Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia can be a leading oil exporter while also fighting climate change, says deputy minister for environment

Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia can be a leading oil exporter while also fighting climate change, says deputy minister for environment
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Updated 24 January 2022

Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia can be a leading oil exporter while also fighting climate change, says deputy minister for environment

Frankly Speaking: Saudi Arabia can be a leading oil exporter while also fighting climate change, says deputy minister for environment
  • Appearing on the video interview series, Dr. Osama Faqeeha points out that the problem lies not in hydrocarbons but emissions
  • He says Saudi Green Initiative target will be achieved with due consideration for environmental sustainability

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia can retain its role as the leading exporter of oil in the world while pursuing an ambitious strategy to mitigate the effects of climate change, one of the Kingdom’s leading environmental policymakers has told Arab News.

Dr. Osama Faqeeha, deputy minister for environment, water and agriculture, said that the issue for the Kingdom and the world was to deal with polluting emissions from hydrocarbon production, while exploring other uses for oil products and renewable alternatives.

“I think we don’t see the problem in the hydrocarbons; we see the problem in the emissions,” he said, pointing out that “petrochemicals, plastic, medical supplies, clothing and other things are made from hydrocarbons; the emissions are the issue — namely, CO2 emissions.”

Faqeeha, who is closely involved in implementing the measures of the Saudi Green Initiative unveiled last year, was appearing on Frankly Speaking, the series of video interviews with leading policymakers and business people.

He also spoke of the ambitious plan to plant 10 billion trees in the Kingdom, the campaign to protect its environmental eco-system and biodiversity, and efforts to improve the air quality in the capital Riyadh and other big cities.

Faqeeha said that the environmental campaign launched in the SGI was part of a comprehensive strategy to tackle the challenges of climate change and global warming.

“In this situation, Saudi Arabia has launched the Circular Carbon Economy approach, which is really to treat CO2 like any other waste, by basically taking it and recycling it in various ways.

“We have to realize that there is no single approach that can single-handedly address the global climate change challenge.

“We need renewable energy, we need the Circular Carbon Economy, we need recycling, we need to stop this deforestation, preserve habitats, reduce marine plastics. We have to focus on all of this,” he said.

The plan to plant 10 billion trees in Saudi Arabia over the coming decades, a striking feature of the SGI, is acknowledged as a challenge given the Kingdom’s desert climate and relatively low level of rainfall.

“Definitely this is a very challenging, ambitious target. As His Royal Highness the Crown Prince (Mohammed bin Salman) announced, the time frame will be over the next few decades. Our focus really is on environmental sustainability. We intend to achieve this target with due consideration for environmental sustainability.

“To achieve this, first of all we will focus on using native plant species in the Kingdom. Believe it or not, there are more than 2,000 documented species of flora in the Kingdom that have adapted to the dry and arid climate in Saudi Arabia.

“So, really these plants thrived in this environment and (fully) adapted to it,” he said.

The tree planting program — already under way — would focus on four main areas: Restoring natural flora in mountains and valleys; an “urban greening” program for the big cities; plantation in agricultural areas to support food production and rural communities; and tree planting along major highways to counter sand encroachment and enhance the experience of travelers.

Renewable water sources would also be used in the tree-planting program, to avoid endangering precious groundwater. Treated wastewater and rain harvesting were among the techniques available to environmental policymakers, as well as greater use of maritime resources.




Dr. Osama Faqeeha appears on Frankly Speaking. (Arab News)

“Saudi Arabia has thousands of kilometers of coastline on the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea. There are two species of native mangrove trees that grow in sea water, so we intend to focus on those species as well,” he said.

One issue that has provoked debate in the Kingdom is the traditional practice of cutting natural wood to make campfires, held responsible for some of the desertification the SGI is pledged to eliminate.

“Local people enjoy picnics and the outdoors, they like to light wood fires for family gatherings, and these are local traditions that we really cherish. However, it came at a high expense of the local vegetation.”

The new environmental law has imposed severe penalties on such practices, but Faqeeha said that there were incentives for alternatives to wood fires so that these traditions would not be affected.

The World Health Organisation has criticized Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East for low standards of air quality, but Faqeeha took issue with some of the WHO findings.

“I’d like to highlight a distinction between air pollution and degraded air quality. Sometimes you have a degraded air quality not because it’s polluted by human activities. The WHO uses particulate matters as the main parameters to measure air quality,” he said.

“That’s a very good parameter for (places such as) Europe and the US, where you have extensive vegetation cover, and the main source of particulate matters are power plants, factories and other human activities. We call such particulate matters anthropogenic particulate matter or PM.

“Here in Saudi Arabia and in the region as a whole, particulate matters are dominated by natural causes, mainly coming from dust storms. Definitely air quality becomes degraded during dust storms — no one claims that it is healthy to go outdoors and inhale dusty weather.

So, that’s really what they (WHO) are referring to. It is degraded air quality because of the natural particulate matters emanating from dust storms.”

The ministry was working on comprehensive measure to reduce dust storms and improve air quality, Faqeeha said.

At the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow last year, some experts warned that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries would suffer more than other parts of the world from the health effects of global warming, including extreme heat, diseases and air pollution.

Faqeeha acknowledged this was an issue that policymakers were confronting. “Definitely, climate change and global warming is a major global challenge that we are taking very seriously.

“In terms of the outlook for temperature, there are very few studies. In the entire region we don’t have a climate center for climate studies and that’s why the Crown Prince announced the creation of the Regional Center for Climate Studies here, which will be championed by the National Center for Meteorology in Saudi Arabia. Its job is to do national and regional studies on the mid- and long-term outlook for climate change,” he said.

One big focus of Saudi environmental strategy, he added, is the push to reverse the trend to land degradation and desertification, a major contributor to the generation of polluting greenhouse gas emissions that costs around trillions of dollars globally.

“Land degradation is the second largest contributor of greenhouse gases. In fact, land degradation is the cause of about more than 50 percent of biodiversity loss, which is a large contribution. Also, it has a huge impact on agricultural lands and food security,” Faqeeha said.

Measures to reverse land degradation were a major achievement of the G20 summit under Saudi Arabia’s presidency in 2020.

Faqeeha also outlined the Kingdom’s new strategy toward waste management, which he views as an area ripe for private sector involvement and foreign investment.

“Private sector participation is an important enabler to achieve the objectives of the national environmental strategy,” he said.

“We have many international companies that are coming, who feel the regulatory environment now is highly conducive to their participation.”


Human Rights Commission chief and New Zealand Foreign Ministry official hold talks in Riyadh

Human Rights Commission chief and New Zealand Foreign Ministry official hold talks in Riyadh
Updated 26 May 2022

Human Rights Commission chief and New Zealand Foreign Ministry official hold talks in Riyadh

Human Rights Commission chief and New Zealand Foreign Ministry official hold talks in Riyadh

RIYADH: Awwad Al-Awwad, president of the Saudi Human Rights Commission, met Jonathan Kerr, the director-general of the Middle East and Africa Department at the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in Riyadh on Wednesday to discuss a number of issues relating to human rights and the development of bilateral cooperation.

Also present at the meeting was Barney Riley, New Zealand’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia.


Saudi authorities seize amphetamine pills hidden in plastic beans

Saudi authorities seize amphetamine pills hidden in plastic beans
Updated 26 May 2022

Saudi authorities seize amphetamine pills hidden in plastic beans

Saudi authorities seize amphetamine pills hidden in plastic beans

RIYADH: Authorities in Saudi Arabia foiled an attempt to smuggle thousands of amphetamine pills and arrested two suspects, the General Directorate of Narcotics Control said on Wednesday.

Spokesman Maj. Mohammed Al-Nujaidi said security officials who monitor drug smuggling and distribution networks that target the Kingdom intercepted 403,000 amphetamine tablets. They were found in the possession of a Syrian national and a Saudi citizen in Jeddah, hidden in a shipment of fake plastic bean pods, he added. The two men were referred to the Public Prosecution.

Al-Nujaidi said that the Ministry of Interior’s security forces, in coordination with the Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority, will continue to work to uncover plots to smuggle narcotics into the Kingdom and arrest those responsible.


US congress delegation hails work of Muslim World League during meeting with its leader

US congress delegation hails work of Muslim World League during meeting with its leader
Updated 26 May 2022

US congress delegation hails work of Muslim World League during meeting with its leader

US congress delegation hails work of Muslim World League during meeting with its leader

RIYADH: A delegation from the US Congress has praised the work of the Muslim World League in promoting common human values and promoting the urgent need for peace in the world. It came during a meeting with Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Iss, the MWL’s secretary-general, in Riyadh on Wednesday.

The American delegates included Chris Stewart, a representative from Utah, Lisa McClain, a representative from Michigan, and Guy Reschenthaler, a representative from Pennsylvania, all three of them Republicans. They were accompanied by a number of officials.

(Supplied)

During the meeting, they discussed a number of issues of common interest, and Al-Issa affirmed that the Saudi Arabia represents the unifying spirit of the Islamic world.

The US delegation also hailed the MWL for its leading role in building effective alliances at the national level and between international organizations to consolidate the values of friendship and cooperation among nations and peoples.


DiplomaticQuarter: US Embassy celebrates 80 years of ‘shared history’ with Saudi Arabia

DiplomaticQuarter: US Embassy celebrates 80 years  of ‘shared history’ with Saudi Arabia
Updated 25 May 2022

DiplomaticQuarter: US Embassy celebrates 80 years of ‘shared history’ with Saudi Arabia

DiplomaticQuarter: US Embassy celebrates 80 years  of ‘shared history’ with Saudi Arabia
  • The US Legation opened in Jeddah in 1942. Full diplomatic relations began in 1940 and the US Mission, located in a traditional house in the old city center, was upgraded to the status of an embassy in 1949

RIYADH: The US Embassy in Riyadh has marked the 80th anniversary of the establishment of its first diplomatic presence in Saudi Arabia, highlighting what it described as “eight decades of shared history, strong partnership and united vision” with the Kingdom.

The US Legation opened in Jeddah in 1942. Full diplomatic relations began in 1940 and the US Mission, located in a traditional house in the old city center, was upgraded to the status of an embassy in 1949.

In 1952, the embassy moved to the current consulate general location, which at the time was an isolated, beachfront property to the north of the city.

Along with all other foreign missions, the US Embassy was transferred to Riyadh in 1984. The former embassy compound in Jeddah is now a consulate general in the heart of one of the Middle East’s most dynamic cities.

The theme of this year’s celebration was “Shared History, Strong Partnership and United Vision,” highlighting the enduring foundation of the strategic ties and friendship between the US and Saudi Arabia.

“From the very early days of modern Saudi Arabia, the US, its leaders, its companies and its people supported their Saudi friends on their remarkable journey toward success and prosperity,” the US Embassy in Riyadh said in a statement to Arab News.

“The US-Saudi relationship has naturally evolved over the years. It has grown to encompass trade, culture, education, security, and especially the close ties between the Saudi and American people. What has not changed during the past 80 years is the shared vision that has always guided the cooperation between the US and Saudi Arabia in these and many other areas,” it added.

“As Saudi Arabia pursues the ambitious goals of Vision 2030, the US is supporting the Kingdom’s efforts in the same spirit of partnership that has been one of the key pillars of US–Saudi ties. Today, in every field, in every sector, Americans and Saudis are working together, learning together, conducting research together and, more recently, performing together in concerts, films and athletic competitions.”

This engagement translates into $54 billion annually in US-Saudi trade and investment.

American companies have been an integral part of the Vision 2030 economic transformation of Saudi Arabia, while the US and Saudi Arabia also enjoy robust cultural and educational ties.


Saudi Arabia reports 540 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death

Saudi Arabia reports 540 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death
Updated 25 May 2022

Saudi Arabia reports 540 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death

Saudi Arabia reports 540 new COVID-19 cases, 1 death
  • Of the new infections, 146 were recorded in Jeddah, 122 in Riyadh, 50 in Makkah, 38 in Dammam and 32 in Madinah

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia reported 540 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, according to the Ministry of Health. As a result, the total number of cases in the Kingdom grew to 764,789.

The authorities also confirmed one new COVID-19-related death, raising the total number of fatalities to 9,135.

Of the new infections, 146 were recorded in Jeddah, 122 in Riyadh, 50 in Makkah, 38 in Dammam and 32 in Madinah. Several other cities recorded fewer than 20 new cases each.

The ministry also announced that 570 patients had recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries to 749,141. It said that 6,513 COVID-19 cases were still active.