It is stated that “Vision 2030 focuses on creating a vibrant society, economic drivers, and developing the nation through international exchanges and networks.” Indeed, the idea of V2030 is to transform all spheres of Saudi society. The project consists of 96 strategic objectives and a multitude of projects encompassing the entire nation.
NEOM is a flagship project of Vision 2030. NEOM is a development project aimed at creating a new way of living that is technologically advanced, sustainable, and embodies the future. The name of the area is formed from the Greek word “neo” – new, and Arabic ‘Mustaqbal’ – future, envisioning this project as the new future.
It was presented by MBS in 2017 during the Future Investment Initiative conference that took place in Riyadh. The NEOM Project comprises several sub-projects, including the Line, Oxagon, Sindalah, and Trojena. Even though Line City is getting the most international attention, NEOM will also comprise the “centre for advanced and clean industries Oxagon, mountain destination Trojena, and luxury island resort Sindalah.” It is described as the “advancement of humanity and the embodiment of a vision in terms of technology.”
One of the projects that have attracted the most international attention, which is beneficial for Saudi Arabia and MBS, is the Line. It is a 170 km long line city, “developed as a cornerstone of Saudi Vision 2030 and an economic engine for the Kingdom.” It is aimed at diversification, and its goal is to contribute 380,000 jobs of the future and SAR180 billion (US$48 billion) to domestic GDP by 2030.” As mentioned previously, creating employment is crucial for MBS, this is why Vision 2030 and NEOM, in particular, strive to make sure the youth is ready for a new work culture, which is implemented through compensation with entertainment packages in a liberalised society that is becoming more globalised.
The Line prides itself on its strategic location, as it will connect four distinctive ecologies: Coastal, Coastal Desert, Mountain, and Upper Valley. It was designed as well to be “a direct answer to the issues of urban expansion that are impeding the advancement of civilization, such as deteriorating infrastructure, environmental pollution, and urban and population sprawl.”
The second but equally important part of NEOM is Oxagon: an innovation-based, cutting-edge, technology-filled industrial hub. It will be the heart of industry at NEOM, aiming to create a new model for production, entrepreneurship, and community. It is also planned to be the largest floating structure in the world. Sustainability is a pillar for the entire NEOM, and Oxagon, in particular, “will be powered solely by renewable energy and will utilise the Internet of Things, artificial and predictive intelligence, and robotics to create “a seamless, integrated, intelligent and efficient supply chain.”
The third project inside NEOM is Trojena: a mountain destination oriented on year-round entertainment. It will have four seasons: Wellness (Sep-Nov), Winter (Dec-Mar), Adventure (Mar-May), and Lake (May-Sep). NEOM officials claim that “Trojena will redefine mountain tourism for the world by creating a place based on the principles of ecotourism, highlighting efforts to preserve nature and enhance the community’s quality of life, which is aligned with the goals of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.”
Lastly, Sindalah: a luxury island destination comprising 840.000m2 of the area and highlighting the biodiversity of the Red Sea. It is necessary to point out that it will be the first part of NEOM to open to the public in 2024, so it will give the first impression of the project’s overall execution to the world. Sindalah is a luxury tourism and lifestyle destination oriented towards the yachting community that will feature three luxury resorts, golf clubs, and retail shops while focusing on strict sustainability and design.
The goals of NEOM Project include economic diversification, attracting FDI, attracting global talent, and creating industry hubs. It is designed to foster innovation and collective know-how as well as increase global connectivity. Another pillar of NEOM, sustainability, implies the use of renewable energy. To achieve this, Saudi Arabia is building a hydrogen plant in Oxagon and plans to launch a US$186 million solar panel factory in Tabuk owing to favourable regional insolation rates. NEOM also strives to excel in wildlife conservation, resource efficiency, and social infrastructure. Overall, the goal is to become a new model for future smart cities and urban sustainability.
This policy is strategically designed to support MBS in achieving his objectives by focusing on financial aspects. NEOM is planned as a project that will attract a significant amount of foreign investment, which Saudi Arabia and MBS need to diversify away from oil. This project will also stimulate economic growth and make Saudi Arabia a hub for various emerging technologies. As NEOM is considered to be the most important and internationally-known project, it is a great marketing and branding opportunity to fix Saudi Arabia’s image and MBS as the leader of the country. At the same time, NEOM places great importance on sustainability. Therefore, it will help demonstrate the alignment of MBS with the sustainable development course. If successful, such a robust project will ensure that MBS and Saudi Arabia maintain their regional supremacy, reinforce their international prestige, and rebrand MBS as a reformer and a visionary leading the country to great success.
The Middle East and Saudi Green Initiatives
Apart from ambitious development projects, there are other policies put in place. In particular, the Saudi Green Initiative “unites environmental protection, energy transition, and sustainability programs with the overarching aims of offsetting and reducing emissions, increasing the Kingdom’s use of clean energy, and addressing climate change.” It was launched in 2021 and comprises 77 initiatives targeting three objectives: reducing emissions, greening Saudi, and protecting land and sea. To ensure implementation, the Energy and Climate Change Committee and The Environment Committee were established to oversee the implementation of initiatives and track the progress of accomplishing the targets. These bodies also are in charge of engaging the public and private sector ecosystems, ensuring coordination, and compliance with international standards.”
Additionally, Saudi Arabia has been actively involved in the Middle East Green Initiative, which is “a regional effort led by Saudi Arabia to mitigate the impact of climate change on the region and to collaborate to meet global climate targets.” It focuses on increasing regional cooperation and creating infrastructure to protect the environment and reduce its negative impact. The Middle East Green Initiative has two main targets: reducing emissions and planting trees, as well as more detailed initiatives aimed at achieving those two targets. MBS established the Middle East Green Initiative Secretariat in November 2022 as well as contributed US$2.5 billion to the Initiative
The Saudi Green Initiative is aimed at bringing sustainability closer to the population as well as transmitting the sense of the importance of sustainability to the population. With those initiatives involving Saudi companies and NGOs, MBS is aiming to make Saudi Arabia more sustainable and to engage the Saudi youth in sustainability efforts. The Middle East Green Initiative, on the other hand, reasserts Saudi Arabia’s and MBS’s position in the region and beyond. This initiative is being endorsed not only by regional states but also by the US, Russia, Brazil, France, etc. Both initiatives help address the environmental challenges on local and regional levels that Saudi Arabia is faced with. It is also framing MBS as a climate leader, which improves MBS’s image internationally and helps attract investment for V2030.
Saudi Arabia has ambitious plans to become the world leader in exporting hydrogen in the form of green ammonia. The broader policy includes investment in infrastructure and efforts aimed at achieving so. Green hydrogen is produced using solar power and wind to split water atoms. It is more expensive than oil and gas but is considered to be the future of energy transition. Therefore, it is a project with great potential for Saudi Arabia. “The mega plant will produce green hydrogen at scale for global export in the form of green ammonia with a total investment of $8.4 billion.” Recently, a Saudi Arabian company Acwa Power closed the first deal on the world’s biggest hydrogen plant. Additionally, hydrogen will be key for the NEOM Project, as discussed above.
Hydrogen projects aim to limit carbon emissions, promote sustainable development in Saudi Arabia, and, therefore, reinforce sustainability efforts. If successful, this policy has the capacity and potential to transform Saudi Arabia into a key player in the renewable energy transition, which will be crucial for reinforcing MBS’s regional and international power. Similarly to other solutions presented above, it is aimed at limiting carbon emissions and promoting sustainable development in Saudi Arabia, thus, fortifying the diversification efforts.
IExRAIA Summer Research Program:
This article is an excerpt from a report on Mohammed bin Salman produced as part of a research program RAIA on climate leaders. For a full picture of MBS’s climate leadership read the full report. This project was fully financed by IE University’s School of Politics, Economics and Global Affairs.
Authors: Sonia Platonova & Alisa Lazurenko
Editor: Roxane de Bergevin
Project Lead: Joshua Dario Hasenstab
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