The world is facing catastrophic impacts of climate change. The fight against climate change started with the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 that was replaced by the Paris Agreement in 2016. The West Asia region, particularly, is one of the worst affected by climate impacts. The region is exposed to desertification, food insecurity, forced displacement, and extreme heat waves. Due to the alarming situation, Saudi Arabia, under the leadership of Prince Muhammad bin Salman launched the ‘Green Middle East Initiative’ Summit on October 23, 2021. The Summit is in convergence with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference in Glasgow, the United Kingdom, known as the COP 26 that held on October 31, 2021. COP 26 provides a platform for all parties to accelerate the action towards the Paris Agreement. In this context, the Saudi government has set the date to achieve the ‘net zero neutrality’ [I] target that is used in climate mitigation parlance to determine the country’s efforts in resolving the climate change issues and protecting the environment. [II] Kingdom’s priority is to disseminate climate change mitigation technologies, share experiences, and distribute economic resources in the West Asia region. Taking the ‘Green Middle East Initiative’, Saudis strive to go beyond the conventional hard power politics in which sectarian conflict and the desire for regional hegemony generate ‘zero-sum game’ to imbibe on the ‘variable-sum game’ for creating inclusive and win-win solutions for the region under the rubric of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).[III]
Paris Agreement, Saudi Vision 2030, and Green Saudi Initiative
The Paris Agreement took a landmark decision in which every country agreed to work together to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees and aim for 1.5 degrees, adapt to the impacts of a changing climate, and make funding available to deliver on these aims. [IV] To meet the requirements of the Paris Agreement, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on April 25, 2016, launched Vision 2030 that aims to diversify economic resources, reduce dependence on oil, and protect the environment and ensure the scientific utility of natural resources. It outlines that “preservation is our responsibility to future generations and essential to the quality of our daily lives. We will seek to safeguard our environment by increasing the efficiency of our waste management, establishing comprehensive recycling projects, reducing all types of pollution, and fighting desertification. We will also promote optimal use of water resources by reducing consumption and utilizing treated and renewable water. Besides, the Kingdom targets both public and private sectors to generate the funds for the initiative.” [V]
The Vision 2030 consolidates all sustainability initiatives (King Salman Renewable Energy Initiative, National Renewable Energy Program, National Environment Strategy, Special Forces for Environmental Security, and Let’s Make it Green Campaign) to increase resilience on clean energy, offset the impact of fossil fuels and combat climate change. These initiatives culminated in Green Saudi Initiative in 2021 to unify environmental action across the Kingdom. The initiative will plant 10 billion trees across Saudi Arabia, and raise the protected areas to more than 30 per cent of the land. By 2030, 50 per cent of the kingdom's power generation will be provided by renewable energy sources, and the other 50 per cent will be covered up with gas. [VI] The Kingdom has expanded the initiative at the regional level because of the similarity of the challenges such as desertification, water crisis, and diversification of energy resources, land degradation, and food insecurity, under the title of the Green West Asia Initiative.
Green West Asia Initiative
In March 2021, Prince Salman launched the ‘Green Middle East Initiative’ to confront environmental changes and improve the quality of life in the region and the world. The initiative is about the region’s commitment to meet the international climate change mitigation targets of the Paris Agreement. The Crown aimed to secure 39 billion Riyals ($10.4 billion) for an investment fund and clean energy project as part of efforts to reduce regional carbon emissions. [VII] The initiative has three pillars: knowledge transfer, ecological stewardship, and forward-thinking, innovative climate solutions. It aims to reclaim 200 million hectares of land with the plantation of 50 billion trees that reduce 2.5 per cent of global carbon levels. [VIII]
During the Green West Asia Summit, the Kingdom, along with the leaders, scientists, and environmentalists of Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, United States of America, Russia, Greece, India and Pakistan announced the international cooperation platform to implement the concept of the circular carbon economy, establish several regional centers for climate change, carbon extraction, early warning of storms, and sustainable development of fisheries for raising marine biodiversity. Besides, a regional program for cloud seeding is launched to raise precipitation by nearly 20 per cent.[IX] Realising the ‘rentier’ nature of their economies, they decided that the transition to a ‘net zero’ growth needs to be incremental to prevent damage to the regional economic growth. At the outset, the initiative aims for a new era of collective action among the regional countries to fight against global warming.
To expand Kingdom’s environment protection endeavors, the Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Energy Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman highlighted the Kingdom’s initiatives to confront the climate change referring to the ‘Green Saudi Initiative’ and ‘Green Middle East Initiative’ at COP 26 meeting. He stated at the conference that “initiatives are the confirmation of Saudi Arabia’s continuous approach to preserve environment, as this one of the pillars of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030”. [X] It shows that issues of climate change and environment protection are the important concerns for the Kingdom.
The Global Sustainable Competitiveness Index[XI] released its tenth report in October 2021. The report expresses the concerns about the fragility of the political system in the West Asian region that may become a hurdle in the region’s initiative for the protection of the environment and the mitigation of climate change. The ongoing conflicts in the region and the dependency on hydrocarbon resources do not limit their catastrophic effects to the political sphere because they are inherently connected with the natural and social geography of the region. Further, the suppression of civil society and media created a roadblock that prevented the spread of awareness about the looming crisis of climate change. There is no pan-regional West Asian security architecture that can link the targets of SDGs and the security issues in the region. Besides, the ruling elites of the region are depended on the oil rents to survive their regimes. Against this backdrop, the multiple political problems of the region, therefore, are the major stumbling blocks on the path of the achievement of the SDGs. Nonetheless, the initiative of Prince Salman is the beginning of the long road towards the Green era in the region. It opens the region for soft power politics to comprehensively deal with the challenges to environmental protection and the issues of global warming. However, it is yet to be seen that the ‘push’ factor of environmental protection will ‘pull’ the region together despite the ideological and sectarian challenges.
*Dr. Arshad, Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi.
Disclaimer: Views are personal
[I] It explains the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere.
[II] Saudi Crown Prince announces Green Era Initiatives for the Middle East, Ashraq Al-Awsat, March 27, 2021, accessed https://english.aawsat.com/home/article/2885311/crown-prince-announces-saudi-green-and-middle-east-green-initiatives, October 25, 2021.
[III] Sustainable Development Goals amalgamate the seventeen targets that the UN has set for the world to achieve by 2030. Some of the targets are mainly working in the field of nature, environment, and climate change.
[IV] UN Climate Change Conference UK 2021, accessed https://ukcop26.org/uk-presidency/what-is-a-cop/, October 26, 2021.
[V]Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Vision 2030 Document, accessed https://www.vision2030.gov.sa/media/rc0b5oy1/saudi_vision203.pdf, October 26, 2021.
[VI] Green Saudi initiative, accessed https://www.saudigreeninitiative.org/, October 24, 2021.
[VII] Saudi Arabia pledges to more than $1 billion in new Climate Initiatives, The Arab Weekly, accessed https://thearabweekly.com/saudi-arabia-pledges-more-1-billion-new-climate-initiatives, October 26, 2021.
[VIII] Green Middle East Initiative, accessed https://www.saudigreeninitiative.org/about-middle-east-green-initiative/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw8eOLBhC1ARIsAOzx5cGWI-wjJlR7XwvCHJuIRrGjPR4DGPzW7FH0QSJaE0vE7nk68quahbIaAnnIEALw_wcB, October 24, 2021.
[IX] Presidential Statement of Green Middle East Initiative, Saudi Press Agency, accessed https://www.spa.gov.sa/viewfullstory.php?lang=en&newsid=2298600, October 25, 2021
[X] Saudi Arabia participates in COP26 Climate Change Summit in Glasgow, Al-Arabiya News, accessed https://english.alarabiya.net/News/gulf/2021/11/01/Saudi-Arabia-participates-in-COP26-climate-change-summit-in-Glasgow, November 14, 2021.
[XI] SolAbility foundation launches the Global Sustainable Competitive Index.