by the Saudi leadership to seriously curtail greenhouse gas emissions and combat the negative effects of deforestation in the region,” Koichiro Tanaka, professor at Keio University and former managing director of the Institute of Energy Economics in Japan, told Arab News.

“The Saudi Vision 2030, with its ambitious goals, has already demonstrated the Kingdom’s determination to significantly reduce CO2 emissions through the concept of the circular carbon economy.”

The Saudi Green Initiative entails the planting of 10 billion trees in the Kingdom, restoring 40 million hectares of degraded land, generating 50 percent of electricity from renewables by 2030 and eliminating more than 130 million tons of carbon emissions. Under the Middle East Green Initiative, 40 billion trees will be planted in the region, 200 million hectares of degraded land will be restored and carbon emissions will be reduced by 60 percent.

The targets are ambitious to be sure. But as Yousef Al-Balawi, an environmental risk assessment specialist at the National Center for Environmental Compliance in Saudi Arabia, explains, the tree-planting process will be examined by specialists and experts, with a focus on indigenous trees that can survive on minimal amounts of water. Most of the Kingdom’s 2,000-plus species of plants are well adapted to the region’s hot, arid environment.

“Plants greatly help in reducing the concentration of carbon dioxide responsible for global warming, and the associated negative effects on the environment, such as desertification and land degradation,” he told Arab News.

“Moreover, different plants remove different harmful gases. Thus, a ‘green belt’ can contribute to purifying the atmosphere of cities in addition to absorbing and reducing traffic noise, among other things.”




Decarbonizing the economy is being touted as a job-creation opportunity for the region’s future. (Reuters)

With vegetation cover being a pillar of three important systems that support the global economy (farms, forests and pastures), Al-Balawi says that the planting of 10 billion trees under the Saudi Green plan will be equivalent to rehabilitating about 40 million hectares of degraded land, which in turn will give rise to a 12-fold expansion in the Kingdom’s existing tree cover.

“The initiatives will actively contribute to preserving the planet and protecting the environment to improve quality of life, which confirms the Kingdom’s pioneering role on common international issues,” he told Arab News.

“Adopting and launching the Saudi Green and Middle East Green initiatives will enhance the role of vegetation in purifying the air through the process of photosynthesis, the absorption of carbon dioxide and the production of oxygen. Preserving the environment is the responsibility of everyone — government as well as people.”

Sounding an equally positive note, Mohammed Al-Ghazal, co-founder and CEO of Noor Energy, said the Saudi Crown Prince’s initiatives could facilitate a quantum leap in quality of life and environment in Saudi Arabia, the Middle East and beyond. This is especially critical as climate change and public health are global challenges today.




Mohammed Al-Ghazal, co-founder and CEO of Noor Energy. (Supplied)

“Not many plants in Saudi Arabia are native to the region. The country is also a powerhouse of fossil fuels, which continue to run the world. Yet Saudi Arabia has boldly taken the world to higher levels of re-foresting sandy deserts and greening energy supplies,” he told Arab News.

“This is an extension of Saudi Arabia’s leadership role of the G20, to make the world a better place for all.”

While the GCC region has long been a leading global supplier of fossil fuels, renewables are complementing its own energy mix, offering eco-friendly alternatives such as clean hydrogen fuel to decarbonize and reduce gas emissions.

“It is rewarding to see different countries of the region working together toward a common goal under the umbrella of the Kingdom,” Al-Ghazal said. “This will spur similar initiatives the world over, with Saudi Arabia as the nucleus of an ambition green revolution.”

With around 70 to 90 percent of the Arabian Peninsula facing the threat of desertification, owing to past and ongoing human activities, a massive afforestation and land restoration initiative holds hope for millions of hectares of degraded land.

“The benefits of such a project go far beyond the carbon sequestration, as it will contribute to rebuilding degraded soils, enhancing the water cycle, restoring biodiversity, growing income and livelihood opportunities, as well as increasing the region’s resilience to climate change,” Seta Tutundjian, director of programs at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture in Dubai, told Arab News.

“In the long term, it can even alter local weather patterns. Unfortunately, many still view the environment as a resource to exploit for economic and social gain, with very little thought for the ecological implications. Therefore, initiatives and campaigns that aim to protect the environment can play a huge role in changing this mindset.”




Decarbonizing the economy is being touted as a job-creation opportunity for the region’s future. (Reuters)

For Tatiana Antonelli Abella, founder and managing director of UAE-based green social enterprise Goumbook, Saudi Arabia’s transformation from one of the world’s top oil producers to a leader in forging a greener world is extremely encouraging.

“The Crown Prince recognizes the Kingdom’s responsibility in advancing the fight against the climate crisis, and seems to be ready to act while preserving the economy and protecting the environment,” she told Arab News.

“The Saudi Green Initiative is a clear move to diversify the economy away from its oil dependence. Even today, less than 1 percent of the Kingdom’s energy comes from renewables.”

As daunting as it may be, the Saudi Green goal of 50 percent electricity generation from renewable sources by 2030 dovetails nicely with that of at least one neighbor: The UAE hopes to achieve the same target by 2050, although Abu Dhabi has set for itself a more ambitious deadline: 2030.

“Such is the scale and range of global environmental challenges that no single country can tackle them alone,” Abella said. “They require a joint, cross-border approach, hopefully aligned with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals 2030 Agenda.”

Antoine Vagneur-Jones, associate at BloombergNEF, said that the Saudi initiatives make sense when one considers the fact that carbon dioxide emissions were soaring across the region before the pandemic hit. He noted that progress in decoupling Saudi Arabia’s economy from fossil fuels has been made over a short time, although oil still accounted for two-thirds of fiscal revenues in 2019.

“Decarbonizing the economy can yield a myriad of opportunities, from job creation linked to new technologies, to producing hydrogen from clean power,”  Vagneur-Jones told Arab News. “The Kingdom has aligned the initiative with existing objectives. In order to drive the transition, the headlines must translate into a robust policy and concrete measures.”

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Twitter: @CalineMalek


Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots

Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots
Updated 21 April 2021

Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots

Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots
  • Room is fitted with strategically placed sensors that allow the machines to move about and take food to customers

MAKKAH: We’ve all been there … you order a meal in a restaurant, and the waiter arrives with a pasta salad instead of a chicken biryani.
There are no such issues at Restaurant Robot in Jazan. As the name suggests, the waiters are not fallible human beings, but robots powered by sophisticated artificial intelligence.
Six robot assistants are operating in the city center restaurant to deliver trays of Asian dishes to patrons. The system was originally set up as a precaution to reduce human contact during the coronavirus pandemic, but it has proved a hit with visitors.
In a system designed by young Saudi engineer Reham Omar, the restaurant interior has been fitted with strategically placed sensors that allow the robots to move about and take food to customers.
“Thanks to the sensors, the robots can sense anything standing near them, allowing them to stop walking or change their routes accordingly,” she told Arab News
“Each robot has had a map of the restaurant interior and the location of each table programmed into their memory. When the robot gets to the targeted table, customers can pick up their food and order the robot to leave.”
Omar said the idea had been developed by drawing on the experiences of other countries, and with support from the Saudi government for the food industry.
“We are proud of our project, as small as it is,” she said. “Customers are loving the robots and are impressed with the idea.
“Cultures are changing, and people are now eager to discover new technologies that can improve their quality of life.”


Saudi Arabia re-elected to Chemical Weapons watchdog’s Executive Council

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties in The Hague, Netherlands. (Twitter/@OPCW)
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties in The Hague, Netherlands. (Twitter/@OPCW)
Updated 21 April 2021

Saudi Arabia re-elected to Chemical Weapons watchdog’s Executive Council

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties in The Hague, Netherlands. (Twitter/@OPCW)
  • OPCW oversees the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention
  • The Kingdom has been a member of the council since 1997

LONDON: Saudi Arabia has been re-elected as a member of the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), in the Asia section, until 2023.
It happened at The Hague, in the Netherlands, on Tuesday during the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties, which oversees the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
Ziyad Al-Attiyah, the Saudi ambassador to the Netherlands and the Kingdom’s permanent representative to the OPCW, thanked the nations that supported the re-election of his country, and said that it is a reflection of Saudi Arabia’s status under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 
The Kingdom looks forward to working with the rest of the council’s members to enhance the implementation of the CWC, he added.
Al-Attiyah affirmed his country’s desire to strengthen cooperation as part of the efforts to prohibit weapons of mass destruction and prevent their proliferation, and to ensure the Middle East becomes a region free of such weapons to enhance international peace and security.
He added that the Kingdom’s chemical industries sector is one of the largest in the region and growing steadily, which makes it one of the leading countries in this field among the membership of Executive Council.
Saudi Arabia has been a member of the council — the main body of the OPCW — since its inception in 1997. It’s membership is made up of 41 countries, representing five geographic areas, that are elected for terms of two years at a time.


Saudi Arabia calls for Iran to engage in talks, avoid escalation

Saudi Arabia calls for Iran to engage in talks, avoid escalation
Updated 21 April 2021

Saudi Arabia calls for Iran to engage in talks, avoid escalation

Saudi Arabia calls for Iran to engage in talks, avoid escalation

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia renewed its call for Iran to engage in ongoing negotiations in Vienna, avoid escalation and not expose the region to more tension.
This came following a council of ministers meeting, chaired by King Salman on Tuesday.

The Cabinet reiterated that it is closely following the current developments related to Iran's nuclear program, citing the emphasis of the Kingdom's call for Iran to get involved in the current negotiations, prevent escalation and desist from jeopardizing the regional security and stability to further tension. 
The Saudi government also urged the international community to reach an agreement with stronger and longer determinants that are implemented through monitoring and control measures to prevent the Iranian regime from obtaining nuclear weapons and developing the necessary capabilities.

The Cabinet also renewed condemnation of the Iran-backed Houthi terrorist militia's attempts to target civilians as well as civilian facilities in the Kingdom in a systematic and intentional manner, through using bomb laden drones and ballistic missiles.


Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000

Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000
The authority reiterated that it was continuously monitoring the safety of the vaccines available in Saudi Arabia by studying cases of side effects. (SPA)
Updated 21 April 2021

Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000

Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000
  • The ministry said 940 people recovered from the virus over the past 24 hours, meaning 390,538 people have made full recoveries

JEDDAH: The Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) on Tuesday confirmed 34 cases of blood clots or thrombosis and low platelet count among people who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
“The authority suggests the existence of seven possible cases of thrombosis that are related to the vaccine, due to the absence of other reasons for the appearance of clots in them,” the SFDA said in a statement.
However, the authority also said that thrombocytopenia and blood-clotting immune response associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine is yet to be confirmed in these cases.
It said based on the local reports received, the rate of occurrence of these symptoms in conjunction with the administration of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in the Kingdom is “very rare.”
The SFDA said that all approved vaccines for the coronavirus (COVID-19) being used in the Kingdom are safe. It stressed that the desired benefits of the vaccine in question outweigh the potential risks.
The authority reiterated that it was continuously monitoring the safety of the vaccines available in Saudi Arabia by studying cases of side effects along with the local and international scientific evidence and data available.

FASTFACTS

• The Kingdom reports a 55 percent increase in the number of cases among women.

• 1,070 new infections were reported on Tuesday.

The SFDA advised recipients of the vaccine to consult a doctor or go to the nearest health center if any of the following symptoms appear or continue for more than three days after receiving a vaccine: Dizziness, severe and persistent headache, nausea or vomiting, issues with vision, shortness of breath, severe pain in the chest or abdomen or coldness in the extremities, swelling of the legs, small blood spots under the skin other than the injection site.
Dr. Abdullah Asiri, an infectious diseases consultant at the Saudi Ministry of Health, allayed public fears following the reports.
“How can a wrong conclusion deduced from a generalization become the most circulated news?” he wrote on Twitter. “In short, not every blood clotting after vaccinations is due to vaccinations. Thanks to vaccines, lives are saved every day. We have not yet had confirmed cases of platelet deficiency and blood clotting immune responses associated ‘hypothetically’ with COVID-19 vaccines.”
Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly, a Ministry of Health spokesman, said: “We are still monitoring an increase in the number of COVID-19 infections, which is the highest since the beginning of this year. There has also been an increase in cases among females by 55 percent.”
The Ministry of Health reported 1,070 new confirmed cases in the Kingdom over the past 24 hours, meaning 407,010 people have now contracted the virus. Of the 9,626 active cases, 1,105 were in critical condition. There were 12 fatalities, which brought the national death toll to 6,846.
The ministry said 940 people recovered from the virus over the past 24 hours, meaning 390,538 people have made full recoveries.


Experts say Ramadan is the best time to shape up and gain fitness

Experts say Ramadan is the best time to shape up and gain fitness
The Saudi Sports for All Federation launched a campaign encouraging people to walk or run 20 kilometers for 20 days during Ramadan. (SPA)
Updated 20 April 2021

Experts say Ramadan is the best time to shape up and gain fitness

Experts say Ramadan is the best time to shape up and gain fitness
  • The Saudi Sports for All Federation launched ‘Step Together’ campaign to help people stay active during the holy month

JEDDAH: While consuming excessive food during the month of Ramadan goes against the purpose of the holy month, for many Saudis and people of the region, it is a time to indulge in special foods, which often leads to overeating.

For years, Saudis have been facing problems with obesity, with unhealthy diets leading to a variety of poor health conditions. While numerous campaigns have been launched to combat this issue, including by the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA), their advice seems to fall on deaf ears during Ramadan.
Arab News spoke to experts — nutritionists and fitness trainers — who discussed their tips to help curb hunger and maintain a healthy weight.
Saudi fitness trainer Nouf Hamadallah, 37, explained that there is no best time to exercise during Ramadan; rather, the time and intensity of the workout can vary from person to person.
“Exercising during Ramadan depends on the flexibility of one’s schedule. There’s no specific time to work out. Most people who believe this are misinformed by what they read,” she told Arab News.

FASTFACTS

• A nationwide cross-sectional survey conducted over phone interviews across 13 regions of the Kingdom in June 2020 showed that the national weighted prevalence of obesity was 24.7 percent.

• It highlighted that obesity was significantly associated with Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension, among other diseases.

“One common bit of advice in popular articles says that if people work out before iftar, they will burn calories and lose weight. But this depends on their goals and calorie
intake. Some people cannot work out while fasting because they feel sick and nauseous, and their blood sugar drops. Then they become discouraged from exercising, not knowing that all they have to do is change the timing and nature of their workout. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.”
She added that it is easy to lose muscle mass if people do not choose the right foods for iftar and sahoor, also stressing that it is essential to hydrate during breakfast. Should one choose to work out right before iftar, a protein shake and a nutrient-dense meal with few carbs are advised in breaking fast.

If anyone wants to adopt healthy habits or break bad ones, Ramadan is an excellent chance to do so.

Arwa Bajkhaif, Dietician

“What you eat for sahoor will determine your energy levels for the next day, too. It should be a meal with a good amount of protein and vegetables,” said Hamadallah. “When your body is depleted of energy, the first thing you look for is sugar, and that’s what we want to avoid.”
Digestive problems such as acid reflux also occur due to poor eating habits in Ramadan, she added, and people with such digestive issues need to take note of the specific foods that irritate their stomachs.
She recommended that they avoid these foods if they are planning to exercise and instead have a few dates, soup and maybe a cup of coffee before beginning their workout, saving a full meal for afterward.
Iftar and sahoor also need to be divided into portions to avoid digestive problems, she added.
Saudi clinical and sports dietitian Arwa Bajkhaif, 29, said Ramadan is a “golden opportunity” to fast and practice self-control. If anyone wants to adopt healthy habits or break bad ones, Ramadan is an excellent chance to do so.

What you eat for sahoor will determine your energy levels for the next day.

Nouf Hamadallah, Fitness trainer

“People should know their dietary requirements and follow a suitable diet for their particular health situation during the holy month of Ramadan,” Bajkaif told Arab News
“For individuals with chronic diseases such as diabetes, I recommend seeing an endocrinologist for insulin and medication adjustments and a clinical dietitian for follow-ups to adjust the amount and type of carbohydrates accordingly.”
As for changing one’s eating habits, she suggested that people should not adopt more than three easy and healthy habits. “Being realistic and specific is key to achieving health goals.”
Saudi dietitian Alaa Gotah advised people to drink plenty of water between iftar and sahoor, avoid sugary drinks especially during iftar to maintain insulin levels, and eat plenty of hydrating food such as salads while limiting the intake of carbohydrates and sweets.
She stressed that fasting cleanses the body of toxins and forces cells into processes that are not usually stimulated when a steady stream of fuel from food is always present.
“Sahoor should include a healthy amount of fiber, which stays for a long time in the intestines. To reduce the feeling of thirst and hunger, it’s recommended to eat fruits that contain dietary fiber and magnesium, such as bananas, dates and watermelon,” Gotah told Arab News.  
A nationwide cross-sectional survey conducted over phone interviews across 13 regions in June 2020 titled “Obesity in Saudi Arabia in 2020: Prevalence, Distribution, and its Current Association with Various Health Conditions” showed that the national weighted prevalence of obesity was 24.7 percent.
The study highlighted that obesity was significantly associated with type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension, among other diseases.
The Saudi Sports for All Federation launched a campaign to help people stay active during the holy month, presenting the Ramadan edition of “Step Together,” where people are encouraged to walk or run 20 kilometers for 20 days during Ramadan.