Saudi’s desert regions were once intermittently lush and green, attracting early humans and large animals such as hippopotamuses.
Satellite imagery that revealed traces of prehistoric lakes in now-arid regions. The Arabian Peninsula has played an important role as a bridge between Africa and Eurasia, a study published recently in the journal Nature suggests.
Extensive excavations over a decade revealed stone tools from multiple periods of prehistoric settlement by early human groups, the oldest being 400,000 years ago. Analysis of sediment samples from the ancient lakes and remains from hippos and other animals revealed that during several periods in the distant past, the peninsula hosted year-round lakes and grasslands.
Now there is a plan, not to bring all of that back, but certainly a noteworthy green effort.
Riyadh going green
There is a plan to turn an airbase in Riyadh into a public green space four times bigger than Central Park in New York.
But among the most ambitious plans is to transform the city into an example of sustainability and the effort will take tens of billions of dollars of oil revenue on re-engineering life for the city’s 8 million residents, adding sidewalks, public transportation, electric vehicles, neighborhood parks and millions of trees.
The goal is to green the capital enough to lower its ambient temperature by 2° Celsius.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) also wants to double Riyadh’s population in 10 years.
“The idea is very simple: reduce sprawl and ensure density in the city is increased,” said Fahd Al-Rasheed, head of the Royal Commission for Riyadh City, charged with implementing the plan.
If officials succeed even partially, Riyadh will offer the world a case study on how urban areas can adapt to rising temperatures and water shortages.
To do that, Al-Rasheed wants to halt the city’s endless spread north into the desert and start building denser, taller, and greener.
A $92 billion sustainability strategy aims to cut Riyadh’s carbon emissions in half. It calls for planting 15 million trees and boosting the use of treated water for irrigation from 11% to 100%. Officials plan to mandate that 30% of all vehicles in the city be electric by 2030. A nearly finished Riyadh metro system could carry 4 million people a day.
In Al-Rasheed’s vision, the future Saudi family might live in an apartment instead of a villa, spending leisure time in a park instead of their backyard. That’s a shift for a culture that values privacy highly and could require a new mentality and way of life.
The Green Initiative
Saudi’s Crown Prince MBS announced the establishment of the Green Initiative Foundation as a non-profit organization and with it came two climate initiatives worth $10.4 bn, of which Saudi Arabia will contribute 15%, and the establishment of two regional centers for early warning of storms and the sustainable development of fisheries.
MBS also announced that it will establish a cooperation platform to implement the concept of a circular carbon economy and establish a regional center for climate change.
A green Red Sea
Jay Rosen, CFO, The Red Sea Development Company (TRSDC) said the Red Sea Project was the world’s most ambitious regenerative tourism project, based on the west coast of Saudi.
Once complete, it will comprise 50 resorts across 28,000 sqkm on an archipelago of more than 90 islands. Alongside this, the project area incorporates a diverse ecosystem, with an abundance of flora and fauna.
The project benefited from a $3.76 bn green loan facility from four Saudi banks. The green financing accreditation was awarded due to TRSDC’s market-leading approach to social and environmental sustainability and the Red Sea Project’s international recognition as a green project.
“We decided that only 22 islands would be developed, leaving 75% of the islands untouched, equivalent to only 1% of the entire destination. Nine islands will be designated as special conservation zones to protect the species that live and thrive there,” Rosen told Entrepreneur.
“As part of the overarching plan for the destination based on the simulation, we are targeting a 30% net conservation benefit by 2040, which is being achieved by enhancing biologically diverse habitats like coral, mangroves, seagrass, and land vegetation.”