Lessons from the Negev Desert in Israel
Recent UN climate conferences have seen stronger calls to both prepare and fund climate adaptation plans, as the impacts of climate change become increasingly evident. In 2021, the COP26 the final cover story included the unprecedented goal for rich countries to double adaptation funding for developing countries by 2025 to around $40 billion. Then in 2022 – after a year that saw record floods in Pakistan to record droughts in China – COP27 President Sameh Shoukry launched the Sharm el-Sheikh Adaptation Agenda, the first comprehensive global plan to tackle adaptation, with 30 key ‘adaptation outcomes’.
However, despite encouraging words, the world remains well on its way to meeting the challenge of adapting to our changing climate. “Global efforts in planning, financing and implementing adaptation continue to make incremental progress, but are failing to keep pace with growing climate riskssaid the latest UN report on the adaptation gap, released just before COP27.
The report shows that more than eight in ten countries have some sort of climate adaptation plan in place, but it says annual adaptation funding for developing countries must be at least five times higher if countries are to meet the challenge of adapting to climate change.
This trend is true for everyone: the $49 billion spent on adaptation in 2019/20 must be at least five times higher for a world aligned with the Paris Agreement, according to the nonprofit Climate Policy Initiative.
Beyond the extreme weather events that make the news, one of the greatest challenges of the climate and ecological crises is the creeping threat of land degradation and desertification.
Fueled by factors such as over-farming, drought, deforestation and urbanization, land degradation is occurring at a rate 30 to 35 times higher than the historical rate, according to the UN. About 30% of the land is already degraded in the worldand when this process occurs in arid zones (areas composed of arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid zones), it can lead to desertification.
Dryland cover 46.2% of the world’s land area and are home to three billion people, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The risk posed by desertification is therefore profound, especially considering the poor infrastructure of many arid countries. About 30% of the world’s population do not have access to indoor drinking water.
Climate Adaptation: Lessons from Israel’s Negev Desert
Adapting to desertification is something many countries now have to deal with, but the good news is that a country can still thrive in hot, arid conditions, as the example of the state of Israel.
A Middle Eastern country of just 50,000 square kilometres, Israel has been uniquely – and controversially – shaped by conflict, geography and the mindset of its people to become one of the world’s wealthiest countries. of the world. Its military-industrial complex and start-up scene are formidable – but much of its prosperity also comes from the agricultural sector, which is perhaps unlikely for a country that is 55% Negev desert.
Israel is the world’s largest producer of cow’s milk, 13,000 liters per cow compared to 10,000 liters in North America and 6,000 liters in Europe. The country’s tomato yield is 300 tonnes
Over 40% of Israel’s crops are grown in the desert, and water scarcity is a major challenge for farmers. The internal water supply in Israel is equivalent to 90 m3 per capita on an annual basis, compared to 1,300 in Germany and 2,200 in the United Kingdom. Much of the country’s success is due to water management and technology: Mekorot, Israel’s national water utility, provides desalinated seawater to meet 60-85% of demand domestic and industrial water.
Israel also recycles more than 90% of its wastewater, which is a “world record that no other country comes close to,” says Gideon Behar, special envoy for climate change and sustainability at the Israeli Foreign Ministry. The United States, on the other hand, recycles about 10%.
Israel is also a pioneer in drip irrigation technology, which involves threading flexible hoses between rows of crops and providing only the minimum amount of water required for each plant. Israel’s success in water management has been such that the country is poised to export water to neighboring Jordan in exchange for solar electricity.
Behar believes much of what Israel has achieved can be replicated by other countries facing desertification. “Israel has overcome climate challenges with innovative solutions,” he explains. “We are a small country with a limited impact: it is therefore these adaptation solutions that are our greatest contribution to the fight against climate change.”
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There are lessons from Israel that could certainly be adopted around the world: approximately 70% of water is used for irrigation worldwide, and overall water demand is expected to exceed supply by 40% by 2030.
Salt water and solar panels
Deep in the Negev desert, not far from the Israel-Egypt border, is Beer Milka, Sharon Cherry’s farm. Cherry was offered a plot of sandy, sun-scorched land by the Israeli government ten years ago after he and his wife decided to leave Tel Aviv. “We had no experience, we had never even grown flowers before,” says Cherry. “Everyone told us: you are crazy. You descend. Do not do it.
Cherry benefited from access to electricity, a desalinated brackish water pipe from the sea, a fresh water pipe, as well as technical assistance from the Ramat Desert Agricultural Research Center -HaNegev located nearby. Today, he runs Israel’s largest farm specializing in vegetables from India, his parents’ birthplace. These include spinach, fresh turmeric, mushrooms, and okra; Cherry says he is the only grower in the world to grow okra in greenhouses, where conditions allow the plant to go from flower to full-grown vegetable in just days.
“Where our farm is located is actually the most suitable region in the world for cherry tomatoes, due to the warm climate, soil and salty sea water, but it is a very competitive market, and my wife and I didn’t want to be controlled by fixed market prices,” says Cherry, “so we brought something new to the Israeli market.
Cherry uses a combination of low-tech solutions – such as a network of vents, water pipes and screens that heat and cool its nursery – in combination with more high-tech, computer-controlled methods. When it is 40°C outside, it can be 26°C in its greenhouses; when it is 2°C outside at night, it can be 12°C inside.
It only costs $1-2 a day to control the temperature in his greenhouses, and the other extra costs are more than offset by the inherent benefits of growing vegetables in the desert, Cherry says. These include the fact that cultivation and harvesting can take place 12 months of the year; as well as the fact that growing non-native plants in desert soil means there is no need to use pesticides on many of his crops.
The biggest cost, says Cherry, is labor, which accounts for nearly 50% of her expenses. “On my farm, we see declining soils and salt water as an opportunity, not a problem,” he says. Cherry also generates energy from photovoltaic solar panelswhich is resold to the network, and offers the possibility of one day becoming a net zero company.
Adaptation beyond Israel
Sivan Cohen Shachari, director of the desert research center that assists Sharon Cherry, explains that their community’s mission is “to work together to promote Israel, ecosystem innovation and technology to address desert challenges.” Other farms in the area grow everything from strawberries to glasswort, as well as more traditional desert crops like dates. Water management and technology are key: growing grapes in the Negev desert uses about one-tenth the water that a typical farm would use.
Shachari adds that they are now working with neighboring countries Jordan and the United Arab Emirates to promote their technology, as well as with the Netherlands, Spain and Italy, “countries that have no historically known cultivation protocols with irrigation because they have always relied solely on rain,” she explains.
The countries cited by Ramat-HaNegev as recipients of their technical assistance are relatively wealthy. The task of adapting the world’s poorest countries to climate change is a deeper and more costly challenge: countries in sub-Saharan Africa would need to spend 2.1% of their GDP on adaptation to meet the challenges of climate change this decade, according to the UN’s Climate Change Gap Report. ‘adaptation.
If rich countries end up increase adaptation funding, however, targeted investment will bring rewards wherever it takes place in the world. Sustainable land practices in drylands typically provide about $3 to $6 return over 30 years for every dollar invested, according to the IPCC. The scientific body adds, however, that the practices are generally not adopted due to “land insecurity, lack of access to credit and agricultural advisory services and insufficient incentives for private users of the land”.
Accelerating the energy transition for climate adaptation
For desert adaptation to become truly climate compatible, a country’s energy supply must also be decarbonized so that farming methods such as Sharon Cherry’s can become carbon neutral.
Unfortunately, around 90% of Israel’s electricity currently comes from fossil fuels, according to GlobalData, Energy monitormother Society. This means that even as agricultural enterprises adapt to desert environments, the energy they consume continues to contribute to the climate crisis.
Decarbonizing the energy mix is ultimately as crucial as anything else when it comes to adaptation. This is because humanity’s adaptive capacity will reach its limit if we don’t reduce emissions and tackling climate change.
“The less we mitigate, the more we have to adapt,” UN climate chief Simon Stiell said at COP27. “Investing in mitigation is a way to reduce the need to invest in adaptation and resilience.”