• How environmentally friendly is Saudi Arabia's NEOM project?

Environmental Laboratory

How environmentally friendly is Saudi Arabia's NEOM project?

May 15 2024

Launched in 2017, NEOM is a new region within Saudi Arabia with its own legislative (seemingly, certain shareholders in the region’s holding company – currently, it seems, only the Saudi Arabian sovereign wealth fund) and subsequent judicial system. It claims to be at the very forefront of sustainable development, as the project, which spans 26,500 square kilometers, is focused on creating a harmonious balance between urbanisation and ecology. 

How does NEOM manage water? 

Built by a region long-since adapted to water scarcity, one of NEOM’s standout features is its innovative approach to water management. NEOM is set to house the world’s first large-scale, high-recovery desalination plant, which will use renewable energy to produce fresh water. This plant will operate with a zero liquid discharge system, meaning that no waste brine is released into the marine environment. Instead, the brine will be processed to extract valuable minerals and chemicals, thereby reducing environmental harm and creating economic value. Brine is a valuable feedstock for the chemical, food, water treatment, refrigeration, semiconductor, aquaculture and textile industries. 

In addition to desalination, NEOM is focused on creating a circular water system. This involves recycling wastewater to be used for irrigation, industrial processes, and other non-potable applications. The aim is to minimize the extraction of fresh water and ensure a sustainable supply for the community. Furthermore, NEOM plans to install mineralized water systems in homes, providing high-quality drinking water to residents while reducing the need for bottled water. 

Ensuring air quality 

The city is designed to be car-free, with a focus on public transportation and autonomous electric vehicles. This initiative is expected to significantly reduce air pollution, which is a common issue in urban areas. NEOM’s energy needs will be met entirely through renewable sources, including solar, wind, and hydrogen power (Saudi Arabia aims to be producing 600 tonnes of blue hydrogen a day at a site near NEOM), ensuring minimal emissions of greenhouse gases and pollutants. 

Advanced air quality monitoring systems will be deployed across NEOM to continuously measure and manage air pollution levels. These systems will use real-time data to identify pollution sources and implement mitigation strategies swiftly. The goal is to maintain air quality that meets or exceeds international standards, ensuring a healthy living environment for all residents. 

Will NEOM impact the local environment? 

NEOM’s environmental strategy is comprehensive, encompassing various aspects of conservation and sustainability. A core commitment is the preservation of 95% of NEOM’s natural landscape. This includes designating large areas as protected zones to conserve biodiversity and natural habitats. Rewilding initiatives are planned to reintroduce native flora and fauna in one of the world’s largest nature reserves, planned to be around 25,000 sq km – but a strange sort of nature reserve: it’s almost all desert.  

To further reduce its environmental footprint, NEOM aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 and become climate positive thereafter. This means that NEOM will remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it emits, contributing to global efforts to combat climate change. Renewable energy will be the backbone of NEOM’s power supply, with solar and wind farms, along with hydrogen production facilities, providing clean energy to meet the city’s needs. 

A critical component of NEOM’s environmental strategy is community engagement and education. Residents and workers will be encouraged to adopt sustainable practices in their daily lives. NEOM plans to implement world-class outreach programs to inspire responsible consumption and environmental stewardship. By 2030, the goal is to reach 100% of NEOM’s population annually with these programs, fostering a culture of sustainability across the community. 

Education will also play a pivotal role. NEOM is developing educational institutions focused on sustainability, environmental science, and innovative technologies. These institutions will not only educate the future leaders of NEOM but also contribute to global research and development in sustainable practices. The integration of sustainability into the curriculum ensures that future generations are equipped with the knowledge and skills to continue NEOM’s mission of environmental stewardship. 

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