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What can Israel do to fight the climate crisis? An expert names the top 5 steps

Following new chilling UN report on global warming, Prof. Yoav Yair, Dean of the School of Sustainability at IDC Herzliya, lays out an urgent plan of action

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

Israelis take part in a protest march to demand immediate action on climate change, Tel Aviv, on March 29, 2019. (Adam Shuldman/Flash90)
Israelis take part in a protest march to demand immediate action on climate change, Tel Aviv, on March 29, 2019. (Adam Shuldman/Flash90)

This week’s chilling report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes clear that humanity is “unequivocally” responsible for the warming of the climate, which is happening faster than previously thought, with potentially catastrophic consequences unless governments step up to the plate.

Though Israel is far from a major player on climate matters, it can still do its part to help tackle the crisis. As with any problem requiring innovative and often technological solutions, steps by the enterprising country could ripple out to have far greater effects across the globe.

The Times of Israel asked Yoav Yair, Dean of the School of Sustainability at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC), to name, in order of importance, the five actions that Israel should take to fight climate change.

1. The first step is the clearest — fossil fuels have to be replaced with renewable sources of energy as soon as possible, and schemes to absorb carbon dioxide — such as through the massive planting of trees, especially in urban areas — have to be substantially sped up, Yair said.

In this regard, a massive effort has to be made to lay the infrastructure needed to enable the country to reach its target of 30 percent renewables by 2030.

Yair added that the government should monitor methane leaks from Israel’s growing gas-fired infrastructure. Methane, which lasts for less time in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, is a far more powerful warming gas while it is there.

A view of the Leviathan natural gas processing rig from Dor Habonim Beach Nature Reserve, on January 1, 2020. (Flash90)

2. A rapid and profound change of mindset is required when it comes to transportation.

The government, Yair said, should be subsidizing the purchase of electric cars and moving far more quickly toward public transportation that runs on electricity. It should consider penalizing those who still want to run their vehicles on diesel, and eventually, also on those using gas.

A Volkswagen electric car is plugged in at a power station in Berlin, on February 2, 2016. (AFP Photo/Tobias Schwarz)

3. Local agriculture needs to be strengthened — not only to cut emissions of carbon dioxide during transport of produce from overseas, but also to ensure a store of nutritious food (the more local, the better) and food security in the event of disruptions to the world economy.

The early period of the coronavirus lockdown played havoc with international shipping. With pandemics expected to increase with climate change, not to mention local threats to Israel of war and boycotts, locally available food is critical. The agriculture industry must ensure that its technology is adapted to increasing drought.

4. In a country as advanced as Israel, it may come as a surprise that local scientists lack the necessary advanced computer equipment with which to generate Israel-specific climate predictions. This must change, Yair said. Cutting-edge equipment might also lure back to Israel some of the many climate scientists who have gone abroad.

Drone footage of a massive beef cattle feedlot in the US. (Youtube screenshot)

5. Finally, a move from meat to protein alternatives is essential in the fight against climate change. Worldwide, the livestock industry is responsible for 14.5% of all human-caused global warming gases, with cattle responsible for more than half of that.

Israel’s own meat industry is relatively small, but Israelis are among the largest per capita consumers of beef on the planet.

Calves and lambs are shipped from as far away as Australia to sate their desires, in huge ships powered by crude oil, which also contribute to high pollution levels in the port cities of Haifa and Ashdod.

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