Middle East North Africa Politics & Diplomacy
MENASource May 30, 2023

Cross-border cooperation between Israel and MENA region is key to addressing climate change

By Tamara Sharon Ross and Rony Erez

As the world grapples with the effects of the climate crisis, national governments are beginning to face its implications. In the face of this looming calamity, the lukewarm results of the November 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP27, in Sharm el-Sheikh disappointed many for not being bold enough.

The climate emergency has no borders and the most vulnerable will suffer the most. No single country is exempt, nor can any country solve climate change independently. In a world of growing interdependence, transboundary threats are increasing due to the climate crisis. In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the ramifications of climate change present a complex and multifaceted picture that could accelerate mass migration and destabilize governments. This has many implications for Israel, whose national security is directly threatened by shrinking water resources and threats to food security among its neighbors. For example, Asia and Africa have already experienced the geopolitical effects of climate change, creating a fertile environment for terrorist organizations to seize power in weakened regions.

Fortunately, there are many opportunities to meet climate-related challenges through cooperation, expertise sharing, and the exchange of ideas, with the goal of adopting solutions that can strengthen stability and expand the prosperity of the whole region. For example, this might involve drought management, expanding water agreements, or sharing sources of energy. Whatever the solution, there is a fundamental need for dialogue and partnerships across borders.

The N7 Agriculture, Water & Food Security Conference which took place in March in Abu Dhabi, was one such venture. For those coming from Israel to participate, it was truly inspiring to be so fundamentally welcomed and accepted among countries that had no diplomatic relations with Israel until a few years ago. After all, people in the MENA region are used to the presence of a “cold peace”—one that includes suspicion and minor collaborative ventures that are limited in scope.

However, the N7 Conference was nothing like that. It was brimming with new ideas and motivated professionals who came ready to work. Each participant cared deeply about their society and place in the MENA region. There was palpable energy and optimism among people striving to create authentic partnerships to propel the region into the future.

The conference was focused on agriculture technology, water, and food security. The N7 initiative tasked participants with developing cross-border cooperation in order to formulate solutions to some of the region’s pressing challenges.

As co-executive directors of the Heschel Center for Sustainability, a non-profit organization that promotes sustainable living from a holistic approach, we challenged participants to think broadly about the issues that all of us face. These issues are complex and multifaceted, as are their solutions. The issue of food security is not only a problem of food production and its distribution, but rather a complex economic problem in which there are many players: farmers, policymakers, consumers, technology and traditional methods, public health, and even the land itself, which plays an invaluable role in the climate crisis. If solutions can be developed that reduce social gaps, increase local prosperity, protect the environment, and create new opportunities for young people and disadvantaged populations, they can help societies take a significant step toward dealing with the climate crisis.

Though some solutions may sound clear and straightforward, in practice, many factors stand in the way of implementing these ideas. Today, in most parts of the world, sustainable solutions are not widely adopted despite the positive response that solutions of this type receive. Even in Israel, a country with socialist roots, massive privatization of public institutions and infrastructure makes it challenging to transition to renewable energy. Governmental and social instability also hinder the ability to make far-reaching changes in public policy.

However, there is a genuine prospect for regional cooperation in the Middle East, which could enhance the ability of decision-makers to promote policies that foster a sustainable society. As can be seen with regional collaborations like the European Union (EU), member states have established multiple mechanisms that generate elevated standards for business, public, and social sectors, with a target of cutting emissions by 55 percent by 2030.

For instance, the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), an EU trade policy,  confronts the issue of EU-based companies transferring local production to non-EU countries that have few or no emissions reduction policies. This mechanism aims to establish an equitable cost for the carbon emissions associated with manufacturing carbon-intensive products imported into the EU, while encouraging cleaner industrial practices in countries outside the EU.

Moreover, EU member countries are investing or granting billions in funding from 2020 to 2030 toward civil society, public, and business projects that advance the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change, as well as nature protection. Hence, countries can and should produce mechanisms through cooperation that they might lack the legitimacy to promote independently.

Consequently, regional, multi-sectoral gatherings are critical to creating sustainable societies, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, where the problems are severe and are likely to worsen. It is imperative to convene all stakeholders, including the business sector, civil society organizations, and government representatives, to facilitate a fruitful collaboration that creates social, economic, and environmental prosperity for all. Conferences like the N7 gathering can contribute significantly to this important effort.

Tamara Sharon Ross and Rony Erez are the co-executive directors of the Heschel Center for Sustainability, a non-profit organization based in Israel.

Further reading

Image: N7 Conference breakout group collaborates to address agriculture, food, and water security challenges in Abu Dhabi. Rony Erez (Center) serves as co-executive director of the Heschel Center for Sustainability. (Atlantic Council)