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Trees have a place in Riyadh alongside man and structures

Suleiman Judeh

Published: Updated:

Between the spring, summer, and fall of this year, Riyadh launched three initiatives that fall under the same integrated context.

As I review what happened in these three seasons, you will see that there was a vision that encompasses all these related initiatives under one framework, a vision that continued in the summer what it had started in spring and crowned in the fall the achievements of the two previous seasons.

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In spring, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched two simultaneous initiatives.

The first had ‘Saudi Green’ as a slogan. This slogan governed the following stages of work, which sought to translate these two simple words to facts on the ground. The declared objective of this initiative was to plant 10 billion trees across the Kingdom. Its other goal went above and beyond, toward increasing the green space in the Kingdom twelvefold through this planting of 10 billion trees. An initiative of this volume, with objectives of such a high ceiling, can only be described as extremely ambitious in the goals that it seeks to achieve through this path that it set for itself, and which it aspires to complete till the very end.

The second initiative did not differ much from the first one in its essence. It only differed in its details, extent, and playground. Entitled the Middle East Green Initiative, the ambition here was as big as the targeted surface: the whole Middle East region. The target, this time, was to plant 50 billion trees across the Middle East, through a regional grouping that includes Riyadh and other friendly and allied capitals in the region.

Thus, the blanket slogan that linked the two initiatives can be formulated in three simple words: ‘Plant a tree’! This slogan responds to the nature, issues, challenges, problems, and facts of this age in which we’re living. It allows us to speak the language that the world around us has been speaking since the famous 2015 Paris Agreement. At the same time, it is inspired by the very best of our centuries-long heritage; for one of the first commandments that the Prophet (PBUH) gave to warriors before they embark on their missions in the name of God was not to cut a single tree on their path.

Surely, these two initiatives announced in spring do not stop at advising people not to cut a tree, for that is rather obvious. They go further, toward planting more trees within a declared timeframe.

Moving on from spring to summer, we find ourselves before another initiative that may seem to have a different theme at first, but some contemplation reveals a hidden thread linking the two themes. The summer initiative said the government had launched a first geological survey aircraft in the skies of Dawadmi in Riyadh Province, with the aim of conducting geological surveys over a surface of 600,000 square kilometers to explore minerals in the subsoil of the Arabian Peninsula, with the ultimate goal of turning minerals into the Kingdom’s third wealth after petroleum and chemicals. Imagine this geological survey aircraft, the first of its kind, flying over an area nearly the size of Afghanistan!

Those who follow the Riyadh government’s program regarding mineral wealth and its exploration, surveying, extraction, and transformation into one of the country’s main sources of wealth along with petroleum and chemicals, surely know that the launching of this aircraft was but one stage on a long path of continuous efforts that seek to lay the foundations for a diverse economy that does not rely on one sector.

Fast forward to the present day, the Crown Prince announced, a few hours ago, a package of initiatives that raise the Middle East Green slogan. The package will be the biggest afforestation and greening effort in the world and a continuation of the beginnings that had been announced in spring. The launch of these initiatives, held amid regional and international presence, represented a scientific response of sorts to the issue of climate change, which currently preoccupies many a city and worries the world’s governments and peoples alike.

If we were to look at the geological survey initiative and the green initiatives side by side, we would see they are just another instance of the Saudi decisionmakers’ keenness to achieve a balance between green and structure. As for man, the efforts in this regard were established long ago, ever since the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz launched his university project, which he described at the time as a dream that he had for 25 years. In the same vein, a Saudi higher education official later described Saudi students sent to study abroad as the petroleum of the future. By sending these students to select universities around the world, the government is in fact investing in the alternative to oil, should this natural wealth recede one day.

I do not see the tree-planting initiatives as separate from the geological survey initiative, nor do I believe the human-centered initiative launched in the past to be too far from this space where green and structure collide, as man is at the center of all three efforts. The endeavors made across all three paths will eventually meet in one place.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

Read more:

The green Saudi Arabia, planting the seeds of hope for neighbors and citizens

Saudi Arabia: A partner in development and in tackling challenges

The Riyadh summits and the Green Middle East

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.