After Glasgow, Israel's Climate Challenges Can Also Be Opportunities

Dov Khenin
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Protestors at the Glasgow Climate Summit.
Protestors at the Glasgow Climate Summit.Credit: Andy Buchanan/AFP
Dov Khenin

Could we really have expected to see the world’s leaders at Glasgow rejecting the oil, gas and coal corporations and creating a comprehensive, practical response to the climate crisis? If anyone had such an expectation, it didn’t happen.

But the despair that I encounter in various places is premature and unwarranted. First of all, because it leads good people to surrender. Second, because we are fighting for our lives. And third, because a few things were achieved at Glasgow that can strengthen us in the struggle of the years to come.

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The Glasgow conference once again underscored the huge challenge facing humanity. To avoid climate collapse with its terrible repercussions, we must limit the planetary temperature rise to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius above that of the pre-industrial era. This figure is a threshold that, if crossed, will open a Pandora’s box of dangerous chain reactions, according to the scientific community

In Glasgow there was agreement, for the first time, on the nature of the road to meet the challenge. No longer science-fiction based on technologies that have not yet been invented, but a reduction of 45 percent in greenhouse gases by the year 2030. This is an agreement for the deepest socioeconomic change that humanity has ever set for itself.

Yet the commitment that the participating counties took upon themselves is still far from this goal. If we look at the commitment for 2050, we can expect a temperature rise of 1.8 degrees. Worse yet, if we examine the practical commitments for the next decade, we see a rise of 2.4 degrees (an improvement over the 2.7 degrees from before Glasgow, but still a recipe for disaster).

To bridge the gaps, a renewed apparatus for determining progress – by setting targets for each country – was decided on in Glasgow. The participating countries have agreed to come back next year and present their updated targets to the conference, which will be held at Sharm el-Sheikh. All over the world, the struggle now begins to reach these targets.

A few new, important agreements were made in Glasgow: reduction by 30 percent of methane emissions – a particularly potent greenhouse gas – in the coming decade. Methane is also emitted from untreated refuse, the production of food from animal sources and gas drilling – three serious problems in Israel. The second agreement is to stop damage to forests. Brazil and Indonesia signed this accord, but it must be ascertained that they (and others) keep to it. The third agreement: For the first time it was agreed to reduce the use of coal (but not, unfortunately, to cease its use entirely) and investments in fossil fuels.

Once again we saw in Glasgow the power of the coal, oil and gas giants, which fight by any means to thwart any effective decision. But we also saw the huge public enlistment against them, especially among young people, for life and for the needed change.

Where is Israel in this story? Shortly before the Glasgow conference, the state comptroller presented a harsh picture: Israel has set itself targets that are too low, and it won’t meet even those. It is one of the only countries that does not have an approved and funded plan to fight the climate crisis, and even the government’s investment in clean-tech is particularly low.

Israel needs a real change of direction. While Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s commitment to zero emissions by 2050 lines up with the developed nations, this is not enough. The question is not what will happen in the distant future, but what we intend to do now.

Israel’s target for reduction in emissions over the coming decade is quite shameful: 27 percent. The rate of renewable energy in sun-drenched Israel – 6.1 percent – lags far behind even Sweden and Austria, where the rate is nearly 50 percent.

Israel isn’t China or the United States, and its role in the problem is much smaller than theirs. But the interesting question is what Israel’s role in the solution can be – and it can be a worthy, respectable one, if we choose the path of social and technological innovation.

And no less important: The struggle against the climate crisis can already improve life in Israel. The revolution in clean public transportation can also release the public from traffic jams; solar energy is cleaner and cheaper, and certainly safer than dependence on offshore gas platforms. The expansion of vegetable farming in Israel will give people nutritional security and make fruits and vegetables cheaper. And cities that are friendly to people and not to cars are cities that are better to live in. Economic apparatuses that will speed the reduction of pollution and environmental solutions can also advance social justice.

Nature must be protected because it is also a marvelous way to draw greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, and because it creates a pleasant green environment. The need for real cooperation with Israel’s neighbors can also promote a just solution to the Israel-Arab conflict.

What was achieved in Glasgow was only achieved thanks to the global protest movement, which compelled leaders, especially in Europe and the United States, to do what they did not want to do. This will happen here too. Now is the time to ratchet up the pressure.

Dr. Dov Khenin teaches at the Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law and was recently appointed by President Isaac Herzog to head Israel’s climate forum.

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