25 January 2018
By Kirsten Henson

What Role can the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) Play in Sustainable Development?

If you’d asked me that same question a year ago I would have simply said any development in such hot, arid climates is not sustainable. Summer cooling loads are massive, as is the energy required to provide freshwater through desalination. In addition to environmental concerns, how can a country that receives wide-spread negative press for its human rights records genuinely contribute to the global Sustainable Development Goals?


So, what has changed in the last year?


I’ve visited the country as a professional woman, I’ve researched the policy ambitions set out by King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in KSA’s Vision 2030 document and I’ve witnessed the technical excellence and integrity of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. And, as is often the case, I discovered a country that is not as one-dimensional as the international press might have us believe.


The need for KSA to secure a future in the face of a planet that no longer has an unquenchable thirst for oil, seems an obvious one, the extent of the ambition presented in the Vision 2030, however, is impressive.


You may have never looked closely at where Saudi Arabia is on the map, or indeed noticed just how vast the country is. KSA occupies a space where Europe, Asia and Africa meet. Its natural wealth extends beyond oil, to include beautiful coral reefs, ancient volcanic landscapes, red sandstone monoliths, biodiverse wadis and, yes, wind-swept deserts. A rich cultural heritage is evident in the UNESCO heritage site of Mada’in Saleh and the whole country is crossed by ancient trade and pilgrimage routes. It is estimated that only 1% of Saudi archaeology is known, and as the country starts to collaborate with others to map its heritage, new ancient monuments of the like never seen before are being discovered.


Women may have to wear an abaya and niqab or burka in public and have only just been awarded the right to drive, but more than half of Saudi graduates are female and the number of women actively participating in the Saudi workplace is rising fast.


And perhaps most surprising of all for a country that is perceived as restrictive, Saudi has a higher proportion of Twitter and YouTube users than almost any other nation on earth.


The Vision 2030 speaks of the need for government reform, of providing job opportunities for the increasing number of young people and of the desire to welcome the world to trade, collaborate and innovate, and to do all this without losing its national identity.


KLH Sustainability is fortunate enough to be playing a small part in this change. We are currently working as part of an extensive, global team on a large master plan and, as the project proceeds, we will strive to develop a deeper understanding of this vast and intriguing country, harness the power of its inquisitive and ambitious people and create a master plan that responds to the noble ambitions of the Vision2030 and demonstrates a step change towards the achievement of the global Sustainable Development Goals.


Excited? I know we are!


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