Rejecting claims that Israel is intent upon polluting the West Bank and Gaza, Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin sharply criticized the Palestinian Authority leadership at an ongoing United Nations climate conference on Wednesday night.
“It is sad that the Palestinians have chosen to take advantage of this platform, not as a forum for unifying professional discussion but rather for making unrestrained and completely untrue claims, which we completely reject,” the minister said.
Elkin was addressing delegates to this year’s UN Conference on Climate Change – Conference of Parties 22 (COP-22), being held from November 7-18 in Marrakech, Morocco.
Earlier at the convention, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah had attacked Israel, claiming that the country is polluting and causing damage to the Palestinian environment and water resources by constructing factories in the West Bank, according to the Environment Ministry. Calling upon UN delegates to investigate Israel for its actions, Hamdallah went so far as to say that the country intentionally harms the Gazan and West Bank environments in order to directly harm civilians, the ministry said.
Elkin rejected Hamdallah’s accusations entirely and went on to raise a counter example, which he said is one of many that demonstrate how the PA is actually polluting the local environment.
“A cement factory has been set up in a nature reserve which endangers the surrounding population and the reserve itself,” the minister said. “The local population has turned to Israel for assistance as the cement factory is being promoted by the PA through two of Mahmoud Abbas’s sons, who are not willing to take into account the environmental effects nor the possible damage to the population.”
Elkin was referring to plans by Sanad, a company solely owned by the PA’s sovereign wealth fund, to break ground on a cement factory southeast of Bethlehem in the coming months. Palestinians from the village of Arab al-Rashaida strongly oppose the factory, which they say will harm their health and their animals’ ability to graze. However, more than four environmental NGOs and COGAT, the Defense Ministry’s coordinator of government activities in the territories, say they still have not studied the effects the factory would have on the environment.
“We will not be pulled into politicization of this important forum, Elkin said. “There are many other platforms for that political debate.”
Although he slammed the Palestinian leadership’s efforts to spark further discord at the international convention, Elkin stressed the importance of harnessing environmental causes to achieve lasting partnerships.
“Let us ensure that the environmental issue is what unifies us, because without this cooperation we will not be successful in dealing with the mission we all face,” he said.
The Palestinian prime minister was not the only one to condemn Israel at the convention, as Moroccan civilians took to the streets in protest of the Israeli flag last week. Nonetheless, Elkin thanked his hosts for welcoming him to the country.
“Let me open by expressing our appreciation to King Muhammad VI and the Moroccan people for the warm reception my delegation and I have received,” he said. “Our hosts have excelled themselves in providing an atmosphere which supported the positive outcome here in Marrakech.”
The environment minister went on to discuss both Israel’s domestic climate targets, as well as opportunities for regional collaboration in the fight against pollution – following the recently advanced Paris Agreement on climate change.
The Marrakech COP-22 conference follows up on last December’s COP-21 in Paris, during which participants adopted the “Paris Agreement,” a universal climate accord aimed at keeping the global temperature rise “well below 2°C,” by means of varying national targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Paris Agreement went into force on November 4, and Israel ratified the accord on November 14.
Prior to last year’s COP-21, all participant nations submitted Intended National Determined Contribution plans for the accord to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Israel’s targets involve a 26% reduction in its 2005 greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 – limiting residents to 7.7 tons of carbon dioxide per capita.
In addition to setting goals for curbing greenhouse gas emissions, the Israeli government approved a larger program in September 2015 that includes making renewable energy resources responsible for 17% of the country’s electricity mix by 2030, as well as reducing overall electricity consumption by the same percentage. The plans also include a 20% decrease in private vehicle usage.
“The time has come to move from words to actions,” Elkin said. “The focus of this meeting in Marrakech is implementation and Israel is also committed. Today, we all recommit to both national action and global cooperation. Israel is no exception.”
Some of the concrete steps Israel is taking involve reducing coal use by nearly 30% and encouraging renewable energy projects through new economic incentives and reduced bureaucracy, the minister explained. In addition, the country is adopting more stringent standards for energy efficient appliances and green building, as well as formulating economic mechanisms aimed at reducing electricity consumption, he said.
Israel is encouraging the use of energy-efficient and alternatively fueled vehicles, Elkin continued. He also discussed some of the innovative technologies and smartphone apps developed by Israelis for the clean-tech and mobility sectors. Another area of expertise he mentioned included Israel’s leadership in the wastewater treatment and water management fields.
“Israel is a hub for technology and innovation,” Elkin said. “I stand here to offer our knowledge and expertise to our friends and partners worldwide, especially in the developing world,” he continued. “We are committed to sharing our innovations and technology for the betterment of the global community.”
Although he reached out to the world at large, Elkin stressed the particular importance of collaborating with nations in Israel’s immediate neighborhood, and the prospect of sharing solutions to climate challenges. He particularly praised Morocco for building one of the largest solar farms in the world.
“I envision the nations of our region becoming global leaders in providing solutions to the climate challenges that we, in Israel, have faced for generations – the same challenges now being experienced by ever larger expanses of the global community,” Elkin said. “In a region riddled with strife and conflict, I believe climate change is an issue that can unite us.
“This is our mission – our contribution – to the global effort to create effective climate action,” he added.
Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.