Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg took part in a meeting between leaders from across the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean, including from Lebanon, Iraq and Qatar, at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Sharm al-Sheikh on Tuesday.
The meeting served as the culmination of a regional process initiated by the Cypriot government in 2019, with Israel participating alongside Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Cyprus, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Kuwait and the Palestinian Authority.
Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid, Jordanian Prime Minister Bisher Al-Khasawneh and PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh spoke at the event alongside Zandberg and other regional officials.
The Cypriot initiative, known as the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East Climate Change Initiative (EMME-CCI), aims to coordinate efforts to combat the climate crisis at the regional level with 13 task teams and over 200 scientists from across the region and the world joining in. The task teams mapped the consequences of the climate crisis in the region, pointed out where work is needed and formulated recommendations on how to move forward.
Some of the recommendations are intended to launch joint regional actions between the participating countries, while others involve action within individual states. Israel has supported the initiative since it began in order to combat the effects of the climate crisis on the region and to take the opportunity to build up regional cooperation and strengthen political ties.
"We in Israel live in a hotspot, a hot climate point. The temperatures in our region continue to rise above the global average and extreme weather events do not pass over any country," said Zandberg. "Just as the climate crisis does not distinguish between borders, dealing with it must be regional and cross-border. Only a regional effort and sharing of knowledge and experience in the fields of technology will bring breakthrough solutions that will improve the lives of billions of people - not only in our region but around the world."
"No country will be able to face the climate crisis alone, and the countries of the region working together to share preparation and adaptation solutions is the most important thing for the coming years."Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg
"The countries of the region share the warming and drying climate, and as they share the problems - they can and should share the solutions. No country will be able to face the climate crisis alone, and the countries of the region working together to share preparation and adaptation solutions is the most important thing for the coming years."
Egyptian President Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi stressed during the event that the Middle East is "among the regions most affected by the consequences of climate change and its devastating effects, at all levels, which has become tangibly clear, during the past few years, which witnessed severe climatic events in the region, from forest fires, to floods and torrential rains, which caused huge human and material losses."
Lebanon downplays importance of event involving Israel
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati downplayed the importance of Lebanese officials taking part in the meeting, stressing that "there was absolutely no communication with any Israeli official."
"The media is circulating news of the participation of an Israeli minister in a specialized workshop at the Climate Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, which included Prime Minister Najib Mikati, along with the delegations of Iraq and Palestine," said Mikati. "To be clear, the expanded meeting took place at the invitation of the presidents of Egypt and Cyprus and with their presence and with wide international and Arab participation, as was the case with other activities of the Climate Conference, and it did not involve any contact with any Israeli official. The uproar that the Israeli media creates in such conferences has become known for its goals, and it necessitated clarification."
Tunisian PM sparks outrage after smiling at Herzog
The meeting involving Israel wasn't the only event at COP27 to spark outrage from those opposed to normalization with Israel.
Earlier on Tuesday, video was shared on social media showing Tunisian President Najla Bouden appearing to have a short, cordial conversation with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, with the two smiling at each other. Social media users and Arabic media expressed outrage, claiming that the conversation was a form of normalization with Israel.
Herzog's office responded to the controversy surrounding the apparent discussion, stating that the president introduced himself to the Tunisian and Lebanese prime ministers, but the three understood that they would not be able to talk further.
"The climate crisis threatens the very existence of the future we want for our children. It transcends politics and geographical areas, we must also transcend them," said Herzog. "I would like to appeal to all the nations at COP27 and especially to our neighbors, near and far: this emergency situation requires us to join forces. Let us leverage necessary regional partnerships, for the purpose of creating a path toward inclusion, stability and prosperity, in order to create a renewed, common Middle East. Let us save the world that G-d has given us, for we are all created in His image."
A separate initiative launched by Saudi Arabia called the Green Middle East Initiative also held a summit on Tuesday, although Israel was not a participant.