Saudi Arabia and climate action: Opportunities for think tanks

21 December 2021

Saudi Arabia is taking steps to scale up its climate action, presenting a window of opportunity for Saudi think tanks to inform and influence climate policy with research evidence. In this article I explore how.

Saudi Arabia is opening an opportunity on climate action at home and abroad

Since the Saudi Vision 2030 was launched in 2016, climate action has been high up on the government agenda. In 2021, the Saudi Green Initiative was introduced to unify environmental action across the government.

Regionally, Saudi Arabia is leading efforts to combat climate change through the Middle East Green Initiative. And last year, the Kingdom took on the G20 presidency, with combatting the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change high up on the G20 agenda.

All this suggests a new public commitment and engagement by the Saudi Government on climate action, as well as an ambition to be seen as a leader within the region and further afield.

At the launch of the Saudi Green Initiative the Crown Prince Mohammed Ibn Salman declared that, ‘The Kingdom, the region and the world needs to go much further and faster in combating climate change. Beginning this journey to a greener future has not been easy, but we are not avoiding tough choices. We reject the false choice between preserving the economy and protecting the environment.’

‘Tough choices’ require evidence, and if Saudi Arabia wants to be seen as a serious leader on climate action regionally and internationally, that evidence will need to be robust. Here’s where specialised think tanks play an important role.

Four ways Saudi’s specialised think tanks can inform Saudi climate policy

  1. Provide expert advice and evidence-based policy recommendations: Saudi Arabia has several climate-specialised think tanks, such as the National Center for Environmental Compliance or the Environmental Studies Center of Excellence, and they should be taking the lead in providing responsible and impartial evidence to inform climate policies.

    At the national level, I perceive a particular need for an evidence-based assessment of what transferring oil investments to clean energy fields might look like, as well as evidence-based recommendations on the redistribution of the States’ budgets into two important areas: green defence and health defence.
  2. Play a more substantive role in international fora: At the international level, the Think-20 (T20) group offers an important opportunity to engage. T20 is an official group of academics, think tanks and research centres working to inform the G20 agenda. It serves as an ‘ideas bank’ to provide evidence-based recommendations to the G20. During Saudi Arabia’s G20 Presidency it organised the Youth 20 (Y20). The young policymakers and thinktanks who participated in the Y20 can serve as future partners for Saudi Arabia’s think tanks’ efforts to join international fora.
  3. Convene and connect thinkers and policymakers: Think tanks can play an important role in bringing together Saudi environmental policymakers with experts, creating dialogue around the problems and challenges facing policymakers and co-creating solutions. Saudi specialised think tanks could also play a role in convening regional or international dialogue and partnerships.
  4. Leverage the media to share Saudi Arabia’s learnings and successes: Climate action is not only high up on the policymaker agenda, but also the focus of media attention. There has been considerable media interest in the Saudi Green Initiative and the Middle East Green Initiative. The media can be a powerful actor to share learnings from the Saudi experience to inform future Saudi policies and to influence other countries. This will also help consolidate Saudi Arabia’s position as a leader in climate action, and enhance its soft power abroad. But for the media, specially international media, to play this role, think tanks have to invest and nurture long term relationships with them.