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Navigating a Green Blue Deal for the Middle East

08 December, 2020
Raquel Munayer, adelphi

Jordan Valley, Israel, desert, landscape

Jordan Valley, Israel, desert, landscape
Jordan Valley | © Thomas Vogel/Unsplash.com

Water is a critical resource everywhere, but in the Middle East, it is a defining issue. Changing demographics, poor management and climate change are pummelling the region’s already alarming water security situation. EcoPeace Middle East’s brand new report ‘A Green Blue Deal for the Middle East’ taps into water as a make-or-break issue for regional cooperation, economic development, and even for the future of peace negotiations.

Green Deals have taken centre stage in recent political discussions around climate and the environment in the US and the EU. With an eye on achieving emission reduction and conservation goals, increasing adaptive capacities, and rebuilding a greener and fairer post-pandemic economy, Green Deals acknowledge the decisive role a healthy climate and environment play for development and seek to steer economies towards a comprehensively sustainable path. EcoPeace’s proposed Green Blue Deal does precisely that, tailored to the particular conditions and needs of the Middle East.

In the Middle East, climate change has long ceased to be a problem of future generations. According to the IPCC, the Eastern Mediterranean is a climate hotspot, with forecasts projecting a temperature increase of up to 4 degrees Celsius by mid-century. The region is also the most water scarce in the world. Climate change-related impacts are escalating already worrying trends around water, energy and food insecurity, putting further strain on regional relations and prospects for peace.

In its 26 years working on water diplomacy in Israel, Palestine and Jordan, EcoPeace has engaged at all levels of the regional water sector. Whether it is by conducting research and analysis, educating children and youth, engaging the private sector, or influencing high-level decision making – EcoPeace has been there, done that. This experience puts the organization in a unique position in terms of making ambitious yet feasible context-specific policy recommendations that take into consideration the complex dynamics of the Middle East.

Climate-related risks, national commitments and entry-points

To understand how a Green Blue Deal in the Middle East could work, the report sets out the challenges and potential each state brings to the table.

Jordan

On top of its own demographic growth, Jordan has absorbed hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. This has left its capital’s citizens with only eight hours of water per week. Rising urban domestic needs have also reduced the fresh water allocated to farmers in the Jordan Valley. Yet at the same time, Jordan’s energy sector represents huge opportunities for climate action. Jordan has a lot of land that could be used for solar parks – a great comparative advantage compared to Israel. Already in 2017, the Jordanian Ministry of Environment released a green growth plan called “Jordan 2025” that prioritized water, energy and food security. However, the plan lacks clear targets and financing and has not been fully adopted by the national government.

Israel

A recently unveiled “Israeli Green Deal” draws on the economic challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to increase investments in clean-tech and renewable energy, ecosystem restoration and the improvement of environmental performance, with a focus on creating green jobs and reducing GHG emissions. Though it has yet to be adopted by Israel’s cabinet and sets no specific targets for reduction, in 2019 the Israeli Energy Minister announced a plan to raise the renewable energy target from 17% to 30% by 2030. Given its technological advantages that allow it to desalinate and clean sea and wastewater, and the economic advantages to look for alternative energy sources in the international market, Israel is in a much better position than Palestine and Jordan when it comes to adaptive capacity to deal with climate-related pressures. Yet, as water insecurity rises in Palestine and Jordan, the threat of unrest in the region lingers. The continued blockade on Gaza impedes basic infrastructure and resource management, with the mostly untreated sewage of 2 million people contaminating the Mediterranean and undermining Israel’s water treatment capacity. Transboundary problems require regional and multilateral solutions – and this is no exception.

Palestine

Palestine’s water challenges can hardly be overstated. Due to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade, overpopulation and mismanagement, up to 96% of the Gaza Strip’s water is deemed unsafe to drink. Climatic pressures reducing water availability in the region are set to further complicate this scenario. In the 1990s, the Oslo Accords – of which water was an integral part – allocated 75% of ground water from the Mountain Aquifer to Israel, with the remaining 25% allocated to the West Bank. Although the accord has Israel recognize Palestinian water rights, it does not specify access issues. Despite demographic changes in the past decades, allocated waters were not renegotiated. The agreement’s Joint Water Committee has proven to be a largely inefficient mechanism to solve water management issues between Israel and Palestine. The Palestinian Environmental Cross-Sector Strategy for 2017-2022 has a focus on environment and sustainability and is framed on the 2030 SDG goals. In a recent speech, Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh underlined the need to mainstream environmental sustainability issues across the economy. One thing is clear: for Palestine, delivering on targets will require extensive investments and regional cooperation.

 

The Green Blue Deal in a nutshell

A Green Blue Deal for the Middle East Bringing the parties in the Middle East to the negotiation table is no simple task. A culture of peace is yet to be established, with youth on all sides mostly exposed to stereotypes of each other. Yet climate and environmental issues can arguably serve as levers for regional cooperation, because of their borderless, stateless and nationless characteristics. The proposed deal is not intended as a holistic policy program. Instead, its intention is to spur momentum for governments to create their own “green blue” plans.

The Green Blue Deal consists of 4 pillars:

  1. Cooperation to improve adaptive capacities on water and energy security

EcoPeace already leads a flagship project on water and energy that is looking to advance regional interdependency by creating a desalinated water – solar energy community, with the former produced by Israel and Palestine, and the latter by Jordan. Although initially all sides were wary of creating such mutual dependencies, tides have started to turn, with governments increasingly recognizing the advantages of cooperation for their individual security interests. A pre-feasibility study concluded that all countries would collect substantial economic, environmental and geopolitical benefits from exploring these potentials: Israel would achieve its Paris climate commitments; Jordan would increase its GDP by 3-4% and achieve water security; and Palestine would be less dependent on Israel for water and energy.

  1. Advancing Israeli-Palestinian natural water reallocations

Advancements in water technologies today mean that Palestinian water rights can be achieved without reducing water availability on the Israeli side. Achieving this balance requires allowing the Palestinian side to increase water pumping, while Israel reduces its own pumping and increases desalination, which already provides almost 70% of Israel’s drinking water. A further potential lies in tackling water pollution from all sides; the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the urgent need to create conditions in which basic hygiene standards can be maintained, which is currently not the case for Palestine, creating unliveable conditions for Palestinians and spill-over health problems for the region.

  1. Developing the Jordan Valley through investments in region-wide climate smart initiatives and green jobs

The Jordan River is threatened by pollution and excessive water diversion by Israel, Jordan and Syria, while Palestine has had no access to it since 1967. Given that the river itself constitutes the state border, its rehabilitation requires multilateral cooperation. An internationally-supported Regional Jordan Valley Master Plan (JVMP) has devised a strategy for rehabilitating the whole valley and generating multiple benefits. However, while it has been adopted by Jordan, strained relations between Israel and Palestine have meant that the plan has not been taken up yet by these countries. To keep up the momentum, EcoPeace has engaged the private sector in the valley, by advancing ecotourism, climate-smart agriculture, fish farming and solar powered refrigeration for local agriculture, promoting grey water reuse, and focusing on green jobs. Furthermore, a proposed trilateral Jordan River Commission would further foster regional cooperation, with the potential to eventually include the other riparian states Lebanon and Syria.

  1. Promoting public awareness and education programs on diplomacy in the water and climate fields as a means of conflict resolution and peacebuilding

In a region suffering from protracted conflict for over half a century, education has a crucial role to play. EcoPeace believes engaging youth can help create public support for cooperation and foster future local leaders. Programs on water and climate diplomacy at both school and university levels have proved successful in creating cross-border networks and awareness about transboundary regional issues.

In essence, the Green Blue Deal proposes harnessing two of the Middle East’s widely available resources – the sun and the sea – to create healthy regional interdependencies, promote trust and foster cooperation, while addressing and mitigating climate-related impacts to the environment and security. EcoPeace Directors Yana Abu Taleb (Jordan), Nada Majdalani (Palestine) and Gidon Bromberg (Israel) offered concrete suggestions for how this could be achieved by looking towards practical and solvable issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict, which they call “low hanging fruits.”

One of these (relatively) low hanging fruits is the water issue. Water is an integral part of the Oslo Accord. Because parties cannot find agreement on other issues of the Accord (and, therefore, do not sign it), the comparatively simple-to-solve issue of shared water management does not advance. With the Green Blue Deal, EcoPeace suggests that water management be decoupled from the peace agreement’s contentious issues. This should not only result in better water management and better living conditions for all, but should also create a precedent for cooperation and support a culture of peace, in which parties see in each other a partner with which they can negotiate. An important boost to diplomacy in a region that desperately needs it.

To read the priority recommendations to the Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian governments for each of the 4 pillars, download the full report here. The report also addresses the international community, inviting it to create a ‘Middle East Green Blue Deal Coalition of the Willing.’

ArticleClimate Diplomacy
Topic
Co-Benefits

Region
Middle East & North Africa

Topics

Adaptation & Resilience

All countries will need to adapt to some of the environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change that are already unavoidable. Food security, livelihoods, water resource availability and public health are some affected areas. People living in poverty are more vulnerable, having a lower capacity to adapt. Thus, it is essential to promote resilience building. The adaptation and resilience aspects need to be mainstreamed into planning by policy makers and the private sector as well as integrated into development strategies.

Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Nature protection is most sustainable if it essentially contributes to the long-term stability of human needs. Today many regions around the world are confronted with increasing destruction of the natural foundations of life. The consequences of wide-ranging resource destruction are no longer regionally limited, but rather represent a global threat. Those affected are mainly rural populations, who find the sources of their income and the foundations of their way of life swept away. The depletion and destruction of natural resources goes hand in hand with decreasing agricultural yields and increasing poverty, which in turn forces the affected populations to deplete the remaining resources.

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Capacity Building

On the one hand, conflicts are caused by structural factors, such as economic and social inequality or environmental destruction. On the other hand, conflicts are fuelled by a lack of democratic structures, deficient mechanisms of non-violent conflict settlement, inadequate rule of law, the destruction of social and cultural identity and the disregard of human rights. Against this backdrop, development policies have been dedicated to a broad concept of security, which comprises political, economic, ecological and social stability. As a consequence, development cooperation agencies and actors have developed a broad spectrum of approaches for conflict prevention and transformation as well as for sustainable use of natural resources.

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Cities

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Civil Society

Civil society is the first victim of environmental pollution, under-development and conflicts. Economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized population groups are particularly affected by violent conflicts as well as increasing resource degradation. Simultaneously, civil society is a fundamental pillar for implementing sustainable development. It contributes in many ways to strengthening conflict prevention and plays a significant role in the peaceful and democratic development of states. It must be supported to strengthen civil rights, adherence to human rights in general and democratic participation.

Climate Change

Climate change resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases represents one of the vital challenges for international environmental policy. Flooding, droughts, shifting of climate zones and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events will have serious economic and social consequences for entire regions. The climate problem is also directly linked to the question of future energy generation.

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Climate Diplomacy

To address the challenges posed by climate change, a new profile of climate diplomacy is evolving. This utilises a full range of policies, including development cooperation, conflict prevention efforts, and humanitarian assistance, in addition to more traditional measures of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moving from a risk analysis of climate-related threats to well-timed preventive action requires a greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies. Examples include strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

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Co-Benefits

Climate action entails an array of economic, social, political and environmental co-benefits. It provides an opportunity for economic growth and new jobs. Many investments can take into account climate considerations without becoming more costly. Further important co-benefits include: improved energy security, less local air and water pollution, health benefits as well as ecosystem and biodiversity protection.

Conflict Transformation

In order to overcome the structural causes of violent conflicts and thus bring about an improvement in the framework conditions for peaceful and fair development, it is essential to have long term and broadly planned peace development and peace advancement. Various governmental and non-governmental, national and international actors and groups are involved in these processes.

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Development

Climate change and development are inextricably linked. Climate change endangers the development agenda and has the potential to reverse development goals. Furthermore, successful mitigation of climate change heavily depends on development choices around the world. Therefore, development strategies need to be climate-compatible to provide long-term success, and there are viable policy options that support this compatibility. Many mitigation and adaptation activities can present development opportunities to developing countries and avoid the lock-in to environmentally damaging technologies.

Early Warning & Risk Analysis

The reasons for the development and escalation of conflicts and the incidence of risks are multifaceted and complex. Simultaneously, the assessment of the specific causes in the form of risk and conflict analyses can contribute to a better understanding of these processes and make it possible to provide warning of negative developments, or ideally help prevent them. In the context of natural resource use, risks and conflicts have gained increasing attention in the past years. The debate on possible future water wars is merely one example.

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Energy

The well-being of individuals, communities and nations depends on the availability of energy resources. The gap between energy supply and demand appears to be growing, making the world vulnerable to serious economic shocks. At the same time, the burning of fossil fuels causing climate change is one of the vital challenges of international environmental policy. So far, only rudimentary approaches exist for shaping climate and energy security in a sustainable way. The components of a strategy that can contribute to reducing vulnerabilities related to climate change and energy policy include a greater role for renewable energies, the improvement of energy efficiency and a stronger decentralisation of energy supply.

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Environment & Migration

The economic, social and environmental consequences of climate change aggravate the breakdown of eco-system-dependent livelihoods and are likely to become dominant drivers of long-term migration. Natural disasters already cause massive shorter-term displacement and the number of temporarily displaced people is likely to further increase with climate change. For vulnerable populations in vulnerable regions, such as the Sahel zone or the Ganges delta, migration often becomes the sole survival strategy. In order to address climate-related displacement and migration successfully, knowledge of effective adaptation and an improved understanding of how environmental change affects human mobility is essential. 

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Finance

Climate finance, from all sources, plays a key role in supporting and enabling adaptation and mitigation action as well as climate and energy innovation. The Paris Agreement ensured that the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility are at the core of climate finance architecture as entities entrusted with the operation of the Financial Mechanism of the UNFCCC. Increasing climate finance from all relevant public and private sources is crucial. Furthermore, much needs to be done to redirect finance flows to sustainable paths, e.g. reducing fossil fuel subsidies, introducing maritime and air transportation taxes. The conditions for green investment in developing countries should also be improved.

Forests

Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Competition for forest resources triggers, exacerbates, or finances numerous crises and conflicts in tropical developing countries. Illegal logging and timber trade foster instability and sometimes violent conflict by strengthening illegal and armed groups, increasing corruption and exacerbating use and claim conflicts among local communities, the state and the business sector. Forests are a vital resource to poor people but they can also become areas of conflict. Sustainable management of forest resources is therefore key to preventing violent conflict over and within forests.

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Gender

Gender plays an important role as a category of conflict for many reasons. The interlinkages between gender, environment and conflicts are complex and much research is still needed. Existing insights suggest that conflicts may worsen gender inequalities that existed before the outbreak of violence. The unequal distribution of land property rights in many parts of the world serves as an example. Moreover, women (and children) are among those most affected by both violent conflict and natural disasters. At the same time, women carry much of the burden of trying to implement rehabilitation measures after crisis events.

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Land & Food

Increasing water scarcity, desertification and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While the world’s population continues to grow rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people reached the symbolic one billion threshold for the first time – corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities.

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Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

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Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

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Security

Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.

Water

The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

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Regions

Asia

The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

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Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

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Europe

As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

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Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

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Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

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North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

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Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

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South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

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