Complex Made Simple

Saudi aims to recapture a green ancient past with a drive to plant billions of trees

Saudi Arabia aims to plant 10 billion trees in the coming decades as part of an ambitious campaign unveiled by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to reduce carbon emissions

The share of clean energy production in the Middle East does not currently exceed 7% Some $13 billion is lost annually due to sandstorms in the region Fossil finds of elephants and hippos in Saudi mandate the former existence of a green, wet environment

Saudi Arabia aims to plant 10 billion trees in the coming decades as part of an ambitious campaign unveiled by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to reduce carbon emissions and combat pollution and land degradation.

Saudi aims to reduce its carbon emissions by generating 50% of the country’s energy from renewables by 2030.

Riyadh would also work with other Arab states on a Middle East Green Initiative to plant an additional 40 billion trees, which the crown prince said would be the world’s largest reforestation program.

 Saudi, a leading global producer of desalinated water, intends to use cloud seeding and recycled water to plant local trees that require less irrigation. 

“The Kingdom, the region, and the world needs to go much further and faster in combating climate change,” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said.

He said the share of clean energy production in the Middle East does not currently exceed 7% and that Saudi would work with regional partners to help contribute to a reduction in carbon emissions resulting from hydrocarbon production in the region by more than 60%. 

The initiative will also work to increase the percentage of protected land to more than 30%, exceeding the global target of 17% per country.  The initiative is expected to eliminate more than 130 million tons of carbon emissions by using clean hydrocarbon technologies.

The Saudi crown prince added that Saudi and the region face “significant climate challenges”, including desertification, which poses an “immediate economic risk”.

Some $13 billion is lost annually due to sandstorms in the region, while pollution from greenhouse gases has reduced average Saudi life expectancy by 1.5 years, he added.

Energy giant Saudi Aramco has faced scrutiny from investors over its emissions.

In January, Bloomberg News reported that the company excluded emissions generated from many of its refineries and petrochemical plants in its overall carbon disclosures to investors.

It added that if those facilities are included, the company’s self-reported carbon footprint could nearly double, adding as much as 55 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent to its annual tally.

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Read: Green Building Technology in Saudi Arabia: Tech as the enabler of Vision 2030

When Saudi was naturally green

Examining the ancient environment and human history of Saudi Arabia, and uncovering connections with Africa and the rest of Eurasia is the core aim of the Palaeodeserts Project

The project points to the previous existence of many lakes and rivers all across Arabia, with plenty of grass and vegetation.

Current satellite images show literally thousands of ancient rivers that crisscrossed Saudi, and as many as 10,000 ancient lakes.

Fossil finds of elephants and hippos in Saudi mandate the former existence of a green and wet environment.

Over the past 500,000 years, the Earth’s climate shifted and around 5,000 years ago, Saudi started drying up to what it is today.  

Footprints described in the new study were discovered during a recent survey of the Nefud Desert in Saudi. At an ancient lake deposit dubbed ‘Alathar’ (meaning “the trace” in Arabic) by the team, hundreds of human and animal footprints were discovered embedded in the surface, having been exposed following the erosion of overlying sediments.

Mathew Stewart of MPI-CE, one of the study’s lead authors said: “Footprints are a unique form of fossil evidence in that they provide snapshots in time, typically representing a few hours or days, a resolution we tend not get from other records.”

Researchers were able to identify a number of animals from the footprints, including elephants, horses, and camels. The presence of elephants was particularly notable, as these large animals appear to have gone locally extinct in the Levant by around 400,000 years ago.

“The presence of large animals such as elephants and hippos, together with open grasslands and large water resources, may have made northern Arabia a particularly attractive place to humans moving between Africa and Eurasia,” says Michael Petraglia of MPI-SHH, who has been conducting research in the region for over a decade.