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The Greening of Peace: Regional Cooperation on Climate Change in the Middle East

February 11, 2021


Richard Caplan, Professor of International Relations and Official Fellow of Linacre College at the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford

Moderated by Raffaella A. Del Sarto, Associate Professor of Middle Eastern Studies, SAIS Europe

The first event of the Spring Semester’s Middle East Series started with an introduction of Caplan by Del Sarto that emphasized his expertise and accomplishments. Caplan then introduced the discussion of a research project he is undertaking as part of a multidisciplinary team examining environmental pressures on natural resources in the Jordan River area, particularly with respect to climate change, and the scope for regional cooperation to manage these pressures. Three questions were highlighted as drivers of the project: (1) what effect are environmental stresses having on the use and availability of natural resources (water and energy in particular) in the region? (2) can cross-border cooperation on resource management improve the availability and sustainability of resources? (3) can cross-border cooperation contribute to regional integration and generate peace dividends? 

Bearing these questions in mind, the project focuses on environmental stresses in the Jordan River area, particularly, how temperatures are rising, water availability is decreasing and the population is simultaneously growing—including the refugee population. The associated increase in energy demand is producing a significant increase in carbon emissions, especially when looking at the case of Israel. Adding to these phenomena is the rise in pollution in both the West Bank and Gaza and increasing extreme weather events such as floods or droughts. Based on these, the project is examining two parallel hypotheses: cross-border cooperation on resource management can lead to greater environmental and economic benefits; and cross-border cooperation can generate significant political and security dividends. Caplan pointed out that the approach is not novel, however, new data and more sophisticated models now can confirm said benefits. 

Each party in the region, then, faces complementary energy challenges: energy security, affordability, and sustainability, all exacerbated by the consumption growth and climate change driven demand. Considering this scenario, the most promising avenues for cooperation to overcome these challenges would involve the three major players of the Jordan River: Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinians. For Israel and Jordan cooperation could be achieved by taking advantage of seasonal complementarity, that is, while Jordan’s energy peak is reached in the winter, Israel’s is reached in the summer. For Israel and the Palestinians, it would imply joint ventures on solar energy that improve both sustainability and the cost of energy in view of recent advances in solar power generation. Finally, for Jordan and the Palestinians cooperation would help diversify the energy matrix of the region and decrease energy dependence on Israel. 

To conclude, Caplan argued that a new narrative is needed on national security that takes into consideration energy security and climate change effects on population, natural disasters, and health or pandemic-related problems. The potential for local renewable energy projects and research and development is enormous. The normalization process of Israel with the Gulf States can work also as a framework to promote investments and further regional cooperation. After these closing remarks a Q&A was opened where the potential of this type of projects working as building blocks for larger and more tangibly impactful projects on peace and the future of energy, and their political feasibility, were discussed.