Environmental Issues in Saudi Arabia

RiyadhThe Kingdom Tower in Riyadh. Photograph: Bilal Qabalan/AFP/Getty Images

The kingdom has given construction developers five years to go green. How will this change life in the oil-rich kingdom?

Happy days are here for Saudi Arabia's environmentalists. In early March, the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment (PME) announced a decree giving all companies five years to meet new air, water and noise pollution standards. All projects must fit into Saudi's plan for international development, and must meet international benchmarks standards as part of the PME's environmental plan to protect Saudi's health and natural resources. The new regulations align with rules approved by Saudi's Council of Ministers in 2008.

Given the kingdom's considerable construction projects, this is big news. A Middle East Macro Monthly report just issued by Citi Research tracks $2.5tn in construction projects that are underway in the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates accounting for 60% of the work. Most is real estate community development ($450m), followed by oil and gas ($194m) and infrastructure, such as railways ($174m).

Companies refusing to comply with Saudi Arabia's new standards within five years will see their projects shut down and suspended for three months, PME general manager Abdul Aziz Al-Jasser states in a news release. The new regulations are wide-reaching, addressing soil and land preservation, noise pollution from operating machinery, hazardous and radioactive waste that enters Saudi Arabia's coastal waters and other harmful pollutants.

Global collaboration

Secretary-general of the Saudi Green Building Forum (SGBF), Faisal Alfadl, says that the decree is "an excellent move" and shows a formal commitment to the SGBF's own initiatives. The SGBF oversees 170 construction projects, covering 14m square meters. Several large companies including Saudi Aramco and the Middle East's largest construction firm, the Saudi Binladin Group, are involved.

The biggest megaproject, the King Abdullah Economic City, is valued at $93bn, Alfadl says. "These will all become green building projects, help lower the region's carbon emissions and improve public safety and health."

This month, the SGBF formally offered to help the PME meet its environmental goals. Alfadl says that their success depends on partnerships with the ministries of municipality, water and electricity. "As Saudi Arabia grapples with constant growth, government and industry support is needed to ensure building developments adhere to USGBC Leed certifications and other global rating systems. We need national policies to ensure companies store and sort their construction waste responsibly, " he says. "To complete their projects, all contractors, construction companies and suppliers must adhere to these global green standards."

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