At the ongoing COP26 summit, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett touted Israeli start-ups as the solution to the global climate change crisis: “As the country with the most start-ups per capita in the world, we must channel our efforts into saving our world. Let’s be real. Israel is a small country. We’re less than a third the size of Scotland. However, our carbon footprint may be small, but our impact on climate change can be mighty. If we’re going to move the needle, we need to contribute Israel’s most valuable source of energy: the energy and brainpower of our people.”
Although many Israeli companies potentially do have much to contribute to the global struggle against climate change, it is a bit of an anomaly that the Bennett government is promoting this issue now, after a recent State Comptroller report concluded that Israel is not prepared for climate change emergencies. In fact, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman recently noted, “Israel is one of the few countries in the world that does not yet operate on the basis of a budgeted and approved national development plan, even though it is an area with increased risk and is therefore more exposed to the risks of climate change.”
Englman added: “The State of Israel is not prepared for the climate crisis and there has not yet been a change of perception in Israeli policy on the issues. There are substantial gaps between the perception in Israel and in the world.” He claimed that although Israel ratified the UN Convention on Climate Change, the convention has not been implemented in the Jewish state. This is because although climate change is an important global issue, domestically, the State of Israel has greater priorities. See related: Jewish Views on Climate Change
For example, we are surrounded by Iranian proxies such as Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and Iranian militias in Syria, who are all taking actions that threaten the State of Israel. And of course there’s the fact that the Islamic Republic of Iran is daily chanting “Death to Israel” even as it develops nuclear weapons arms its proxies so that they can harm Israel on demand. This is a very grave and immediate danger, and the main strategic threat faced by the State of Israel.
On top of that, we have Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in the West Bank, who also incite violence and are in confrontation with us. Additionally, the State of Israel is dealing with internal ethnic tensions between Jews and Arabs, a spike in crime in the Arab sector that threatens our society, and of course the pandemic, which threatens the physical health, mental health, and economy of our country, as well as leading to increased domestic violence. To make matters worse, there has been a sharp rise in anti-Semitic attacks in the Jewish Diaspora that only got worse during the pandemic, which poses a great threat to our Jewish brethren who live abroad. For years, this is what Israeli governments focused on. They did not have the capacity to really deal with the climate change crisis.
Why all the talk about climate change now?
Suddenly, Bennett’s government is making climate change a priority and the question is why? Partially, the Bennett government is merely responding to what the Israeli people want. Although the Israeli nation is focused on other issues, a recent Israel Democracy Institute Survey found that:
- 70% of Israelis are concerned about the spread of disease and epidemics against the background of the climate crisis;
- 63% of Israelis are concerned about the rise in air pollution;
- 60-61% are concerned about the destruction of the planet as a biosphere and the impact on the economic situation of weaker populations throughout the world due to the climate crisis;
- 56% are worried about shortages in natural gases and raw materials in the wake of the climate crisis; and in light of all this
- 75% of Israelis believe that the Israeli government should act on this issue.
Thus, by attending the COP26 summit and addressing an issue that other governments did not really deal with, Bennett is showing the Israeli public that he is a statesman who is responsive to their wishes. Due to the current make-up of the Israeli governing coalition, it’s difficult for him to deal with many of the more pressing issues like Hezbollah, Hamas, the new US Consulate in Jerusalem, and talks with the Palestinian Authority without risking the government’s collapse. So, the climate change issue gives him the chance to act on something that the Israeli public would want him to act on without risk to his coalition. Like the pandemic, which in Israel is pretty much a consensus issue that everyone can agree on.
Another factor that must be taken under consideration is the fact that climate change is important to the Biden Administration. At the COP26, the US president called it a “moral and economic imperative” to deal with this issue. While Trump walked out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, Biden rejoined it and is very committed not only to reducing America’s greenhouse gas emissions, but also to helping lesser developed countries reduce theirs as well.
Since the State of Israel already has tensions with the Biden Administration over the Iranian nuclear deal, opening a US Consulate for Palestinians in Jerusalem and even rejoining the infamous UNHRC that Trump pulled out of, Israel can lower the flames in their relationship with Washington by being a full partner in the struggle against climate change. Prime Minister Bennett emphasized what Israel has to offer in this struggle in hopes of improving the relationship between Jerusalem and Washington.
Climate change may very well be an issue that should be addressed. A recent report in the Institute for National Security Studies claimed: “It has been suggested that the unrest in Syria was at least partly triggered by farmers abandoning their fields after a 4-year drought from 2007-2010, moving to cities like Damascus, and after not finding jobs, being recruited to rebel groups, including the Islamic State (ISIS). Such popular unrest can easily lead to violent uprisings and even civil war, and finally to new waves of Middle East and African refugees seeking a better life in Europe.”
The same report also asserted that the rising sea levels caused by climate change would adversely affect Egypt and the Persian Gulf states with which Israel has peace treaties: “An MIT team (2018) found that rising temperatures can even make the wealthy and more stable Persian Gulf states uninhabitable by 2050. With a one meter rise in sea level in the Mediterranean, the Nile Delta will be partially submerged, with cities like Alexandria and Port Said under water. Today, there are more than 6 million people living in these regions, and most will need to be evacuated and resettled. In addition, the Egyptian population is expected to double to 200 million by 2050. This could result in a huge climate refugee problem for the region.”
Others are concerned that the expected rise in heat waves and the resulting lack of water resources will stir instability along Israel’s borders. And of course, there are predictions of global unrest including natural disasters of epic proportions leading to the end of the world as we know it.
But read the Hebrew language media, or speak to Israelis on the streets, and you hardly hear a peep about global warming. Here the top priorities are (and have been since 1948) the national security threats. And now we have a looming nuclear Islamic Republic of Iran, a pandemic, and innumerable internal issues begging for attention. For the average Israeli who is so inundated with so many other problems it is hard to focus on this issue too, especially when the INSS report concluded that it is a greater problem for Israel’s neighbors than it is for us.