The Climate Crisis: Israel can act, adapt – and lead

In an op-ed first published in Hebrew in The Marker, Ambassador Hans Docter calls on Startup Nation Israel to use its expertise to become a global leader in climate adaptation – together with the Netherlands

Climate adaptation is the talk of the town among world leaders this week. At a virtual summit hosted from the Netherlands, US Climate Envoy John Kerry confirmed international climate action as a top priority for the Biden administration. Meanwhile, Israeli minister of Environmental Protection, Gila Gamliel, highlighted progress on climate governance and shared Israeli experiences on adaptation. Even though this serves as a welcome contribution, it begs the emergence of more ambitious Israeli climate leadership in 2021. That means putting green and inclusive recovery first and seriously investing in climate resilience.

While Israel is lauded for its vaccination efforts to fight COVID-19, its political focus seems less in check with preparing a response to climate change, that other looming global crisis. This crisis will hit Israel disproportionally hard, as limiting global warming to an average 1.5C means people in this region will still face double the heat. It is not surprising that about three-quarters of Israelis – like in many countries – are seriously concerned about climate change.

Cutting down emissions is crucial in mitigating the effects of climate change. Israel's partners like the European Union (and soon the US) show ambition to this end. The EU has recently committed itself to emit 55% less greenhouse gases in 2030 compared to 1990. Already, the EU emits a quarter less than thirty years ago, while Israeli emissions have stagnated at best. On the road towards the Glasgow climate conference in November, Israel should step up its game.

John Kerry at Climate Adaptation Summit 2021
Image: Climate Adaptation Summit 2021 website
John Kerry at Climate Adaptation Summit 2021

Being strong on renewables, it could increase targets to produce 40% renewable energy in 2030 and announce a concrete strategy on how to reach climate neutrality in 2050. That ambition will pay off, as Israeli youth today – somewhat out of harm's way from the health crisis – will experience the harsh consequences of the climate crisis by that year.

Besides averting the growing costs of in-action, ambitious climate action can also be a financial multiplier. The OECD, World Bank and others argue that accelerated green investment can provide clear economic gains in the form of jobs and income. An Israeli Green Rescue Plan as recently presented in the Knesset could be an important step towards green recovery from the current crisis.

Climate leadership can also give the necessary impetus to businesses and knowledge institutes working on adaptive solutions. Think of upscaling initiatives like financing solar cells on public buildings, investing in green hydrogen technology and production and turning DeserTech in the Negev into an indispensable regional hub. Startup nation Israel has the potential to lead. After all, the country has become livable and resilient through timely and smart adaptation to its environment.

Likewise, in the Netherlands, a country much less beaten by the sun, it is the Delta Programme that functions as a key adaptation instrument. Leveraging water for climate action means investing EUR 1.3 billion annually in a strategic response to sea level rise, increase of extreme rainfall, droughts and heat waves. At this week’s summit, the Netherlands shared its own experiences and invited other countries to join a global Adaptation Action Agenda. Israel would be a great partner in this endeavor.  

Ultimately, Israel and the Netherlands have even more to offer than sharing experiences and co-leading climate action. The EU Green Deal provides Israeli partners 1 trillion EUR worth of investment opportunities, such as on cleantech or watertech. Our shared can-do mentality means that a climate-resilient future can be within reach.