Jordan ‘has lots to offer’ Saudi-led ‘Green Middle East’

(Photo: Jason Ruffin/JNews)
AMMAN — Jordan has partnered with Saudi Arabia in to implement an ambitious environmental project dubbed the “Green Middle East Initiative,” with an expert saying that the Jordanian experience in the field can be highly significant and conducive bringing the project to fruition.  اضافة اعلان

The issue was at the heart of a phone conversation on Monday between His Majesty King Abdallah and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The two leaders notably discussed Jordan’s participation in the Saudi-led initiative, which was announced earlier this week by the crown prince.

The Green Middle East Initiative is a regional environmental initiative that aims to reduce carbon emissions by 60 percent, restore 200 million hectares of degraded land and plant 50 billion trees across the Middle East region (including 10 billion in Saudi Arabia). If carried out successfully, it would represent the biggest afforestation project worldwide.

Growing environmental concerns in the Middle East

This announcement may have come as a surprise for international environmental observers, in light of Saudi Arabia’s perceived reluctance to enter multilateral environmental agreements. In 2015, critics accused the Saudi kingdom of stalling the Paris COP21 on climate change by refusing to set ambitious targets to limit carbon emissions.

However, six years later Saudi Arabia and its neighbors are geared up to find solutions to emerging ecological challenges in their region. An estimated 70 to 90 percent of land in the Arabian Peninsula is already threatened by desertification, according to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia recognizes the importance of protecting the environment, combating climate change, and facing environmental challenges in the region,” Saudi Ambassador in Jordan Naif Bin Bandar Al-Sudairi told Jordan News.

No details were revealed on Jordan’s participation in the initiative, but in light of the Kingdom’s past experiences and knowhow, it can be of great help, according to Yehya Khaled, the Director General of the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN).

“It is too early to see what the initiative will look like for Jordan at this stage,” told Jordan News. However, “Jordan, in comparison to the region, has advanced programs in forestation, protected areas management and renewable energy — the three main components of the initiative” according to what we know of it, Khaled said.

Earlier this month, Jordan launched a large reforestation initiative aiming to plant 10 million trees over a period of 10 years. Wild forests only cover 1 percent of the Kingdom’s territory according to RSCN (excluding orchards).

Indigenous forests provide important ecosystem services and host biodiversity. Yet they are threatened by illegal wood logging and forest fires, which impacted the north of Jordan last summer.

“Afforestation is very important for Jordan,” highlighted Khaled. “We try to push for planting local species. We do not want to plant exotic species that can create ecological damage.”

On the global scale, the [initiative] pursues the stated objective of contributing to the global carbon offsetting program. “[The initiative] will restore an area equivalent to 200 million hectares of degraded land, representing 5 percent of the global target of planting 1 trillion trees and reducing 2.5 percent of global carbon levels,” Al-Sudairi added.

Challenges remain

The Green Middle East initiative is reminiscent of another ambitious afforestation project:  the Great Green Wall. Launched in 2007 by the African Union, the project aims to “restore 100 million hectares of currently degraded land” by 2030 and grow a green belt spanning 8,000 kilometers across Africa. However, by 2020 only 4 percent of the project was completed, more than halfway into the project timeline.

Like the Sahel region, the Middle East faces many challenges that could affect the feasibility of the project in the long-run, including limited water resources, a volatile security situation in several countries of the region, and fluctuating diplomatic relations between the potential partner states of the project.

“I think that water scarcity is the most important challenge,” Khaled added. “It is not just about planting the trees, but about maintaining them as well.”

“We are fully aware of the challenges facing the region from the scarcity of water, financial and technical resources and geographic difficulties,” Sudairi asserted. “Therefore, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will work in partnership with countries of the region to discuss mechanisms and opportunities for financing initiatives for countries with low resources.”

Despite challenges, the initiative represents an opportunity for Jordan to demonstrate environmental leadership, building on its existing expertise. For example, “The RSCN has advanced experience in the region with protected areas management,” Khaled stressed. “We hope that [through this initiative] we can contribute to the expansion of protected areas in Jordan and in the region.”