Global warming is putting the Middle East in an ever more difficult position, exacerbating environmental issues such as desertification and water scarcity across the region. Jordan knows the effects of the climate crisis all too well. Its population has doubled in the past 20 years, and a shrinking water supply is among its greatest challenges. Rainfall this year has barely reached 60 percent of the average, and groundwater supplies are fraught.

Sandwiched between better-connected regional powers and headline-grabbing war zones, Jordan’s uphill battle against climate change has failed to receive significant attention from the international community or capture the imagination of the environmental movement. This dynamic puts the country at a particular disadvantage.

As such, in the campaign against environmental degradation, Jordan is investing in self-reliance. The Jordanian Environment Ministry, the government agency at the forefront of this effort, outlined the strategy in a 2017 report titled, “A National Green Growth Plan for Jordan.” To prepare the report, the Jordanian Environment Ministry spent two years consulting with other government agencies, environmental organizations, the private sector, and over 100 specialists.

“Green growth is not a choice but the only way forward for Jordan and the rest of the countries around the globe.”

“Amidst unprecedented economic and environmental challenges facing our world, green growth is not a choice but the only way forward for Jordan and the rest of the countries around the globe,” Yaseen M. Khayyat, Jordanian Environment Minister at the time, wrote in the report’s foreword. He emphasized the importance of developing “a roadmap with key building blocks that places the country on a sustainable, green growth path,” highlighting the kingdom’s “commitment to transition towards a green economy” and sustainable development.

Over 141 pages, the Jordanian Environment Ministry’s analysis urged Amman to build a green economy not through “donor finance and government grants” but with the expansion of “private sector participation in commercially attractive green infrastructure projects.” The report suggested that Jordan’s government co-finance projects with the private sector, provide technical assistance to green companies, and reduce certain taxes to incentivize investment and innovation.

Jordan climate

A view of the desert in Jordan. The country’s population has doubled in the past 20 years and a shrinking water supply is among its greatest challenges.

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At first glance, the Jordanian Environment Ministry’s proposals might seem straightforward or even obvious: in industrialized countries, the private sector tends to underpin economic growth and form the crux of green economies. In the Middle East, however, almost every monarchy is employing the public sector—itself fueled by revenue from oil reserves—to bankroll green development. Thus, Jordan’s intention to partner with private companies makes it the regional outlier.

The ambitions of Saudi Arabia, the most influential of the Middle East’s energy superpowers and Jordan’s biggest neighbor, demonstrate the counterintuitive but effective strategy of using fossil fuels to finance the transition to a green economy. As proceeds from the kingdom’s oil reserves dipped following last year’s global recession, Saudi officials still had more than enough money to fund solar parks, wind farms, and even a much-vaunted plant for green hydrogen. Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates are pursuing similar plans.

While these initiatives merit praise and will go a long way toward sustainable development, their price tag all but ensures that few countries outside the oil-rich region of the Arabian Peninsula can replicate the Saudi model. Beset by financial crises and a dearth of natural resources, Jordan can hardly afford such costly projects. By some estimates, around 12 percent of the Jordanian government budget comes in the form of foreign aid, much of it provided by Saudi Arabia.

The Middle East Insurance Company—an Amman-based firm—made its headquarters Jordan’s first green building.

Jordan may lack sizable oil reserves and flashy initiatives like Neom—a city that Saudi Arabia is designing to draw all its power from renewable resources—but Jordanian officials can call on more than enough collaborators from the private sector. In the renewable energy industry, major Jordanian players include al-Asalah Group, Kawar Group, and PanMed Energy. Promisingly, the Middle East Insurance Company—an Amman-based firm—made its headquarters Jordan’s first green building, starting a national trend celebrated by the Jordan Green Building Council.

Furthermore, the Jordanian Environment Ministry’s 2017 report emphasized two mechanisms that Jordanian officials can deploy to bolster their allies in the private sector: the Jordan Environment Fund, shortened to “JEF,” and the Jordanian Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Fund, which uses the much clunkier abbreviation “JREEEF.” JEF and JREEEF are sponsoring a number of projects in sectors such as agriculture, construction, heavy industry, housing, and even tourism.

A JREEEF program to increase the energy efficiency of hotels in Petra—perhaps Jordan’s most famous tourist attraction—typifies how the country is tying the green economy to the private sector’s most promising industries. The private sector, for its part, shares Jordanian officials’ excitement for this strategy: the Petra Hotel Association counts itself among JREEEF’s partners. From electric utilities to financial institutions, a range of other private companies are coordinating with JREEEF, a sign of widespread enthusiasm for this public-private partnership.

Despite the Jordanian Environment Ministry’s emphasis on self-sufficiency, the international community is lending some support. JREEEF lists Canada, France, Italy, the United States, the European Union, and several foreign aid agencies among its donors. Even IKEA, the Swedish manufacturer of ready-to-assemble furniture and bastion of popular culture, has contributed. However, donations have also come from Jordan Wind Project Company, a local green business.

Jordan will likely continue mixing foreign aid with investments from private companies to build a green economy.

In the near term, Jordan will likely continue mixing foreign aid with investments from private companies to build a green economy. In the foreword to the 2017 report, Khayyat noted, “The Ministry of Environment is looking forward to collaborating with national and international partners over the coming years, supporting government agencies and particularly private sector stakeholders to implement key recommendations of this document.” It may also take several years to tell whether the Jordanian strategy of bolstering green companies bears fruit. The report concluded on an ominous note: “How Jordan is as a country in 2025 and beyond depends on decisions taken now.”

If Jordan’s innovative public-private partnership does succeed, it can offer a model to other Arab countries without the wealth of regional energy superpowers, such as Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia. Even Oman, an eco-friendly monarchy set to exhaust its supply of fossil fuels in less than two decades, may learn a lesson from Jordan.

In the coming years, countries throughout the Middle East and across the world will have to decide how to tackle climate change in the long term. Thanks to the Jordanian Environment Ministry’s report, Jordan may already have a successful battle plan.