October 23 may be remembered as the starting point of a real environmental paradigm shift, the inaugural edition of the Saudi Green Initiative Forum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
The streets of the Saudi capital were filled with the scent of chlorophyll this morning. In a secluded corner of the diplomatic quarter, a crowd of leading environmental experts gathered to discuss the future of the planet. Two green domes, specially erected for the occasion, saw a succession of ministers, business leaders, innovation managers, industrialists, and even representatives of the United Nations, in a day of announcements, debates, and high-level exchanges on the environment.
A strong and pragmatic announcement
The instigator of the initiative, the country’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, took the floor at the beginning of the day to deliver a resounding announcement: Saudi Arabia is committed to achieving a carbon neutrality objective by 2060.
Admittedly, the horizon is slightly further away than the one defined by the framework of the Paris climate agreements. But according to former journalist turned energy consultant Eithne Treanor, who moderated the discussion, “We also have to be realistic. We are talking about a leading oil-producing and exporting country. Rather than blaming them, we need to emphasize the importance of having managed to bring such a country to the table. It is a country that has the will and the means -financial and political- to achieve its goals.
An ambitious initiative
Planting 40 billion trees in the region by 2030, generating 50% of the energy mix through renewable energy, transforming more than 30% of its territory into protected areas… These are the main priorities of this Saudi green initiative. These are in addition to other very ambitious projects with a “sustainable” DNA, such as the Red Sea Project, the development of tourism in the AlUla region, the rehabilitation of Diriyah Gate, or the ultra-modern city project called The Line, in the NEOM region.
Finding the right energy mix
The experts present – or virtually present, like Prince Charles of Wales, or IMF representative Kristalina Georgieva – were not lacking in realism. They were all convinced that it is not a question of believing in miracles, but rather of adopting the best possible energy mix. They were the ambassadors of numerous solutions, with renewable energies at the top of the list.
With this in mind, Morten Dyrholm, Senior Vice President of Vestas Wind Systems, the world’s leading wind energy company, said, “We have to realize the kind of situation we are in. We are in a climate crisis and retreating to old technologies will not save us. We have to look at a future that consists of a very good mix of energies. Whether it’s wind, solar, hydro, and in some places, gas peaker plants, if that’s needed to reinforce the grid, but only as a last resort. We have the technology today to completely decarbonize electricity. And on top of that, we can electrify the rest of the energy system, which means we have a pathway to decarbonize our entire energy infrastructure. This is not a futurist scenario. This is something we can do today. All it takes is the will and determination. We can do it. The message is clear, and it is certainly not his alter egos in hydraulics, hydrogen, or solar that will say otherwise, as they spent the day demonstrating…
Tomorrow, the floor will be given to young people, the actors of tomorrow’s world. In a country like Saudi Arabia, where two-thirds of the population is under 30 years old, it is up to the leaders to listen to these demanding young people and to propose ambitious environmental solutions and policies that meet the challenges we are talking about. So see you tomorrow, to follow the Youth Green Summit live.