Last week,  the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued an extensive report discussing how societies might contend with the changing global environment.  Israel’s strategic planners would do well to study the report: Given the Middle East’s particular vulnerabilities, for example, resource scarcity and desertification, the report underscores the interdependence of all the countries in the region.

Most  debate concerning climate change is focused on mitigation, that is, what can be done to eliminate or limit factors leading to such change. The failure of world leaders to come up with a formula for reducing greenhouse gasses and other climate change agents at the 2009 Copenhagen Summit, has resulted in frustratingly little international agreement – this at a time when the scientific consensus has determined that matters are worsening. Until the governments of those countries most responsible for climate change agree to reverse its course (with other states following suit), disruptions in crop and water cycles, extended periods of intense heat or cold, uncertainty in food supply, and irregularities in precipitation and wind patterns are likely to become more common.

The recent IPCC report, however, deals with a second set of issues related to climate change. Specifically, those referring to  adaptation, that is, those economic, institutional, social, technological and lifestyle changes that societies can introduce to contend with the emerging realities. A good part of adaptation to climate change  involves cooperative planning across national borders. This is especially true with respect to the Middle East, where arable land and water resources are sorely lacking and  the environmental  practices of one country directly impact on its neighbors.

Israel is party to virtually all international environmental protocols, but proactivity in regional cooperation rather than just official compliance with diplomatic instruments is very much in our interest.

Such collaboration should entail policies aimed at: joint conservation of delicate desert environments and other shared ecosystems; providing adequate safeguards for animal and plant species that transverse our borders; needs-based solutions for accessibility to quality water supplies; designing land protection schemes that curtail soil loss and declining fertility; devising adequate mechanisms for sewage treatment and waste management; monitoring open spaces and wilderness that cross borders, and; sharing knowledge and technology for ameliorating and preventing environmental damage.

Nongovernmental cooperation is already taking place in the field. This includes the work of such groups as Friends of the Earth Middle East which, with offices in Tel Aviv, Bethlehem and Amman, has impressive achievements in the areas of water use and the rehabilitation of the Dead Sea area. The Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, has an international reputation for training Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian environmental professionals and activists to tackle our problems collaboratively. Green Prophet, an Internet-based news service based in Israel reports on environmental affairs throughout the region and is a highly-regarded source of information that also serves to heighten consciousness concerning the common issues confronting the region. The Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (Jewish National Fund), a para-governmental organization, is also involved in regional projects.    

However, much more has to be done, particularly on the official level.

The US, Europe, Russia, China as well as less-endowed countries across the globe have already been hit with intense and unprecedented climate events. These trends have begun to subtly impact our region as well. The IPCC report charts myriad preparative work – plans, infrastructure, technological and economic adaptations – that will be required to ameliorate climate change impacts.

Protecting the shared commons of the Middle East cannot await the achievement of global pacts on climate change mitigation or breakthroughs on regional politics. For Israel and our neighbors, environmental cooperation must supersede our political differences; the underlying issues are vital for us all. Ultimately, it may prove to be the case that by working together to protect our corner of the planet, deeper understanding and respect will lead to more enlightened relations between our peoples.

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Dr. Yosef Gotlieb, a geographer, has written widely on environmental, regional and international issues. He is the author, most recently, of Rise, A Novel of Contemporary Israel. His blog, Issues of the Day, appears at www.ysgotlieb.net.