Groundswell: Gidon Bromberg on Regional Interdependence

By | Nov 04, 2021
Environment, Israel, Latest
courtesy of EcoPeace Middle East

Gidon Bromberg is a cofounder of EcoPeace Middle East, a tri-national Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian NGO focused on environmental cooperation. The Australian-born lawyer is also a leading force behind the Green Blue Deal, a report and set of policy recommendations to address water scarcity in the region. Bromberg and is currently in Glasgow.

What do you see as your role in confronting the climate crisis?

I’m one of EcoPeace’s cofounders and have been its Israel director for 27 years. I’m based in Tel Aviv, which is one of our three offices—we also have offices in Ramallah and Amman. The climate crisis is known as a threat multiplier, where the weak capacity of a state to deal with the consequences of climate change can threaten its stability. EcoPeace turns that on its head by introducing proposals where the climate crisis becomes an opportunity for cooperation. We’re a single organization with a single board—a third Israeli, a third Palestinian, and a third Jordanian. That is uncommon in this part of the world: to be working together with a common cause, with a common purpose, and it’s the environment that has really brought us together.

What is one way the climate emergency has directly impacted your life?

It’s impacted my lifestyle and quality of life. I feel increasingly uncomfortable being outside during the long summer months in Tel Aviv, where the high temperature combined with the high humidity are making it more and more uncomfortable.

Where have you found community, allies and connection in your work?

The Green Blue Deal is all about creating healthy interdependencies by advancing climate mitigation and climate adaptation measures. It looks at the comparative advantages of our different countries. For instance, Jordan with its vast desert has the capacity to produce renewable energy, mostly solar, at a scale and at a price that is more competitive than is possible on the Israeli or Palestinian sides because of a shortage of land.

On the other hand, the Mediterranean coastline shared by Israel and Gaza has the advantage of being in close proximity to all the major population centers of the region. Also, desalination on the Mediterranean is the cheapest means of manufacturing water to meet the demands of water scarcity. If Jordanians sell renewable energy to power Israeli and Palestinian desalination plants, and then sell water back to Jordan, we’ll create healthy interdependencies, where each side has something to sell and something to buy. Usually, it’s only the Israeli side that has something to sell.

EcoPeace is also advancing Israeli-Palestinian water cooperation and management. Technology, mostly led by Israel, has completely changed the nature of the water pie since the Oslo accords and the original water arrangement was made back in 1995. And the water pie today has grown tremendously, because of the ability to manufacture water. In 1995, the cost of desalination was about $2 a cubic meter. Today, it’s down to 40 cents and dropping. If we produce it with renewable energy, it makes it that much more sustainable.

What that means for the peace process is that Palestinians can increase their allocation of natural water, with Israel replacing the loss of natural water with increased desalination. In parallel, we will see Palestine taking greater responsibility for treating sewage, which can then be reused for their agriculture. The shared groundwater and crossborder streams that mostly flow west to Israel, will now be clean rather than, as they are now, heavily polluted.

Another important ally is the private sector, which is keen to invest in both renewable energy and desalination. So this isn’t dependent on the generosity of the international community. The Gulf States, too, are expressing tremendous interest in the investment opportunities that the Green Blue Deal represents. We’re talking about billions of dollars in investment in renewables and in manufacturing water between Israel, Palestine and Jordan.

In the lead-up to COP26, what have you been doing and feeling?

This year is extremely different! I’ll be there with my EcoPeace codirectors for the full event. All three of us will try to gain further support for the regional focus. The climate crisis is not a national issue, it’s a regional issue. These impacts make a complete mockery of the man-made borders.

We see that the Green Blue Deal has been extremely well received by the most influential nations for our region. EcoPeace is finalizing meetings with ministers from all of the G7 countries. The beauty is that we’ve started a Green Blue Deal that focuses on Israel-Palestine-Jordan, but the relevance is of equal importance to the broader Middle East as well. And without going into detail, we’re seeing interest in other neighboring states.

From Glasgow in general, the world must see a firm commitment of all of the large economies to zero emissions by 2050. We want to hear that. I, as an Israeli, want to hear that from my Prime Minister, and I am hoping that in Glasgow a stronger commitment than the 85 percent will be made.

Although the rate of emissions is minuscule from Israel, we need to be on the same moral ground if we are going to claim to be leaders in the field of climate action—and we claim that we are. We need to match technological leadership with this commitment of zero emissions by 2050.

How do you find meaning and hope as you navigate the climate crisis?

The hope that I survive on—what keeps me going—is really the community work that we do. I see Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian Greta Thunbergs: Inspirational young leaders that understand that the climate crisis is their future, and if they don’t take initiative, no one else will. I feel that I’m privileged that I get to meet and further empower these young people.

Click here to see more installments of Moment‘s Groundswell series.

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