My Word: The art of climate change conferences

It’s not like the climate change issue lacks headlines. What it needs is meaningful action rather than more slogans.

 AN ACTIVIST demonstrates at the entrance of the Sharm e-Sheikh International Convention Center during the COP27 climate summit on Monday. (photo credit: MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY/REUTERS)
AN ACTIVIST demonstrates at the entrance of the Sharm e-Sheikh International Convention Center during the COP27 climate summit on Monday.
(photo credit: MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY/REUTERS)

In what has been described as a food fight on works of art, eco-activists have made headlines recently. Two members of the group Just Stop Oil got the world’s ear after throwing tomato soup at Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” at London’s National Gallery last month while last week, four activists from Italy’s Ultima Generazione (Last Generation) threw pea soup at Van Gogh’s “The Sower” at a museum in Rome. 

The “Mona Lisa” had nothing to smile about when cake was smeared on the protective glass covering her famous face at the Louvre in May. Mashed potato has been thrown at a Monet in Potsdam; two climate activists glued their hands to the frames of two paintings by Goya at a Madrid museum and on Wednesday, climate protesters seeking their proverbial 15 minutes of fame glued themselves to Andy Warhol’s “Campbell’s Soup I” at the National Art Gallery of Australia in Canberra.

In all these incidents and others, no permanent damage was reported to the art works and it’s doubtful that any lasting impact was made by the protests in any sense. It’s not like the climate change issue lacks headlines. What it needs is meaningful action rather than more slogans.

Action needed over slogans and legislation without enforcement

As a former environment reporter, working in the days when the topic was far from front-page material, I am not belittling the need for and benefits of raising public awareness. I’m questioning how that should be done and how to harness the benefits of that awareness. Public pressure can lead to better legislation but laws and regulations are worthless if they’re not backed by enforcement.

16-year-old Swedish Climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks at the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 23, 2019 (credit: LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS)16-year-old Swedish Climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks at the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 23, 2019 (credit: LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS)

Greta Thunberg, the teenage Swedish environmental activist who has previously blasted participants in the UN’s Climate Change Conferences for talking a lot of “blah, blah, blah,” skipped this year’s climate fest, COP27, taking place in the Egyptian resort of Sharm e-Sheikh

It’s hard not to be cynical about a global climate conference being sponsored by Coca-Cola, whose plastic bottles are far from environmentally-friendly. 

Some 30,000 delegates are expected to pass through the Red Sea resort during the two-week conference, promoting its tourism potential (which is an uncomfortable partner when it comes to environmentalism).

Large numbers of Israelis, who didn’t have far to travel, are taking part. Some 100 officials from various government ministries are expected to attend alongside 700 participants, including many climate tech companies. 

Prime Minister Yair Lapid canceled his participation at COP27 following his election defeat. President Isaac Herzog, true to form, picked up the diplomatic slack and not only included some words in Arabic when he addressed the gathering, but made headlines by exchanging smiles with Tunisian Prime Minister Najla Bouden during a photo shoot.

Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg’s participation in a meeting of Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East leaders which included Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid and Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, also drew attention.

Herzog is undoubtedly in favor of environmental protection, although it was hard to escape the impression that there was a lot recycling of promises in his speech and those of other leaders.

The president reiterated Israel’s “solid commitments to achieving net zero carbon emissions and to transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy by 2050,” as a partner to the 2015 Paris Agreement. It was a pledge made by then-prime minister Naftali Bennett last year at COP26 in Glasgow. But despite Zandberg’s talk of making progress regarding the passage of the Climate Law in Israel, it still has not passed. 

Israel is far from being the only country unable to meet its stated goals, but it made sense for the country this year to focus on practical innovations and measures in which it is a world leader, as well as how it can help other countries, particularly those less economically advanced.

According to the Environmental Protection Ministry, one in seven start-ups last year were in climate tech, including in the fields of smart agriculture, clean energy systems, sustainable mobility and transportation. Israel is also a leading and creative force when it comes to developing meatless meat and milkless milk, desalination and water protection, and many other fields. 

This is the first time Israel has a pavilion at the UN Climate Conference. The Israeli start-ups include UBQ Materials, which has developed a system that converts unsorted waste into recyclable thermoplastic; H2Pro, which signed a memorandum of understanding with Moroccan renewable energy developer Gaia Energy at the conference; GenCell, Wiliot, Groundwork BioAg, Aleph Farms, Remilk, Beewise, Tomorrow.io and HomeBiogas.

Jordan and Israel agreed to advance a joint green energy and water deal, facilitated by the US and the UAE. Under the agreement, known as “The Prosperity Green and Prosperity Blue partnership,” Israel will construct a desalination plant to export more water to Jordan and Jordan will build a solar field in the desert to export clean energy to Israel, which lacks sufficient open space, and to test solar energy storage solutions.

“It is the ultimate example of creative, win-win-win partnership, which will contribute to the stability of the entire region,” Herzog enthused.

COP27 is taking place against the backdrop of the havoc caused as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, influencing the cost of fuel and energy and creating a crisis in supplies of grain. While Israel has been spared the worst effects of the energy crisis, how it manages its growing gas industry is very relevant. Similarly, Israel and its Mediterranean neighbors are situated in a climate change “hot spot,” where the rise in temperatures and changes in rainfall patterns will continue to have a significant impact.

However, regulations including the climate crisis as a chapter in the Israel National Security Council’s multi-year assessment – reflecting readiness to deal with fires, floods, heat waves and cold spells, for example – have also not been finalized despite last year’s promises. More hot air.

Caring for the environment is not a matter of Left and Right. But in Israel, where everything is political, the incoming government should make a real effort to deal with the threats by some likely coalition partners who want to remove recently-imposed taxation on single-use plastic ware and utensils in an effort to reduce plastic waste. They are widely used by large ultra-Orthodox families who are not happy about the steep rise in price of those items.

Environmental protection is not a modern concept. The precepts can be found throughout the Bible from Genesis to Deuteronomy, protecting the land, the trees and the animals, as well as the people.

Ahead of COP27, the Department of World Religions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in collaboration with the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, founded by Rabbi Yonatan Neril, held a first-of-its-kind interfaith conference on the role of religious leadership in dealing with climate change and signed the Jerusalem Climate Declaration. The signatories included the Vatican Ambassador to Israel and Cyprus Archbishop Adolfo Tito Yllana; Orthodox Rabbi Yuval Cherlow; and representatives of the Baha’i; Druze; Greek Orthodox and Armenian patriarchates; and the Coptic Church, among others.

“We need to form a new culture of unity, which understands that the earth is a part of us, and we are a part of it,” said the Vatican’s envoy.

SYMBOLICALLY, THESE lines will appear in print on November 11. For some – an increasingly rare breed – this date symbolizes above all the end of the First World War. For the younger generation, 11/11 is Singles Day, a time for frenetic online discount shopping. The Chinese online retail giant Alibaba adopted the distinctive date in 2008 as a form of counter-celebration to the twosome-ness of Valentine’s Day.

Rather than give the younger generation the impression that there’s literally no tomorrow in global terms – or, conversely, that they should shop like there’s no tomorrow –  there’s a need to create a different climate: Responsible consumerism; healthier eating habits; use of public transport; and protecting wildlife and natural habitats, for example. And please don’t waste food by throwing it at works of art.

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