'Changing our behavior will do less than half the job'

PM: Israeli tech must pivot from making cool apps to fighting climate change

Ahead of trip for COP26 climate talks, Bennett says government will cut red tape and increase funding; says Israel must work with neighboring countries on water and energy projects

Thousands march through Tel Aviv to call for government action on climate change, on October 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Thousands march through Tel Aviv to call for government action on climate change, on October 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in an interview published Saturday, the day before the start of the United Nations Climate Conference, that Israel’s tech sector must pivot toward the battle against climate change.

Although Israel is a small country and its pledge to be carbon neutral by 2050 will make a relatively small difference on a global level, Bennett told London’s Times newspaper, Israel’s tech sector has the potential of having a huge impact.

“For the world to get to zero emissions by 2050, changing our behavior will do less than half the job. The other half will come from technology that has yet to be developed. That’s where Israel has to lead,” he said.

However, Bennett admitted that the climate crisis was not a priority for Israel’s tech community and that he had to find a way to get “Israeli entrepreneurs to pivot from making another cool web app to pivot to working on something with significance.”

The premier noted that one of the issues was that climate change solutions do not bring immediate success to entrepreneurs in the way that other technological developments do, and that there were too many bureaucratic hurdles in the way.

Bennett told The Times that he plans to fix the situation by cutting red tape “with a machete” and by ensuring the government — on both a local and national level — as well as the utility companies, will sign up as early customers for any potential tech.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, on September 12, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Bennett also said that the government would need to match venture-capital firms in funding in green technology so that “we share the risk while they enjoy the profits.”

The premier also said that green technology is a way to provide regional stability and for neighboring countries to work together.

“We have a huge potential in the region to create partnerships in the energy field. Israel is a very small state, in territorial space. We’re in a region where water is scarce must most of our neighbors don’t lack for empty desert space, and in 2021, that space means energy. And energy means water,” he said.

Israel is already a world leader in desalination projects, with some 75 percent of the country’s drinking and industrial water supplied by five plants on the Mediterranean coast.

Illustrative: A desalination plant in Hadera, on May 16, 2010. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

But Bennett told the newspaper he wants to see this taken further, with regional partnerships involving massive fields for the production of solar energy which will in turn power more desalination plants.

“It’s an economic model we didn’t have 20 years ago, but today, thanks to technology, we can both improve the production of renewable energy and increase the water supply,” he told The Times.

Bennett said he has begun discussions on the potential projects with countries in the region.

“We have an interest that the peace we have with Jordan and Egypt will trickle down also to benefits for consumers so they literally feel the fruits of peace,” Bennett said. “Until now, the peace with our neighbors has remained at the diplomatic-political level, but the fruits didn’t trickle down.”

Bennett is set to attend the United Nations Climate Conference that kicks off on Sunday, and will lead a 120-strong delegation to the COP 26 Glasgow talks.

The interview was published the day after Bennett and Energy Minister Karine Elharrar announced that Israel will join the growing number of countries pledging to be carbon neutral by 2050.

The move upends the policy of the previous government, announced in April, which was to cut carbon emissions by 80% across the board by that year and emissions from the electricity sector in particular by up to 85%.

The unrecognized villages around Ramat Hovav suffer from a high level of air pollution from nearby evaporation ponds and a power plant, December 28, 2017. (Yaniv Nadav/FLASH90)

Going carbon neutral means balancing the amount of carbon emitted with the amount that is taken out of the atmosphere and stored. Most developed countries, which are responsible for 70% of global emissions, have already declared that by 2050 they will achieve zero emissions.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, the steps Israel will take include developing technology for green energy, storing it (Israel will depend mainly on solar energy and will need to store some of it for cloudy days and for the night), trapping carbon, and educating consumers on energy conservation.

Earlier this week, the State Comptroller issued a stinging report on the lack of action taken by successive Israeli governments over the past decade to prepare the country for the looming climate crisis.

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