Israeli minister sees opportunity at UN climate conference

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JERUSALEM (AP) – Israel’s new environmental protection minister has set ambitious goals: she believes she can use her office to play an important role in the global battle against climate change while promoting the peace in the unstable Middle East.

Tamar Zandberg presented his program in an interview with The Associated Press ahead of the upcoming United Nations climate conference in Glasgow. She says Israel, despite its small size and its own inability to meet the global goal of net zero emissions by 2050, has the potential to be a key player.

Zandberg said the country was eager to share its expertise in green technologies. Israel is widely regarded as a world leader in areas such as solar energy storage, sustainable alternatives to protein, agricultural technology and desalination.

“These are areas where Israel is already at the forefront of global innovation, and we hope this is something that little Israel can bring to countries larger than us to better adapt to the new climate reality.” She said.

Major countries, including China and India, have become important markets for Israeli environmental technologies. Zandberg said she had already held two meetings with her counterpart from the United Arab Emirates, which established diplomatic ties with Israel just over a year ago, and that the two countries have teams working together on issues. issues like agriculture and water in the arid region of the Middle East. East.

Israel and Jordan held a signing ceremony for a new water-sharing agreement last week, and Zandberg said the two countries were having “in-depth discussions” on various environmental issues.

“Our neighbors share our region and share our climate,” she said. “It is therefore natural that we face them together. This can contribute to climate change, but also to regional stability and our peace in the Middle East. “

Zandberg took office in June as a member of Israel’s new government – a diverse patchwork of small and medium parties spanning the political spectrum. This includes deep ideological differences over how to handle the decades-long conflict with the Palestinians.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett heads an ultra-nationalist religious party that opposes the creation of a Palestinian state, and Bennett, a former leader of the West Bank settlements movement, has ruled out peace talks with the Palestinians .

Zandberg’s Meretz party is the most accommodating member of the eight-party coalition and supports a two-state solution with the Palestinians. As part of the coalition deal, forged to prevent the country from plunging into a fifth election in two years, all members were forced to compromise on their core beliefs.

Zandberg acknowledged some frustration with the limitations created by political reality, but said environmental cooperation offers an opportunity to improve the atmosphere and lay the groundwork for future negotiations. She said she had met with her Palestinian counterpart and that professional teams met regularly to work on issues of common concern, such as the protection of shared water resources.

“We live here together and we share the land and we share the air and share the water,” she said. “The better we communicate, the better our people will live. “

At home, Zandberg has a long list of things to do.

Israel has acknowledged that it will fail to meet the international community’s goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050. It hopes to reduce its emissions by 85% by then. Environmentalists cited a lack of political will on the part of previous governments and the country’s reliance on newly discovered natural gas as an energy source for the lower target.

Zandberg said that figure was calculated largely on a situation inherited from previous governments. She also said that Israel’s relatively high population growth is an obstacle. And while Israel lags behind its own renewable energy targets, she said the government is determined to help the world meet the zero-emission goal through its technology exports and to do more. the home front.

“It is our goal to close this gap,” she said. “We are working for the first time on new climate legislation in the Israeli parliament. We are working on the series of implementation plans, how to take the government declaration of low carbon economy and make it a reality in the sectors of energy, transport, waste, agriculture. So we’re serious. “

There are other challenges. The Dead Sea, which is actually a salt lake at the lowest point on the planet, is slowly narrowing. It is the result of years of diversion of the Jordan River water for consumption and agriculture and damage caused by mineral mining companies. A secret pipeline deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates has raised fears that an oil spill could one day destroy coral reefs in the Red Sea, prized by scientists for their unique resilience in the face of warming seas. The water resources that flow through Israel and the occupied West Bank are threatened by sewage and pollution.

Zandberg said his team is involved in negotiations to ensure that factories in the Dead Sea, which are among Israel’s worst polluters, address environmental concerns as licenses are renewed in the years to come. The Israel-UAE pipeline is currently under review by the government, “and we will express our concerns in these discussions,” she said. Zandberg has been pushing for a new tax on single-use plastics to come into effect next year.

Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli director of EcoPeace, an environmental group with offices in Israel, Jordan and the West Bank, said it was too early to judge Zandberg’s performance. But he said his appointment had raised hopes that Israel could finally make progress on long-standing issues.

“We are in a very unique position where we have a Minister of the Environment who is extremely committed to the issue and wants to be successful,” said Bromberg. “You have a Minister of the Environment who is an environmentalist. “

His success, he said, will depend in part on his political skills, largely on his relationship with Bennett. Despite their different origins, Bromberg said that so far they seem to have a good relationship.

“It’s still very early. The problems are huge, ”he said.

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