The ecological tradeoffs of desalination in land-constrained countries seeking to mitigate climate change

Michael Buchdahl Roth, Alon Tal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


The global demand for desalinated water is increasing at a remarkable rate. In a future with increasing demand for water and low-carbon electricity, an interesting ecological dilemma emerges. In a decarbonized world, providing desalinated water for domestic use and aquatic ecological restoration could increasingly come at the expense of open space lost to renewables such as solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind turbines. In this article we examine the environmental tradeoffs of providing freshwater from desalination under a solar photovoltaic-based decarbonization strategy, using Israel as an example. Israeli policymakers are tasked with finding an acceptable balance between reducing CO2 emissions, increasing water supply for human consumption, preserving open space, remediating aquatic ecosystems, and aiding Palestinian and Jordanian neighbors in efforts to mitigate the risks associated with acute water shortages. We simulate future 2050 ecological tradeoffs from largescale desalination in Israel under a “business-as-usual”, a “nature-matters”, and a “nature-and-cooperation-matter” scenario. We find that the solar PV required for generating electricity for desalination alone could take up an area more than half the size of Israel's second-biggest city, Tel Aviv. The marginal impact of an additional loss of 37 km2 of open space is difficult to predict, but if ecological corridors or critical habitats are affected, it could be catastrophic for many stressed species and ecosystems across Israel.

Original languageEnglish
Article number115607
StatePublished - 1 May 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Climate
  • Desalination
  • Energy
  • Environment
  • Renewables
  • Water

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry (all)
  • Chemical Engineering (all)
  • Materials Science (all)
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Mechanical Engineering


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