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Significance of Sustainability and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Riyadh, The Sustainable Development Agenda 2030 and its 17 related goals were adopted by the United National General Assembly in 2015. This had several implications for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Vision 2030 charts out a roadmap for the country towards a prosperous future in all development spheres, based on three pillars: a vibrant society, a thriving economy and an ambitious nation. Many of the Vision's initiatives are geared towards efforts to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Furthermore, the SDGs are integrated into specific and elaborate plans and programs that are being realized by the government in partnership with the private sector and civil society institutions and organizations.

The Ministry of Economy and Planning (MEP) is leading the Saudi delegation to the UN High Level Political Forum that is held at UN Headquarters in New York .

The theme of the meeting is "Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies".

At the meeting, Saudi Arabia will present its first voluntary national review, marking the Kingdom's first attempt to conduct a methodological and comprehensive review of the current status of the Sustainable Development Goals and the actions taken towards their achievement. The review also proposes an outline for the future.

Community Development

Saudi Arabia has upgraded its social welfare system, seeking to enhance the sector's capabilities and effectiveness. Initiatives to achieve this comprise social protection programs, financial assistance, child care, retirement pensions, elderly care, and women's welfare. In addition, government-provided fuel, water, electricity and food subsidies are being redirected to ensure that only qualified recipients can gain access to them. The Citizen Account program is another vehicle for relieving the financial burdens of low- and medium-income citizens.

Ongoing and increasing investment in education and healthcare have led to considerable improvement in the output of these two sectors. Positive developments have also been made in food and water security, sustainable agriculture and manpower participation.

Fully committed to enabling full participation of women in society, Saudi Arabia has launched several initiatives in this area, most prominent being the national observatory of women's participation in development. The observatory monitors women's participation in economic, social and environmental development. Other contributors to women's advancement include the launch of a digital portal for female job seekers, the AlNahda Women Charitable Society's program to help working women to commute (Wusool), and a day care program designed to assist working women (Qurra).

King Khalid Foundation (KKF)

KKF was the first non-profit organization to conduct research on women's issues through a nationwide survey of 10,000 households. The results had significant impact and informed proposals on how best to tackle the issue. KKF is a member of the national social protection strategy team, which develops policies and programs to address poverty and the needs of vulnerable segments of society.

Economic transformation

In a bid to scale up economic diversification, raise the skill level of the Saudi workforce and wisely exploit the Kingdom's abundant natural resources, the government of Saudi Arabia has allocated funds to increase investment in telecommunications, e-government, water, wastewater and energy.

The government is also continuing efforts to develop and upgrade the country's infrastructure, including expansion of the railway system and introduction of a new light rail mass transit project with metro lines and a community bus network in the Kingdom's major cities of Riyadh, Jeddah, Makkah and Medina.

Additionally, the government is conducting research, development and innovation programs realized through concerted efforts of the public and private sectors, civil institutions, research centers, academia, and other actors.

Significant steps have also been taken to improve the business and investment climate to promote industrial development, particularly small- and medium-size enterprises (SMEs). According to a recent World Bank report, Saudi Arabia instituted the largest number of business reforms among countries in the Middle East and North Africa region.

In addition to hosting millions of annual Hajj and Umra visitors, Saudi Arabia is making strenuous efforts to promote the country as an attractive tourist destination. These efforts include easing visa restrictions, increasing investments in hospitality projects, and developing tour programs and products that are responsive to the demands and expectations of tourists.

Environmental Protection

Seeking to improve the quality of life in the Kingdom, Saudi Arabia has invested heavily in environmental projects, including more advanced waste disposal systems, integrated recycling projects and efforts to fight desertification and to reduce pollution. On the other hand, the Kingdom is addressing water scarcity through such measures as conservation, desalination, and reuse of treated wastewater.

The Kingdom is also active in promoting green building technologies. Determined efforts are also being made to ensure protection and sustainability of the country's marine and coastal ecosystems and to increase the size and number of nature reserves around the Kingdom.

In an effort to diversify energy sources, the government is building clean energy facilities. King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy has also been created, and a national renewable energy program has been launched to promote participation of local and international companies in the Kingdom's renewable energy projects.

In addition to wind energy, Saudi Arabia has initiated a plan for solar energy projects. The Solar Energy Plan 2030, targets production of electricity from different solar energy farms throughout the Kingdom.

Humanitarian Relief

Saudi Arabia is the world's fourth largest aid donor, with a multitude of humanitarian and development assistance aid extended by the Kingdom to countries and communities in need. Saudi Arabia is a key source of remittances made to low-income countries by millions of expatriates working in the Kingdom. These direct remittances have been helpful in alleviating poverty and improving living conditions in many countries.

Saudi Humanitarian Aid to Yemen

Through King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Centre (KSrelief), Saudi Arabia extended aid to Yemen, totaling over SAR 5.79 billion ($1.543 billion) during the past three years. KSrelief implemented 260 projects which targeted food security, refugees, control of cholera, water and wastewater, and support to the Central Bank of Yemen.

The Social Charity Fund (SCF)

SCF has a mission to improve living conditions of needy citizens in the Kingdom, and to address challenges facing development work, through enablement, innovation and impact assessment. SCF undertakes its activities to targeted beneficiaries through a network of several partnerships. In 2016, SCF allocated SAR 524.3 million ($139.81 million) for scholarship programs, in addition to SAR 114.4 million ($30.51 million) earmarked for training and employment programs.

Notwithstanding the great strides made by the Kingdom towards the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals, several challenges remain to be addressed to accelerate the achievement of these goals. The government has intensified its efforts to increase data availability and to strengthen the capability of statistical bodies to compile and disseminate SDG-related statistics.

This is a recognition of the importance associated with the need to develop benchmarks. Other significant areas include coordination between government and non-government institutions and promotion of awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals at regional and subnational levels.

Various segments of society must also be enabled to become a part of the implementation of initiatives designed to promote sustainability.

Source: Saudi Press Agency