How Saudi Arabia’s environmental initiatives are restoring the natural equilibrium

Special How Saudi Arabia’s environmental initiatives are restoring the natural equilibrium
Short Url
Updated 06 June 2023

How Saudi Arabia’s environmental initiatives are restoring the natural equilibrium

How Saudi Arabia’s environmental initiatives are restoring the natural equilibrium
  • Strides made by the Kingdom in increasing its protected habitats to 30% by 2030 in the limelight on World Environment Day
  • Initiatives such as SGI offer a road map for increasing vegetation, rehabilitating endangered species, protecting vulnerable habitats

JEDDAH: Centuries of abuse by human hands have challenged the globe’s natural cycle of biodiversity. On this World Environment Day, governments are working to restore balance, including in Saudi Arabia, a country with one of the harshest and most diverse natural environments on the planet.

Almost all organisms live in environments altered, to some degree, by human activities, causing habitat loss, species endangerment and extinction, pollution, and more. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations report on the world’s forests in 2022 stated that “as the window for action narrows, and as population growth and aspirations place new demands on physical resources, it seems clear that natural ecosystems are vital assets that must be restored, maintained and sustainably managed.”

Led by the UN Environment Programme since its inception in 1973, World Environment Day, the most influential global platform for environmental outreach, serves as a reminder of the issues and challenges plaguing the world, with millions of people engaging to protect the planet.

Conservation, “the care and preservation of natural resources,” is not a recent phenomenon, though it was undermined and ignored until the 21st century and the harsh realities of climate change became apparent, making crafting environmental policies an increasingly urgent task.

The Saudi Green Initiative, an ambitious national plan to combat climate change, was launched in 2021. (SGI)

It has often proven to be an uphill challenge. Realizing the consequences of inaction, there have been intense and determined campaigns to further the complex task of defining long-term goals at a time when nature is under assault, to issue guidelines and laws with profound changes in environmental infrastructure, and to promote environmental protection and conservation.

In 2021, the Saudi Green Initiative was launched, an ambitious national plan to combat climate change, improve quality of life and protect the planet for future generations. It coined the term “conservation” with initiatives such as environmental protection, energy transition, sustainability programs, and more under its umbrella. It has become a core message in every ambitious project, company environmental target, and social responsibility goal in less than two years.

Under the SGI, Saudi Arabia has committed to protecting 30 percent of its terrestrial and marine area by 2030. Its targets are clear — emissions reduction, afforestation, and land and sea protection, with 77 initiatives activated. To date, 66,000 sq. km of land and sea are currently protected, over 1,200 animals have been rewilded, and approximately 17 percent of the Kingdom’s land and sea are protected.

Ecosystems, particularly their living components, have always provided the capital to fuel human economies, a notion realized in Saudi Arabia as conservation efforts and development projects go hand in hand.

The Kingdom’s flagship giga-project, NEOM, is considered one of the most ambitious projects with sustainable development embedded in its core values.

While no universally acceptable, practical definition of sustainable development exists, the concept has evolved to encompass three significant points of view: economic, social, and environmental.

The economy is geared mainly toward improving human welfare, the environmental domain focuses on protecting the integrity and resilience of ecological systems, and the social domain emphasizes enriching human life and achievements and strengthening values and institutions.


  • 1,200+ Endangered animals rewilded in 15 Saudi locations.
  • $25m Fund for efforts to conserve critically endangered Arabian leopard.
  • 8m Hectares of degraded land to be rehabilitated by 2030.
  • 600m Trees to be planted by 2030.
  • 10bn Trees planted is equivalent to rehabilitating 40m hectares of degraded land. 
  • 16% Terrestrial and 5.5% marine protected areas.   

Speaking to Arab News, Dr. Paul Marshall, head of Nature Region, said that NEOM has embarked on an ambitious and innovative conservation mission that includes “re-greening” and rewilding while committing 95 percent of the project to nature, spanning 26,500 sq. km.

For “re-greening,” NEOM is planting native vegetation and reducing pressure on the landscape from livestock, which will protect and reverse the degradation of the land by planting 100 million shrubs, trees, and other plants by 2030. So far, more than 100,000 plants have been planted, with over 1 million trees, shrubs, and grasses to be planted by the end of 2023.

As for rewilding, it will reintroduce species that were once indigenous to the area but have since declined. Native species will initially be reintroduced to large, enclosed areas, and over time, as the landscape recovers and animal numbers increase, fences will be removed.

“An early indicator of the success of the rewilding project can be seen in the NEOM Nature Reserve’s first breeding season. Working closely with our partner, The National Center for Wildlife, the first release of native animals into our reserve took place in late 2022 with herds of Nubian ibex, Arabian sand gazelle, mountain gazelle and Arabian oryx successfully reintroduced. The total number of babies born this breeding season is 31. This is 23 Sand gazelle babies and 8 Ibex babies.

Arabian Sand Gazelle released at NEOM Nature Reserve in December 2022. (NEOM)

The achievement is challenging, as he explained that three elements are incorporated into NEOM’s animal distribution modeling. “The first assesses the immediately accessible areas to ensure a healthy and safe release environment, the second analyzes potential dispersal constraints, and the third simulate dispersal through time,” he said.

“For this, we work in conjunction with the plant rewilding team to ascertain where our animals’ potential food sources will be. This helps us model likely dispersal patterns and allows us to plot the regeneration of the reserve.

“In terms of a shift being needed to protect certain species, I think it’s fair to say that a century ago, if we had the tools, knowledge, expertise and capacity that we have now, the Nubian ibex, Arabian sand gazelle, mountain gazelle and Arabian oryx would never have disappeared from the region and would instead be thriving in a vibrant, rich and self-sustaining ecosystem. It is how we envisage NEOM’s land to be and what we are working towards.”

In a statement to Arab News on Sunday, NEOM said “the total number of babies born this breeding season is 31, including 23 sand gazelles and eight (Nubian) ibex. The total number of animals in the NEOM Nature Reserve is now 146.”

With its rich land and marine biodiversity, astounding wildlife, and breathtaking bird migrations passing above the Kingdom’s skies, it is difficult to disconnect the link between science from the initiatives.

Arabian Oryx being released into NEOM Nature reserve in December 2022 – the first time in more than 100 years the species walked the sands of this region. (NEOM)

There are 15 designated protected areas in Saudi Arabia managed by the National Center for Wildlife, including several royal reserves and natural reserves managed by other authorities that are home to over 10,000 species of animals, nearly 500 species of birds, more than 1,800 species of fish, whale, and dolphin, 330 species of coral reefs, and many more according to NCW.

Like land conservation, marine conservation is considered one of the world’s most pressing scientific issues. From space, Earth is a pale blue dot covered with more than 70 percent water.

According to UNESCO, the ocean functions as a life-support system for our “blue planet,” regulating the climate on a global scale and producing over half of the oxygen we breathe. Despite this, humanity has mistreated these life-giving oceans to the point where around 40 percent of marine ecosystems have been harmed.

Nestled in one of the Red Sea’s lagoons, the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology considers the body of water it neighbors as its biggest and most unique laboratory. and one of the Kingdom’s most vital strategic assets.

Coral reefs in the Red Sea. (Supplied) 

Considered one of the saltiest and warmest seas, it provides insight into the environmental stressors the rest of the world’s seas will face in the near future, the director of KAUST’s Red Sea Research Center, Michael Berumen, told Arab News.

“The marine life of the Red Sea has adapted to these challenging conditions, and we seek to understand the mechanisms facilitating this adaptation — ranging from genes and genomes to unique behaviors and physiologies.

“Careful management of Red Sea ecosystems is fundamental for conservation and to ensure that this national treasure remains as healthy as possible for generations to come. Particular attention has been paid to improved management of fisheries and habitat restoration capabilities. Faculty in the RSRC work very closely with KAUST’s Reefscape Restoration Initiative at Shushah Island, arguably the world’s most ambitious coral restoration program,” said Prof. Berumen.

“The lessons learned from the Red Sea can be transferred to many other regions of the world. In line with KAUST’s educational objectives, the RSRC facilitates the training and education of future leaders in marine science through student and postdoctoral support,” he added.

Wide angle view of plants on water and boats in the distance on the Mangrove Coastline. (Supplied) 

The world’s population is growing, with an estimated increase of nearly 2 billion people in the next 30 years, reaching 9.7 billion by 2050. The trend is toward migration into cities.

By 2050, it is projected that more than two-thirds of the world’s population — close to 7 billion people — will live in urban areas. There is a long-standing dispute about how much population growth causes environmental degradation.

Historical trajectories, local policies, and cultural preferences affect how compact or dispersed residential areas are built. “What is needed are solutions that see nature protected and restored, not spoiled by human development and increased urbanization,” said Marshall.


Japanese chef educates Saudis on nutrition, healthy eating

Japanese chef educates Saudis on nutrition, healthy eating
Updated 23 September 2023

Japanese chef educates Saudis on nutrition, healthy eating

Japanese chef educates Saudis on nutrition, healthy eating

JEDDAH: The Consulate General of Japan in Jeddah recently hosted a lecture at its library on nutrition education, as part of its efforts to promote Japanese culinary traditions and cultural exchange with the Saudi community.

Chef Sato Taki, a renowned Japanese Food Goodwill Ambassador for the Middle East since 2019, shared his three decades of culinary knowledge.

During the lecture, the chef focused on “shokuiku,” the Japanese term for nutrition education, and highlighted growing concerns about children’s health, including imbalanced nutrition, irregular eating patterns such as skipping breakfast, and issues related to obesity and weight loss.

Shokuiku nurtures children’s understanding of food, promotes informed dietary choices, and instills healthy eating habits through diverse experiences.

In an interview with Arab News, Sato highlighted the need for a change in Saudi food culture to combat rising diabetes rates. He emphasized the importance of promoting healthier eating habits and suggested that Japan’s culinary traditions could assist in adopting better and more flavorful dietary choices.

He also discussed umami, one of the five basic tastes alongside sweet, sour, bitter and salty. Umami is a savory or meaty taste that enhances the flavor of food and is a significant aspect of Japanese cuisine.

Japanese cuisine is famous for its rich umami flavors achieved through ingredients such as kombu, bonito flakes, soy sauce, miso, seaweed and aged ingredients, as well as grilling and broiling techniques.

When discussing his culinary philosophy, Sato said that food serves as a means of connecting people, acting as a tool for communication and interaction. He sees food as a two-way channel, emphasizing its significance in his approach to cooking.

The chef began his culinary journey in Saudi Arabia in 2016. His work goes beyond simply introducing Japanese cuisine; instead, he focuses on exploring and creating flavors that cater to the preferences of Saudi diners.

His unwavering dedication lies in incorporating Saudi tastes into traditional Japanese dishes as much as possible. His efforts in crafting a distinctive fusion cuisine have played a pivotal role in sparking the interest of many Saudis in Japanese food and, more broadly, Japanese culture.

Izuru Shimmura, consul general of Japan in Jeddah, expressed his gratitude to the chef and the audience for coming together. He also extended his congratulations to the Saudi leadership and people on the occasion of the 93rd Saudi National Day.

“Chef Sato Taki has been very active in promoting Japanese food culture in the Kingdom. I hope this will be a very good opportunity to deepen and widen knowledge and understanding of the Japanese food culture,” Shimmura said.

At a packed venue, the diverse audience shared a common passion for exploring different cultures.

Nawal Al-Khair, a Syrian resident and polyglot cultural enthusiast, expressed her eagerness to explore Japanese culture beyond watching anime and learning the language.

“I was eager to delve deeper into Japanese culture beyond watching anime and learning the language. I yearned for more,” she said. “When I heard that the chef was hosting this seminar, I saw it as an opportunity, and I’m thrilled that I took it.”

Saudi minister launches fourth Media Excellence Award

Saudi minister launches fourth Media Excellence Award
Updated 23 September 2023

Saudi minister launches fourth Media Excellence Award

Saudi minister launches fourth Media Excellence Award

RIYADH: The Ministry of Media, in partnership with the Human Capacity Development Program, has launched the fourth Media Excellence Award.

The award celebrates outstanding media work throughout the year and recognizes individuals who have made a significant impact in the field of media through their efforts.

The ministry has extended an invitation to all institutions and individuals to apply for the award up to Oct. 17.

This year’s award will focus on six categories: photography, creative video-making, press material production, TV production, audio production, and national song production.

The award aims to motivate institutions and individuals who are interested in media work, as well as support and encourage creativity in various media fields among both amateurs and professionals.

Additionally, it seeks to highlight the best work and honor exceptional individuals within the industry.

The award management has established several criteria that must be fulfilled in order to apply for the award. Firstly, the material submitted must have been produced in 2023. It is not limited to a specific topic.

Secondly, the participating entity or individual must possess all intellectual property rights associated with the created material. The material should demonstrate a contribution in terms of the originality of the idea, creativity, and distinctive style.

Additionally, it must adhere to Islamic principles, the values and customs of Saudi society, as well as comply with all Saudi regulations and laws.

The criterion for distinguishing between participants will encompass the following values: determination, perseverance, mastery, and discipline.

The ministry will accept the participation of both institutions and individuals through the dedicated electronic platform,

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry fights back against school bullying 

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry fights back against school bullying 
Updated 23 September 2023

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry fights back against school bullying 

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry fights back against school bullying 
  • The campaign aims to promote a safe, supportive environment, raise awareness on signs of bullying

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health has recently initiated a campaign aimed at tackling bullying in schools and improving the psychological and educational well-being of students in the country.

The awareness campaign will introduce students to the different forms of bullying and their impact, with the aim of decreasing incidents of bullying and fostering a positive school environment.

“Having an initiative that informs students from a young age about bullying is essential, particularly the different forms of bullying, as bullying does not necessarily mean kicking, pushing, or damaging someone’s belongings,” said Nada Al-Yhaya, an English teacher based in Dhahran.

She added: “Most of the time, bullying is verbal, and it can be much more destructive than physical bullying. As a class teacher, most of the cases I deal with are verbal, and unfortunately, they are increasing.”

Ghanem Saad Al-Ghanem, a sociology consultant at King Fahad Medical City, said that signs of depression, changes in mood or behavior, and lack of sleep or loss of appetite are other silent signs of being bullied among children. (Supplied)

According to a study conducted by the National Commission for Childhood in the Kingdom, 57 percent of boys and 43 percent of girls suffer from bullying in schools.

With higher rates of bullying among children in schools, it can be difficult to know if a child is being bullied unless they come forward about it or display visible bruises or injuries.

“There are silent signs to spot that indicate if a child is being bullied, and this includes a decline in their academic level or feeling anxious when receiving a text message or an email, the desire to stop using the computer, avoiding social situations, or withdrawing from family or friend gatherings,” said Ghanem Saad Al-Ghanem, a sociology consultant at King Fahad Medical City.

He added: “Signs of depression, changes in mood or behavior, and lack of sleep or loss of appetite are other silent signs of being bullied among children.”

Similarly to identifying signs of being bullied, understanding the underlying reasons why children become bullies can also be challenging. These may include, but are not limited to, “jealousy, feeling frustrated, being a victim of bullying themselves, the urge to control others, or an attempt to cover up their own weaknesses,” said Al-Ghanem.

The campaign launched by the Ministry of Health aims to foster open discussions with students regarding the various forms and effects of bullying, and, most importantly, educate them on how to respond to bullying situations.

The campaign also hopes to inform parents and families about the dangers of bullying, provide them with guidance on how to respond when their child or someone they know is being bullied and encourage them to monitor their children.

“When children are heard, respected, and understood by their parents, they will feel comfortable reporting if they are being bullied,” said Al-Ghanem.

The ministry has encouraged students who are being bullied to ignore and stay away from bullies and to communicate with teachers, parents, or any other person they trust.

It emphasized the importance of involving teachers and school principals in creating a united team with students and parents to reduce bullying and reminded students that bullying is unacceptable behavior that carries consequences.

KSrelief distributes food aid in Lebanon and Yemen

KSrelief distributes food aid in Lebanon and Yemen
Updated 23 September 2023

KSrelief distributes food aid in Lebanon and Yemen

KSrelief distributes food aid in Lebanon and Yemen

RIYADH: The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center continues to deliver humanitarian aid in Yemen and Lebanon, as part of Saudi Arabia’s relief efforts to countries in urgent need of support.

In Yemen, the aid agency handed out 7,100 date cartons, benefiting 42,600 individuals.

In Lebanon, KSrelief launched the fourth stage of the Al-Amal Charitable Bakery, aside from distributing 150,000 bundles this week to Syrians, Palestinians and host-community families, benefiting 125,000 individuals.

Meanwhile, Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, the KSrelief general supervisor, earlier met with Natalia Kanem, the executive director of the UN Population Fund, in New York on the sidelines of the 78th UN General Assembly where they discussed relief and humanitarian issues.

The two also signed an agreement to enhance cooperation involving humanitarian affairs, including the exchange of knowledge, experiences, field expertise, research, as well as training and capacity building.

Both sides will exchange invitations to participate in seminars, workshops, exhibitions and exchange visits.

Al-Rabeeah also met Janez Lenarcic, the EU commissioner for crisis management, to discuss relief and humanitarian affairs as well as strategies for better responses during crises.

Lenarcic praised the Kingdom’s efforts, represented by the center, to support humanitarian aid and expand its efforts worldwide.

Saudi Arabia turns green for 93rd National Day … and rehearses for Expo 2030

Saudi Arabia turns green for 93rd National Day … and rehearses for Expo 2030
Updated 23 September 2023

Saudi Arabia turns green for 93rd National Day … and rehearses for Expo 2030

Saudi Arabia turns green for 93rd National Day … and rehearses for Expo 2030

RIYADH: Welcome to the day Saudi Arabia turns green! Saudis will take to the flag-decked streets in their thousands today to celebrate the Kingdom’s 93rd national day.

A raft of free activities will be available for families to enjoy the day.

Among the most eagerly awaited events is the air show by the Saudi Hawks, the aerobatics team of the Royal Saudi Air Force. Pilots will take to the skies in their six BAE Hawk Mk.65A aircraft for a gravity-defying display, leaving a trail of Saudi flags in their wake.

Horse-drawn artillery and other vehicles will take part in a military march through Riyadh at 4 p.m., accompanied by musicians from the Border Guard, the National Guard, and the Royal Guard. The parade will travel from Prince Mohammed bin Saad bin Abdulaziz Road to Umm Ajlan Park in the Qairawan neighborhood.

In this handout photo, taken and released by the Saudi Press Agency, the number 93 is flashed in one of the skyscrapers on Riyadh's King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) beside the King Fahd Road and Northern Ring Road interchange on the eve of Saudi Arabia's 93rd National Day on September 22, 2023. (SPA)

There will also be special events at the already buzzing Boulevard Riyadh City, including fireworks, a drone show and traditional folklore acts.

The celebrations are a dress rehearsal for what the Kingdom can expect if its bid to host the Expo 2030 world fair is successful. In a special edition of Arab News today, we explain why the answer to that should be a resounding “yes.”

We explore the natural, archeological and architectural wonders that define Riyadh, learn about the history of the Ardah dance, and sample the Kingdom’s coffee culture.

We unpack how Salmani architecture redefined Riyadh’s development, highlighting the capital’s megaprojects, and look at how King Salman International Airport and the Riyadh Metro are transforming the city.

Riyadh’s hospitality industry serves up what it has to offer Expo visitors, while we examine the distinctive Saudi characteristic of generosity.

We highlight Riyadh’s thriving business landscape and booming retail sector, and check its cultural pulse, including headline events such as Noor Riyadh.

And taking readers on a tour of Expo 2030 preparations, we speak to Dimitri Kerkentzes, secretary general of the Bureau International des Expositions, which will elect the host city by secret ballot in November.

In this handout photo, taken and released by the Saudi Press Agency on September 21, 2023, shows special preparations ahead of Saudi National Day in Al Bahah, Saudi Arabia.