$8 million fine and 10 years jail for cutting a tree in Saudi Arabia?

ryadh full of trees, biodome rendering

The kingdom announced the launch of ‘Let’s Make it Green’ – a plan to plant 10 million trees across the country by April, 2021. Cut one down and pay a heavy price. 

Does the punishment fit the crime? A new law in Saudi Arabia states that the maximum fine ––  an $8 million USD equivalent fine and 10 years in jail –– could be your punishment for cutting down a tree in the Kingdom, according to a government tweet on Twitter.

“Cutting down trees, shrubs, herbs, or plans [and] uprooting, moving, stripping them of their bark, leaves or any part, or moving their soil,” could land offenders with the maximum fine and jail time, the Saudi public prosecution said on Twitter last week.

This is all part of Saudi Arabia’s off-kilter Saudi Vision 2030 development plan to achieve environmental sustainability by the end of the decade. Saudi Vision 2030 (Arabic: رؤية السعودية 2030‎) is a strategic framework to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy, and develop public service sectors such as health, education, infrastructure, recreation, and tourism.

One part of their plan is to build an eco-city to bring in tourists from around the world, in what I would call an eco-nightmare city on the Red Sea called Neom. They have already forcefully displaced people living there, leaving one who refused to vacate dead

Saudi’s idiosyncratic ways with its prince in charge (the one who hires planes for falcons) also includes interesting experiments that other fiscally-minded nations might not try, like investing in hydrogen fuel for buses

falcons plane saudi arabia

As it’s sometimes hard to separate fact from fiction in Saudi Arabia: a fine for tree-cutters is a good thing, but not one so steep. Would it ever be enacted or just a threat until the wrong Joe makes a mistake? We might think it be better to take an even-handed approach and focus on the treehuggers in Saudi Arabia and reward them when they do good. 

The fact that the Kingdom last month announced the launch of ‘Let’s Make it Green’ – a plan that seeks to plant 10 million trees across the country by April 2021, seems like a good idea. Saudi Aramco, the largest oil producer, and the richest company in the world has vowed to plant 1 million trees. But where will the water come from for all those trees? Planting them is one thing. Taking care of them quite another. Energy intensive desalination?

Economic and social reforms have gained momentum since Saudi’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, announced his ambitious vision in 2016 to reduce the country’s heavy dependence on oil.

“We will seek to safeguard our environment by increasing the efficiency of waste management, establishing comprehensive recycling projects, reducing all types of pollution and fighting desertification,” reads the vision.

According to Jewish Law it is forbidden to cut a tree-bearing fruit. In practice it happens. We’ve yet to hear of someone who has gone to jail for it. On the upside, planting trees can shape a nation. Israel’s mission with the Jewish Agency to plant trees since its founding in 1948 has led to it becoming the only country in the world with net positive trees than it had 100 years ago.

Planting trees is a great way to suck up carbon dioxide. Environmentalists I’ve spoke with say it’s likely a whole lot more sustainable than carbon capture. 

Top image: a rendering of Riyadh, a city that aims to plant 7 million trees 



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