Right now Israel is fighting to protect their people after the brutal October 7th attack, kidnappings, and the subsequent rockets from Hamas, Hezbollah and others. So for many, the topic of climate change was pushed into the background. However, the issues of fossil fuels is vital to Israel’s national security. Thus, I am delighted to bring you an interview with Yoni Sappir, the founder and chairman of the impactful Israel Home Guardians (Shomrei Habayit in Hebrew, or IHG for short) – CITIZENS FOR SAFE ENERGY. It is a highly effective volunteer organization that promotes the production and use of clean energy to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis.
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi: Please describe your efforts to promote safe energy and explain the relationship between safe energy and a safer Israel.
Yoni Sappir: Israel is situated in a highly volatile region and surrounded by enemies, which makes our neighbourhood dangerous. Petrochemical facilities in Israel are strategic targets, and missile attacks by Iran and Hezbollah could threaten national security by shutting down desalination plants and electricity production. It is worth noting that this would not be the first attack on local petrochemical facilities.
Several weeks ago, foreign media reported that Terror troops from Iraq sent an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) towards the Karish gas rig. The UAVs were downed by Israel.
In 2022, three Hezbollah UAVs were detected heading towards the Karish gas rig, but Israel successfully intercepted them. During the May 2021 conflict, a direct hit by Hamas on a gas pipeline in Ashdod caused Chevron to shut down the offshore Tamar rig, which is located 14 miles offshore of Ashdod and Ashkelon. Perhaps this is why Israel ordered the evacuation of the Tamar rig at the beginning of the current conflict. This occurred previously in 2019 when a rocket attack forced the energy minister to shut down the rig. Jihadist extremists have also sabotaged the Egyptian-Israeli pipeline through the Sinai Peninsula on multiple occasions.
A year ago, I visited Germany with a delegation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During discussions about the war in Ukraine, they emphasized the extreme risk posed by hydrocarbons and noted the increasing recognition of renewables as a pillar of energy independence. We all remember the Russian attacks on Ukraine’s gas power plants and the impact on the population and environment.
These events highlight the risks of combining the intrinsically hazardous fossil fuel sector with the unstable Middle East, and underscore our organisation’s endeavours to shift Israel towards secure energy.
Renewable facilities are the right answer to the climate crisis as they are diverse and therefore less vulnerable. For example, Israel has approximately 20 gas and coal power plants, as well as three gas rigs, which are vulnerable to attack. The consequences of such an attack are clear to everyone.
IHG combines scientific and professional work with regulatory and parliamentary efforts to advance Israel’s transition to a low-carbon economy.
Do you think the Israeli government’s current targets of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 27% by 2030 and 85% by 2050 are ambitious enough? Are they achievable? What are the main challenges?
The current targets are extremely low. We believe Israel can and must do better. Failure to do so could threaten its economy, international trade agreements and geopolitical position. For example, Israel’s tax revenues could be affected by the recently declared European Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM). Much higher targets are achievable. The technology already exists. The money is there. The only thing missing is the political will.
What can or should Israeli policymakers do (or not do) to achieve these goals?
All we need is a governmental focus. Imagine if Israel had treated this issue the way it treated the Lavi fighter project in the nineties. Surely it would succeed. The tools are available and clear: renewable energy + storage; convenient public transport; electric vehicles; efficient energy use; carbon capture for essential industries such as cement/steel/fertiliser; electrification of the industrial sector plus the introduction of heat pumps, flow heaters and steam generators; implementation of Israel’s waste strategy; regional cooperation; and so on. All the necessary plans already exist, as I have written several times with my colleagues Prof. Ayalon & Prof. Wolfson. We just have to act, and act now.
In November 2021, at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP 26), the former Prime Minister of Israel, Mr Naftali Bennett, declared that Israel “can provide the world with the technological know-how to reduce emissions”. You work with the climate technology industry and are very familiar with Israel’s “green industry”. Can technology make the difference and provide the world with the solutions it needs to tackle climate change?
I believe that most of the solutions are already here, so we must not wait. However, new technologies can make our lives better, cheaper and easier. The most relevant areas are new storage technologies such as lithium iron phosphate, lithium potassium, iron-air, self-healing, etc; improving the efficiency of solar panels; transparent & semi-flexible thin solar panels to cover walls, fences and windows; and climate restoration technologies such as methane removal, limestone from carbon capture systems for use in the construction industry, macro algae production for food, feed and fertiliser; etc.
Do you think Israel can provide the world with the solutions it needs?
Definitely yes, but again – it requires government focus and huge investment. Elders may recall Israel’s Yozma government plan, initiated in the 2000s, which invested in venture capital funds. This particular act propelled the Israeli hi-tech industry to global prominence.
Between 2018 and 2020, the Israeli government invested a total sum of $280 million in climate tech, which is less than 1% of global investment in the sector. This is not .enough to move the needle
The number of Israel’s climate-tech startups has reached 784, according to Plantech report. The five most prolific climate challenges addressed by the startups founded since 2018 are Climate Smart Agriculture, Clean Energy Systems, Sustainable Mobility & Transport, Alternative Proteins, and Carbon Management, Risk & Finance.
Israeli companies are relatively strong in water purification, desalination, irrigation, precision agriculture, food tech and green construction, but if you look at the ratio of R&D (research budgets) to GDP (local production of goods and services) in the various fields, we have a lot of catching up to do in energy technology, ag-tech and adaptation technologies.
The potential is there. We just need some catalysts to make the breakthrough. We also need to set an example in mitigation and adaptation and truly become “Or Lagoim”.
So how do you work?
We influence government policy through various means, including white papers, position documents, expert reports, discussions with regulators, meetings with ministers and MKs, public lectures, the media, and appealing to the Supreme Court when necessary (usually in coordination with government officials and sometimes at their request). We also maintain a presence in the public domain.
Our aim is to enhance safety in Israel with regards to energy sources and promote climate action. There is a correlation between our agenda and the current situation. The consequences of this war may include the decentralisation of electricity production, gradual divestment from fossil fuels, and the addition of significant amounts of storage to the national grid.
How can people support your work?
We are a non-profit organization and our website is https://homelandguards.org/en.