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Why Israel’s (draft) climate bill is not only about Israel

A Prediction of Rising Sea Levels, Photo by go_greener_oz
A Prediction of Rising Sea Levels, Photo by go_greener_oz

During the last week of April 2022, I attended the Raisina Dialogue, India’s flagship conference on geopolitics and geoeconomics, organized by the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) in partnership with the Ministry of External Affairs of the Government of India. The conference hosted heads of state, cabinet ministers and local government officials, who were joined by an array of thought leaders from the private sector, media, and academia. This year, the Raisina Dialogue dedicated several sessions, panels, keynote lectures and fireside chats to the fields of climate change, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the green transition.

Mathias Cormann, Secretary-General, OECD and Aminath Shauna, Minister of Environment, Climate Change and Technology, Maldives, at the Raisina Dialogue 2022

The fireside chat, which I was honored to moderate, focused on the issue of climate change adaptation (actions that reduce the negative impacts of climate change) and hosted three very distinguished dignitaries: H.E. President Mohamed Nasheed, Speaker of the Parliament and Former President of Maldives, H.E. Mr. Richard Randriamandrato, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Madagascar and H.E. Mr. Hugh Hilton Todd, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Guyana.

The Fireside Chat on Climate Change Adaptation, from left to right: H.E. President Mohamed Nasheed, Speaker of the Parliament and Former President of Maldives, H.E. Mr. Richard Randriamandrato, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Madagascar; H.E. Mr. Hugh Hilton Todd, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Guyana and Ms. Galit Palzur, moderator, Expert on Risk Management of Natural Disasters, Climate Change and Extreme Events

Most Israelis are unaware of the fact that these three countries – Guyana, Madagascar and Maldives – along with dozens of other countries, face acute and perhaps dire implications from climate change. Guyana and Maldives are considered by the United Nations as small island developing states (SIDS), which have often been described as countries on the “frontlines of climate change,” since rising sea levels, storm surges and erosion are expected in the future to submerge the islands under sea level, threatening the existence of communities, their homes and infrastructure.

Those who follow the UNFCCC talks on climate change are used to hearing speeches by the representatives of those countries who face the heaviest costs from climate change. For years they have been bellowing out that their countries will suffer the consequences, to no avail. While our conversation at the Raisina Dialogue was initially supposed to focus on different financing mechanisms for climate change adaptation, the panelists were quick to remind everyone that their countries are not only not responsible for the accelerated global warming, but what’s worse is that most of these vulnerable states are not able to do much about climate change and are witnessing their own slow destruction. For instance, Madagascar has contributed only 0.01% of all the global carbon dioxide emissions generated between 1933-2019. Yet Madagascar is helpless and has started experiencing famine due to rising temperatures and the resulting droughts, which have led to food and water shortages. H.E. Mr. Randriamandrato explained that the small countries do not have the financial capacity to adapt by themselves to the effects of climate change and rely on the financial flows of developed countries which have not lived up to their commitments to transfer climate financing to the most vulnerable countries on earth. Minister Todd added that one disaster can disrupt the entire economy and strain the national budgets; therefore it’s the moral obligation of the international community to transfer climate financing to countries like Guyana.

The difficulty, according to President Nasheed, is that those who created the problem of climate change are unwilling to amend their ways and are neither willing to assist developing countries in appropriate adaptation measures. He expressed how shocked he is by the inaction of the West and explained that he is unable to understand the naivety and ignorance as climate change is happening now, and soon its effects will reach the Western World, not only in terms of climatic effects but also because of climate refugees. Nasheed believes that while the West thinks that several millions of refugees from the Middle East or the Ukraine are considered these days as a disaster, they should wait and see what climate change will cause in relation to refugees. Around a quarter of the world’s population resides in coastal areas and he anticipates that they will all be on the move, in search of safer places to live in. In my opinion, not only those in coastal areas will flee because of climate change: rising temperatures will make living in many areas impossible, in addition to food and drinking water scarcity.

As a representative of the Western World in the panel, President Nasheed directed his frustration towards me, accusing people like me of being naïve and ignorant to the problems faced by small developing states when it comes to the effects of climate change. And I was quick to remind the panelists that Israel is also a climate hotspot, expected to experience a higher temperature rise than the global average.

Now that I have returned back from New Delhi to Israel and read the details of the climate law draft that was approved just a few days ago, on May 8, 2022, by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, I am a bit ashamed of my answer to those claims I had received the other day. This is because according to the draft bill, Israel is expected to cut greenhouse gas emissions by only 27% till the year 2030, well below the commitments of other developed countries. Since this number is not explicitly mentioned in the draft law, probably to avoid litigation risks arising from non-compliance, it also means that the number can be amended if Israel does not live up to its pledge.

Yes, it is true that Israel, on the aggregate level is responsible only to a fraction of the global cumulative greenhouse gas emissions, making its historical responsibilities relatively small, but the minimum to expect is aligning Israel’s policies now to the international standard, not less and accept the responsibility for its own emissions. Though the draft law accepts the now-a-days popular standard of committing to becoming Net-Zero in 2050, but as both H.E. Todd and President Nasheed stated in our conversation, it is useless to talk about what countries will do 30-40 years into the future as the climate emergency is now and countries need to start acting now.

As a reminder of their words, while writing this blog, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) published that “there is a 50:50 chance of the annual average global temperature temporarily reaching 1.5 °C above the pre-industrial level for at least one of the next five years – and the likelihood is increasing with time.” According to the press release, the likelihood for such figures in 2015 was zero. This is yet another indicator that climate impacts will become increasingly harmful for people and the entire planet sooner than was previously expected. Making actions required sooner, rather than later, by all the international community, including Israel.

About the Author
Galit Palzur is an economist, specializing in corporate risk management of natural disasters and extreme events. Previously, she was the Director of the Economics and Standards Division at the Ministry of Environmental Protection; Chairman of the Bureau of the OECD Working Party on Climate, Investment and Development; economist at the Budgets Division at the Ministry of Finance, and served as board-member of several government-owned companies and statutory bodies.
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