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After UN warning, Israel sees diplomatic opening in combating climate cataclysm

Jewish state can share tech on water use, agriculture, reforestation and more to advance ‘climate diplomacy’ with international community, Foreign Ministry head says

An aerial photo taken on August 15, 2019 shows icebergs as they float along the eastern cost of Greenland near Kulusuk (Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP)
An aerial photo taken on August 15, 2019 shows icebergs as they float along the eastern cost of Greenland near Kulusuk (Jonathan NACKSTRAND / AFP)

A UN report on global warming has conveyed dire warnings over the state of the planet, but Jerusalem is expressing hopes that Israel’s scientific know-how will turn it into an international beacon for countries seeking to combat, mitigate or avoid the coming storms.

A report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released Monday found that Earth’s climate is getting so hot that temperatures in about a decade will probably blow past the level of warming that world leaders have sought to prevent, leading to worsening heat waves, floods, storms, droughts and more.

The Foreign Ministry called the report “a warning light,” but noted that international cooperation and the pooling of knowledge could prevent the “extreme scenarios” predicted, with Israel leading the way.

“Israeli experience and knowledge can help countries around the world in the fields of water technologies and seawater desalination, drought-resistant agriculture and climate change, renewable energies and energy storage, development of animal protein substitutes, reforestation, and other areas that will help all of us face the challenges,” Foreign Ministry Director Alon Ushpiz said on Monday.

The ministry said it would advance “climate diplomacy,” which includes attending international events on climate issues and promoting Israeli technologies that offer solutions.

While Israel’s previous government was accused of being a less-than-enthusiastic adopter of the 2015 Paris Agreement on reducing emissions, and has been relatively slow to commit to transitioning to renewable energy, the country’s private sector has been among world leaders in innovating potential solutions for a warming world, particularly regarding water scarcity.

A sugar cane project in Peru using Netafim drip irrigation systems (Photo credit: Courtesy Netafim)

The country’s know-how on water and farming tech has been cited as a major driver for countries establishing ties with the Jewish state. In June, the UAE and Tel Aviv University announced they would be setting a joint water research institute.

Last month, Israeli startup Watergen, which has developed a technology to produce water from air, installed a generator in Arizona to help the Navajo Nation deal with a crippling drought there.

Israel already combats climate disasters by sending aid or rescue missions to places affected by natural disasters, including recently dispatching firefighters to battle historic wildfires scorching Greece. On Monday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told his Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis that Israel would also be sending two firefighting planes to aid in the effort.

Israeli officials describe the aid missions as both a humanitarian commitment and as a way of helping burnish the image of the country abroad. Some critics have derided the practice as “rubble-washing,” accusing Israel of using its humanitarian largesse to distract from alleged abuses against Palestinians.

A delegation from Israel’s Fire and Rescue Services ahead of its departure for Greece to assist in putting out a spate of wildfires in the country on August 6, 2021. (Fire and Rescue Service)

Israel has for decades also used its international development arm Mashav to help foster diplomacy by training farmers and setting up agricultural concerns in undeveloped areas, which are expected to bear some of the worst brunt of a warming globe.

The 3,000-plus-page report from 234 scientists said warming is already accelerating sea level rise, shrinking ice and worsening extremes such as heat waves, droughts, floods and storms. Tropical cyclones are getting stronger and wetter, while Arctic sea ice is dwindling in the summer and permafrost is thawing. All of these trends will get worse, the report said.

Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg said Monday that the new UN report on global warming” demonstrated that Israel must declare climate change as a “strategic threat” in order to properly prepare for the challenges it poses to the country.

Minister of Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg speaks during a Conference of Heads of Local Authorities, in Ramat Negev, southern Israel, July 22, 2021. (Flash90)

The Environmental Protection Ministry said Monday that the report must be a “wake-up call” to the Israeli government.

“It’s time to act and fast — to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the one hand and to better prepare for the inevitable effects of climate change on the other,” the ministry said in a statement alongside Zandberg’s comments.

The two-year state budget approved by ministers last week includes for the first time a special allocation of NIS 625 million (nearly $195 million) to fight climate change.

The money, to be allocated over two years to help fund a five-year program, will enable the Environmental Protection Ministry to advance renewable energy, green transportation and clean air initiatives; help local authorities to create programs for coping with climate change; and invest in environmental research and new technologies, among other things, according to a ministry statement.

Israelis take part in a protest march to demand immediate action on climate change, Tel Aviv, March 29, 2019. The sign reads: ‘What green do you see?’ (Adam Shuldman/Flash90)

Last month, the government agreed to slash economy-wide net global warming gas emissions (GHG) by 27 percent by 2030 and 85% by 2050, relative to 2015.

Sue Surkes contributed to this report.

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