French President Francois Hollande (C) and French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius (L) welcome United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as he arrives for the opening day of the World Climate Change Conference 2015.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The frequent and extreme changes in the global climate have made it clear to all of us that the debate over whether or not we are in fact facing a global warming crisis is no longer relevant. The climate crisis is here and will only get worse if we do not implement changes in the way we consume energy. It is of the utmost and immediate importance that we reduce consumption and use alternative energy sources.
At the recent UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, the sense of urgency was evident at every session.
When Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, was recently asked why she is acting so determinedly, she replied that she can see in front of her seven pairs of eyes of the next seven generations asking her what she did to prevent the catastrophe. And so she wants to know that she did everything humanly possible to lessen the harm.
It’s incredibly difficult to create this type of cooperation between nations, since we’re dealing with the classical game theory, in which each player prefers to hitch a ride and let others do the hard work. French Prime Minister François Hollande wisely stated that leaders around the world who are used to focusing on short-term issues in order to be reelected need to show true leadership now and make decisions that will affect us all for generations to come. This is the great challenge we currently face.
In a nutshell, 20 years ago, the world’s most developed nations got together and decided that they were the ones responsible for most of the pollution around the world, and that developing countries should not be held accountable. To that end, the developed nations all signed an agreement that required them to reduce harmful emissions, while developing nations were exempt from these limitations.
Since that time, however, much has changed and many developing nations are generating huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, namely India and China.
Unfortunately, developing nations are still demanding that there be a distinction between themselves and developed nations, and this issue has been at the heart of recent discussions.
Many countries from around the world have been involved in these frantic negotiations.
Despite all this, this sense of urgency is not being felt here in Israel. Local industries have taken great efforts to focus on the environment: we have highly developed recycling and expansive solar energy projects in place, and yet not much emphasis has been put on taking responsibility for the global climate crisis.
I believe there are a few reasons for this. The first one is that here, environmental issues have traditionally been considered important mostly by left-wing parties, and the rift between Left and Right has never been greater than it is now. As a result, an issue that has traditionally been considered important to the liberal camp is not taken seriously by the more hawkish parties.
The political affiliation of the environmental movement with the Left is due in part to the organizations themselves, as well as a number of politicians for whom this categorization was beneficial. The politicization of environmental issues, though, has ended up harming the green movement and as result it is endangering our future. And as French environment minister Marie-Ségolène Royal said at the conference, “On this issue, there is no longer any left and right.
There is no distinction between parties when it comes to our future.” We must follow France’s lead on this issue.
It is true that Israel is a small country and as such has an insignificant impact on global climate conditions, whereas India, China and Russia are among the world’s greatest polluters.
But with our innovative clean-tech technologies, we are having a huge impact on the world. I personally have attended two clean-tech expos where Israeli technologies stood out boldly.
One product that caught my attention was a solar panel cleaning technology.
Up until now, solar panels required a huge amount of water to clean them, and so an Israeli company developed special brushes that clean the panels, which saves an incredible amount of water. Another Israeli technology transforms organic waste into a source of heat that can be used to heat food in developing countries. A third company developed solar panels that produce electricity that can be used in developing countries for heating and lighting. This technology is already being used in central Paris to charge mobile phones. In my mind, this is the Israeli connection to this story.
Although our government has not yet formulated a plan to reduce greenhouse gases, some of our ministries, public figures and private businesses have shown incredible initiative and have reduced air pollution emissions even before an agreed upon framework has been implemented.
For example, many mayors have decided to switch to LED street lighting and city buses that run on natural gas. Even the Construction Ministry has announced it will be following environmental guidelines when building future subsidized apartment complexes.
As a result, home owners will save between NIS 200-400 a month on energy bills, greenhouse gas emissions will be significantly reduced and environmental standards will slowly become the norm. In other words, mayors, the public and even a few government ministries are following environmental guidelines even before the Knesset has made them mandatory.
The time has come for these guidelines to become mandatory for everyone.
It is clear to us following the Paris climate conference that this is our last chance. We are the last generation that can take steps to make the world a better place for future generations, just as French Prime Minister Hollande declared. Although it might feel distant and not relevant to our current lives, in reality the future is just around the corner. We must take the area in which we are strongest – cleantech – and do our part in this global effort. If you ask me, this is the time for us to transform ourselves from a start-up nation to a clean-tech nation.
The author is a member of Knesset (Kulanu) and serves as a joint chairwoman of the environmental lobby. She represented the Knesset’s Environmental Committee at the UN climate conference in Paris