Aide Who Paid His Own Airfare Is Israel's Only Rep to Crucial Climate Talks

Dozens of Israeli officials traveled to the UN climate conference, but none were assigned to stay for the decisive final two days of negotiations

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
People work at the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit, in Glasgow, earlier this month.
People work at the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit, in Glasgow, earlier this month.Credit: AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

Israel did not assign any official to remain for the decisive final two days of negotiations during the recent United Nations climate conference held in Glasgow, sources told Haaretz.

Israel’s non-presence was particularly blatant as it is one of the countries being most profoundly harmed by climate change and whose average temperature rise has been twice the global average.

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More than 190 countries approved the agreement and all of them left at least two representatives at the crucial talks. However, the entire Israeli delegation flew back two days before the final documents were approved. Israel took no stand on specific clauses in the agreement and didn’t join in the efforts to improve on them. Many countries assigned officials and, in some cases, ministers, to remain until the final day of the talks.

The Israeli Glasgow delegation numbered more than 120 people, among them scores of government officials. But after the entire government team returned home, the only one left to represent Israel in the talks was Snir Schwartz, the parliamentary aide for Kahol Lavan Knesset Member Alon Tal, who flew to Glasgow privately. He remained there until the end of the negotiations, even though it was not part of his formal duties. A minister or senior official was supposed to have been there instead.

“I was supposed to join the climate summit as part of the Knesset parliamentary delegation, but unfortunately the opposition chose not to send anyone to the most important forum for coping with the existential challenge facing our generation,” Tal told Haaretz, hinting that he was unable to go because his absence in the Knesset, if not offset by the absence of an opposition member, could adversely affect Knesset votes for the coalition.

Protesters take part in a rally organized by the Cop26 Coalition in Glasgow, Scotland, earlier this month.Credit: Jane Barlow/PA via AP

“Snir Schwartz, my professional adviser, joined the delegation at his own expense and, cooperating with the foreign and environmental protection ministries, he represented the State of Israel at the end of the conference. The climate crisis is an issue over which we must unite and transcend narrow political considerations. I hope that at the climate summit taking place in another year, the situation will be different.”

The Glasgow conference opened on October 31 and continued until November 13, one day longer than scheduled as negotiations ran into overtime and countries failed to reach an agreement over how to limit rising temperature to no more than 1.5 degrees Centigrade over their level just before the Industrial Revolution,

During the first days of the conference, the Israeli delegation was the second largest after the United States. It included Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg, Energy Minister Karine Elharrar, scores of ministry officials, representatives of environmental organizations, academics, business people and local authorities. But after Bennett and the ministers departed in the first week of the conference, ministry officials slowly returned home as well.

Bennett, Zandberg and Elharrar pledged Israel would fight climate change. But Israel didn’t try to make its voice heard in the talks over the final wording of the agreement. Sources said they were unaware of any other country that wasn’t at all present for the negotiations and, if there were others, they were small in number.

Conference practice was that countries leave at least two representatives for the last two days of talks. One was to be assigned to two closed meetings for marathon talks over each of the proposed agreement’s clauses until there was unanimous agreement. In these negotiations, parts of which were reported in Haaretz last week, all countries, no matter how small, had the right to speak and influence each clause. Many used the forum to make their stands known.

The Environmental Protection Ministry said in response: “Israel was a partner in the speech delivered at the concluding meeting of the consultation group to which it belonged, which was delivered by the group’s Australian chair, and was represented by him.”

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