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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - RIYADH: In view of climate change and its impacts on nature, Saudi Arabia has initiated a series of programs and initiatives to protect flora and fauna.
At MENA Climate Week in Riyadh, experts have gathered under one roof to discuss the consequences of climate change on the economy, livelihoods, ecosystems, loss of biodiversity, habitat replenishment strategies, and Sustainable Development Goals. Dozens of sessions are also taking place to find the best and most feasible solutions to the matter at hand.
Talking to Arab News on the sidelines of the event, Mohammed Qurban, CEO of the National Center for Wildlife, emphasized the importance of assessing and analyzing the Kingdom’s ecosystems.
He said research and analysis teams have been deployed to evaluate the health of vegetation and wildlife, identify vulnerabilities, and address missing components within the natural environment.
“I think what we are doing at the National Center for Wildlife now is to look at the equilibrium. And in order to have that equilibrium, I need to look at what is missing in our environment in Saudi Arabia and how to connect whatever we have inside the Kingdom, we have to look at the region, a whole global view,” he added.
Saudi Arabia, with its diverse landscapes, from the arid deserts in the north to the lush Asir region in the south, is home to more than 2,500 wild plant species belonging to 142 families. Unfortunately, nearly 600 of these species are classified as endangered, with 21 already thought to be extinct, according to data from the center.
Since 2021, the center has successfully reintroduced over 1,200 animals, previously endangered or threatened, back into the wild following decades of rehabilitation efforts. One notable achievement is the reintroduction of the Arabian oryx, a species that was critically endangered for decades due to unregulated hunting and capture.
“To reach the equilibrium, for the first time at NCW, we are regulating and managing sustainable hunting. The environmental strategy approved by (the) prime minister (Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman), is very strong,” said Qurban.
Hunting endangered animals is strictly prohibited in the Kingdom with hefty fines. “We don’t look at a leopard or other species as an animal but as an organism that is part of our habitat.”
Saudi Arabia has experienced the effects of climate change, including heatwaves, sandstorms, and other events that impact both terrestrial and marine biodiversity.
The wildlife center’s CEO affirmed that the Red Sea’s unique marine habitat possesses some of the most resilient ecosystems to climate change effects.
Preserving plant biodiversity is crucial for climate resilience, as diverse ecosystems are better equipped to adapt to changing conditions, helping maintain ecological balance. Healthy ecosystems offer natural defenses against climate change impacts, such as flood control and carbon sequestration.
Khalid AbdulQader, CEO of the National Center for Vegetation Cover, highlighted the challenges faced in Saudi Arabia such as low rainfall, extreme heat, and degraded lands in need of rehabilitation.
“Using native species that can tolerate heat and tolerate low rainfall, utilizing large amounts of treated wastewater where we generate 5-6 million cubic meters per day from more than 130 stations distributed across the Kingdom. We are also utilizing our coastal areas, more than 2,000 km of the Red Sea and more than 500 km of the (Arabian) Gulf suitable for special plants such as mangrove and marsh plants that have very promising and strong CO2 sequestration capabilities. And we also utilizing technology whether in the form of rain harvesting technology, gene-work, analyzing the soil capabilities and characters and satellite to monitor,” the expert said.
As Saudi Arabia continues its development plans, preserving its natural habitat has become a priority after decades of unregulated urban expansion into biodiverse areas.
The NCVC CEO underscored the importance of stricter regulations to prevent habitat degradation and control urbanization. He emphasized the crucial role of mangrove soils in carbon storage.
“When we compare our seas with others (seas), we are somehow pristine,” he said.
“Like every country in the world, there is clear impact (from climate change) but we have some of the best coral reefs in the world, they adapted to high temperatures,” said Qurban, stressing that manmade impacts such as landfills, dredging and drenching contributed to more than 70 percent to the loss of habitats.
“The Kingdom now is like a workshop; we have the possibility to have an excellent environment. (With) the support from our leadership, we can have a different life in Saudi Arabia,” said the chief of the National Center for Wildlife.
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