Herzog arrives at COP27, touting vision of regional cooperation on climate change

President meets world leaders, opens first-ever Israeli pavilion at UN environment confab, though he arrives without government backing for net zero carbon emissions by 2050

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi (L), Israeli President Isaac Herzog (C), and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the UN COP 27 in conference, November 7, 2022 (Haim Zach/GPO)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi (L), Israeli President Isaac Herzog (C), and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres at the UN COP 27 in conference, November 7, 2022 (Haim Zach/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog set off Monday to Egypt, where he will lead the Israeli delegation to the UN COP27 Climate Change Conference being held in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, saying he planned to share with attendees a vision of regional cooperation on environment issues.

The president will address delegates, inaugurate the first-ever Israeli pavilion at a COP summit and hold diplomatic meetings during his time at the gathering, his office said in a statement.

Herzog was welcomed on arrival by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. He then met with the leaders of Morocco, Chad, Finland, Czechia, Belgium, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Norway and the United Arab Emirates, according to his office. After his address to the summit later Monday, Herzog is scheduled to meet with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and then with King Abdullah II of Jordan.

Accompanying Herzog at the summit are Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg, Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton; Innovation, Science and Technology Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen; and Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid canceled his participation in the event after losing in elections last week to opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu.

More than 90 heads of state and government, including US President Joe Biden, were to converge on the resort between November 6 and 18.

Herzog said before leaving that in his speech he will present an Israeli vision of what he called the “renewable Middle East,” in which “Israel and regional states will cooperate to provide major solutions for the climate crisis.”

“The climate is at the top of the State of Israel’s priorities,” he said. “It is connected to the future of our children and future generations. We must do everything to do our part to save humankind.”

Sameh Shoukry, president of the COP27 climate summit, left, speaks during an opening session at the COP27 U.N. Climate Summit, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 6, 2022. (Peter Dejong/AP)

Herzog called the conference “a historic event in humanity’s extremely important battle to save Planet Earth’s climate.”

The president, in a blog post for The Times of Israel, elaborated on his vision for regional cooperation on the climate.

Talks with President Gustavo Petro of Colombia and with Microsoft vice chair Brad Smith are also planned.

Herzog is also to attend a reception hosted by Sissi and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres for COP27 attendees, the statement said.

Despite the president declaring on departing from Israel that climate issues are a top priority, the delegation arrives without government backing for the country reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The Environmental Protection Ministry said last month that it had failed to officially anchor a verbal pledge made a year ago by then-prime minister Naftali Bennett to reach that goal.

Bennett made his commitment just before COP26 in Glasgow, alongside Energy Minister Karine Elharrar. He told those around him that the pledge would have to be made sooner or later anyway.

But at an Environmental Protection Ministry briefing two weeks ago for those going to COP27, Zandberg revealed that the Justice Ministry had ruled against passing a government decision on such a matter so close to elections the next week.

Attempts earlier this year to get the net zero commitment included in the climate bill also failed, primarily due to the Finance Ministry’s opposition.

That bill passed its first reading in May, but it only commits Israel to reducing emissions by 85 percent by 2050, compared with a 2015 benchmark.

View of chimneys from a refinery in Haifa Bay (Photo credit: Shay Levy/Flash90)
View of chimneys from a refinery in Haifa Bay. (Shay Levy/Flash90)

Net zero refers to a situation in which a country reduces its emissions as much as possible and offsets what it still has to emit. This can be done by investing in projects that reduce emissions or that sequester (absorb) carbon dioxide from the air and either use it in industry or convert it into a form that can be buried for a long time.

A UN report released Sunday to coincide with the COP27 climate summit revealed that the past eight years were the hottest on record, leaving the climate goals set out in the 2015 Paris Climate Accords “barely within reach.”

Produced by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a body of the UN, the report said that the rate of sea level rise has doubled since 1993, and that the global average temperature in 2022 is about 1.15°C above the 1850-1900 pre-industrial average.

According to the WMO, 2023 is only expected to bring a rise in the average temperature, with the cooling effects of the La Nina weather pattern set to recede at the end of 2022.

On the opening day of the COP27 summit, UN chief Guterres implored the global community to use the conference as an opportunity to “rebuild trust and re-establish the ambition needed to avoid driving our planet over the climate cliff.”

Demonstrators take part in annual climate change march in Tel Aviv, October 28, 2022. (Dov Greenblat/SPNI)

Last month thousands of people marched in Tel Aviv to urge action on climate change ahead of the COP27 conference.

The climate march, held each year in the run-up to the United Nations’ annual climate conference, attracted 15,000 people, according to the Maariv newspaper, backed by around 40 nonprofit organizations, along with student unions, youth movements and lawmakers.

Earlier that week, Likud party leader Netanyahu promised the ultra-Orthodox population that if he becomes prime minister, he will scrap recently increased taxes on disposable plastic.

Sue Surkes and Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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