Thoughts Inspired By the 3rd Israel Climate Convention
29 November 2018
by Dr. David Dunetz
“What I hope we achieve at this conference is that we realize that we are facing an existential threat. This is the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced. First we have to realize this and then as fast as possible do something to stop the emissions and try to save what we can save.” – Greta Thunberg, Swedish teen activist in a speech at the 2018 Katowice Climate Change Conference (COP 24).
The words of 15 yr. old activist Greta Thunberg, who has been on strike outside the Swedish Parliament since August, are a wake-up call for all of us. Similar calls have been heard at the international climate conferences over the past 25 years, when emissions exceeded permitted levels by only 60%.
Listening to the call coming from Sweden, it’s a short path to despair. If in progressive Sweden the situation is dire, what can we say here in Israel, where the topic of climate change is on the margins of the news, and hardly affects the fates of governments. But we are far from giving up. The incredible response to the Israel national climate conference this year (more than twice last year’s), and the huge participation (over 500 people) show that the revolution we are working for is possible. The conference organizers are striving to lead a civil movement that will change public awareness regarding the reality and threats of climate change. Achieving this transformation demands vision and courage, and will contribute to the social and economic resilience of Israeli society.
“Ambitious Goals for Israel: They’re Necessary, They’re Possible – and They’re Worthwhile” was the motto that inspired us over 5 months ago when we began the planning process for this convention. The Climate Forum of the environmental movement, with over 20 member organizations, established the steering committee, headed by the Heschel Center. This broad-based collaboration is part of the overall approach of building capacity for the nascent climate movement, to become an agent of change, and a source of influence.
As in previous years, the Israel Climate Convention took place close to the global conference, COP 24, which convened in the Polish city of Katowice. The global conference took place this year against the background of the especially dire recent report of the IPCC, which documented how the signatories to the Paris Accords are not living up to the commitments they took upon themselves, and determined that if governments do not engage in unprecedented actions by the year 2030 to ensure that global temperatures don’t rise over 1.5 deg. C., the result will be irreversible damage. The Israeli Convention sought to present ambitious goals to the government, that would combine greenhouse gas emissions reductions, with building resilience, and adaptation strategies to threats that are already felt.
We can get an inkling about the changes that are taking place in the opening speech of the Minister of the Environment, Zeev Elkin, and in the session that dealt with government policy, with the director of the Ministry of Energy, Udi Adiri, and the director of the Ministry of the Environment, Israel Danziger. All three of them prefaced their remarks with how pleasantly surprised they were to see the auditorium overflowing, with people in the aisles, and an overflow broadcast in the lobby. They also commented on how none of them knew anything about climate before beginning their current terms, and now they are being asked to supply answers, not only to their colleagues abroad, but also here at home. True, this doesn’t mean that from tomorrow morning Israel will become 100% renewable, but it seems that the climate “is out of the closet,” and it won’t be going back in.
Despite the endless sunshine, and the particularly grim climate forecasts, especially for the Mediterranean region, Israel still lags well behind European countries in public awareness and policy changes. For that reason, the session devoted to regional cooperation, moderated by Dana Tabachnik, was especially important. A central point that came up was how climate change does not stop at the border, and when there is no water in the faucets of Gaza and Jordan, our national security is at risk. At the same time, positive opportunities for cooperation continually arise, many of which fly below the radar.
In the session “Women Discuss Climate in the City,” led by former Heschel Director, Dr. Orli Ronen, we heard about how cities in the world, including in Israel, have taken far more progressive steps than national governments, which is a hopeful sign.
The high point of this year’s conference, though, was the recognition that the climate movement is expanding. The day began with 150 invited experts, including scientists, journalists, NGO representatives, and businesspeople, in 13 different fields who came to a special round table session to grapple with the implications of climate change for their respective fields: Agriculture and Food, Biodiversity, Education, Energy, Health, Media and Communication, The Ocean, Public Awareness and Activism, Regional Cooperation, Sustainability and Consumerism. The participants created a mapping of the current situation, and formulated ambitious goals to present to the government, together with stepping stones to implementation and relevant leverage points.
The results of these round tables will be collated and edited, submitted for final comments and improvements by participants, and will be submitted to the Ministry of the Environment, which is spearheading a government wide initiative to build a vision and roadmap for Israel 2050, together with civil society.
More than 500 men and women participated in the convention, an unprecedented number, which expresses widespread support for all the organizations and activists who are working on the coming events, until the next convention: the Climate March (in the Spring), the inauguration of the multi-sectoral process, media campaigns, and more.
The challenge is clear: at the end of the day, our success will be judged solely by our ability to influence the government and the public, and to put the climate squarely on the agenda. We invite partners and supporters to join us in this, one of the great struggles of our generation.