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‘State of emergency demands emergency steps’: Herzog forms Israeli Climate Forum

President appoints former Hadash MK to head panel, which will lead deliberations about climate crisis and determine the state’s role in combating it, ahead of UN climate confab

Newly president, Isaac Herzog speaks at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on July 7, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)
Newly president, Isaac Herzog speaks at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on July 7, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)

President Isaac Herzog announced on Wednesday the establishment of the Israeli Climate Forum, which his office said will shape the role the country plays in fighting the climate crisis.

The forum, set to include representatives from the government, the Knesset, Israeli academia, local authorities, and the business and industrial sectors, will operate under the auspices of the President’s Office and will convene several times a year, according to a statement from Herzog’s office.

The panel will be an expression of Israel’s commitment to stand at the forefront of the global debate about the climate crisis, Herzog said in the statement.

“The global climate crisis has become an international emergency. It is having an impact on our lives in every respect, from the economy to national security. The establishment of the Israeli Climate Forum underscores the importance of dialogue between all parts of Israeli society,” the president said. “I hope that we will be able to place our concern for the future of our children and the fate of Planet Earth above arguments between us.”

Herzog said that the world and Israel “must wake up, change habits, and stop the climate crisis from getting worse.”

He also highlighted how the climate crisis was “creating opportunities that must not be missed. The State of Israel’s advantage is its ability to contribute to solving this problem through social and technological innovation and revolutionary changes to global habits.”

Herzog appointed veteran environmental activist and former Hadash MK Dov Khenin to head the forum, which the President’s Office said would work alongside Haim v’Sviva (“Life and Environment”), an umbrella organization of Israeli environmental groups that Khenin has previously headed.

Then-Joint (Arab) List MK Dov Khenin attends a protest of Ethiopians from the Absorption Center in Mevaseret Zion near the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 26, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)

Khenin said in the statement that the forum was “an important initiative to mobilize our society to change direction and enlist to confront the climate crisis, which threatens our future.

“This is an enormous challenge, which we must not run away from. A state of emergency necessitates emergency steps. Israel can and must be part of the solution. I call on all public leaders to join this initiative,” Khenin said.

Launching the initiative, Herzog’s office said that the president will host a conference later this month with the Israeli delegation set to attend the Glasgow COP26 Summit next month, “with the aim of raising the matter of global warming to public discourse through the public, business, and social sectors in Israel.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will lead Israel’s delegation to the UN climate change conference to “present the Israeli initiatives on climate change and hold a series of meetings with foreign leaders,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement last week.

Environment Minister Tamar Zandberg and Energy Minister Karine Elharrar will also attend, according to the statement.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, left, speaks with Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg in the assembly hall of the Knesset, on July 12, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The conference is set to take place October 31-November 12, with world leaders expected to attend the first two days, including US President Joe Biden and the UK’s Queen Elizabeth II.

Bennett was invited to attend by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson when the two spoke in July shortly after the formation of Israel’s government.

Bennett’s trip will take place as the government arrives at the final stretch to pass the state budget, ahead of a November 14 deadline.

Failure to approve the funds for 2021-2022 by that date would automatically dissolve parliament and trigger elections. The budget includes, for the first time, a special allocation to fight climate change.

Though some members of his coalition have been pushing for a drastic response to climate change that includes emergency laws, Bennett himself seems to favor a pragmatic approach that takes into account the need to balance the economy, cost of living, personal freedom, and defense.

The UN’s 26th Climate Change Conference of the Parties, known as the COP26, will see governments try to thrash out further commitments to limit the warming of the Earth to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius as laid out in the 2015 Paris climate accord.

Lazar Berman and agencies contributed to this report.

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