Israel is changing its views on climate, but promises and words are not enough

Climate change needs to be treated with the seriousness of fighting the coronavirus pandemic. There is no vaccination for climate change, but there are measures that can and must be taken.

 People take part in a protest against climate change in Tel Aviv, Israel October 29, 2021.  (photo credit: REUTERS/CORINNA KERN)
People take part in a protest against climate change in Tel Aviv, Israel October 29, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/CORINNA KERN)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is leading a large Israeli delegation, including Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg and Energy Minister Karin Elharrar, to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow this week. 

Israel is a tiny country – especially when compared with Russia, China and India, the three greatest contributors to carbon emissions – but it has a role to play. The Israeli delegation is stressing its innovative hi-tech sector, which is bursting with creativity in a wide range of fields, including developing meat alternatives, desalination, desert agriculture and solar energy.

The National Security Council, which recently adopted the climate-change issue under its auspices, set several goals for the country: reducing greenhouse-gas emissions; preparing for emergencies caused by meteorologic extremes, such as wildfires, flooding and snowstorms; and leveraging Israel’s assets, such as innovation in climate-related areas and advancing regional cooperation.

Climate change has been determined to be a national security issue because of the huge local and regional ramifications. Drastic swings in the weather from droughts to torrential rains are disastrous for agriculture, wildlife, marine life and fishing, contribute to fires and flooding and damage infrastructure, including expediting the erosion of cliffs along the long Mediterranean coastline.

On a geopolitical level, the effects of climate change are likely to include “climate refugees” and disruptions to the food chain. Scenarios of wars fought over scarce water and food supplies are not to be ruled out, including among Israel’s neighbors.

 A banner advertising the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), during which world leaders are to discuss how to tackle climate change on a global scale, is seen inside the conference area in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain October 30, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/YVES HERMAN) A banner advertising the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26), during which world leaders are to discuss how to tackle climate change on a global scale, is seen inside the conference area in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain October 30, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/YVES HERMAN)

Israel is making an effort to play its part in tackling this global crisis. It has continued the program for a “Transition to a Low Carbon Economy,” in keeping with the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. Last week, ahead of the Glasgow conference, Bennett pledged acceptance of the goal of net zero-carbon emissions by 2050, an essential component in the global goal to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Bennett’s presence at COP26 in Glasgow is obviously partly aimed at boosting his own standing as a statesman, but it is also a sign that the government realizes the topic of climate change is not something esoteric. Climate change needs to be treated with the seriousness of fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

There is no vaccination for climate change, but there are measures that can and must be taken, such as prioritizing renewable energy over fossil fuels and improving energy efficiency; improving public transportation to make it an attractive and viable option over the use of private vehicles; and making sure construction meets green standards, including environmentally friendly buildings and conservation of green, public spaces and providing shade in open areas. Part of the revenue from the country’s gas fields must be used to help develop renewable energy and a gradual transition to green energy in the future.

A recent State Comptroller’s Report warned that the country is not prepared for climate-change emergencies. The government has now created a “climate change task force” and approved a program designed to tackle climate change.

Moving forward, Israel would need to focus on storage of energy, carbon-trapping, green infrastructures, education, energy conservation and innovation, Bennett’s office said. However, Zandberg warned that Israel needs to change its energy strategy to move away from the development of oil and gas fields.

It remains to be seen whether the government will be able to implement the new, highly ambitious zero-emission goal by 2050, when previous lower goals were not reached.

Promises and words are not enough. A switch needs to be made in the way we approach the subject of climate change and environmental protection in Israel.

The Knesset needs to pass the so-called climate bill. Above all, it needs to be understood that combating climate change has to go beyond narrow political concerns. This is not a matter of Left and Right; this is something that is essential for our children and grandchildren.