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Israel joins Mideast nations, including Iraq, Lebanon, to agree on climate action

Meeting chaired by Egyptian and Cypriot presidents is culmination of 3-year regional process; Lebanese PM’s office downplays significance of appearance alongside Israel

Israel's Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg (right, with back to camera) sits two seats aways from Iraq's President Abdul Latif Rashid at a meeting of leaders of the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East at the COP27 conference in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 8, 2022. (Israel's Environmental Protection Ministry)
Israel's Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg (right, with back to camera) sits two seats aways from Iraq's President Abdul Latif Rashid at a meeting of leaders of the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East at the COP27 conference in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 8, 2022. (Israel's Environmental Protection Ministry)

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt — Israel’s environmental protection minister attended a regional meeting Tuesday alongside Iraqi and Lebanese leaders at the global climate conference taking place in Egypt, the minister’s office said, where the group pledged to work together to tackle climate change.

Israel is still officially at war with Lebanon, and Israel and Iraq have no diplomatic relations and a history of hostilities.

While Lebanon and Israel recently signed a landmark, US-brokered maritime agreement, any hint that the two states are open to cooperate even as part of a regional setting would be meaningful. Lebanon bans its citizens from having any contact with Israelis and the sea deal was negotiated through American shuttle diplomacy, with no Israeli or Lebanese officials ever publicly meeting.

The meeting included state leaders and politicians from throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East (EMME).

The meeting, at the UN’s COP27 climate conference in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, brought together politicians from Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Cyprus, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, the Emirates, Iraq, Kuwait and the Palestinian Authority.

It capped a three-year regional process initiated by the Cypriot government that saw meetings of officials, then ministers and finally state leaders.

Tuesday’s event was chaired by the Egyptian President and COP27 host Abdel- Fattah el-Sissi and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.

Israel was represented by outgoing Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg.

In photos provided by her office, she is seen seated behind a small Israeli flag. Two seats away from her is Iraqi President Abdul Latif Rashid and across the room is Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, each behind their countries’ flags.

Mikati’s office played down the incident, saying it was being overblown in Israeli media.

Egyptian President and COP27 host Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades chair a meeting of leaders of the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East at the COP27 conference in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 8, 2022. (Environmental Protection Ministry)

It said the meeting was called by the presidents of Egypt and Cyprus and was attended by a large number of Arab and international officials, like other meetings at the climate change conference. “There was no contact whatsoever with any Israeli official,” it said.

The initiative, coordinated by the Cyprus Institute, a nonprofit research and educational institution, has been gathering regional scientific climate data on which to base regional policy. Multinational task forces, comprising around 220 scientists, 12 of them from Israel, mapped the effects of climate change in the region, identified where action was needed and formulated a Comprehensive Scientific Report. It focuses on 13 subjects, ranging from energy, the built environment, agroforestry and the food chain to the marine environment, education, migration and tourism.

The recommendations are for actions at both the state and regional level.

In the agreement signed Tuesday, participants pledged to “act in a coordinated way on mitigation (carbon emissions cuts) and adaptation, strengthen regional cooperation through partnerships, communication, collaboration and exchange of good practices, and mainstream (put on the agenda) environmental, climate mitigation and adaptation policies and services across all sectors.”

The signatories pledged to meet again and take stock in four years.

Israel was represented by outgoing Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg, who said, “The countries of the region share the warming and drying climate, and just as they share the problems, they can and should share the solutions. No country will be able to withstand the climate crisis alone, and a joint effort by the countries of the region to share preparation and adaptation solutions is the most important thing for the coming years.”

Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg shakes hands with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh at a meeting of leaders of the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East at the COP27 conference in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 8, 2022. (Environmental Protection Ministry)

At an EMME session at last year’s COP27 in Glasgow, Scotland, Fatima Driouech of the organization Mediterranean Experts on Climate and Environmental Change said that the annual mean temperature rise in the region had already hit 1.5°C compared with pre-industrial times. This is the benchmark increase enshrined in the Paris climate accords of 2015. Worldwide, average temperatures are up 1.2°C, compared with the pre-industrial baseline.

Driouech noted that regional sea levels had gone up by 15 to 25 centimeters (6-10 inches) between 1901 and 2018 and that half of the region’s wetlands — important absorbers of carbon dioxide — had disappeared. Her organization published the results of the first-ever scientific assessment on climate and environmental change in the Mediterranean basin two years ago.

In a separate COP27 meeting, held at the Israel Pavilion, representatives from Israel, Bahrain, Morocco and the UAE’s Masdar Institute met to discuss regional cooperation.

Masdar, a UAE government-owned renewable energy company, has been tasked with building a solar farm in Jordan to provide solar energy to Israel, with Israel supplying desalinated water to the Hashemite Kingdom in return.

A memorandum of understanding on that project was signed by Israel, Jordan and the UAE in the presence of US Climate Envoy John Kerry earlier Tuesday.

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