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

26 August, 2019
adelphi

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
Topic
Climate Change
Environment & Migration
Security

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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