On Thursday, March 5th, in the shadow of the ever growing global and regional COVID 19 Coronavirus crisis, the Arava Institute, in partnership with Oxford University, the European Union and our Palestinian colleagues, convened a conference on Climate Stress and Regional Risks: The Jordan River Basin in memory of Dr. Noam Segal. Noam was an Arava Institute alum and research colleague who sadly passed away last year from cancer. Noam initiated a study at Oxford University to examine the nexus between water and energy in the Jordan River Basin, in order to mitigate the impact of climate change by optimizing natural resource use and infrastructure. Over 80 Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian and international stakeholders met at the Jaffa Theatre to discuss the impact of climate change on the Jordan River Basin and strategies for regional cooperation to confront the crisis. Water, energy and climate experts discussed the risks the region faces. As a global climate hotspot, the rise in average temperatures in our region is expected to exceed average global temperature increase, the drop in precipitation will increase water scarcity in the region, and the demand for energy to cool our houses and provide desalinated drinking water will accelerate. Climate change will not only impact water and energy resources but also commodities dependent on those resources such as food production and public goods like public health. The Syrian civil war, the uprising in Lebanon, the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the influx of refugees into water-stressed Jordan all signal that we are facing a regional crisis which cannot be solved by each individual country on their own. Israel may be able to mitigate some of the impacts of climate change through its technological creativity but in the long-run, if the countries surrounding Israel collapse, Israel too will face potentially devastating challenges from the deterioration of shared resources, the flood of desperate refugees looking for food and water, and the threat of epidemics which know no borders.
Throughout the day, as experts discussed the growing threat to the planet and to the region from climate change, the audience continued to receive the latest updates on the spread of the novel coronavirus, and reactions of governments around the world, as well as here in the region. While there seems to be a great deal of uncertainty, confusion and anxiety, it is very clear that COVID 19 is a global threat requiring drastic and coordinated action between countries around the world. The threat to humanity of an average increase in global temperature above 2 degrees centigrade is far more devastating than the coronavirus. In order to stop the existential threat to the human race from climate change, a coordinated effort on a global scale must be implemented, in many ways, mirroring the efforts being made by nations, acting responsibly and in concert to stop the spread of this novel virus. This may be a dry run for how the world can take on climate change. Our success in beating this virus may give us the faith we need, in ourselves, to do what needs to be done for humanity to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
David Lehrer, Executive Director