Climate Change in Saudi Arabia Will Produce Prolonged Dry Periods, Which Will Rapidly Deplete Groundwater Reserves and Increase Water Stress On Vulnerable Populations

Saudi Arabia, like other countries in the Middle East, is vulnerable to climate extremes. The country is oftentimes subject to heavy rainfall, and in certain areas, lacks the infrastructure to divert water, resulting in flash floods, especially in the mountainous southwestern region. On the other hand, climate scenarios also predict prolonged dry periods, which will rapidly deplete groundwater reserves, thereby increasing water stress on its vulnerable populations. Soil degradation from excessive evapotranspiration during dry periods also puts more stress on croplands. Sandstorms are also a frequent occurrence and are projected to increase in a warmer world. These occurrences form clouds, which reduce visibility to zero and disrupt transportation and communication. They also aid in the desertification of croplands by transporting and depositing sand and sediment, which destroys crops and natural habitats. As the country’s population increases, there will be more demand for water for agricultural production, which will inevitably also put more stress on water resources.

Sea level rise also poses a risk to coastal regions by increasing the risk of coastal flooding and seawater inundation. These environmental extremes will inevitably lead to loss of life and economic stress, especially on the portion of the population that has the least ability to adapt, such as smallholder farmers and fishermen, and populations that live in areas that lack the infrastructure to adapt to these climate extremes.

In response to these climate challenges, the Saudi government announced the Saudi Green Initiative in 2021 which will help people and communities adapt to climate extremes such as Greenhouse Gas emissions, water scarcity, and desertification. The Green Initiative has three goals: reduce carbon emissions, increase vegetation, and address the vulnerability of water-stressed regions in the Kingdom by 2030. For example, the Green Initiative will help the Kingdom meet its domestic energy needs from renewables which currently represents only 1 percent, and plant 10 billion trees to serve as a carbon sink and contribute to the global afforestation target. However, for the Green Initiative to be effective the government must be specific on the magnitude of the investment necessary; and the feasibility of accomplishing its goals through viable technology consistent with the implementation of energy and water price reforms, an essential aspect of reducing emissions.

To achieve its ambitious goals, Saudi Arabia in October 2021 announced that it will establish an investment fund to combat climate change effects. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said during an environment forum held in Riyadh that the fund will focus on carbon circular economy solutions by improving carbon-capture and store technology and providing clean cooking fuels to feed more than 750 million people in the world through the initiative. To help communities better adapt to extreme weather conditions and water-stressed areas, the government will also establish regional centers for early warning of storms, sustainable fishing, and for cloud seeding. The overall investments and projects will cost 39 billion riyals ($10.4 billion) and Saudi Arabia will contribute 15% of the amount of financing them.

This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Saudi Arabia Country Managers Abeer Abdulkareem and Amgad Ellaboudy


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