PM vows action on climate change as minister urges declaring ‘strategic threat’

Bennett offers Europe help amid flooding disaster, says issue is a ‘true global problem’; environment minister warns temperatures, sea level set to rise in coming decades

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Then-prime minister Naftali Bennett, left, speaks with Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg in the Knesset, on July 12, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Then-prime minister Naftali Bennett, left, speaks with Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg in the Knesset, on July 12, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett vowed Monday to take action on climate change, acknowledging that it was a “true global problem,” as Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg called on the new government to declare the matter a strategic threat amid the many weather-related disasters that have struck the globe this month, and as Israel sweltered through a heatwave.

During the weekly cabinet meeting, Bennett referred to heavy rainfall in Europe that has caused deadly and devastating flooding over the past week.

In Germany and Belgium alone, several days of extreme rainfall have left at least 183 people dead and dozens missing as streets, houses and vehicles were swept away by fast-flowing rivers that burst their banks and by ensuing landslides.

“A word to our friends in Germany and Belgium, who are going through an unbearable natural disaster these days. On behalf of the government of Israel and Israeli citizens, I want to offer our condolences for the loss of life and the widespread devastation,” Bennett said, adding that Israel was prepared to offer help as needed.

“The issue of climate change is a true global problem,” he added. “The government of Israel treats it as such, and we will soon present steps to be taken in this context.”

In a letter Zandberg sent earlier in the day to Bennett, she warned that temperatures in Israel were on track to rise by up to four degrees by 2050 compared with 1950, that the sea locally was rising by 0.5 centimeters annually, threatening coastal communities, and that while in some parts of the country extreme rainfall events were increasing, other areas, particularly in the northeast, were slowly drying up.

The government should penalize fossil fuel polluters via a carbon tax and ensure that the country is properly prepared for the consequences of global warming.

Israel, she wrote, is in one of the most sensitive climate change locations in the world and is heating up at a faster rate than the global average.

“The government, entrusted with the lives of the people of Israel, as well as their quality of life and health, is required to prepare for emergencies, certainly predetermined emergencies, such as the climate crisis and its consequences,” Zandberg wrote.

She noted that dozens of other countries have already declared climate emergencies “and are working in recent years to reduce the risk and increase national resilience.”

A damaged car and debris are strewn on a front lawn after flooding in Pepinster, Belgium, July 17, 2021. (Virginia Mayo/AP)

Zandberg also pointed to recent heatwaves in North America and deadly flooding in Europe.

“There is broad consensus among scientists and climate experts according to whom these events are just the beginning of what is expected in the future,” she wrote. “We must urgently prepare for the effects of climate change in order to protect, first and foremost, human life.”

On Sunday, environmental lobby group Adam Teva V’Din sounded a warning that the country is not prepared to face flooding due to the climate crisis in the coming rainy seasons.

It called on Israel to “lead the global awakening in the face of the climate crisis that is already hitting us and lead the transition to a low-carbon global economy.”

The group said rainwater runoff is not properly managed in Israel, leading to loss of life and property damage, as was seen last year when five people were killed during flooding incidents.

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