UAE-Israel greentech cooperation shows tremendous potential
[Reposted from Jerusalem Post- https://www.jpost.com/opinion/uae-israel-greentech-cooperation-shows-tremendous-potential-653341]
The blossoming UAE-Israel relationship has tremendous potential to contribute not only to both countries and the wider Middle East, but to the future of our planet. By combining the unique strengths of the UAE and Israel, we can break new paths on the way to a sustainable future.
In November 2020, the UAE Cabinet approved the UAE Environmental Plan, based on eight pillars, including climate change, environmental protection, air quality, food security and waste management. This was the latest in a series of ambitious initiatives launched by the UAE leadership to transform the country, which was ranked in 2010 as having the world’s largest ecological footprint, into a world leader in sustainability.
The UAE has experienced phenomenal growth in the past 50 years in terms of economy, infrastructure and population. At the time of the UAE’s formal union in 1971, the population was under 300,000. Today it is about ten million. Its population density has increased by 3,800%.
Wherever one looks, new buildings, roads and commercial centers are sprouting up, slowed only slightly by COVID-19. The total built-up area of Dubai, the UAE’s commercial hub, increased 1,700% from 1975 to 2015, and continues to expand. Dubai’s economic model is based to a large extent on consistent growth in terms of population, infrastructure, businesses, investments and tourists.
With the UAE’s record-breaking growth has come daunting environmental challenges. The Gulf country is admirably open regarding these challenges. According to the official UAE Government Portal, “On a per-capita basis, the UAE's energy, water and carbon footprints are amongst the highest in the world.” The Government Portal also notes that, “the UAE's per-capita waste generation is among the world's highest,” and that maintaining air quality standards, “has been one of the main challenges to the environment authorities in the country.”
In response to these challenges stemming from the country’s rapid growth, arid climate, and energy-rich economy, the UAE’s Rulers have initiated several multi-year plans to not only improve the country’s environmental record, but to turn it into a global green leader. These plans include the UAE Vision 2021, UAE Energy Plan 2050, Dubai Clean Energy Strategy, Abu Dhabi and Dubai’s green building ranking systems, and the recently-approved Environmental Plan.
For example, the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy, launched in November 2015 by UAE Vice President and Prime Minister, and Ruler of Dubai, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, intends to make Dubai a “global center of clean energy and green economy.” The new Environmental Plan aims to cut individual and institutional energy consumption by 40% by 2030, reduce municipal solid waste generation to 1.2 kg per person per day by 2035, increase the National Air Quality Index score to 100% by 2040, and increase urban farming by 60% by 2050.
A key part of the UAE’s efforts will focus on technology. According to Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, CEO of Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA): “DEWA is guided…by the vision of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, to make Dubai a global model for clean energy and green economy by using the disruptive technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution such as Artificial Intelligence, unmanned aerial vehicles, energy storage, blockchain, the Internet of Things and many more.”
Similarly, in the words of Saeed AlAbbar, Chair of Emirates Green Building Council, “We need to promote innovation and investment in the green space...research and development is key in creating a market for sustainable alternatives in energy efficiency, water management, waste, and indoor environmental quality.”
While Israel’s record as a country with regards to green standards and clean energy is a mixed bag, its start-up ecosystem is at the cutting edge of Greentech and Cleantech. Both Israeli start-ups and established companies such as Netafim and Mekorot are trailblazers in fields such as smart irrigation, water recycling, waste treatment, agricultural drones, vertical farming, energy-efficient utility infrastructure, alternative energy generation and storage, and AI-based environment control.
Israeli companies in these fields are looking to scale their innovative products and systems. The UAE, with its rapid expansion, high-speed development and advanced business infrastructure, provides the perfect arena for such efforts. The combination of Israel and the UAE’s unique capabilities can help both countries attain their sustainable development goals, transform their economies, and improve quality of life.
The synergies between Israel and the UAE exist not only on the level of commercial companies. Several Israeli and Emirati universities are at the forefront of research in Greentech-related fields. One particularly exciting development is the DeserTech community taking shape in Beersheva’s innovation district, at the edge of the Negev desert.
DeserTech, a joint initiative of the Israeli Innovation Institute and Merage Foundation, together with Ben-Gurion University, the Environmental Protection Ministry, City of Beersheba, JNF and other partners, is bringing together entrepreneurs, researchers and officials to develop technologies for arid environments. These include technological innovations for adapting to climate change, combating desertification, and enhancing food security, water efficiency and alternative energy use. DeserTech presents an ideal opportunity for Israelis and Emiratis to cooperate in meeting the climate challenges shared by countries throughout the Middle East.
The Abraham Accords and UAE-Israel Peace Agreement encourage Israel and the UAE to “expand their cooperation in innovation…so that the dividends of peace are felt across their societies,” acknowledge “the important role of science, technology and innovation in the growth of multiple key sectors,” and state that the parties shall “promote environmental innovation for the sustainable development of the region and beyond.” They even note explicitly, “the possible establishment of a center for developing pioneering solutions to climate challenges in arid and semi-arid environments.”
It is now up to entrepreneurs, investors, researchers and all who care about sustainable development to realize the enormous potential of Gulf-Israel green cooperation. By doing so, they will strengthen not only the commercial and academic ties between the two countries, but help build a more sustainable future for all the people of the region.