ECC Platform Library


"We can't disengage from our shared environment" – Interview with Palestinian, Jordanian and Israeli EcoPeace Directors

26 August, 2019

Wadi Rum, Jordan, desert

Wadi Rum, Jordan, desert
Jordan's solar radiation level is one of the highest in the world, carrying potential for producing renewable solar energy on a regional scale | Wadi Rum, Jordan: © Maud Cuenin/Pixabay

Without electricity, Gaza is unable to treat its sewage water. This has already led to the closure of one of Israel’s key desalination plants, which uses water from the Mediterranean Sea. In Jordan, recurring droughts and the influx of refugees have resulted in a water crisis with regional spillover effects. Such examples create a clear message: climate and environment know no borders. In this interview, EcoPeace Directors Nada Majdalani (Palestine), Yana Abu-Taleb (Jordan) and Gidon Bromberg (Israel) explain why disengaging from a shared environment can aggravate the region’s security challenges. They illustrate how a path of healthy inter-dependencies in the water and energy sectors can go a long way in advancing regional peace.

In which ways do climate and environmental impacts undermine security in the Middle East?

Yana: The Middle East region, specifically focusing on Jordan, Israel and Palestine, is feeling the effects of climate change, particularly in terms of water resources. We are already a naturally water-scarce region, but with the rising temperatures and severe long droughts that we are experiencing, water scarcity is reaching dangerous levels and undermining the systems that depend on it, such as food production. Water thus plays a vital role in security, both on the national and regional levels.

Gidon: Gaza has gone back to the Middle Ages when it comes to water and sanitation, and the crisis of Gaza is a regional security issue. When there isn't sufficient electricity, sewage is not treated. 100 million litres of raw sewage flow out of Gaza every day and are carried by the currents up the Mediterranean, which has been responsible for the intermittent closure of one of Israel's desalination plants north of Gaza. No one wants to desalinate sewage. Should pandemic diseases, such as cholera and typhoid, break out in Gaza they won't stop at the border. Additionally, in a scenario such as a disease breakout, the population doesn't just stay put. They are in fear and are likely to move and to revolt, which presents a security threat for neighbouring states.

Nada: Climate change and its environmental impacts are perceived as an exacerbating factor in the already fragile security situation in the Middle East. The region is already naturally water-scarce. With rapid population growth and political and economic instability, it is more susceptible to climate change impacts. Regardless of whether they are at peace or at war, tensions between neighbouring countries increase since their economies and resources are interlinked. The Israeli occupation’s control over water resources and the restrictions imposed on access to agricultural land and proper infrastructure undermine the ability of Palestinian communities to undertake the necessary steps for climate change resilience. In light of climate change, increased lack of opportunities in turn increases animosity and limits the chances of real peace and security in the region overall.

Are these issues perceived as a security threat in the region?

Gidon: Climate change at the moment is seen as a weather issue, as a water scarcity issue. It's not sufficiently understood how destabilizing the impact of climate change is and can be in the future. Furthermore, the security implications of climate change for our economies and overall stability are also not well understood. There needs to be investment at the highest levels in all of the relevant government ministries in our three countries, in awareness, in education, in understanding as to what the security implications of climate change are in order to translate knowledge into action.

Nada: As mentioned before, the region is already a security boiling hotspot. I agree here with Gidon though that it is difficult to interpret how and in which form and to what extent climate change will exacerbate the situation. In the Lake Chad region and other parts of the Middle East, for instance, climate change and lack of access to resources under fragile systems has led to the emergence of extremist groups and extensive bloodshed. The context and conditions in our region are different though, and we would not necessarily end up with the same consequences. What we know for sure at least is that what impacts one side will impact the other across the border. It is difficult to compare, yet it is necessary to understand different contexts and experiences so as to learn from them. It is the duty of the three governments, civil society, think tanks and security institutions to engage in a proactive discussion around this topic that is often neglected in favour of other more politically pressing issues. Today, it is necessary to prioritize discussions on weaving collaborative efforts for the mitigation of climate change impacts across the region, including, most importantly, out-of-the-box thinking and mechanisms for regional water and food security.  

What role can foreign policy play in advancing environment and climate-related security in the region?

Yana: Foreign policy can support regional security by building healthy interdependencies throughout the region, particularly through the water-energy nexus. Particularly the water reality on the ground has changed in the last 10 years. If we look at Israel, it has become a world leader in desalination, producing water at the cheapest cost in the world on the Mediterranean coast. Water is the game changer. At the moment, Israel has bilateral agreements with both Jordan and Palestine for selling its surplus water at very cheap prices, which is helping our region cope with water scarcity, particularly in light of the ever increasing influx of refugees in Jordan. However, these exchanges should not be one-sided. Jordan, for example, has one of the highest solar radiation levels in the world, and therefore possesses an enormous potential for producing solar energy. Why not then sell this energy to Israel, which has a high energy demand, including for its water treatment? Also, Palestine should be able to meet its severe water and energy challenges and to have, for example, a desalination plant in Gaza. These interdependencies can be a real game changer for our region.

Gidon: One of the messages EcoPeace tries to bring to the forefront is that with climate change, achieving your own national water security is no longer enough. If your neighbour fails to meet the challenges of climate change next door, then that will have direct implications on your own national security. That brings home the message that we can't disengage from our shared environment. The notion of disconnecting, of building walls, is contrary to the self-interest of the parties involved. Foreign policy therefore, has a role to play in engaging the relevant parties to look beyond the day-to-day of the conflict, and to consider the external threat that climate change presents to the national security of each country involved, as well as for our region as a whole.

Nada: The role of foreign policy is important at various levels, politically and technically. Parties in dispute always require a neutral mediator to facilitate proactive discussions on climate and water security that adopt a problem-solving rather than a blame-game approach. The international community can utilize climate change threats and water security in the region as a low-hanging fruit to encourage parties to set prejudice aside and start to think collectively in practical means towards win-win situations. EcoPeace has many initiatives which foreign policy can adopt, including our Regional Jordan Valley Master Plan, our Water Energy Nexus concept as well as our Water Cannot Wait vision, where we aspire that water issues can be resolved in a negotiated manner. On a further technical level, foreign policy could support by encouraging investment and funding for the necessary infrastructure, particularly in Jordan and Palestine, where they are needed most for climate resilience. In return, technology transfer and know-how from Israel could be an asset for the stability of the entire region; which can be a form of trust building measures.


This interview was conducted by Raquel Munayer, adelphi.

During the NY Climate Week on 24 September 2019, EcoPeace will be speaking at the event Climate Change, Water & National Security for Jordan, Palestine and Israel at Columbia University.

To learn more about EcoPeace and other initiatives that incorporate natural resources, climate change and other environmental stresses into efforts to maintain and build peace in conflict-prone societies, have a look at the ECC exhibition.

ArticleClimate Diplomacy
Climate Change
Environment & Migration

Middle East & North Africa


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Biodiversity & Livelihoods

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Civil Society

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Conflict Transformation

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Early Warning & Risk Analysis

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Environment & Migration

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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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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

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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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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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