Volume 4 Issue 2
December 2009

The global economic crisis has cast its shadow over many economic sectors throughout the world. Included in this gloom and uncertainty are many sustainable development initiatives, including environmental protection. Exceptions exist, of course, but one can demonstrate that sustainable development efforts have taken a back seat in many countries as a result of the severely stressed national and regional budgets.

One of the exceptions is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The national budget of $127 billion here exceeds that of any previous year, and is based on an oil price in the mid-$40s, a safe bet under most scenarios. Regardless of the oil price, the KSA has committed to its higher budget even to the extent of spending in deficit if need be. With the current price of oil in the upper $70 range and with strong indications it may rise even higher this year, the KSA national budget is poised to lead to yet another year of major budget surplus. Qatar also has a sizzling economy, but its 2009-2010 budget represents a small decrease over previous years and reflects a larger decrease in total revenues.

The KSA stands out within the Middle East. Whereas some Middle East countries are struggling with reduced budgets and deficits, the KSA has vowed to continue major developments while exerting prudence in undertaking new developments. Although new development has decelerated, the 2009 budget includes an INCREASE of 36% in capital projects over last year (including both continuing ongoing projects as well as new projects). Dubai, for instance, has seen stoppage on tens of billions of dollars worth of development projects, and the other Emirates have followed suit. The KSA is set on continuing a strong pace of development in spite of the economic downturn.

How has this economic crisis affected sustainable development efforts in the KSA? There are many dimensions to this question, but one iconic indication is that the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST) opened in September 2009 with a LEEDS (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum rating. This single project is the largest of all Platinum LEEDS projects throughout the world. The recognition that this highly visible project dedicated by King Abdullah should be performed to LEEDS platinum standards (the highest such designation) is an indication that the Kingdom wishes to take a lead in sustainability stewardship. Presently, the KSA is pushing for LEEDS platinum certification for other big projects, clearly leading the world in certification for large projects.

Further emphasis on environment found its way into the KSA budget in other ways. Although the national Environmental Agency has not yet seen the major budget increases of other Ministries in KSA, the environmental focus has found its way into other Ministries and organizations within the KSA. A major focus, in particular, is taking place at the Municipality level, focusing on sanitary, trash collection, solid waste, and other environmental projects. Water supply and utilization, including reuse, are taking on new importance, as the Kingdom refines its sustainable water strategy through a newly organized approach.

Other major sustainability initiatives include alternative energy, water use rationalization, green building, and carbon sequestration (a demonstration project in the Saudi oil fields is slated to begin soon). Clearly, the Saudi government is focused on improving its sustainability profile in the world community. Investment opportunities in sustainable development in the KSA are expanding rapidly. WHGME is poised to assist the KSA and the Middle East Region in achieving sustainability through its varied service offerings.

David G. Aubrey, Ph.D.

Our contact information is:
Woods Hole Group - Middle East
Diplomatic Quarter
P.O. Box 94704
Riyadh 11614
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
P: 966 1 483 2080
F: 966 1 483 2090


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