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Bennett's Empty Glasgow Speech: Climate Plans for 2050 Don't Matter. The Real Test Is 2022

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaking at the Glasgow climate summit, on Monday.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaking at the Glasgow climate summit, on Monday.Credit: Alastair Grant/AP
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s speech at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow was disappointing. Despite asserting that “history will judge our generation’s response to this threat not by how ambitious we are, but by the actions we take,” and promising that “Israel is at the beginning of a revolution on climate change,” his vague commitment to cut Israeli emissions to net-zero by 2050 was empty, since it wasn’t backed by any numbers or specific commitments for the interim stages.

>>Fact-checking Bennett's UN Summit Speech

Later, Bennett fell into two embarrassing rhetorical traps. First, his claim that Israel is a small, unimportant country, “less than a third of the size of Scotland,” was both immoral and illogical. Aside from the fact that Israel emits like a medium-sized country despite its small size, every city or province worldwide could claim to be a mere footnote in global warming and therefore not responsible for helping solve the problem.

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Second, claiming that “the energy and brainpower of our people” would make Israel a technological leader in this battle was arrogant, and could also be interpreted as shirking the burden of reducing emissions in the name of some future technological utopia.

Ultimately, the Glasgow conference will be remembered in Israel for being the first time Israel joined other advanced countries in committing to zero emissions by 2050. But the devil is in the details.

Every day, millions of engines powered by fossil fuels – oil and its derivatives, coal and natural gas – operate in Israel, from lawnmowers through private cars, buses, trucks, planes and ships to cement and steel factories and the giant turbines of the electric company’s power plants. To a large extent, these engines are our lives.

They provide water, light, refrigeration, heat, cooking and transportation, for ourselves and all our goods. They power our manufacturing and pave our roads. And they all have to be turned off in 28 years.

The first step toward that goal is making every vehicle in Israel electric, while also moving people from private cars to public transportation. All our industrial processes, heating and cooling must also be based on electricity. And this electricity must come from renewable sources, which in Israel means solar energy.

To achieve this, solar panels must be installed on every building in the country. In addition, parking lots, gas stations, agricultural lands, water reservoirs and even the unused land under interchanges must be roofed with solar panels. And of course, there must also be huge solar farms in the Negev and in land ruined by being used for dumps or quarries.

In addition, Israel must link its electricity grid to those of its eastern neighbors and, via an undersea cable, to Europe as well. It should also seek to cooperate with Egypt and Jordan on solar farms. The basic trade would be electricity in exchange for water.

Our unnecessary natural gas should remain undersea. Pumping from the gas fields must end, and the oil refineries and petrochemical industries in Haifa Bay should be shut down. That’s what Bennett’s statement actually means.

And if Bennett was serious, then this massive energy revolution is just the beginning. All new construction – housing, shops, offices, factories and infrastructure – must be green. Money must also be invested in developing technological solutions that are currently only in their infancy, including green concrete, green hydrogen fuel for planes and ships, vegetarian protein for our dinner tables.

In addition, we need an employment revolution, dietary changes and different ways of handling trash. Tourism and entertainment habits must change beyond recognition as well.

All this is supposed to happen in 28 years, which is the blink of an eye given the magnitude of the task. And it becomes even harder to accomplish when you realize that it all has to be achieved amid a rapidly growing population and an unstable security and climate situation.

Heat waves and other extreme weather events are expected to reduce agricultural yields, impede the supply chain and cause inflation and political tensions. It’s frightening to imagine this future, which scientists deem inevitable.

But ultimately, the plans for 2050 aren’t important. The mountain we have to climb is so high that there’s no point in even trying to glimpse the summit beyond the clouds. It’s better to focus solely on the next step – on next year or even this month.

After returning from Glasgow and passing the state budget, does Bennett plan to pass climate legislation, set up a climate administration and harness the budget and every government agency to this task? We’ll know the answer to that question in a few weeks.

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