Departing from the 12-day United Nations Conference on Climate Change without a national action plan to implement its modest emissions targets, Israel has failed to live up to its potential at the annual Conference of Parties, according to the country’s leading environmentalist.

“This conference, COP-21, is first and foremost a business opportunity – a business opportunity that our government has missed,” Naor Yerushalmi – CEO of Life and Environment, the umbrella organization for all of Israel’s green groups – told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

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Yerushalmi, who had joined the Israeli delegation in Le Bourget, outside Paris, for the second half of COP-21, spoke with the Post on Thursday evening, as the convention leaders were working to settle on a final agreement.

Among OECD countries, Israel’s greenhouse gas emission target – a 25-percent reduction by 2030, in comparison to 2005 levels – is one of the lowest, but the government has yet to approve a program toward realizing this and other environmental goals, Yerushalmi explained.

“We don’t have the action plan, because the government cannot agree on one,” he said.

Israel “has the opposite perception from the rest of the world – that we are doing a favor to someone” by approving climate targets, rather than understanding that doing so actually benefits the country’s own economy and quality of life, Yerushalmi continued.

Following COP-15 in Copenhagen, the Israeli government approved in 2010 a much stronger, NIS 2.2b. greenhouse gas emissions reduction plan, aiming to decrease emissions by 20% by 2020. The Finance Ministry eventually froze this plan in 2013, and the country’s new targets are slated to receive only a NIS 800m. budget, Yerushalmi pointed out.

A day before COP-21 began, Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense) voiced similar complaints regarding the government’s reluctance to approve a national action plan.

The environmental advocacy group went so far as to assert that Israel’s greenhouse gas targets “bear no practical significance,” in a letter to the COP-21 president, French Foreign Affairs and International Development Minister Laurent Fabius.

As other comparably sized countries are setting more ambitious reduction targets, trying to become global players and showcasing their economies, Israel is not living up to its potential, Yerushalmi said. One possible opportunity involves a future Conference of Parties $100 billion fund, which will aim to mobilize financing for climate improving innovation in developing countries.

“We know that Israel is a hub for technology, and if we would be players for that we could gain something for our own economy,” Yerushalmi said. “The first step is to have our own climate policy.

“The more important part is, are we serious enough to be part of the international game and stop looking only at ourselves?” he asked.

While as a small country Israel will not likely be contributing money to the fund, the country can contribute in other ways, by pushing its technologies and knowledge in the global forum, Yerushalmi explained.

“Other countries are pushing their technologies, their knowledge, their capabilities all the time,” he said. “It’s not enough to say we have good technologies – you should push them and be a player, be a participant in everything here.”

Despite his criticisms, Yerushalmi did praise the Israeli COP-21 delegation for its side event on the country’s technologies, though he said that the event was likely only “a drop in the sea” among the 1,500-2,000 other side events taking place in Paris simultaneously.

He also acknowledged the importance that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended COP-21 – and in doing so became the first Israeli prime minister ever to attend a UN climate convention, since such meetings began to take place in Stockholm in 1972. However, like other leaders who attended COP-21, Netanyahu came for only 24 hours, held meetings with other political figures and left, Yerushalmi said.

Yosef Abramowitz, CEO of Energiya Global and one of the founders of the Israeli solar industry, also shared some of his impressions from COP-21 as he arrived home from Paris on Friday afternoon – expressing some optimism but also pinpointing the country’s many failings in the climate sector.

“The Israeli team came away inspired by much of the rest of the world, and the focus and ingenuity many leaders demonstrated to tackle climate change and, most importantly, energy policy,” Abramowitz told the Post.

“The State of California, for example, under Governor Jerry Brown’s leadership, is not only on track to reach 25% renewables soon, but has the plan in place – in contradistinction to Israel – to reach 50% renewables by 2030,” he continued.

In Abramowitz’s opinion, the best energy policy for Israel – a policy that would make the country “a leader and a responsible global carbon citizen” – would be powering the nation during the day by solar energy and at night by natural gas.

“We’re only at 2% renewables today, so when we met with other delegates, the only thing we had to stress was our technologies that could be helpful,” he said. “I think Israel was left out of many of the new global partnerships and financing mechanisms not because of the Israeli-Arab conflict, but because while we have great, clean tech companies, it is well known that our own house is not in order.”

Abramowitz said he personally met with many representatives from various African delegations interested in partnerships, as a result of the solar field his company built and financed in Rwanda.

During those meetings, however, he was present as a partner with the United States Power Africa program – a project that aims to add more than 30 GW of cleaner energy to Africa.

“But I wore my green kippa and everyone knew I was from Israel,” Abramowitz said.

“Because it is Hanukka, I’m expecting a miracle of renewable light and that the deal will actually be done,” he added.

Yerushalmi likewise ended his conversation with the Post on a positive note, stressing his opinion that many members of the Israeli delegation were able to acquire some new ideas and learn about other methods for accomplishing climate goals at COP-21.

“It’s amazing to see the initiatives and the creativity and the change that is [taking place] around the world,” he said. “Even in Israel – like the environmental education, like recycling, like the bike trails campaign that we have. It’s all improving the situation.”
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