Like many of the United Nations climate change conferences that preceded it, this year’s gathering in Glasgow, Scotland, featured a number of big promises. One of the more notable pledges was from Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who announced that the Jewish state would set a goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 — joining other countries that have made a similar pledge.
With every day that passes, the importance of following through on the climate pledge becomes more urgent. Storms are getting worse, the wildfire season is getting longer and tornadoes and floods are hitting regions not used to such extreme weather events. And as the oceans rise, island nations in the Pacific Ocean are steadily sinking. In Israel, the impact of climate change threatens similar devastation: higher temperatures, less rainfall and more extreme weather events like heat waves, wildfires and floods — complicated by the fact that Israel is a country with only seasonal rainfall and a growing population density.
We encourage Israel to follow through on Bennett’s declaration with serious, meaningful action. Fortunately, an initial framework for action appears to already be in place. Just about a year ago, in December 2020, Israel unveiled a plan to reduce its emissions by 80% by 2050. That plan included moves toward more energy-efficient vehicles, more net-zero energy housing and relying on more renewable sources of energy overall. By following the 2020 plan aggressively, and perhaps by adding a few more initiatives, Israel should be able to meet its new, net-zero goal.
But questions linger about how committed Israel is to the pledge. A recent oil deal Israel signed with the United Arab Emirates highlights potential challenges. Under the UAE deal, Emerati oil would travel by pipeline from Eilat to the Mediterranean and then to Europe. The agreement was criticized by Israeli environmentalists who argued, among other things, that a country that wants to fight global warming should not be part of efforts to ship crude oil that would harm the environment. Israel’s environmental protection minister blocked the deal, and Israel’s state-owned pipeline company reportedly plans to fight the decision. Perhaps government policy will be influenced by the 2050 emissions goal; perhaps not.
Climate change issues are broadly understood, and don’t foster the same visceral disagreements as political, security and religious issues that divide Israelis and their political parties. Indeed, climate is the kind of “common good” issue that is well suited for Israel’s new multiparty government.
Last week Israeli solar energy entrepreneur Yosef Abramovitz suggested that, among other things, Israel declare a climate emergency so that key government bodies will have to take climate into consideration in their decisions, create an open market for green energy and free up lands for renewables, especially in the Golan and in the Negev. Given the relatively short time between now and 2050, the idea is worth exploring.
Climate challenges are real. Bennett wants Israel to be part of the solution. We applaud the effort.