The Saudi Green Initiative

The Saudi Green Initiative (SGI) is an ambitious environmental policy launched by Saudi Arabia to achieve a greener future and enhance the quality of life. It brings together government ministries, private sector entities, and foreign leaders under dual green initiatives to identify and deliver opportunities for rapid climate action. The initiative integrates environmental protection, energy transition, and innovative sustainability programs, and it aims to empower all stakeholders in Saudi Arabia to create and innovate a green future.

The Green Saudi Initiative came from the government’s realization of the devastating impacts of climate change and continued volatile global oil prices. Saudi Arabia will see an 88% increase in the frequency of agricultural drought by 2050. Heatwaves will last more than 4,242% longer, and the combination of sea level rise, coastal erosion, and fiercer weather will cause chaos for Saudi Arabia’s economy, which stands to lose around 12.2% of GDP by 2050. Moreover, Saudi’s oil-based economy was hard hit by a post-pandemic decrease in global oil demand. Saudi GDP growth shrank by -5.4% and -3.8%, respectively 2020. The Saudi budget deficit also increased to around SAR 298 billion at the end of 2020 and to around SAR 141 billion at the end of 2021. Faced with environmental risks and a decline in global oil demand, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched the 2021 SGI to combat climate change effects and reduce the country’s heavy reliance on oil and gas energy with a target of generating 50% of the country’s energy from renewable sources by 2030, which will help to reduce its carbon footprint and protect the environment.

The SGI launched two years ago, has already reached several milestones. It has started on its target of planting 10 billion trees across Saudi Arabia, with 18 million planted to date. Of the 40 million hectares of degraded land it aims to rehabilitate, 60,000 hectares have been restored. More than 60 sites have been set aside for the sustainable planting of trees across the Kingdom. It has also powered 150,000 homes with renewable energy and rewilded 1,200 endangered animals.

The initiative also includes mechanisms for defining specific places for afforestation and selecting suitable species for cultivation. It has launched several environmental awareness campaigns and has goals to reduce pollution and achieve environmental sustainability.

However, the initiative has faced criticism and skepticism. Critics have labeled it “greenwashing,” accusing Saudi Arabia of blurring the narratives around climate change solutions to blunt the global campaign to phase out fossil fuels. While the country is moving towards renewable energy, it continues to rely heavily on oil for its economy.

While the initiative’s goals are ambitious and include large-scale changes such as planting 10 billion trees, pushing the kingdom’s energy mix to 50% renewables by 2030, cutting 278 million tons of carbon emissions by the decade’s end, preserving 30% of Saudi land as protected nature reserves, and reaching net zero emissions by 2060, these have been described as bordering on the impossible. Yet there are success stories, like the Thadiq National Park, where an agricultural engineer has planted 170,000 trees with government support.

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


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