Israel is an important part of the climate solution - opinion

The Middle East was assigned an important role in confronting the global climate conference.

 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaking at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, November 1, 2021.  (photo credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaking at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, November 1, 2021.
(photo credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)

One of the developments emerging from the Glasgow climate conference is the important role assigned to the Middle East in confronting the global climate crisis.

The next two climate summits at which the international community is expected to actualize the commitments made in Glasgow will be held in the Middle East. Egypt hosts the coming COP27 in 2022 in Sharm e-Sheikh and COP28 is scheduled for 2023 in the UAE.

The Middle East’s key role in this field reflects, inter alia, the international recognition that the Middle East will be impacted harder and sooner than other regions by the repercussions of climate change – rising sea levels, desertification, exacerbated water shortages and more.

Secondly, as the world’s most important oil production center, the adaptations required for the world’s transition from an oil- and gas-based economy to a post-oil age economy should be made first and foremost in the Middle East’s oil-producing countries.

A third important factor in making the Middle East a key player in combating climate change is that the region’s leading oil producers, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are already making the transition. Both have adopted ambitious plans in this regard and are striving for a leading global role in the post-oil age.

 THE SOREK desalination plant.  (credit: ISAAC HARARI/FLASH90) THE SOREK desalination plant. (credit: ISAAC HARARI/FLASH90)

The role of a leading global actor in building the post-oil economy is a key component of the UAE’s long-term strategy as it marks the 50th anniversary of its founding. The Emirati leadership has formulated a new strategy for the coming 50 years, which includes replacing oil- and gas-based energy with alternative sources, such as solar and nuclear energy, and other new energy sources.

The UAE is already in the operational stages of some of these targets, derived from its long-term goals. It will leverage the 2023 COP28 climate summit to upgrade the UAE’s standing as a leading actor in international action to combat climate change, first and foremost in the Middle East.

Egypt’s situation is very different than the UAE’s as it prepares to host COP27 next year. Egypt will probably be the country hardest hit by climate change in the Middle East. It will suffer extensive coastal flooding and severe water shortages depriving tens of millions of Egyptians of their livelihoods in agriculture. 

Confronting these and other challenges, in addition to the dire economic problems facing Egypt for years, requires vast investments and far-reaching reforms – much beyond Egypt’s own capacity. 

The only way to deal with a challenge of this magnitude is through regional cooperation – mobilizing resources (financial and operational) that only the Arabian Gulf countries (led by the UAE and Saudi Arabia) can provide, technological solutions that Israel could play a leading role in delivering and international backing.

Along with Egypt, most other Arab countries too lack the financial and other resources to confront these challenges alone. They too can face the challenges of climate change only through regional cooperation of the same kind set out above for Egypt.

From Israel’s point of view, this is an opportunity to become a significant regional actor in confronting the region’s toughest challenge of the coming decades. 

Israel’s contribution could be significant in varied fields. Water is among the most notable (innovative desalination technologies, recycling sewage for irrigation, solutions for the effective use of water), as is agriculture, an array of innovative food security solutions, innovative solar energy solutions and more.

Israel’s capacities complement those of the UAE and Saudi Arabia in these and other areas. There are already successful precedents in the Gulf countries and Israel of such solutions, which can be replicated in other countries in the region.

For example, the UAE is implementing (highly successfully) an aggressive program to establish vast solar energy power stations built to scale, which already provide electricity at far lower prices than those of gas-powered stations. The cheap electricity enables the low-cost operation of desalination plants (the price of electricity is the main component in the cost of desalinated water).

Similar projects with Gulf/international funding (by business companies, as is the case in the UAE) in Jordan’s desert areas would enable the supply of cheap power to large desalination plants along the Mediterranean coast for the benefit of Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.

Inexpensive power sold to Israel would finance the purchase of desalinated water from these facilities (which will also be built by business companies against long-term water-purchase contracts backed by Gulf/international guarantees).

Recycling sewage water for irrigation is another example. Successful implementation of the Israeli model in countries such as Egypt and Jordan would create a major new source of water for irrigation and constitute an important component in preserving agriculture in these countries.

An especially important advantage for Israel in its integration into regional cooperation measures will be coordinated and open economic collaboration with Saudi Arabia. This is especially relevant to the Red Sea area, where Israel can be a partner to the development of the new region of Neom at the northwestern edge of Saudi Arabia, Sinai and the Suez Canal corridor in Egypt. That would obviously require a widespread diplomatic effort on Israel’s part.

The emphasis of all these plans for Israel’s integration into the region should be on sustainable long-term measures commensurate with confronting climate change challenges, rather than on “old world” ventures such as transporting Emirati oil via the Trans-Israel Pipeline.

COP27 and COP28 provide Israel with excellent opportunities to work together with the hosts, Egypt and the UAE, on regional cooperation plans for dealing with climate change challenges in the Middle East, which would be submitted to these conferences as part of the world’s response to the global crisis.

The writer is a Mitvim Institute researcher, an expert on the Middle Eastern economy, and a founding partner and head of research of Yokwe Technologies.