This section contains information about the environmental challenges in Saudi Arabia, general information about ecosystems and biodiversity, in addition to weather, air, water, and soil pollution, as well as Saudi Arabia's efforts to reduce them. We will also discuss the local and international efforts to protect the environment, including waste management and treatment programs, renewable energy projects, and environmental regulations and legislation based on international guidelines and environmental preservation strategies.
Saudi Arabia occupies an area of approximately 2,million km2, which covers two-thirds of the area of the Arabian Peninsula. It is bordered on the west by the Red Sea and on the east by the Arabian Gulf.
This geographical location of Saudi Arabia, in addition to its presence within two domains of desert geographic regions, namely the Eurasian region and the tropical African region, contributed to the variation of ecosystems, which in turn contributed to increasing the content of the elements of biodiversity in Saudi Arabia.
There are about 67 surface geological formations in Saudi Arabia, each with its own climate. Therefore, these formations have become different environments, each containing biological diversity.
Ecosystems of Saudi Arabia
Ecosystems of Mountainous Regions
Tree forests dominate the ecosystems in the mountainous regions of Saudi Arabia, especially the Juniper forests (Juniperus spp.) scattered in the Sarawat Mountains in the southwestern region of the kingdom, in which other species grow, such as some Acacia spp wild olives (Olea europea) and others.
These environments contain the highest rates of biological diversity within the Saudi terrestrial environments. In addition to their environmental importance in attracting rain and preserving the soil primarily, they also provide some products such as medicinal and aromatic herbs and apiaries, and they contain some of the most important natural parks in the Asir, Taif and Al-Baha areas.
The Tuwaiq mountain range in the central region and the heights of the northern regions of Saudi Arabia are characterized by their extreme ruggedness and the presence of many wildlife species, most importantly the Nubian ibex, and the Idmi gazelle. One of Saudi Arabia's efforts in preserving these environments is the work on rehabilitating the degraded forest sites, especially in the southwestern region of the Sarawat Mountains, where the ecosystem of Juniper was restored in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
The natural rangelands in Saudi Arabia occupy an area of 171,000 km2 , distributed over all regions, most of which are in areas that receive an average rainfall of less than 200 mm per annum. The largest part of rangelands is in the northern, eastern, central, and southern regions, and large areas of them are found in various sandy areas, gravel plains and rocky plateaus, and more than two-thirds of these areas are in areas that receive an average rainfall of less than 100 mm per annum.
Thus, the majority of Saudi Arabia's rangelands are sporadic desert grasses and shrubs with little density and little coverage of the surface of the earth. They are also characterized by their low pastoral productivity and the fluctuation of pasture from year to year and from one region to another according to the fluctuation of the rainfall and the degree of uniformity of rain distribution, normally most of the pastoral production is during the rainy seasons.
The Red Sea Canyon, with its narrow gorge extending for 2,000 km, is one of the world's greatest extraordinary secondary seas. Its maximum depth is more than 2500 meters. It connects south with the Indian Ocean through the narrow Bab al-Mandab Strait, which is no more than 130 meters deep. The Red Sea extends to the northeast, forming the Gulf of Aqaba, and to the northwest, forming the Gulf of Suez, which is connected to the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal.
The Red Sea differs from other seas in the fact that its waters are well mixed in a way that makes its temperature equal throughout its depth. It is considered one of the greatest reservoirs of marine biodiversity in the world, and the most important characteristic of this tremendous diversity of coral reefs, with its uniquely complex structure and high endemicity, especially between species associated with reefs and species that live in the depths.
The Arabian Gulf resembles the Red Sea in that it is a narrow gorge and almost closed. The Arabian Gulf is a shallow northern extension of the tropical Indian Ocean, with an average depth of 35 meters and a maximum depth of no more than 120 meters, and it connects to the Indian Ocean through the Strait of Hormuz, and the rate of renewal of its waters varies Between 3 and 5.5 years. Its water temperature varies greatly throughout the year, as it falls to about 11 celsius in the winter and rises to about 40 Celsius in the summer.
The high rate of sedimentation in it leads to turbidity of its waters, especially the level of light transmittance through them, which constitutes a continuous environmental stress on its ecological organisms and makes many species live within the limits of their natural range. The biodiversity of the Arabian Gulf contains plant and animal species that are characterized by being highly adaptive to extreme environmental conditions. The Arabian Gulf is also distinguished by its great diversity in coastal and marine ecosystems.
Coral Reef Ecosystems
Coral reefs spread widely along the Saudi coast of the Red Sea. It also surrounds the scattered islands of more than 1150 islands in the form of barrier reefs, which are more widespread and diverse in the northern and central regions of the Red Sea than in the southern regions. They are also found in the forms of coral barriers located far from the shore, and in the forms of coral patches in shallow areas as in Diffat al-Wajh. In the Red Sea, there are about 270 types of hard corals and 40 types of soft corals.
In the Arabian Gulf, coral reefs are of limited spread due to the lack of hard layers and the prevalence of unsuitable environmental conditions. There are 60 species of hard coral reefs on the Saudi coast, and these reefs are spread around islands far from the coast and in a few areas close to the shore.
Ecosystems of Sea Grass Beds
Seagrass beds are found in shallow waters sheltered from waves in many areas, and their roots stabilize sediments. These beds are characterized by their high productivity, and they provide protection and nourishment to many types of marine life, such as Polychaeta, mollusks, crustaceans, fish, turtles, and dugongs.
These species also depend on seagrass beds as a source of food and as natural habitats for reproduction. Twelve species of seagrasses have been recorded in the Red Sea, 10 of which are in Saudi waters, and 4 types of marine weeds have been recorded in the Arabian Gulf, all of which are found in Saudi waters.
Biodiversity in Saudi Arabia
The wild plant group in Saudi Arabia includes about 2,247 species that belong to 142 families and 837 genera. The rare or endangered plant species are estimated at about 600 species, which is a high percentage. Saudi Arabia is working to take the necessary measures to preserve them, especially considering the rapid rates of economic development, unsustainable use of lands and increasing population numbers.
Through the establishment of existing and proposed protected areas included in the system plan of protected areas, Saudi Arabia seeks to preserve many environments and habitats of wildlife in Saudi Arabia.
Diversity of Birds
The Saudi lands, by virtue of its strategic geographical location between three continents, represent one of the most important pathways of bird migration from north to south and from east to west. The bird groups belong to three origins: Ethiopian (45 species), ancient Arctic (357 species) and Asian (30 species).
Thus, the total number of bird species registered in Saudi Arabia is 499 species. Among the most common endemic species in Saudi Arabia is the Asir Magpie (Pica asirensis), of which there are only 100 breeding pairs left now. According to the studies conducted to identify the important areas for birds in Saudi Arabia, about 39 important bird areas have been identified, particularly for species threatened with extinction or globally significant populations.
Diversity of Terrestrial Mammals
In Saudi Arabia, there are about 86 species of mammals, 28 species of bats, 22 species of rodents, 12 species of carnivores, and one type of primates (baboons) in addition to 4 species of angulates, including the Arabian oryx, which is the only type of oryxes present in Saudi Arabia. Large mammals represent important elements in ecosystems, as their condition indicates the safety of the ecosystem in which they are found.
In recent years, large mammals in Saudi Arabia have gone extinct from the wild, and others have become threatened or rare, such as the Arabian Leopard, which is currently threatened with extinction since its numbers in the wild are currently estimated at no more than 150 Arabian leopards.
Large groups of Arabian Oryx roamed the Arabian Peninsula, but their numbers and their ecological habitats began to decline during the nineteenth century due to overhunting. Thanks to the efforts in the field of captive breeding and reintroduction, these animals have been returned to live in the wild within some protected areas. Moreover, the establishment of reserves in several places in Saudi Arabia also contributed to the proliferation of some endangered animals, especially oryx, gazelles, Ibex, ostriches, and others.
Diversity of Marine Mammals
Sixteen species of marine mammals have been recorded in the Saudi territorial waters in the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf, where there is one species from the order of Sirenia (dugong), which is found in large numbers concentrated in some sites of the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea.
As for the order of Cetaceans, which includes whales (toothed and baleen whales), dolphins, and porpoises there are six species of whales, which are the Sperm whale, the Killer whale, the Mink whale, the Bryde's whale, the Fin whale and the Humpback whale, and there are also nine species of dolphins recorded in Saudi territorial waters which are the Bottle-nosed dolphin and the Rough-toothed dolphin, the Humpback dolphin, the Common dolphin, the Striped dolphin, the Spinner dolphin, the Pantropical spotted dolphin, the Risso's dolphin, and the Indo-pacific bottlenose dolphin.
Diversity of Reptiles and Amphibians
A number of 107 species of reptiles and 7 amphibian species were recorded in Saudi Arabia. Reptiles include 44 species of lizards and 55 species of snakes and 7 species of turtles, 5 types of marine turtles were recorded in the territorial marine waters ; they are as follows: Green turtle, Hawksbill turtle, Loggerhead turtle, Olive Ridley turtle, Leatherback turtle, and these five species are listed in Annex I of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.
To preserve these important species at the national and regional level, Saudi Arabia signed in 2005 a memorandum of understanding on the protection and management of sea turtles and their habitats in the Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia. As for Amphibians, there are 7 species belonging to the family of frogs (Bufonidae), all of which need to be preserved. Amphibians are used as indicators that prove the integrity of an ecosystem. Amphibians and reptiles also have an environmental role in controlling the number of pests.
Diversity of Fish
An approximate number of 1280 species of fish were recorded in the Red Sea waters, and about 542 species in the Arabian Gulf. 44 species of sharks have been recorded in the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf. The number of commercial fish species reaches 180 in the Red Sea and 110 in the Arabian Gulf.
Overfishing has led to the endangerment of at least three species, increased global demand for butterfly and angel fish is threatening these species, and sharks are also under pressure to trade. The fresh inland water environment contains seven species of freshwater fish, of which five are endemic.
Diversity of Marine Invertebrates
Marine invertebrates represent the largest wildlife group in terms of diversity and abundance in Saudi Arabia, and they still need many intensive studies as the available information about them is limited.
Some of these animals are microscopic and some are visible, some of them are covered with shells, such as clams and snails, and some of them cover their bodies with a thick hard crust, such as: crabs, and some have thick skin that protects them, such as: Polychaeta. Marine invertebrates can be divided into the group of Porifera, such as sponges, a group of Mollusks, such as snails and shellfish, and a group of Echinoderm, such as Starfish and Sea urchins.
- To view the protected areas managed by the National Center for Wildlife, click here
- For information on resettlement, click here
Environmental legislations for Preserving Wildlife
Research Studies on Wildlife
Environmental Challenges in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia faces a number of environmental challenges, the most significant of which are: contaminated well water, cement plant waste, increased sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emission, land degradation and desertification, and others that may result in increased pollution and environmental risks. These challenges are brought on by continuous population growth, rapid urbanization, increased demand for water and energy, as well as economic development requirements.
International Efforts and Initiatives to Protect the Environment
Saudi Arabia plays a leading role in reducing the effects of climate change and carbon emissions. Given its abundant resources and experience managing global energy stability, Saudi Arabia is well positioned to usher in a new era of climate action and significantly contribute to global efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Saudi Arabia is proud to sign several international initiatives demonstrating that climate action knows no borders, the most prominent of which are:
- PARTNERING WITH THE GLOBAL OCEAN ALLIANCE TO PROTECT OUR OCEANS: In October 2021 His Royal Highness Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince and Prime Minister, announced that Saudi Arabia was joining the Global Ocean Alliance, an international organization dedicated to ocean conservation. A core goal of the Alliance is safeguarding at least 30% of the world's oceans by 2030 through marine protected areas. His Royal Highness also announced the establishment of the Ocean Exploration Foundation, which will be responsible for conducting research and exploration of the world's oceans. These initiatives are part of Saudi Arabia’s larger goal of being a leader in marine conservation.
- CUT METHANE EMISSIONS: Reducing methane emissions is critical to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Saudi Arabia is committed to contributing to cutting global methane emissions by 30% by 2030 as part of its ambition to deliver a cleaner, greener future. The Global Methane Pledge is an important step in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and Saudi Arabia is proud to be a part of it
- GUIDING AND SUPPORTING GLOBAL SPORTS ACTORS: To amplify climate-positive collaboration across the international sporting community, Saudi Arabia has joined the UN Sports for Climate Action Initiative. By contributing to this UNFCCC climate action initiative, Saudi Arabia is demonstrating how global climate goals can be achieved through whole-of-society action, a goal enshrined in the framework put in place as part of the Saudi Green Initiative.
- SAUDI GREEN INITIATIVE: A whole-of-society initiative that empowers all stakeholders in Saudi Arabia to create and innovate to deliver a green future.
- ABOUT MIDDLE EAST GREEN INITIATIVE: An initiative working to scale up regional climate action through cooperation and investment, bringing the region together to collectively contribute towards achieving global climate goals.
Local Campaigns and Projects to Preserve the Environment
- Green Riyadh Project: In line with the Saudi Green Initiative, the Royal Commission for Riyadh City launched the Green Riyadh Project, one of the most ambitious afforestation projects in the world. It includes the planting of more than 7.5 million trees throughout the city of Riyadh, which contributes to improving air quality, reducing temperatures in the city, and encouraging residents to practice a more active lifestyle in line with the goals and directions of Saudi Vision 2030.
- Environment Week: A national environmental event approved by the Council of Ministers that aims to raise community environmental awareness, achieve environmental sustainability, preserve natural resources, and reduce pollution of all kinds. Many events, programs, and initiatives are held throughout Saudi Arabia with the participation of individuals and the governmental, private, and non-profit sectors
Vegetation & Combating Desertification
Reducing Soil Pollution
Because soil is so important to plant growth and the health of its consumers and the organisms that live in it, Saudi Arabia has helped to reduce its pollution by establishing the Soil Quality Department, which is affiliated with the National Center of Meteorology and is in charge of several tasks, including supervising and following up on soil quality monitoring and control programs, conducting environmental surveys of soil pollutants and preparing the necessary database, implementing the provisions and obligations contained in regional and international agreements on soil pollution and conservation, reviewing and auditing engineering designs for landfills, rehabilitation of techniques for waste treatment and disposal, issuance of periodic reports related to soil quality, and others.
To view the Executive Regulations for the Prevention and Treatment of Soil Pollution, please visit this page
Reducing Water Pollution
Water is one of the most important pillars of economic and social development, as it is essential for meeting human needs, managing the environment and ensuring the sustainability of economic development. Despite the importance of water, Saudi Arabia faces significant challenges owing to the unsustainable use of water resources, as well as limited stocks of non-renewable groundwater, which are experiencing accelerated depletion.
Under arid climatic conditions, renewable water is scarce, and high-water demand in the agricultural sector is exacerbating the problem of water scarcity in Saudi Arabia. Water and sanitation in the urban sector represent a high cost to the State, service levels require improved quality, and the sector requires improved institutional conditions and governance mechanisms.
The work contains several elements, including involvement of stakeholders and assessment of the current state of the sector across a range of dimensions, such as demand for water, water resources, sector operations and enabling factors, and identifies the nature and magnitude of the gaps between supply and demand, as well as the economies of the sector under different scenarios.
- To view the National Water Strategy 2030, click here
Reducing Air Pollution
- To view the Air Quality Index of the different regions of Saudi Arabia, click here
The Saudi’s Climate
- 20° – 30°C during the Winter season, from December to February
- 30° – 40°C during the Spring season, from March to May
- 35° – 45°C during the Summer season, from June to August
- 25° – 35° C during the Autumn season, from September to November
Saudi Arabia is vulnerable to climate change since the majority of its ecosystems are sensitive, its renewable water sources are scarce, and Saudi Arabia is highly dependent on fossil fuel exports. Here, you will become familiarized with climate change within Saudi Arabia and how Saudi Vision 2030 aims to tackle these risks by understanding the main contributing factors to climate change and what measures are being taken, through ongoing development and sustainable solutions. For more details click here.
While short-term forecasts provide accurate weather information, seasonal forecasts provide key weather predictions, indicating if the forecast will be warmer or colder, drier or wetter than usual, this information differs from monthly to seasonal predictions. Numerical models are used for these predictions to stimulate interactions between the atmosphere and a variety of slow changing elements related to the climate, such as oceans, glaciers, and water in soil and snow.
Sea surface temperatures are one of the most important factors affecting weather variables on a seasonal basis. The seasonal forecast provides useful information for various sections, including, public health, disaster preparation, water management, energy and agriculture. Additionally, a seasonal climate report, which is a report that highlights the current and expected climate situations during each season of the year in Saudi Arabia, and can be determined by analyzing climate data such as pressure, weather, wind speed, temperature levels, and precipitation rates over a period of time exceeding thirty years. For more details click here.
For more information about the different types of drought, click here.
- Local Weather Forecasts: Weather forecasts provide individuals with daily and weekly weather forecasts, as well as marine forecasts, to keep the public informed about weather conditions and help reduce weather-related losses, thereby enhancing societal benefits such as protecting life, property, public health, and safety, as well as supporting economic prosperity and enhancing quality of life
- Holy Regions Weather Forecasts: Daily weather forecasts are provided for the Holy regions where Hajj and Umrah rituals are performed, including Jeddah, Makkah, and Al-Madinah. These forecasts also include the upcoming weather conditions, such as wind speed and direction, humidity levels, highest and lowest temperature levels, and sky predictions (rain, sun, cloudiness, etc.)
- Integrated Radar Imaging System (IRIS): Radar maps are a type of technology that enables users to track weather conditions in real time. The interactive map consists of color patterns that represent the location and current weather conditions to warn individuals of severe storms and climate hazards
- Infrared (IR) Satellite: IR Satellite is an imagery temperature map that detects heat energy in the infrared spectrum, which is energy that is invisible to the human eye. Objects representing clouds, water and land surfaces are displayed. Each object is given a color, indicating how cold or hot that particular area is
- Automated Early Warning System: Automatic early warning service is provided by the National Center of Meteorology. By providing the time and location, it intends to transmit air traffic control alerts, such as those for severe rain and tornadoes, to the intended audience. Visitors to this page can check a map of Saudi Arabia to learn more about alert cases and the weather. Each of the four colors on the map—green, yellow, orange, and red—denotes a different warning stage. Furthermore, based on data from the National Center of Meteorology, the Civil Defense sends weather warning text messages to citizens and residents based on their geographic location. Besides that, the National Center of Meteorology continuously sends out weather forecasts and warnings via its Twitter account
To view the draft waste management project, click here.
The Concept of Waste Recycling and Remediation
The Saudi Vision 2030 includes an ambitious plan for the future of Saudi Arabia, which includes protecting the environment and developing the concept of waste management through what is known as the circular economy. Rather than using a resource once, the circular economy aims to reuse the same resource. This reduces greenhouse gas emissions and saves costs.
Circular Economy Adoption
For the first time in its history, Saudi Aramco used recycled plastic to build a road along a highway owned by the company. Recycled plastic has the ability to increase the strength of the asphalt concrete mixture after adding it and reduces the amount of bitumen used in the asphalt mixture by 10%, making it an economical option. The use of plastic also improves the hardness and durability of the asphalt mixture, and the overall efficiency of asphalt pavement, making it a sustainable and environmentally friendly option. With plastic waste being a real problem for the environment, plastic road technology contributes to a circular economy by reducing waste and enhancing recyclability of waste plastics.
The Strategic Waste Management Plan
The strategic waste management plan is considered one of the most important projects to be implemented by the National Center for Waste Management that aims to improve the national waste management sector. It sets the national strategy for waste management, assesses the existing conditions and diagnoses waste in each region of Saudi Arabia to create a national baseline database and ultimately produce a comprehensive and nationally integrated plan for each region or “Cluster” that includes an integrated and sustainable solution.
Solid Waste Management
Saudi Arabia is always looking for sustainable solutions to manage waste and convert it into valuable resources. It has created solutions for comprehensive treatment of municipal solid waste, including material recovery facilities that allow for the possibility of sorting and extracting recyclable materials, in addition to composting processes in which organic waste is converted into nutrient-rich compost. Waste that cannot be treated is transformed into an energy source. It has also created systems to recycle construction and demolition waste to divert it from landfills and empty lands around our cities while extracting high-quality rubble for construction projects throughout Saudi Arabia.
- To view the Law of Management of Municipal Solid Waste, click here
- For an environmental rehabilitation certificate in the field of Solid Waste Management, click here
Hazardous Waste Management
- For an environmental rehabilitation certificate in the field of Industrial Hazardous Waste management, click here
- For an environmental rehabilitation certificate in the field of Asbestos Waste management, click here
- For an environmental rehabilitation certificate in the field of Used Oil management, click here
Medical Waste Management
For an environmental rehabilitation certificate in the field of medical waste management, click here
A Glimpse into the Future of the Waste Management Sector
Targets for the waste management sector in Saudi Arabia by 2035
|Total diversion rate from landfill
Estimating the economic impact by the year 2035
Estimating the social impact by the year 2035
Saudi Electricity Company's Initiative to Recycle Waste
To see the results of this initiative, click here
The National Renewable Energy Program in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia has launched a comprehensive national development strategy to support the diversification of energy sources to achieve the goal of reaching (3.45) gigawatts of renewable energy by 2020, (9.5) gigawatts by 2030, and (54) gigawatts by 2040. Saudi Arabia is also working towards reviewing the legal and regulatory framework in private sector investment in renewable energy sources, localize the industry by encouraging partnerships between the public and private sectors, and ensure the competitiveness of renewable energy by gradually liberalizing the hydrocarbon market.
The Saudi Efforts in Renewable Energy
- Saudi Arabia joins the International Solar Energy Alliance
- Signing an agreement with a soft bank of 200 gigawatts at the cost of $ 200 B ≈ 750 B SAR
- Announcing the Saudi 2030 plan to build a sustainable solar energy sector
- Establishing the Renewable Energy Projects Development Office at the Ministry of Energy
- Attract foreign capital to contribute to building this sector
- Connecting medium and small solar energy projects to the Saudi electricity grid
- Finding training institutes to rehabilitate Saudi youth
- Providing jobs for citizens in the field of renewable energy
- Establishing a local renewable energy industry
- Supporting local renewable energy research centers
Mobile Applications for the Environment, Water and Agriculture Sector
To discover the key government applications for the Environment, Water and Agriculture Sector, please click here.
- Services of the National Center for Monitoring Environmental Compliance
- The electronic services of the Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture
- The budget of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture
- Laws and Regulations
- e-services rating
- Open Data - Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture
- Interactive Maps - Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture
- Frequently Asked Questions Environment, Water and Agriculture
- Subscribe to alerts - Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture
- Government mobile applications - Ministry of Environment, Water, and Agriculture
- Environmental Clearance Service
- Environmental rehabilitation service in the field of environmental consulting and studies offices
- Environmental permits issuance service
- Commercial environmental permit service
- Agricultural Environmental Permit Service
- Environmental qualification in the field of municipal solid waste management
- Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture
- National Center for Waste Management
- National Center for Environmental Compliance
- National Center for Metrology