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RIYADH: The second day of the International Exhibition and Forum on Afforestation Technologies, held in Riyadh, witnessed numerous sessions and agreements signed as experts called for increased vegetation in urban areas.

The forum began in Riyadh on Sunday under the patronage of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It was organized by the National Center for Vegetation Development and Combating Desertification and held at the Riyadh International Convention and Exhibition Center in coordination with the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture.

Dr. Amal Al-Daej

Dr. Amal Al-Daej, international relations and strategic partnership adviser of the NCVC, called for an increase in green areas across highly populated communities, which she said should be through “sustainable environmental practices.”

Al-Daej said the 2020 statistical report by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification showed that 70 percent of the world population will live in cities by 2050, resulting in an increase in air pollution from transportation and factories.

The Saudi Green Initiative, she explained, aims to reduce carbon emissions and sandstorms, combat desertification and lower the temperature by planting 10 billion trees across the Kingdom and restoring 40 million hectares of degraded lands. 

It also aims to plant trees within cities on highways, railways, houses, schools and mosques through initiatives like the King Salman Park, Sports Boulevard Project, Riyadh Green Initiative, and Let’s Make it Green campaign, which focuses on planting native tree species that require limited irrigation. 

“There is a need to maintain a healthy air quality through increasing green spaces and promoting sustainable environmental practices,” she noted.

“There are different types of green spaces, including forests surrounding towns and cities, district parks equipped with facilities, private gardens, trees on streets and public spaces, and other green spaces like sports grounds and botanical gardens. NCVC is working on developing sustainable management plans for national parks, forests, rangelands and desertification, and conserving resources and natural ecosystems, through partnerships, community engagement and capacity building,” she added.

Al-Daej said green spaces have sociocultural, psychological and economic benefits. They can attract social activities and outdoor events and promote a sense of belonging by involving the community in showcasing their local talents and encouraging them to have a common understanding of the value of green space.

Access to green spaces, she continued, can promote physical and mental health by reducing stress and increasing happiness. They can also attract tourism, urban development and business opportunities, which positively impact the economy.

She cautioned, however, that, “these goals can only be achieved through partnerships and joint efforts by engaging all the relevant stakeholders along with the communities.”

Dr. Saif Al-Ghais

Dr. Saif Al-Ghais, director-general of the Environment Protection and Development Authority in Ras Al-Khaimah, UAE, emphasized that afforestation plays a key role in absorbing air pollutants, particularly those emitted by the combustion of fossil fuels in vehicles. It also helps lower noise levels, which may be one of the causes of high blood pressure, heart attacks and insomnia.

Trees in urban spaces attract wildlife species that help balance the ecosystem, such as insects and birds, and the World Health Organization recommends that each person living in a city have one square meter of unpaved area. Each community member is also expected to be able to reach green areas within 15 minutes on foot.

Al-Ghais recommended that cities, in their designs, consider sustainability, specifically in reducing the occurrence of so-called thermal islands (urban heat islands), a reference to rising temperatures in the city compared to the surrounding areas due to human activities.

He advised focusing on trees that have a low emission rate of volatile organic compounds to “reduce ozone and carbon dioxide formation” on the one hand and perennial trees to reduce long-term emissions on the other.

Last year, the crown prince announced the Saudi Green and Middle East green initiatives, worth SR39 billion ($10.39 billion), to combat climate change, to which Saudi Arabia will contribute about 15 percent of the entire cost.

Nearly 150 different entities participated in the International Exhibition and Forum on Afforestation Technologies, with participation from international and local agencies, the government, the commercial sector and environmental nonprofit groups.

Around 90 experts on environmental and climate science, sustainability and investment from around 20 countries and global organizations attended.

The dialogue sessions, workshops and research papers presented at the forum highlight the most recent advances in combating desertification and developing and protecting vegetation cover.

The exhibition covers such topics as plant nurseries, seeds, afforestation, land rehabilitation and desertification, irrigation technologies, forest management and development, water sources and technologies, and environmental solutions in plant carbon storage, pest control and agricultural waste management.

The NCVC works to protect and control vegetation cover sites throughout the Kingdom, rehabilitate degraded ones, detect encroachment, combat deforestation and supervise the management and investment of pasture lands, forests and national parks.

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