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Riyadh and the Green Middle East

Riyadh and the Green Middle East

Monday, 25 October, 2021 - 10:00
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

The Riyadh initiatives do not only concern Saudi Arabia. When a country with such economic, political and religious influence witnesses a comprehensive renaissance and a deep modernization process, it impacts its surroundings and provides a model for the ability to join the train of progress and to possess the necessary tools to create a strong economy that lays the foundations for prosperity and stability.

The battle for change led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, under the auspices of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, has rebuffed the idea that the countries of the region are bound to remain outside the train of economic, scientific and technological development that shapes the future of the world.

The matter goes beyond making up for lost contracts, but rather lies in a decisive choice to be at the heart of progress, engage in it, and master its tools. It is a different way of approaching internal and external problems. It’s a process of changing mindsets and methods that extends from schools and universities to the work market, providing opportunities and attention to human well-being and quality of life.

Since the announcement of Saudi Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia has turned into an open workshop. A deliberate and bold initiative became the norm. The same years demonstrated the deep engagement of Saudi youth in the overall transformation process. In Riyadh, the sound of despair, which we can hear in many capitals in the region, is non-existent. We don’t hear a young Saudi man dreaming of emigration because the future seems bleak. The ability to transform major slogans into policies was further encouraged by the trust that bonds the Kingdom’s youth to Mohammed bin Salman after they realized his ability to transform dreams into numbers.

This is what a visitor to Riyadh sense when participating in the Green Middle East Summit, which is being held today ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. Prior, Prince Mohammed confirmed the commitment of Saudi Arabia - the world’s largest oil exporter - to actively participate in combating global warming, with remarkable initiatives, which he launched at the Green Saudi Arabia forum.

The Saudi Crown Prince announced that his country aims to reach net zero emissions by 2060, reduce carbon emissions by 278 million tons annually by 2030, and cultivate 40 billion additional trees under the Green Middle East Initiative. In Riyadh, climate change has topped the agenda, reflecting a new form of thinking in our region.

Only a decade ago, the political climate was the main obsession of journalists in this thorny part of the world called the Middle East. The reporter used to prepare their interviews with officials by enumerating crises and tensions. The region has always been generous in this regard. In recent years, the journalists inquired about the “Arab Spring”, its achievements and its woes… about international tensions, regional strife, al-Qaeda and ISIS, and the small armies roaming porous maps.

It would not have occurred to the journalist to ask the decision-maker, for example, what his government had done to address climate change. The official would have been surprised by such an odd question, when his government would have facing pressing needs and issues that drain its power and consume its time. Perhaps the question would have been an attempt to avoid more serious matters.

Years ago, during my travels in the “terrible” Middle East, a question repeatedly came to mind upon my return to the hotel at night. What will this or that capital look like in a decade or two? It did not usually take long for pessimism to overwhelm me.

I was picturing overcrowded cities in countries where unemployment rates have mounted, along with poverty, growing feelings of despair and frustration, and the spread of violence, with fearful governments, poor crops, generations tormented by a dead-end future, and people betting on the “boats of death” to abandon their homelands.

It was difficult to hope for a solution from abroad. Powerful countries are not charities. The world would not help those who do not take the initiative to help themselves. Moreover, importing ready-to-wear fashion to societies living in another historical era was not a solution. Governments seemed to be the captive of moments in time. Their behavior was limited to caretaking and uncoordinated reactions to problems that are multiplying and becoming more complicated at an unprecedented rate.

In fact, governments are not only responsible for their current citizens, but also for future generations, who will pay a heavy price if decision-makers settle for maneuvers to save themselves instead of formulating a long vision to save their countries. This demands a modern administration based on efficiency, fighting corruption, approving a phased plan and providing capabilities with mechanisms for oversight, evaluation and accountability.

The Climate Change Summit has imposed itself on the agenda. Scientists confirm that the world is threatened with catastrophe if it does not act quickly. Recent hurricanes and floods have given credence to their talk of the economic and political catastrophe that climate warming will produce if it is not curbed. They talk about a decline in crops, hunger and millions of migrations due to lack of bread, water and hope. Middle Eastern governments must act before it is too late, and Riyadh has taken a bold step in this direction.

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