Israel sending just 28 officials to UN climate confab, in shadow of Hamas war

Foreign Ministry originally planned 1,000-strong group, including ministers, president and PM; pared down pavilion to promote 4 Gaza-area tech companies, hostage solidarity corner

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

People walk through the venue for the COP28 UN Climate Summit with the Al Wasl Dome in the background at Expo City, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, NOvember 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Joshua A. Bickel, File)
People walk through the venue for the COP28 UN Climate Summit with the Al Wasl Dome in the background at Expo City, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, NOvember 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Joshua A. Bickel, File)

A small Israeli delegation of just 28 officials will attend this year’s annual United Nations climate summit COP28, which kicked off Thursday — down from the 1,000-strong group the Foreign Ministry has originally planned to send, including President Isaac Herzog and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Herzog will visit Dubai’s Expo complex, where the confab is being held from November 30 to December 12, his office announced Wednesday, but the purpose will be to hold sideline meetings with world leaders to press for the release of remaining hostages in Gaza.

In July, the Foreign Ministry had unveiled plans for a 1,000-strong delegation that would have included seven or eight ministers, officials from various ministries, academics, investors, businesspeople, more than 100 companies including 30 start-ups, and environmental groups.

The idea behind such a large delegation was to enable as many people as possible to enter the conference’s official Blue Zone, reserved for heads of state, state delegations, approved observers and the accredited press.

But after thousands of Hamas terrorists attacked and invaded Israel on October 7, murdering some 1,200 and kidnapping around 240 people back to the Gaza Strip, the plans changed and Israelis were advised to avoid non-essential travel to areas such as the Middle East.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman told The Times of Israel Thursday that the 28 officials would represent the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Environmental Protection, Energy and Finance, and that no ministers would be coming.

A woman walks through the grounds of the COP28 UN Climate Summit, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, November 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Israel’s pavilion will showcase just four climate start-up companies, all from the Gaza border area, he added, and will have an area for those wishing to express solidarity with Israel’s hostages in Gaza.

The companies are UBQ Materials, based at Kibbutz Tzeelim, which converts unsorted household waste into a thermoplastic material used in a wide variety of products; Akologik (Kibbutz Bror Hayil), which provides a cloud platform for monitoring crops, from seed sowing to marketing; Agil (formerly from Kibbutz Nir Am, which uses AI to identify and warn of climate change-related events such as floods; and Emnotion (from the InNegev incubator in the Bedouin city of Rahat), which provides advanced solutions in the field of climate modeling.

Israel had intended to hold around 70 events — nearly double the number put on during last year’s COP27 event, held in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. This has since been pared down to 15.

This year’s COP confab had been controversial from the start because of its location in a key petro-state, and the choice of Sultan al-Jaber, chief executive of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, as conference president.

COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber speaks during the opening session at the COP28 UN Climate Summit, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, November 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

Earlier this year, some of the largest Israeli environmental organizations announced plans to join their international counterparts in boycotting the meeting in protest.

On Monday, the BBC and the Center for Climate Reporting exposed briefing documents about UAE plans for meetings with foreign governments in the run-up to the conference. These, they said, included talking points for discussions about fossil fuel deals, as well as deals with Masdar, Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company, which al-Jaber also heads. The burning of fossil fuels is the chief driver of climate change. Al-Jaber rejected claims he intended to push fossil fuel deals.

Earlier this year, it emerged that Masdar had signed a contract with former ADL-Israel head Zev Furst that proposed mobilizing ties to the “US Jewish Establishment” to improve al-Jaber’s image in the run-up to the climate summit.

The deal, with First International Resources, cited goals of strengthening the “overall reputation and standing” of the UAE, al-Jaber, and COP28 “among Western audiences;” leveraging this “enhanced reputation” to “inoculate” al-Jaber and COP28 from any potential criticism; and “solidifying” the UAE’s position as an “innovative leader in global decarbonization efforts and the transition away from fossil fuels.”

The World Meteorological Organization announced Thursday at COP28 that this year was “virtually certain” to be the hottest year on record. It warned that the world was on course for a temperature rise of 2.5°C to 3°C (4.5°F to 5.4°F) above pre-industrial levels in the coming decades — way above the 2°C (3.6°F) and preferably 1.5°C (2.7°F) increase the world pledged to stay within at the UN’s 2015 gathering in Paris.

WMO #StateofClimate report at #COP28Greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere are record high. We risk temperature…

Posted by World Meteorological Organization on Thursday, November 30, 2023

Scientists said this year that the world would have to cut 60 percent of greenhouse gasses by 2035, relative to a 2019 baseline, to keep temperature increases within the 1.5°C target.

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