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COP26 – Are we Ready to Move from Talking to Running?

By Tamara Sharon Ross and Rony Erez

Last week, the Heschel Center co-hosted a private event on renewable energy for academics at the University of Tel Aviv. Those in attendance were primarily Doctoral Students from the school of economics and students from other academic disciplines. The gathering was small, but a number of high-level individuals from the Israeli government participated. The series of lectures began with the Ministry of Energy’s Deputy Director-General and continued onto the Heschel Center’s NZO’s renewable energy plan. In what quickly turned into an intense discussion, the panelists and audience dialogued about the urgency of the climate crisis and the economic steps that must be taken in Israel today to address it, as well as other important topics including whether Israel should establish more natural gas refineries, the optimal level of renewable energy generation, technical barriers for renewable energy production, and creative ways to encourage decentralized solar PV adoption.

On the one hand, we felt that the event was extremely successful. We guided a conversation with influential government representatives on matters of importance. However, on the other hand, we felt frustrated. It seems that the urgency that we, as civil society, are experiencing with regards to the severity of the situation, is not shared by those in academia and government officials. Indeed, the challenges are huge and it requires innovation, even a paradigm shift, to transform our energy market from a centralized model based on fossil fuel to a decentralized one that has renewable energies at its core. Though, as history has shown us, there is nothing that cannot be accomplished if there is a sufficient level of motivation. During the Second World War, the U.S. government converted America’s industrial base to produce armaments and other war materiel rather than civilian goods. Moreover, just a year ago, the entire world went into a different reality when COVID-19 hit, and governments and businesses had to build alternate modes of operation immediately.
This week, in Glasgow, leaders of the world, and multi-sector representatives gathered to discuss climate action. The Heschel Center’s Co-CEO, Rony Erez is also there, as a part of the Israeli civil society delegation and is presenting today (Thursday, Nov 4)  at a side event. At the event, Rony will present the process that we have led together with the environmental movement, and how we are taking the Israeli national climate conversation to the local level. With the support of the Israeli climate coalition and leadership by the local municipality, 12 local climate conventions were hosted this year, each one focusing on their urgent climate issues from a community perspective.

At Glasgow, perhaps the most significant deal so far is one that aims to halt and reverse global deforestation over the next decade as part of a multibillion-dollar package to tackle human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, an agreement that the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, agreed to. And while many statements from world leaders have been inspiring, especially from developing countries, the world has a long way to go in order to make the paradigmatic shifts that are needed.

As far as Israel goes – Israel sent the second-largest delegation to Glasgow, a group that is comprised of Israeli officials, civil society representatives (not only from the environmental movement), business reps, and others. Prior to the conference, PM Naftali Bennett committed to zero emissions by 2050, the most ambitious goal ever committed by the Israeli political leadership. From our standpoint, it is incredible to see so many Israeli officials at the conference, as it strengthens their personal commitment and allows them to create international partnerships based on a shared vision.

And yet, this is just a very small win compared to the lengths we need to go in order to reach zero emissions. It will require hard work, across-the-board alliances, numerous concessions, and a different approach to all walks of life. Has Glasgow shown us that we are ready to undertake such a transformation? Unclear. As the Israeli delegation returns, we will be focused on helping Israel make that transition, one that supports a more just, democratic, and healthy society.