CLIMATE RESILIENCE

Mideast mulls alliances at U.N. conference to avert environmental catastrophe

Israeli startup group reaches out to UAE, Bahrain, Morocco to share technology addressing desert agriculture, desalination and food security

AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images

AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images

Israel's President Isaac Herzog delivers a speech at the leaders summit of the COP27 climate conference at the Sharm el-Sheikh International Convention Centre

From lab-cultured milk to hydrogen-based energy generation, Israelis sought to share expertise in desert agriculture, desalination and food security with new Arab partners at the United Nations climate change summit and establish alliances across the Middle East and North Africa.

The campaign was led by Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who said cooperation would lead to “regional climate resilience,” in a Nov. 7 address to the COP27 conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. A nonprofit industry group, Start-Up Nation Central, sought to foster connections with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and other countries that have signed peace agreements or normalized relations with Israel through an initiative it dubbed the MENA Alliance for Climate Innovation.

“We want to create a business-focused framework with partners from the region to connect startups with investors and corporations, and to work together to develop solutions addressing shared climate challenges,” Yariv Becher, Start-Up Nation Central’s vice president for innovation diplomacy, told The Circuit from Sharm el-Sheikh. “We came to COP27 to move things forward.”

Israel, which has the third-largest number of startups per capita in the world, has developed an international reputation for the quality of its research in desalination and desert agriculture. That has created natural linkages with its new allies in the world’s driest region, which extends from the Arabian desert to the Sahara. Israeli companies have developed partnerships in the UAE and Bahrain that enable them to do business in Saudi Arabia and other countries that don’t have formal diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.

Warning that the region is “on the brink of catastrophe,” Herzog laid out a framework for regional cooperation in addressing climate challenges.

“Here in Sharm el-Sheikh, I wish to reiterate the State of Israel’s solid commitments to achieving net zero carbon emissions and to transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy by 2050,” the president said. “But Israel is prepared to assume far greater responsibility,” he added. “Israel is prepared to lead the effort towards regional climate resilience – I intend to spearhead the development of what I term a Renewable Middle East, a regional ecosystem of sustainable peace.”

In the Israeli pavilion at the conference, 10 startups promoted their technologies: Aleph Farms, which produces meat from animal cells; Beewise, which develops robot-controlled beehives; GenCell, which generates energy from hydrogen and ammonia; Groundwork BioAg, which produces inoculants for commercial agriculture; H2Pro, which produces hydrogen-based energy; Home BioGas, which reduces cooking gas from household waste; Remilk, which produces laboratory-cultured milk; Tomorrow.io, which develops weather forecasting technology; UBQ Materials, which turns household waste into a thermoplastic product; and Wiliot, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions from production lines.

Underlining the region’s concern about climate change, next year’s conference, COP28, will be held in the United Arab Emirates, whose president, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, pledged the country’s dedication to renewable energy even as it stands as the world’s seventh-largest oil producer.

“Our world is facing complex challenges, most important of which is climate change, which now affects the world’s stability and security – including food security… We have only one planet, and with that in mind, it is imperative that we partner and work together in a spirit of determination and optimism to address this common challenge through climate action,” he said.

Also at the conference, cabinet ministers from Israel, Jordan and the UAE signed a memorandum of understanding that lays the groundwork for creating solar energy fields in Jordan. The three-way agreement will enable Jordan to sell solar power from the solar field built by an Emirati firm, while Israel will sell desalinated water to Jordan from a site that will be built on the Mediterranean coast. The MOU was signed on Nov. 8 by Esawi Freij, Israel’s outgoing minister for regional cooperation; Mohammad Al Najjar, Jordan’s minister of water and irrigation; and the UAE’s Climate Change and Environment Minister Mariam Al Mheiri.

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