Saudi Arabia's novel approach to the sustainability riddle

Eaman Aman

Published: Updated:

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as it assumed the G20 Presidency committed itself to leading by example on one of the most pressing global issues – reducing harmful levels of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere that have contributed to climate change. Therefore, the Kingdom has implemented many programs to tackle sustainability issues, including the Saudi Efficiency Program to rationalize the use of electricity, and many other initiatives that aim to protect marine, coral reef and sea beds.

Highlighting sustainability issues, such as energy access, is also of a paramount importance. Globally, there are 840 million people without access to electricity and 2.9 billion without access to clean cooking facilities. This alarming issue should carefully watched to achieve sustainability goals. It calls for international action to consider human impact of strict climate policies that in other parts of the world there are people who lack for basic human needs and economically disabled. For instance, in some developing and least developed countries, families sometimes rely on solid fuels, such as wood or even animal waste for cooking. The use of such primitive fuels have resulted in a dire health issues and can even lead to death. According to World Health Organization, indoor air pollution contributes on an annual basis to more than 4 million premature deaths, 50 percent of which are kids under the age of five. The issue of energy access is a challenge that requires pragmatic solutions. Viewing these issues through a sustainability lens, Saudi Arabia believes that energy solutions must address access gaps and ensure that people can be pulled out of poverty while implementing solutions that are pragmatic, affordable, reliable, and cost effective.

Read more: Saudi Arabia to unveil solar project with cheapest power ever

Thus, Saudi Arabia’s approach toward sustainability is a holistic one, where it works diligently on its in-house programs and engages with prominent international stakeholders on efforts to achieve climate goals. A new business model, known as the circular carbon economy, has been introduced as Saudi Arabia’s novel approach to solving the sustainability riddle. The circular carbon economy model has the promise to decouple environmental degradation from economic growth without jeopardizing the economic prosperity of the world.

In a circular carbon economy, in this case, carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) are never abandoned to become wasted emission. In this model, which focuses on closing the carbon loop, CO2 is a valuable resource that can be regenerated again in the economy. Carbon capture and utilization is the method used for plugging CO2 back into the cycle and effectively recycling it for energy use and other industrial processes. For example, the Global Carbon Initiative has estimated that “carbon utilization for building materials and synthetic fuels could be worth, respectively, $150 and $400 billion, with $10 and $250 billion in annual revenues.”

The Saudi circular carbon economy model rests on the 4Rs mechanism where carbon is infinitely recycled, reduced, reused and removed to be used in value-added endeavors. In the 4R model, carbon mitigation methods are employed to reduce CO2 emissions from entering the system and CO2 is reused by capturing it and using it as an input for energy and feedstock for industrial processes. It is then recycled through the natural carbon cycle and ultimately removed from the system via methods, such as direct air capture and geological storage for the carbon.

Read more:

Saudi Aramco joins World Bank initiative to reduce gas flaring

NEOM set to be world’s largest carbon-free system, hub for renewable energy

Saudi, UAE to use more renewable energy: Energy ministers

In his recent speech during the “Don’t Forget Our Planet” conference, which was organized by Saudi Arabia’s Investment Initiative Institute (FII-I), Energy Minister His Royal Highness Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman discussed environmental sustainability in the context of the circular carbon economy. He explained how the model would protect the environment while facilitating economic growth by embracing all possible options that mitigate carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere.

“The circular carbon economy will be a positive step for those concerned about environment and bring growth and efficient use of resources, and it is an enabler for maintaining sustainability and mitigating environmental issues,” he said while announcing Saudi Arabia’s circular carbon economy at the October 2019 conference.

With this bold vision for addressing sustainability, Saudi Arabia’s circular carbon economy model promises to meet multiple policy objectives, tackle climate change, achieve United Nations sustainable development goals, deliver economic growth and promote resilience.

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