US climate envoy John Kerry welcomes Saudi Green Initiative, says world needs more of the same

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Updated 19 October 2021

US climate envoy John Kerry welcomes Saudi Green Initiative, says world needs more of the same

US climate envoy John Kerry welcomes Saudi Green Initiative, says world needs more of the same
  • Kerry says what Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has put forward as a concept is “both challenging and exciting at the same time”
  • American diplomat is seeking to increase climate ambition in the lead-up to the UN Climate Change Conference in November

RIYADH: US climate envoy John Kerry has praised the Saudi Green Initiative as “a very important step,” adding that it is “the kind of initiative we need on a global basis — planting trees, beginning to move to different kinds of innovative solutions that reduce the level of emissions, to deal with waste more effectively.”

Aimed at reversing environmental degradation and climate change, the combination of the Saudi Green Initiative and the Middle East Green Initiative was announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in April. The step has put the Kingdom at the heart of regional efforts to meet international targets on environmental projects.

“I think it’s an extremely important initiative, together with the Middle East Green Initiative, when you put them together,” Kerry said during a special interview with Arab News in Riyadh on Wednesday.

The former top US diplomat was in Abu Dhabi en route to Riyadh, his second visit to the UAE capital where attended the first Regional Dialogue Conference on Climate Change in April. That conference focused on preparations for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), to be held later this year to accelerate efforts to achieve the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Referring to the participants - “11 different mostly producer countries including Morocco, Iraq, Egypt and others – he said: “They are all committed to moving in this direction. Now what we need to do is harmonize the global understanding of the goals and the different standards that are being applied to ‘green’ and the definition of ‘green’ and so forth.




Arab News Assistant Editor in Chief, Noor Nugali, (L) and US climate envoy John Kerry.
 

“But we could do these things and that’s my mission as special envoy to help us to stay focused as we move to Glasgow, where the world will come together as we did in Paris and renew ambition. We have to raise our ambition to get this job done, and I think the Green initiative is a good step towards helping to do that.”

For months now, Kerry has been crisscrossing the globe, meeting heads of government, kings, crown princes and ministers and senior officials, seeking to increase ambition in the lead-up to the COP26, to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

Kerry’s latest foray into the Middle East brought him to Riyadh on Tuesday for talks with Saudi ministers, officials and CEOs on the gamut of climate-related issues.

He said his meeting with Saudi Arabia’s environment minister included “the whole group of CEOs who are leading different initiatives in different sectors of the economy to begin to ‘green’ the way we are doing things.”

“We had a very good series of meetings that covered everything possible. Also, Energy Minister Prince Abdul Aziz pulled together his experts and we spent a lot of time really going through every aspect of what Saudi Arabia is doing currently and what it can and will do,” he added.




Arab News Assistant Editor in Chief, Noor Nugali, (L) and US climate envoy John Kerry.

Kerry said he was “very impressed by the depth of the (Saudi) analyses and the commitment going forward, which clearly is beginning to grapple in a serious way with this challenge,” acknowledged that “it’s a big challenge and getting more urgent,” and added that President Biden is “equally committed to moving forward.”

“We believe that Saudi Arabia could be one of the principal agents of change because Saudi Arabia has such an extraordinary opportunity with solar and green hydrogen and the possibility is very real,” Kerry said.

Among the goals of the Saudi Green Initiative and Middle East Green Initiative are cutting carbon dioxide emissions in the region by 60 percent; using renewables to produce 50 percent of the Kingdom’s energy by 2030; and eliminating more than 130 million tons of carbon emissions using clean hydrocarbon technology.

“I think what Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman put forward as a concept is in fact both challenging and exciting at the same time, and has the ability to speed up the transition for all of us by providing alternative fuel,” Kerry said, who met with the Crown Prince later on Wednesday to discuss international efforts to combat climate change and Saudi Arabia’s initiatives in this regard.

“Many people in the world are looking for the hydrogen solution now, and I am, I think that out of our meetings has come a commitment to work together to try to accelerate that, so I am very hopeful.”




Arab News Assistant Editor in Chief, Noor Nugali, (C) and US climate envoy John Kerry.

The administration of Donald Trump withdrew from the Paris agreement but President Biden signed an executive order to have the US rejoin the Paris climate agreement within hours of being sworn in in January. The policy U-turns have prompted some questioning about the future consistency of America’s own climate policy.

But Kerry dismissed such concerns emphatically. “No, absolutely not and I will tell you why not. The reason is that the private sector is moving in an extraordinary way all across the planet and trillions of dollars are going to be invested in this transition,” he said.

“We have six major banks in the US that have committed about $4.16 trillion over the next 10 years for climate investment. That’s without even getting to the development banks or the asset managers. And thanks to the work of a number of people around the world who are helping to put together an alliance, there are many other financial institutions in other countries that are completely committed to the same goal — net zero by 2050 or earlier.”

Explaining why the policy clock cannot be put back, Kerry said: “I believe there’s so much technology, innovation and so much new product development and new fuel development, the marketplace is going to be a powerful force that no politician in any one country is going to be able to change that. They wouldn’t want to because it is going to be millions of jobs for our citizens even as it transitions the world to sustainable and renewable energy sources.” 

Kerry said the same logic applies “with respect to carbon obviously because a place like Saudi Arabia is a producer which is deeply concerned.”

“As long as the emissions are going down at the rate we need to, as long as we are able to even capture those emissions and put them to use in one way or another, then there will be a combination of different approaches and different fuels,” he told Arab News.

“So I think the future is really very, very promising. This is the biggest economic transformation facing all of us since the Industrial Revolution and I think it’s filled with opportunity. Whoever discovers battery storage of two weeks or one week, or whoever is the person, or country or company that comes up with a way to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere, store it or put it to use, they are going to make a lot of money because these are things the whole world needs, and will want.”

The UN has warned that nations must redouble their climate efforts if they are to reach the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature rise by 2C - ideally 1.5C - by the end of the century. Climate science has called for a transformation that must start early and result in deep emission reductions even before 2030. 

However, developing countries want richer countries to make good on their Paris negotiations pledges to mobilize $100 billion a year in public and private financing to aid the energy-transition effort. Kerry said progress has been made on this contentious issue.

“About $81 billion of the total $100 billion is now accountable. It is not just direct giving of the money but it is also mobilizing money so you can push some of the development banks or you can bring other people to the table and mobilize a certain amount of money,” he said.

“We have to get there. It is very, very important for the developed world to produce the $100 billion that has been promised and we are already working very hard on it. I have talked personally to President Biden about it and he is well aware of it. It was discussed at the G7 (summit held over the weekend in Cornwall in the UK). In the next four months, it is critical for us to bring it together and get the job done.”

Kerry is confident that funds can be found for the necessary energy transitions by the governments that were compelled to respond with significant monetary and fiscal policy changes to limit the COVID-19 pandemic’s shock to the economy.

“Some of the money will have to come from countries, because we need money that is what we call ‘concessionary money,’ money that is there to though public budget to help pay for things that the private sector will not be interested in doing because it does not have a return on investment,” he said.

“But the vast majority of this money is going to come from the private sector all around the world because they have the money to invest and because the different sectors of our economy produce products such as in transportation. If you have a train or a high-speed rail or a clean public transport, those are areas where you have revenue. And if you have revenue, then you have the ability to be able to attract investment. 

“The same is true for energy use. People will pay for the energy they use for their air conditioning, for their heating, for their lights and so that’s a revenue stream. That means you can actually invest in that and make some money so the private sector will see economic opportunity in many of the choices that we need to make and that’s why those banks I talked about put $4.16 trillion on the table. 

“There will be more than that, much more than that, around the world. And that’s what’s going to drive this — the ability of people to seek solutions, through technologies and individual use, products that people use and are willing to pay for.”


Film Commission launches its strategy to develop Saudi film, cinema sector

The Film Commission launched its strategy at a ceremony in Riyadh, held under the patronage of Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan. (SPA)
The Film Commission launched its strategy at a ceremony in Riyadh, held under the patronage of Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan. (SPA)
Updated 25 min 44 sec ago

Film Commission launches its strategy to develop Saudi film, cinema sector

The Film Commission launched its strategy at a ceremony in Riyadh, held under the patronage of Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan. (SPA)
  • The strategy aims to increase direct GDP contribution, increase job opportunities, and increase the number of locally produced feature films

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Film Commission on Sunday launched its strategy to develop the Kingdom’s film and cinema sector at a ceremony in the capital, Riyadh.
The ceremony was held under the patronage of Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, the minister of culture and chairman of the commission.
Hamed Fayez, the deputy minister of culture and vice chairman of the commission’s board of directors, said that the strategy, with its diverse and comprehensive programs and initiatives, represents a first step toward developing the sector and supporting and empowering Saudi filmmakers.
Fayez said the Kingdom has great potential in the industry due to creative Saudi talent winning awards at regional and international film festivals, Saudi films that have achieved remarkable recognition locally and internationally, and the growth of the production movement in recent years.
The Film Commission’s CEO Abdullah Al-Ayyaf said the strategy contributes to achieving the goals of the Ministry of Culture and the Kingdom’s Vision 2020 National Culture Strategy, by achieving growth in the Saudi film production sector and transforming it into a competitive industry.
It includes producing local cinematic content to attract Saudi and international audiences, and presenting the Kingdom as a leading global center for film production in the Middle East, he added.
The strategy was based on a benchmark comparison with the 20 most important countries in the film industry.
It includes six strategic pillars, including talent development, infrastructure, local production in the Kingdom, international production in the Kingdom, regulatory framework, film distribution and screening.
According to the strategy, the Film Commission will work on 19 strategic initiatives aimed at creating a large movement in the Saudi film sector, providing an infrastructure for film production, and empowering Saudi talents and capabilities.
The commission said its strategy was designed to increase direct contribution to the gross domestic product, increase the number of job opportunities in the film sector, and increase the number of locally produced feature films. 
The Film Commission is one of 11 cultural bodies affiliated with the Ministry of Culture and was established in February last year.


Kaspersky, Saudi Technology Control to combat cyberattack

Dr. Bandar Al-Haqbani, Dr. Abdulaziz Alhussain, Engineer Mohammad Alwashmi and Mohammad Hashem at the conference. (Supplied)
Dr. Bandar Al-Haqbani, Dr. Abdulaziz Alhussain, Engineer Mohammad Alwashmi and Mohammad Hashem at the conference. (AN photo by Rahaf Jambi)
Updated 31 min 39 sec ago

Kaspersky, Saudi Technology Control to combat cyberattack

Dr. Bandar Al-Haqbani, Dr. Abdulaziz Alhussain, Engineer Mohammad Alwashmi and Mohammad Hashem at the conference. (Supplied)
  • Saudi Arabia is currently developing digitization and advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, blockchain, fintech and 5G across its public and private sector

RIYADH: Global cybersecurity firm Kaspersky has signed a strategic agreement with Technology Control Company, a security services, digital services and big data company in Saudi Arabia, at the @Hack Infosec Conference 2021.
The managed security service provider agreement was marked at the conference, one of Saudi Arabia’s most anticipated information-security events of the year.
The move is in line with Technology Control Company’s commitment to providing its customers in Saudi Arabia with enhanced managed security services.
Mohamad Hashem, country manager at Kaspersky, told Arab News how new technologies increased the risk and exposure to cyberattacks by opening new avenues of attack.
“Taking this into account, Kaspersky is delighted to expand and strengthen Technology Control Company’s portfolio and offer customers in Saudi Arabia the most effective prevention, detection and response capabilities to the market,”  he said.

Dr. Abdulaziz Alhussain from TCC and Mohammad Hashem singing the agreement in @hack conference. (AN photo by Rahaf Jambi)

“Our innovative solutions and extensive expertise will ensure that our customers in the region receive the best data protection possible via a trusted local technology and service provider,”  he said.
Technology Control Company will be offering Kaspersky’s resources and services such as Security Operations Center consulting, security assessment, awareness and training.
The Kingdom is currently developing digitization and advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, blockchain, fintech and 5G across its public and private sector.

Taking this into account, Kaspersky is delighted to expand and strengthen Technology Control Company’s portfolio and offer customers in Saudi Arabia the most effective prevention, detection and response capabilities to the market.

Mohamad Hashem, Country manager at Kaspersky

As the country continues its road to digitization and adoption of these technologies, Kaspersky expects a steady rise in cyberattacks.
The partnership will play a key role in navigating these risks by helping Technology Control Company deliver security monitoring, incident response, threat hunting, threat intelligence, managed detection and response, security assessment and security awareness services in a cost-efficient, scalable and flexible way.
Technology Control Company’s customers in Saudi Arabia will be able to subscribe to next-generation SOC services based on solutions in line with global industry standards. Providing training such as incident response, malware analysis and digital forensics is another essential element of the alliance.
Hashem expressed his excitement about participation at @hack event and said that this was the first time the event was being held outside the US.
“Of course, we had to be a part of this great event because Kaspersky is one of the leading companies in the cybersecurity realm, and we are glad to be here,”  Hashem said.
He said that the company had signed an initiative with Cyberkids to help promote a better understanding of cybersecurity.
Muhammad Alwashmi, security services director at Technology Control Company, said that they were glad to partner with an international company with worldwide exposure and intelligence specific to the region.
“This agreement will support and provide our customers with premium protection to their businesses through the best solutions available in the market. Having Kaspersky on board will contribute to our success, and we are looking forward to a prosperous collaboration,”  Alwashmi said.


Who’s Who: Princess Haifa bint Abdulaziz Al-Mogrin, chair the UNESCO Executive Board Program and External Relations Commission

Princess Haifa bint Abdulaziz Al-Mogrin. (SPA)
Princess Haifa bint Abdulaziz Al-Mogrin. (SPA)
Updated 17 sec ago

Who’s Who: Princess Haifa bint Abdulaziz Al-Mogrin, chair the UNESCO Executive Board Program and External Relations Commission

Princess Haifa bint Abdulaziz Al-Mogrin. (SPA)

Princess Haifa bint Abdulaziz Al-Mogrin was recently elected to chair the UNESCO Executive Board Program and External Relations Commission for two years.
During the 213th session of the UNESCO executive board in Paris, the executive council named Princess Haifa, Saudi Arabia’s permanent representative to UNESCO, for the position.
The Kingdom’s presidency of UNESCO’s programs and external relations committee reflects its pivotal role in UNESCO to support the decision-making process in a systematic and fair way.
Commenting on the election, Princess Haifa posted on Twitter: “Glad to announce that Saudi Arabia will continue its pursuits to ensure a better future for all as chair of the Executive Board Program and External Relations Commission.”
Princess Haifa received a bachelor’s degree in economics from the Riyadh-based King Saud University in 2000 and a master’s degree in science in economics with reference to the Middle East from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London in 2007.
In 2009, she briefly took up a part-time role lecturing at King Saud University, before starting work with the UN Development Programme. In 2013, she was promoted to the role of program analyst there, covering social development and human rights.
She joined the Ministry of Economy and Planning as head of the sustainable development goals sector in 2016 and was appointed assistant deputy minister for sustainable development affairs in 2017.
She also served as the assistant deputy minister for G20 affairs under the Ministry of Economy and Planning from 2018. That same year, she was a speaker at the Second Urban Planning Forum — a testament to her expertise in the empowerment of youth and human rights advocacy.


Saudi falconry festival starts in Riyadh

Saudi falconry festival starts in Riyadh. (SPA)
Saudi falconry festival starts in Riyadh. (SPA)
Updated 23 min 54 sec ago

Saudi falconry festival starts in Riyadh

Saudi falconry festival starts in Riyadh. (SPA)
  • The festival holds a competition to select the most beautiful falcons in seven rounds, two are allocated for the Farkh category and five are for the Qirnas category

RIYADH: The King Abdulaziz Falconry Festival 2021 started on Sunday in Malham, north of Riyadh, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

It runs until Dec. 16 and is being organized by the Saudi Falcons Club, which has allocated more than SR25 million ($6.66 million) for winners.

The festival, the largest of its kind in the world, opened with the qualifying runs for Saudi falconers. These started with the Shaheen Farkh category of Saudi owners, with strong competition for a place in the final rounds for the King Abdulaziz Cup.

There will be runs for international falconers in the categories of owners and professionals.

The festival also holds a competition to select the most beautiful falcons in seven rounds, two are allocated for the Farkh category and five are for the Qirnas category.

Through these events, the festival aims to preserve Saudi heritage, pass on the hobby of falconry to future generations, educate children about their history and values, and enhance the spirit of competition among falconers.

The festival continues to register falcons in some categories until Dec. 9 to accommodate the largest number of falconers wishing to participate.

 


Early global response to omicron variant could save lives, says Saudi virologist

Early global response to omicron variant could save lives, says Saudi virologist
Updated 37 min 6 sec ago

Early global response to omicron variant could save lives, says Saudi virologist

Early global response to omicron variant could save lives, says Saudi virologist
  • As of Sunday, Saudi Arabia's Health Ministry said that no omicron cases had been detected in the country so far
  • Kingdom suspended flights from 14 African countries

JEDDAH: With the COVID-19 omicron variant prompting renewed concern about the pandemic, a virologist has told Arab News that its early detection is a positive first step to overcoming the mutation.

Omicron, or the B.1.1529 strain of the coronavirus, was marked a variant of concern on Nov. 26 by the World Health Organization, the fifth variant of concern to date.

But, as of Sunday, Saudi Arabia's Health Ministry said that no omicron cases had been detected in the country so far.

All viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, change over time. Most changes have little to no impact on the properties of the virus. 

However, some may affect the transmissibility rate, associated disease severity, or the performance of vaccines.

Speaking to Arab News, Dr. Abdullah Algaissi, a virologist and assistant professor at the college of medical sciences at Jazan University, said: “The interesting thing about omicron is that it accumulated a very high number of mutations compared to other VOCs. The total number of mutations in the spike, the most important part of the virus, was 32, 10 of which were detected that bind to receptors on human cells. That's more than the delta variant, hence the concern.”

The WHO called for increased surveillance of the variant and laboratory experiments to better understand its biology.

The delta variant had nine mutations in the spike gene. According to Algaissi, there are shared mutations between the two, but what makes omicron more of a concern is the additional mutations.

HIGHLIGHT

Saudi Arabia suspended inbound and outbound flights from 14 African countries: South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, Eswatini, Malawi, Zambia, Madagascar, Angola, Seychelles, Mauritius, and Comoros.

“Based on what we know from the genetic sequencing, we don't have information that could tell us if these mutations will make the virus more lethal, more transmissible, if it will impact the immune response either after infection or vaccination. As of now, we don't know.”

Data shows that most of the infected patients in South Africa were unvaccinated, indicating that the vaccine's efficacy may still protect against omicron, but further studies are needed to determine by how much vaccine efficacy is reduced.

“Of the many concerns when it comes to VOCs is the effect it has on the diagnostic tool, in this case, the PCR tests,” added Algaissi. “Looking at the omicron mutation, early analysis shows that the current PCR used, especially here in the Kingdom, will still detect the variant.”

According to the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data database, more than 5.5 million COVID-19 genome sequence submissions have been made so far.

Last month, Saudi Arabia urged residents to get their booster shots to increase herd immunity further. Currently, 70 percent of the Kingdom's 34.8 million population has received at least one dose of the vaccine.

As of Sunday, Saudi Arabia temporarily suspended inbound and outbound flights from 14 African countries: South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, Eswatini, Malawi, Zambia, Madagascar, Angola, Seychelles, Mauritius, and Comoros.

Saudi Arabia announced on Sunday it would extend the validity of resident permits and exit and re-entry visas from countries facing entry suspension. The General Directorate of Passports said the move was the implementation of directive from King Salman.

The visas are extended until Jan. 1, 2022, without fees or charges. People were notified by email, where an e-visa form was attached.

Another concern is transmissibility. Algaissi noted the difficulty of measuring an increase in the transmissibility rate by the number of infected cases. Multiple factors could increase reported cases, such as the ease of restrictions and low vaccination rates.

“Further studies and experiments are needed to determine if the mutations in omicron enhance its binding to cells, thus becoming more transmissible, and it'll take scientists weeks to understand the omicron variant, including how quickly it can spread and what the illness that results from infection looks like.”

According to South African health experts, omicron symptoms have been “pretty mild" so far.

In a joint press conference on Sunday, the acting CEO of Saudi Arabia's Public Health Authority Dr. Abdullah Algwizani said the variant was being monitored and residents were urged to complete their vaccination schedule, to be wary of large gatherings, and adhere to precautionary measures.

The Kingdom's Health Ministry said that 24 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded on Sunday, raising the total number of cases to 549,695. There have been 32 further recoveries, raising this total to 538,856.

There are currently 2,006 active cases, 48 of which are in critical care. One death was reported.