The climate crisis is an existential threat facing the Middle East, according to Gidon Bromberg, co-founder and co-director of EcoPeace Middle East.
"Survival is going to depend on our ability to work together on a regional level," the 59-year-old climate activist told The Jerusalem Post. "We share the same ocean. We breathe the same air. The climate crisis doesn't know borders. It is time to acknowledge the reality of ecological interdependence."
The Eastern Mediterranean - a climate hotspot
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has identified the Eastern Mediterranean as a climate hotspot, meaning global warming is expected to hit the region even more severely than in other parts of the world. While some countries aim to stave off a 1.5 degrees centigrade increase in temperature, the Middle East could see between a four and seven degrees increase, Bromberg explained. This could make many areas of the Middle East unlivable during the summer months.
"Just two years ago, the Mediterranean Sea hit an all-time warm temperature two degrees hotter than before," he cautioned. "This is something that threatens the very viability of life in the region. We say we love our land. But there will be no land to love if we do not meet the challenge of the climate crisis. So we have to coordinate on a regional level if we are going to build the needed climate resilience."
Bromberg believes Israel can build trust with its neighbors through environmental cooperation—a critical ingredient to eventual peace.
"We say we love our land...but there will be no land to love if we do not meet the challenge of the climate crisis"Gidon Bromberg
He co-runs EcoPeace with offices in Tel Aviv, Amman and Ramallah, each manned by a co-director and staff. All three directors have spoken at the United Nations. And in 2022, EcoPeace received a $3.3 million grant from the US State Department.
BROMBERG FOUNDED EcoPeace nearly 30 years ago while studying international environmental law at American University. During that time, Israel signed a peace agreement with Jordan and the Oslo Accords were being negotiated.
"We were all certain that peace had broken out," Bromberg recalled. So, he asked the research question: Will peace be good for the environment?
Bromberg was worried that the environment could be neglected with the promised development, such as an expected 50,000 hotel rooms around the Dead Sea. He wanted to put sustainability on the political agenda of the peace process. So, EcoPeace was born.
Bromberg raised $20,000 for the first meeting of Egyptian, Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian environmentalists, which took place in Taba in December 1994.
However, violence started a year later, and bombings replaced talks of new buildings. Egypt pulled out. Staff in Tel Aviv, Amman and Ramallah were regularly subjected to accusations of being traitors or working for the enemy. But the organization persevered, shifting its focus from concerns about the environmental implications of peace to how peace could result from collaboration around the environment.
"Today, we cannot let politics stand in the way" of solving the climate crisis, Bromberg said.
The Green Blue Deal
IN 2020, ECOPEACE developed its "Green Blue Deal." The document "proposes harnessing the sun and the sea to create region-wide desalinated water and energy security for all; highlights the need and opportunity to solve Israeli/Palestinian natural water allocations today to achieve water equity; proposes climate-smart investments and green job development around the Jordan Valley; and recommends public awareness and education programs that can engage the stakeholder publics, especially the younger generations, to understand the importance of diplomacy in the water and climate fields as an effective tool for conflict resolution and peacebuilding."
The Green Blue Deal outlines ecological interdependence's challenges, risks and opportunities and charts the path to achieving solutions.
The memorandum of understanding signed last year between Jordan, Israel and the United Arab Emirates to implement a project of water in exchange for solar energy was based on one of EcoPeace's proposals, which called for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to produce desalinated water and sell it to Jordan. In exchange, Jordan would sell the Palestinians and Israel renewable energy.
Palestinians struggle to gain access to clean drinking water. Due to several reasons, Bromberg explained, less than a quarter of the Palestinians in Gaza and less than half of Palestinians in the West Bank have access to a piped water supply for more than 10 days a month.
Similarly, in Jordan, a growing population and the influx of Syrian refugees have cut weekly water supplies to residents of Amman by more than 50%.
Global warming could significantly decrease the already too-low water availability in the region, increasing hatred and leading to a security crisis.
However, Bromberg said that Israeli water technology could solve this crisis at prices lower than anywhere else in the world. At the same time, Jordan's vast desert land is equipped to create solar energy fields that could power Israel and help it meet its United Nations energy goals by 2030.
Moreover, he said, the tech coming out of Israel in the solar space could be leveraged in Jordan’s fields, ultimately enabling Jordan to move energy to parts of Europe, creating the conditions for a more stable region.
"Once fully implemented, it would be a game-changer for the entire region; Israel would meet its Paris climate commitments to increasing renewable energy capacity at the cheapest cost and see regional cooperation strengthened; Jordan would achieve water security at the cheapest cost through the purchase of Israeli and Palestinian desalinated water and become a major exporter of green energy, to not only power Mediterranean desalination plants, but also sell enough solar energy to supply a substantial part of total regional energy consumption; and Palestine … would become more independent from Israel to meet its water and energy needs," the Green Blue Deal explained.
"Once fully implemented, it would be a game-changer for the entire region"Gidon Bromberg on Israeli solar tech
BROMBERG'S ECOPEACE was also instrumental in securing the funding and diplomatic permissions to build proper sewage treatment plants in Gaza, stopping millions of liters of raw sewage from flowing into the Mediterranean Sea every day, threatening Israel's clean water supply and potentially causing diseases like cholera and typhus.
In 2016, Bromberg discovered that the Ashkelon desalination plant had been intermittently closed due to the sewage from Gaza, and that a second plant in Ashdod was under the same threat, putting around 30% of Israel's clean water supply at risk. When the organization raised the red flag, the Israeli government allowed enough cement into the strip to complete the sewage treatment plants within two years.
Four years later, in 2022, two more modern sewage treatment plants were funded and built.
"We were able to promote the understanding that failing to deal with the sewage constituted a national security issue from the health perspective for Palestinians and Israelis," Bromberg said.
Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanians alike all eager to get involved
YOUNG ISRAELIS, Palestinians and Jordanians are eager to get involved with EcoPeace, according to Bromberg.
"The younger generation is terrified of what the older generation failed to do and respond very positively," Bromberg said. "Decision makers are way more challenging. Their timeline is very short. They are only thinking about what benefits them within the next four years. If it takes longer, they are not interested."
But each of the organization's wins, built over years of research and collaboration, took time to achieve. However, he said their impact could be forever and bring about a better future.
"We see people's lives being improved, and when people see that this cooperation is improving their livelihoods, that builds trust," Bromberg said. "One of the most significant challenges of peace in the region is the other side's lack of trust.”
At the same time, “the younger generation does not recall the euphoria of 30 years ago. We need to show them their lives will be improved by cooperation, and the most direct way to do that is through the environment - water, sustainable energy, etc.," Bromberg concluded.
"Trust is the foundation for peacebuilding. These are risks worth taking."