Rachel Avraham
Rachel AvrahamCourtesy

It was recently reported in Nature Climate Change that a handful of deep sea Caribbean sponges that are centuries old indicate that global warming began sooner and progressed more rapidly than what was previously thought. The researchers calculate that the world has already gone past the internationally approved target of limiting global warming to 1.5°C since pre-industrial times, hitting 1.7°C as of 2020.

As Israel is in the middle of a war, many Israelis may ponder, why should they care about climate change? At a time when it was reported that nearly a quarter of the Israelis held hostage in Gaza are believed to be dead and terror plagues everyday life in the Jewish state, many Israelis may wonder why it is important to think about it at all?

However, addressing climate change is of critical importance for the future of the State of Israel, even if it is hard to feel it at this time.

Daniel Salomon, an environmental activist, author and PHD student at Portland State University, said in an interview: “I would say that climate change will affect Israel through desertification, which is the increase of desert because of climate change. Both the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee are at risk because of climate change. Because of the increase of deserts, there will be increased heat, shortage of water and having heat islands and cities."

"Also I would say that Israel is at high risk for receiving climate refugees, which are people that cannot live in their countries anymore due to climate change. For example, many people will not be able to live in North Africa, Ethiopia and other Middle Eastern and African countries due to climate change, as they will be starving there due to drought.”

Salomon noted that by 2100, 330 Israelis could die every summer due to climate change. He added: “Climate change can also affect people’s mental health, which can lead to increased violence, terrorism and hatred. It will also lead to totalitarian regimes throughout the region. Climate change will also affect older people in Israel, who will be adversely affected by the high heat in Israel."

"I don’t see the sea level rise as affecting Israel, as the Mediterranean is not attached to any glaciers. However, the Martian Islands, Maldives and other similar places are at risk for going under water and they are worried about how they will make it. Also Venice could go under water, at least partially. One of the solutions to this is going off fossil fuels, which can help weaken the Iranian regime. Israel can lead the way in terms of climate innovation. Israel is already coming up with solutions. They can be world leaders in this and take action.”

Israeli hi-tech has greatly contributed to the struggle against climate change. In fact, 30 Israeli climate change innovation companies attended COP28. Recently, Israel developed an online climate risk map, which will help to identify climate risks. Yet according to the Institute for National Security Studies, “In contrast to most OECD countries, Israel is not doing enough to enable the flow of money from the government and the private sector to meet the targets defined in the Paris Agreement for tackling the climate crisis.”

As the world prepares for the COP29 Climate Conference in Baku, Azerbaijan, Simon Stiell, the UN’s top climate official, pressured the community of nations to shape up their act: “Finance is the make-or-break factor in the world’s climate fight.”

According to the Institute for National Security Studies, “A number of OECD reports have indicated the need for progress in the use of economic tools to advance climate policy..”

However, the report claimed that Israel is sadly lagging behind on those due to the lack of political stability in the country, with the country still lacking a carbon tax, even as such taxes already exist in other countries.

With the ongoing war, it is hard for Israel to focus on any environmental issue. Just to give a basic example, one of the activities of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel these days is to house “over 1,000 families from the Gaza envelope and others who were required to evacuate from danger zones but had no government funded shelter because they live further than 4 kilometers from Gaza, like Sderot. SPNI housed these families for free in its field schools in various safe locations across Israel, and gave them full board and an astounding array of educational and recreational activities and services, including laundry.”

They claim that their income from “hiking, field schools and environmental activities” has plummeted to zero. If even environmental groups struggle to focus on climate change, how can the average Israeli or even our government, who is so focused on Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran these days?

Thus, despite the numerous Israeli innovations to assist the struggle against climate change, it is not a coincidence that this conference is not taking place in Israel but in Azerbaijan, an oil rich country that also prides itself on seeking to move in a more environmentally friendly direction. Prominent Azerbaijani journalist Anastasia Lavrina proclaimed, “Azerbaijan pays a lot of attention to green energy and renewable energy. This policy is very important for our government. We see how the Azerbaijani government in recent times has tried to invest in the development of green energy and renewables. In Karabakh, all of the systems are being built in accordance with the new standards.”

According to her, “Azerbaijan also carefully follows the sustainable development goals. Since they were proposed, Azerbaijan is one of the countries actively supporting and promoting these ideas from different perspectives... This event will show to the world community how Azerbaijan is promoting green energy.”

Israel at this time cannot divert its attention to do the same, but let us hope that future peace once Hamas is defeated will allow the area to focus on environmental issues.

Rachel Avraham is the CEO of the Dona Gracia Center for Diplomacy and an Israel-based journalist. She is the author of “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media.”