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An irreversible opportunity

Prof. Yoav Yair, Dean of the School of Sustainability, Reichman University Op-ed (IDC Herzliya)

Reichman University Campus (courtesy)
Reichman University Campus (courtesy)

Because of the Coronavirus pandemic, the 26th COP was delayed by a year. In a sense, this is good news since the United States now has a new administration with a new climate policy compared with its predecessor, which withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement in 2016. President Joe Biden’s new administration has re-engaged the US in the Paris Agreement and appears committed to lead a new accord in Glasgow, one that is more meaningful and effective. While the US economy is still heavily dependent on fossil fuels, the Green New Deal policy offers great hope for a substantial and long-term change in the economy and business conduct in the United States and around the world.

Prof. Yoav Yair the Dean of the School of Sustainability

Can the reduction targets for CO2 emissions and the rate at which they are accomplished be ambitious enough to halt the response of the natural systems to human impacts and the continued disruption caused to the radiation balance of the atmosphere? In light of the scenarios presented in the 6th Report of the Inter-Government Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), published in September, it is alarmingly clear that inaction, or insufficient action, will result in considerable climate warming that will result in accelerated melting of polar glaciers, rising of ocean levels, changes in atmospheric flow and worsening of extreme events such as droughts, heat waves and tropical storms.

It is clear from this that the responsibilities of the leaders and decision-makers at this conference are enormous, as their actions or failures will shape the future of generations to come and determine the fate of billions of people. There is probably no catastrophic danger to the existence of humanity, but the decades of stability and prosperity we have enjoyed in the past century will come to an end, and a new world order will emerge. Global struggles for natural resources on the one hand, and the collapse of natural systems like the Amazon or Southeast Asia might create a chain reaction whose results are difficult to predict. Water and food shortages, disruptions of supply chains, and depletion of natural resources are already visible in many places. Armed conflicts are also on the horizon for example, the events taking place around the Nile Dam between Ethiopia and Egypt, or the collapse of the Syrian economy due to continued droughts. The issue of climate change is no longer only an economic or a humanitarian problem, it is now a national security one, as evidenced by Pentagon and other security agencies from the United States and Europe.

Israeli citizens generally perceive climate change as a distant issue, and extreme incidents (e.g. the hailstorm in October 2015, the Nahal Tzafit floods in April 2018, and the flooding in South Tel Aviv in January 2020), that are characterized as “freak weather” by the media. This is primarily due to the failure of the education system to educate and train its citizens to fully comprehend that the country could face a crisis overshadowing past conflicts and wars. As part of Israel’s new government, we will inherit the enormous failures of the previous governments, which failed to come up with policies that would prepare our country to deal with the consequences of climate change. In a report published this week, the State Comptroller describes in detail the failures of the Netanyahu government. Israel’s defense system and the IDF paid very little attention to the strategic implications and the ways in which climate change will affect the geopolitical stability of our neighboring countries. In addition, other government ministries did not plan or deal with the climate crisis or work to reduce its intensity.

There is little time and plenty of work, so the government must define the climate crisis as a top-priority issue to ensure the safety and security of the State of Israel and its citizens. Leadership that is forward-looking will set the right goals, allocate the appropriate resources, and monitor progress toward achieving them. Israel’s technological capability, recognized in areas such as cyber, agriculture and water, must excel in the most important area of all: solving the climate crisis by suggesting innovative ideas for reducing carbon dioxide emissions and shifting to a low-carbon, sustainable and green economy.
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