Herzog: Mideast faces climate catastrophe, Israel ready to lead efforts to help

Quoting from the Quran in Arabic in speech at UN COP27 climate conference in Egypt, president pledges to personally spearhead ‘regional ecosystem of sustainable peace’

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

President Isaac Herzog addresses a plenary session of leaders at the UN COP27 climate conference in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt on November 7, 2022. (Haim Zach/ GPO)
President Isaac Herzog addresses a plenary session of leaders at the UN COP27 climate conference in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt on November 7, 2022. (Haim Zach/ GPO)

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — The Middle East teeters on the brink of climate calamity, but Israel stands ready to lead the effort towards climate resilience in the region, President Isaac Herzog told world leaders at the UN COP27 climate conference in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Monday.

“With studies forecasting imminent, severe consequences for our region, the Middle East is on the brink of catastrophe,” he said in a speech, referring to the fact that the Middle East and North Africa are warming twice as fast as the global average.

“Here in Sharm el-Sheikh, I wish to reiterate the State of Israel’s solid commitments to achieving net zero carbon emissions and to transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy by 2050. But Israel is prepared to assume far greater responsibility. Israel is prepared to lead the effort toward regional climate resilience. I intend to spearhead the development of what I term a Renewable Middle East— a regional ecosystem of sustainable peace.”

A year ago, at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, then-prime minister Naftali Bennett verbally pledged that Israel would be net zero by 2050, but the commitment was never anchored in law or even a government decision.

“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

Herzog invited all at the conference to visit Israel’s first-ever pavilion at a COP event, which he inaugurated earlier Monday, and said he envisioned that solar energy produced in the deserts of the Middle East would be exported to Europe, Asia, and Africa “in the foreseeable future.”

President Isaac Herzog inaugurates Israel’s pavilion at the UN COP27 climate conference in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, November 7, 2022. (Haim Zach/ GPO)

“I believe that all Middle Eastern nations, abundant with sun and technology, will have the ability to connect the rest of the world to a magnificent source of renewable energy,” he said.

“In a region undergoing accelerated desertification, Israel also has the capability and know-how to deflect severe water shortages and to offer solutions to food insecurity. We are eager to share all our expertise and practical tools. That is what a Renewable Middle East looks like.”

He went on, “This state of emergency demands we work together. Not tomorrow — today. Let us turn the climate emergency into an opportunity to address 20th-century conflicts, thereby advancing desperately needed 21st-century collaborations. Let us leverage vital regional partnerships as a path towards inclusivity, stability and prosperity, to form this shared, Renewable Middle East.”

Herzog cited a United Arab Emirates-brokered deal for Jordan to supply Israel with solar energy and for Israel to provide the Hashemite Kingdom with desalinated water as the “ultimate example of creative, win-win-win partnership, which will contribute to the stability of the entire region.”

Earlier in the day, he discussed that agreement, signed just over a year ago, with the UAE’s President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

President Isaac Herzog meets with the UAE’s President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan at the COP27 conference in Sharm El-Sheikh on November 7, 2022. (Haim Zach/GPO)

It is understood that an updated Memorandum of Understanding will be signed during the COP confab.

Herzog ended his speech “in the spirit of our hosts in the region” by switching to Arabic to quote the Quranic injunction to be “good to others, as Allah has been good to us, and to not seek to corrupt the land.” Reverting to English,  he cited God’s commandment in the Bible to “work, toil, and protect the land.”

He concluded, “Let us save the world God gave us, because we have all been created in his image.”

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