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RIYADH: Experts in economics and urban development stressed the importance of reconciling economic development and environmental preservation during a virtual roundtable organized by Prince Sultan University in Riyadh on Monday.

The round table, entitled “Managing the city’s economy: challenges, strategies and opportunities” and moderated by economist Talat Hafez, brought together Prince Faisal bin Ayyaf, Mayor of Riyadh, and several local and international experts.

Le-Yin Zhang, professor of urban economic development at the Bartlett Development Planning Unit, University College London, noted that the fastest growing cities are in three countries: China, India and the United States.


Edward Glaeser, Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics at Harvard University, said there was a need to reformulate economies to balance investment and environmental concerns.

Zhang, who is also the author of “Managing the City Economy”, pointed out that the net zero program is a crucial step towards a green economy.

A huge challenge facing urban economies is that the annual rate of decarbonization must increase by 500%, she explained, noting that revenues from oil and gas sales will halve in the 2020s.

She highlighted three main opportunities for innovation to reach net zero: through the development of advanced batteries, the hydrogen electrolyzer, and direct air capture and storage. These were in addition to the manufacture of low-carbon equipment, infrastructure and services, such as photovoltaics and electric vehicles.

“New competitiveness could be developed in the process,” she said, citing the Chinese city of Shenzhen, which alone produced more than 40% of the world’s electric vehicle batteries in 2021.

She concluded that developing countries needed to find new strength in this technological landscape and that there was “need to balance fear and optimism in the net zero trend”.

Edward Glaeser, Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics at Harvard University, said there was a need to reformulate economies to balance investment and environmental concerns.

Glaeser, who is also chairman of Harvard’s economics department, confirmed the importance of technology and innovation in achieving sustainability.

Dr. Said Al-Shaikh, Director General of the Center for Studies and Consulting at the University of Business and Technology, focused on the main challenges facing the fast-growing cities of Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam . Their rapid development raises concerns about heavy reliance on oil export earnings and an unsustainable increase in water consumption.

He warned that the increase in the size of major cities is already creating low-density suburbanization, leading to continued reliance on private cars for transport, leading to increased environmental pollution.

“Urban primacy is a sign of unbalanced development and poses complex challenges, [including the decline] of the rural economy, which widens the development gap between rural and urban areas and also aggravates urban sprawl, congestion and environmental degradation,” he added.

Al-Shaikh, chief economist at the National Commercial Bank between 1998 and 2018, noted that the services sector is most relevant due to the impetus generated by high oil export revenues, which boost trade and create a need for financial services and government administration. services. However, agriculture’s share of gross domestic product has declined in all cities.

“This sectoral economic transformation has led to a change in the spatial concentration of the population with 26% in total in Mecca, 25% in Riyadh and 15% in [the] Eastern Province, which had 66% of the population in 2017, down from 64% in 1992,” he said.

“Conversely, there has been a slow growth of medium-sized cities and a dramatic decline in the proportion of the urban population living in cities with fewer than 300,000 inhabitants.”

He asserted that urban primacy offers a wide range of benefits, including better infrastructure, which leads to higher productivity and greater job opportunities.

“But the primacy has led to other cities being neglected, which has resulted in a remarkable regional imbalance in the country’s development,” he added.