Will Israel be able to cope with climate change?

NEW YORK – During last month’s commemorations marking the first anniversary of the signing of the Abraham Accords, a question was posed to the Ambassador to the United Nations and the United States, Gilad Erdan. Sectors such as commerce, tourism and medicine have featured prominently in the agreements reached between Israel and its new Arab partners. What is the next big mature field for regional cooperation?

Erdan gave a thought-provoking answer. It’s climate change, he said.

Gideon Bachar, the UN Foreign Ministry’s Special Envoy for Climate Change and Sustainability, fully agrees.

“I believe that climate change is and should be the cornerstone of regional cooperation in the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean.

“Our region is considered a climate hotspot. It means that it is warming one and a half times faster than the world average. In the Gulf region, it is already two degrees higher than before the Industrial Revolution. So things are taking a turn for the worst in the Middle East in terms of climate change, ”he said this month, ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, next week.

People participate in a Climate March in Brussels, Belgium, ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow on October 10, 2021. (Credit: REUTERS / YVES HERMAN / FILE PHOTO)

Israel is paying great attention to the high-profile COP26, as it is known. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will lead a 140-person Israeli delegation to Glasgow.

And the wave of climate change activity coming out of Jerusalem ahead of the conference has been dizzying.

On Sunday, the government announced at its weekly cabinet meeting a plan to present 100 action items to tackle the climate crisis, four of which were passed that day: a resolution on an energy rationalization program to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, with NIS 725 million to support industry, commerce and local government; a resolution on clean and low-carbon transport; a resolution to accelerate building infrastructure with a focus on removing barriers to renewable energy; and a resolution to encourage technological innovation to combat climate change.

The climate technology plan, led by Bennett, Minister of Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg and Minister of Energy Karin Elharrar, aims to drive the development of technologies to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for and adapt to climate change. Technologies will be in the areas of climate, energy, food, agriculture, including desert agriculture, water, and more.

DESPITE the wide-ranging plan, some staunch environmentalists were unimpressed with the general direction the government is taking.

Bennett did not mention the government’s pending climate law, which was drafted in April. Also lacking, they argued, were plans for a carbon tax, a consideration of the indirect costs of fossil fuels, and a mechanism that would make the government work with financial regulators to take into account the implications on climate change before it. investments are made in the government. Projects. Most of the components of the national plan that were announced, such as support to accelerate climate technology development, do not have a corresponding budget.

“The bottom line is that Israel is not doing enough,” said Alon Tal, a member of the Coalition for Blue and White and a prominent Israeli academic and environmental activist.

“We have made tremendous progress in the last four months, relative to the commitments of previous governments. We have a very competent minister of environment and minister of energy, and naturally there are turf battles between them, but we are counting on both of them working together. Their frictions get in the way of the new climate law, “he added.

“We want to see a more broad-based carbon tax law to cover emissions. We want free public transportation for all Israelis and create huge electric bus lines. Norway has 85% -90% electric vehicles. Israel is at 5%, ”Tal said.

However, the director general of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, Galit Cohen, believes that the government’s plan to tackle climate change signifies a fundamental change in the way Israel is dealing with the crisis.

“I think the events of this past summer have made us realize in Israel and the rest of the world that climate change is here, and we can’t wait for the next generation to tackle it,” he said. “If we want to reduce its effects, we must act now. I think the new government understands this ”.

Environmentalists believe Israel set the bar low to start when it reached its commitments, and its new plan is gaining ground and, in some cases, giving it up. Tal says that the arguments that Israel is too small a country to have an impact one way or another on the climate are indefensible.

“It’s on the same level as cheating on your taxes and saying it’s such a small amount compared to the total money raised. It’s morally pernicious, ”Tal said.

“The 2015 Paris Accords were the first time that Israel stepped up and made quantifiable commitments, but those commitments were minimal. Rather than acting to reduce emissions, we allowed it to increase by camouflaging it per capita, which means that even when it reduces its emissions, it is not accounting for the increase in Israel’s population. Worse than that, by 2020, we were supposed to have 10% of our electricity generated from renewable sources rather than fossil fuels. We are still at 6%. We are behind in almost every relevant category, ”he said.

That puts Israel in line with its neighbors.

Among the world leaders expected to be in Scotland are US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The Israeli delegation will go to COP26 in Glasgow ready to present its plan and talk about innovation and technology, Cohen said.

“Israel is a small country, but it can bring many technological solutions to the world,” he said.

At the summit, Israel is likely to join some new pledges along with other countries to reach goals to reduce climate change in the coming years, Cohen said.

“I don’t know what targets Israel will accept,” he said.

“The prime minister has already said that our current plan and its goals may not be ambitious enough,” Cohen said.

According to Bachar, the Middle Eastern countries, including Israel, are “starting almost from scratch in the Middle East, and this is what makes it even more problematic.

“But climate change can also be an opportunity for regional cooperation, an opportunity for prosperity, an opportunity to create more ties with different neighbors here in the region. So we have to look at climate change in the Middle East in two ways: as a threat, but also as a source of opportunity. We believe that there is not a single country in the region that can resist the effects of climate change on its own, ”he said.

ISRAEL, in concert with several Gulf states and allies in the Eastern Mediterranean, has contributed to the development of a regional cooperation plan. According to Bachar, the plan is based on five areas of cooperation: water, agriculture, renewable energy, reforestation / nature-based solutions and food security and alternative proteins.

Water scarcity in the Middle East is the highest in the world, and the amount of water per capita will be cut in half in the next 30 years due to population growth, climate change and desertification.

Israel is a global innovator in drip irrigation, a low-pressure, low-volume system designed to conserve soil nutrients and minimize or prevent waste. In Israel, the loss of water is only around 3% in urban water systems, while some neighbors suffer losses of 40% to 50%. Bachar says this is precisely the kind of area where Israel can provide solutions to its neighbors.

“I can tell you that our policy is a policy of sharing knowledge, sharing information, sharing technological developments and climate innovation can be Israel’s best and most important contribution to the climate crisis around the world,” he said.

President Isaac Herzog announced this month that he would convene a new Israeli Climate Forum several times a year, which will bring together the government, the Knesset, academics, local authorities and industry representatives.

One of the main obstacles to regional cooperation is the relative lack of stability in the region. Ironically and tragically, the brutal Syrian civil war came about, in part, because of years of drought, which continues to pose major complications there and in Iraq. Furthermore, the region imports most of its food. That makes you vulnerable to the problems and dangers of supply chains.

The collapse of central governments elsewhere in places like Yemen and divergent political interests among regional states serve as additional barriers to cooperation on climate issues.

“Emphasis must be placed on true regional cooperation, because we cannot afford to leave people or countries behind. Building resilience in the Middle East should be inclusive. If we leave behind people, populations that were not resilient or did not take measures to adapt to climate change, it will affect us all, ”warned Bachar.

In addition to COP26, the UN also recently announced the launch of the first Middle East and North Africa Climate Week, which will take place from February 28 to March 3, 2022 in the United Arab Emirates. While Israel generally employs a good deal of skepticism regarding UN efforts, Bachar says it is the right institution to lead such initiatives right now.

“The Paris Agreement [an international treaty on climate change adopted in 2015] it was carried out within the framework of the UN. The United Nations convention on climate change is within the UN, as well as the Convention to Combat Desertification and others. So the UN is the most important mechanism today that brings together states and different stakeholders. It’s not just the countries, but the private sector, academia, the media and more, ”said Bachar.

“And I think that one of the phenomena of the identity of the world is the shift towards a global agenda and global issues. Corona is a manifestation of that. You really can’t handle the coronavirus in your own country. We are part of the global system, but it is not just the crown and other diseases. It is climate change, it is desertification, it is destructive technology and many more.

“So the world is really moving into a sphere of more cooperation, agreement and understanding.”

Rossella Tercatin and Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.


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