Equilibrium & Sustainability

Israel, Jordan, UAE sign pivotal deal to swap solar energy, desalinated water

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Israel and Jordan are on track to swap desalinated water for solar energy after cementing the largest-ever partnership between the two nations on Monday — in a ceremony facilitated by the United Arab Emirates and in the presence of U.S. climate envoy John Kerry.

Government officials from Israel, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates signed a letter of intent at the Dubai Expo on Monday, paving the way for the future export of Jordanian solar energy in exchange for Israeli desalinated water. Not only would the move help water-starved Jordan, but it would also shift Israel’s historic neighborhood status as an energy island and help the country meet climate targets.

“The Middle East is on the frontline of the climate crisis, and only by working together can countries in the region rise to the challenge,” Kerry tweeted following the announcement. “Today’s agreement is a welcomed example of how cooperation can accelerate the energy transition and build greater resilience.”

As part of the agreement, Jordan would export about 600 megawatts of electricity generated from solar energy, while Israel would evaluate the export of up to 200 million cubic meters of desalinated water to Jordan, a joint news release from the Israeli Energy Ministry and the UAE Foreign Ministry said. The collaboration was made possible due to the August 2020 Abraham Accords, which the countries described as “opening a new era of cooperation between the United Arab Emirates and Israel.”

“I am pleased to join Jordan, Israel and the UAE as they demonstrate that we can work across the lines that have historically divided us, and that we can build practical economic connections that have impact even well beyond the size of the project that we are discussing here today,” Kerry said in a statement.

The agreement includes the implementation of two programs: “Prosperity Green,” the construction of photovoltaic solar generation and storage facilities in Jordan, and “Prosperity Blue,” the establishment of a new desalination facility in Israel, the news release said. Israel already has a robust desalination program, furnishing about 80 percent of domestic drinking water supplies from Mediterranean Sea water.

“This is a message to the whole world about how countries can work together to combat the climate crisis,” Israeli Energy Minister Karine Elharrar said in a statement. “Israel and Jordan are two countries with different needs and capabilities that can help each other cope with challenges in a greener, cleaner and more efficient way.”

“Jordan, which has an abundance of open spaces and sunlight, will help advance the State of Israel’s transition to green energy and to achieve the ambitious goals we have set, and Israel, which has excellent water desalination technology, will help tackle Jordan’s water shortage,” Elharrar added.

UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed expressed his country’s pride in facilitating a partnership between Israel and Jordan “that reinforces both countries’ climate security and common interests.”

“This declaration is just one of the positive outcomes of the Abraham Accords that is serving to reinforce regional peace, stability and prosperity, while improving the lives and the future prospects of all the people of the region,” Zayed said in a statement.

Further details and concrete plans for the execution of the projects will be available by 2022, according to the joint statement. 

But a report from Axios published ahead of the deal said that the solar farm would be built by Masdar, a UAE government-owned renewable energy firm. The plans, according to Axios, call for the facility to be operational by 2026 and generate 2 percent of Israel’s electricity by 2030, with Israel paying $180 million annually — to be divided between Jordan and Masdar.

Israel is aiming to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 27 percent from 2015 levels by 2030 and to supply 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by the same year, according to government climate targets.

While Israel is still examining the technical details associated with the export of desalinated water, Jordanian Water Minister Mohammed al Najjar underscored the potential of this additional supply to help a parched Jordanian water sector.

“The climate crisis and the increase in the number of refugees have exacerbated the water shortage that the Kingdom of Jordan is facing, but there are many opportunities for regional cooperation that will help strengthen stability in this sector,” Najjar said in a statement.

The vision behind this project, according to Axios, came from EcoPeace Middle East — a regional environmental organization with offices in Tel Aviv, Amman and Ramallah.

EcoPeace described the agreement as “historic” on Monday, stressing that the organization has long been calling for the advancement of a private sector buy-in for a water-energy deal as part of regional climate security solution called the “Green Blue Deal for the Middle East.”

“It’s a win-win for all sides and a model for out-of-the-box thinking on climate security,” EcoPeace Israel Director Gidon Bromberg, said in a statement, adding that climate change has reached such a crisis point in the Middle East that policy changes must occur at a regional level.

“Without these new arrangements Israel would struggle to meet its commitments for renewable energy under the Paris Climate Accords and Jordan would struggle to meet the basic water needs of its population,” Bromberg added.

Israel and Jordan have a long history of collaborating on water, even amid political tensions. Ever since the 1994 Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty, Israel has been storing some of the kingdom’s Jordan River allocations in the Sea of Galilee, and discharging the supplies as needed.

Just last month, Elharrar and Najjar met to sign a separate agreement to double the amount of water Israel sends to Jordan, The Times of Israel reported.  

For almost 10 years, the two countries were also working on a potential Red Sea – Dead Sea Water Conveyance initiative, which would have led to the establishment of a joint desalination project in southern Jordan, while funneling the residual brine some 200 kilometers northbound to refill a dwindling Dead Sea.

Although the Red Sea – Dead Sea project ultimately collapsed, EcoPeace had long been advocating for the desalinated water and solar energy swap instead of the larger — and much more logistically complicated — program.

Monday’s agreement creates “a new model for healthy interdependencies between countries in our region,” according to EcoPeace Jordan Director Yana Abu Taleb, who called for the inclusion of the Palestinian Authority in later stages of the deal as well.

“Jordan for the first time has something of real value to sell to Israel resulting in much-needed new political leverage,” Taleb added.

Sharon Megdal, director of the University of Arizona’s Water Resources Research Center, and editor of the 2012 book “Shared Borders, Shared Waters: Israeli-Palestinian and Colorado River Basin Water Challenges,” expressed her excitement about such “multi-national collaboration on green energy and water augmentation.”

“Jordan is in need of water resources, and this project addresses one of the environmental criticisms of desalinating seawater – the carbon footprint of the required energy,” Megdal told The Hill. “The joint effort is evidence that diplomatic, institutional, and financial innovations can be combined with technology to facilitate addressing the severe water needs of the region.”

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