Now COVID is over, the next crisis to address in Israel is the climate

Why should this be a key priority for Israel, given these other, more immediate concerns?

GLASS FOR Solel’s UVAC 2008 solar thermal receivers glistens. Israel has committed to a target of 30% renewable energy by 2030 (photo credit: CHEN LEOPOLD/FLASH90)
GLASS FOR Solel’s UVAC 2008 solar thermal receivers glistens. Israel has committed to a target of 30% renewable energy by 2030
(photo credit: CHEN LEOPOLD/FLASH90)
Now that COVID-19 is thankfully starting to get under control in Israel, our attention needs to turn to the next challenge on the horizon. 
You might think I’m talking about the next government and the need to avert a fifth election, or Iran and making sure it doesn’t obtain nuclear weapons, or the need to find out-of-the-box solutions to ensuring security for Israelis alongside autonomy for the Palestinians. The Abraham Accords, too, present a critical opportunity that mustn’t be overlooked… 
But I’m not referring to any of these important issues. I’m talking about the climate. 
Why should this be a key priority for Israel, given these other, more immediate concerns? One important reason is that it’s a key priority of the Biden administration. Something I’ve learned from over 20 years of working in public affairs is that when an issue is high on the agenda for the American president, other countries are wise to take note. 
Another reason is that it’s important to American Jewry. With young Americans’ connection to Israel at a historic low, raising awareness of Israel’s efforts to combat climate change could be an effective way of reaching common ground between us.
Finally, and the most obvious reason, is that scientists agree that in order to stave off the worst impact of climate change, planetary warming needs to be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius. That means everyone – all countries, local authorities, major companies and nonprofits – need to play their part.
Biden’s ambition
Aside from restoring Americans’ health and livelihoods, President Joe Biden has indicated that his highest priority will be tackling the climate crisis. On his first day in office, he returned America to the Paris Agreement, and only days after announced that he will convene a global summit on climate. 
Some 40 world leaders – including Israel’s prime minister – have been invited to the conference, which will take place virtually on April 22 and 23, shortly after the annual Earth Day on April 20. Biden’s goal will be to galvanize the major economies of the world into tackling the climate crisis. 
Following this, the US is expected to make a major announcement on its own 2030 climate targets at COP 26 – the 26th UN Climate Change conference, which is being held in November in Glasgow, UK. 
But how can tiny Israel, one of the world’s smallest countries, contribute to helping the world solve this major issue? Israel is only 22,145 km², compared to the US which is 9.834 million km². Israel’s population of nine million pales in comparison to America’s 382 million. Given our size, population and even age, what should we be expected to contribute?
In 2020, the Bloomberg Innovation Index ranked Israel the 6th most innovative country in the world. Israel is known as the “start-up nation,” but we would do well to raise awareness of the innovations that are being developed here to better manage energy use and increase take-up of renewable energy. And there are many examples to choose from.
Solar energy is hot
Renewable energy has the potential to cut people’s dependence on fossil fuels, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. In sun-drenched Israel, solar energy has been the place to start. To understand its impact, one needs only to drive around any city, town or village to see the many solar panels on our home and office rooftops. In fact, the world’s tallest solar power tower is on Kibbutz Ashalim.
Not only is solar energy widespread across Israel, we’re also helping others to benefit from it. Thanks to the nonprofit Innovation Africa, for example, villagers in the most remote parts of Africa can benefit from solar power, enabling water to be pumped from wells. And in March, Israel, Cyprus and Greece agreed to lay the world’s longest undersea power cable linking the countries’ electricity grids, and significantly increasing reliance on solar power.
Getting around, greener
According to the World Resources Institute, the transport sector generates 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Israeli innovations, however, are helping to lower our dependence on private transport. The Moovit app, for example, makes it easier for more than 720 million people across 100 countries to travel by public transport. 
Time Magazine has named City Transformer, an Israeli-developed electric urban vehicle, among its top inventions of 2020. Israeli company Electreon Wireless, developed the world’s first electric road in Sweden, which charges electric buses and trucks while they are being driven. And Israel’s Eviation Alice developed the world’s first all-electric commuter airplane, with the aim of creating an affordable, sustainable alternative for regional transport.
Cows and cuds 
According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), meat and dairy production – cow farming - accounts for around 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. 
Tel Aviv is known as the vegan capital of the world and Israel has over 50 meat alternative start-ups, covering everything from non-meat proteins to 3D printing steak, and even growing cruelty-free meat from cell cultures.
From CEOs to scientists
Manufacturing and construction together contribute 12% of total global emissions, and many Israeli businesses are focusing efforts on reducing their use of energy and increasing use of renewables, both of which help to cut costs over the long term. 
Israeli researchers are also exploring creative ways of tackling climate change by capturing carbon. As well as planting more trees for this purpose - Israel is one of the few countries in the world that has more trees now than it had a century ago and scientists have, for example, successfully engineered bacteria to ‘eat’ excess global warming CO2 from the air.
What’s next?
Israel has committed to a target of 30% renewable energy by 2030. In December 2020, the Energy Ministry announced further plans to cut emissions by up to 85% by 2050 (compared to a 2015 baseline), and this week announced a road map to achieve a first target of a 27% decrease in greenhouse gas production by 2030. Draft legislation has also been proposed by the Environment Ministry, which seeks to set in law Israel’s commitments to tackle global warming.
To achieve these targets, it is likely that factories and cities across the country will need to be built to sustainable development standards, people will be discouraged from using private cars, and energy will be sourced from renewables, with carbon pricing encouraging the use of cleaner energy. 
Israel’s newly found natural gas sources off the Mediterranean Sea will also serve as a cleaner energy source than coal or petroleum products. As the world becomes less dependent on oil and more reliant on natural gas, and eventually renewable energy, the influence of oil-producing countries, like Iran, will lessen. So perhaps tackling the climate crisis will also be good for dealing with some of those other issues I raised at the beginning of this column… 
The writer helps multinational companies report on how they are contributing to tackling the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – the 17 major challenges facing our planet and the world’s populations today. She can regularly be seen commentating on Israel and Middle East current affairs on India’s international channel, World Is One News. She is also the author of Tikkun Olam: Israel vs COVID-19.