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Top oil exporter Saudi Arabia unveils campaign to tackle climate change

Crown prince says 10 billion trees to be planted in coming decades; doesn’t explain how this will work in desert landscape with extremely limited renewable water sources

This file photo taken on September 15, 2019, shows an Aramco oil facility near al-Khurj area, just south of the Saudi capital Riyadh  (FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP)
This file photo taken on September 15, 2019, shows an Aramco oil facility near al-Khurj area, just south of the Saudi capital Riyadh (FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP)

RIAYDH — Top crude exporter Saudi Arabia on Saturday unveiled a sweeping campaign to tackle climate change and reduce carbon emissions, including a plan to plant billions of trees in the coming decades.

The OPEC kingpin seems an unlikely champion of clean energy, but the “Saudi Green Initiative” aims to reduce emissions by generating half of its energy from renewables by 2030, de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said.

Saudi Arabia also plans to plant 10 billion trees in the kingdom in the coming decades, he said in a statement released by the official SPA news agency.

Riyadh also plans to work with other Arab states on a “Middle East Green Initiative” to plant an additional 40 billion trees, in what would be the world’s largest reforestation program, he added.

In this Oct. 14, 2019 file photo, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool, File)

“The kingdom, the region and the world needs to go much further and faster in combatting climate change,” Prince Mohammed said.

“We reject the false choice between preserving the economy and protecting the environment.”

The statement did not elaborate on how the mammoth plan would be executed in a largely desert landscape with extremely limited renewable water sources.

Saudi Arabia currently draws on oil and natural gas to both meet its own fast-growing power demand and desalinate its water — which consumes huge quantities of oil daily.

In this Jan. 12, 2020 photo, a car is seen in the desert in the Dakar Rally between Riyadh and Wadi Al Dawasir, Saudi Arabia (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

The new initiatives are part of the prince’s Vision 2030 plan to diversify the kingdom’s oil-reliant economy.

Prince Mohammed said Saudi Arabia and the region face “significant climate challenges,” including desertification, which poses an “immediate economic risk.”

Some $13 billion is lost annually due to sand storms in the region, while pollution from greenhouse gases has reduced average Saudi life expectancy by 1.5 years, he added.

The initiatives come as energy giant Saudi Aramco, the kingdom’s cash cow, faces scrutiny from investors over its emissions.

This photo from September 15, 2019, shows storage tanks at the North Jiddah bulk plant, an Aramco oil facility, in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)

In January, Bloomberg News reported that the company excluded emissions generated from many of its refineries and petrochemical plants in its overall carbon disclosures to investors.

It added that if those facilities are included, the company’s self-reported carbon footprint could nearly double, adding as much as 55 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent to its annual tally –- roughly the emissions produced by Portugal.

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