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Environment minister: UN report shows Israel must declare climate emergency

Zandberg says global warming findings must act as ‘wake-up call’ for the world and the Jewish state: ‘The intensity and urgency of the climate crisis can no longer be denied’

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Newly appointed Minister of Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg at a handover ceremony at the Environmental Protection Ministry in Jerusalem on June 15, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Newly appointed Minister of Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg at a handover ceremony at the Environmental Protection Ministry in Jerusalem on June 15, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

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

“The main points of the report prove beyond any doubt that the intensity and urgency of the climate crisis can no longer be denied, and more importantly, the connection between human actions and climate change cannot be denied or questioned,” Zandberg said in a statement released shortly after the report came out.

“This connection can now be measured with advanced scientific tools, and this should constitute a wake-up call for the whole world,” she said.

According to the report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the 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.

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.

Zandberg said that Israel, since the government was sworn in two months ago, “has begun to take much-needed action, but we must greatly accelerate our pace of action and readiness.”

“To this end, it is necessary to declare a climate emergency and define the climate crisis as a strategic threat and to deduce the preparatory actions needed,” she said.

Last month, in a letter to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Zandberg had already urged the government to declare the climate crisis a strategic threat and warned that temperatures in Israel were on track to rise by up to four degrees by 2050 compared with 1950.

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)

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.

Unrecognized Bedouin villages around the Ramat Hovav industrial area in southern Israel suffer from a high level of air pollution from nearby chenical evaporation ponds and an Israel Electric Corporation power plant. December 28, 2017. (Yaniv Nadav/FLASH90)

Other ministries, such as energy, transportation, economy, and education, and the Israel Lands Authority will also receive as yet undisclosed sums to help them implement a multi-year government plan for cutting global warming emissions that will be presented in the coming weeks.

All of this funding will be used to reach the updated targets for cuts to Israel’s global warming gas emissions submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change last week.

These commit the state to slashing 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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