Last week, I met a teenager in Ramallah named Miriam, who shared how much she has benefited from one of the 450 solar-powered schools that the European Investment Bank has financed in the West Bank. Speaking in perfect English, Miriam was fully aware of the challenges her region faces because of climate change. But she was also full of optimism and extraordinarily articulate in explaining why the Middle East needs to do more to harvest sunshine, one of the few clean-energy resources that it enjoys in abundance.
The following day, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett reminded me that the EIB helped finance four of Israel’s six desalination plants, including one that will be the world’s largest when it becomes operational in 2023. He joked that almost two-thirds of the water in our glasses came from those EIB-backed projects. In a region with a growing population, Israelis know that water scarcity can easily lead to new conflicts. They want to develop greater desalination capacity so that they can potentially trade water for clean energy.
Changing rainfall patterns, water scarcity, and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events – including heatwaves and wildfires – affect Israelis and Palestinians equally, and the need to address the problem appears to be one of the few issues on which both parties agree. This was confirmed to me in talks with Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh. In a context of conflict, where most policies are viewed as zero-sum, climate projects are an exception.
In a speech this past February, Israeli President Isaac Herzog pointed to the intensification of extreme weather events as a wake-up call for the region. “For anyone who does not understand what this means, let me explain: this spells a genuine catastrophe,” he warned. “The climate crisis is a crisis for the whole world, and we in the Middle East must understand it chiefly at the regional level, because its implications will be dramatic.”
Herzog then called for a regional partnership to create a “renewable Middle East.” His vision would include the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Israel’s “Palestinian neighbors.” Yet while the Palestinian Authority has advanced some climate policies, it will take massive investment for these ideas to translate into a large-scale harvest of clean water from the Gaza Central Desalination Plant and solar energy in the West Bank.
These landmark mitigation and adaptation projects will be needed to manage the humanitarian, environmental, and economic issues caused by climate change. Having returned to Luxemburg from my visit to the region, it is clearer to me than ever that we need to bank on the current “climate consensus” to build momentum behind the kind of transformational climate projects envisaged in the European Green Deal. While making Europe carbon neutral by 2050, such investments can also help to foster stability and improve economic conditions in the Middle East.