President Isaac Herzog’s speech at an event for the outgoing Israeli delegation to Glasgow COP26, 25 October 2021

keywords: אקלים, מצב חירום, שיתופי פעולה

Credit: קובי גדעון, לע"מ

Anyone who thought that the climate crisis is an issue that will only affect future generations, or that we have many years to start generating meaningful change—was making a grave mistake. Anyone who thinks that time is on our side—is reading the situation incorrectly. The climate issue is an urgent problem, which requires immediate action. Nobody can ignore the fact that Planet Earth is heating up—a disaster that is unfolding in front of our eyes day by day, hour by hour. Nobody can ignore the megafires here and over the ocean. Nobody can ignore the devastating floods, which we all followed. Nobody can avoid reading the map of the rise in cancers in general, and skin cancer in particular, and not draw the correct conclusion from all this: we must act quickly and urgently to create a different reality, one that will shape not only our future, but also our present.

We must fully exploit the latent potential for solar energy, and we are very far indeed from doing so. We were once pioneers in this field, and we can and must go back to this. We must encourage and actively and strongly increase the scope of investments in the green economy, and we must triumph over the ruinous impact of the climate crisis when it comes to food security. This is a matter of national security, no less. We must expand our education system’s engagement with the climate crisis, especially about what can be done right now, in a manner accessible to different ages, from first grade (at the latest) to high school. We must talk about how polluting methods of transportation affect the climate crisis and how important it is to invest in broad public transport and non-polluting vehicles. We must see how our urban planning is allocating more and more land for green spaces, based on the understanding of their positive influence, and of green construction in general. And most importantly, and in this sense the honorable audience here today speaks for itself: we must create as broad a coalition as possible, comprising all branches of industry, trade, academia and of course the public sector and local government, joining forces with a single goal: to urgently and immediately address the climate crisis. Not next year, not in two months’ time. But today. Here and now!

Even though this is a state of emergency in every respect, and perhaps because this is a state of emergency, if I had to summarize in two words our participation as the State of Israel at the climate summit in Glasgow next week, I would choose not only the word ‘crisis.’ With your permission, I would add the word ‘opportunity.’ This is an opportunity—precisely because there is a massive crisis on our doorstep. Yes, the crisis is also an opportunity for us as a country to do tikkun olam, to repair the world, as simple as that, and to be part of the greatest positive development of our generation. Although as a small country, we are not a major actor in the creation of the crisis, we can certainly be a meaningful actor in the response to it.

At the summit in Glasgow, we are presented with a supremely important international stage, attended by leaders of the most important countries in the world. We must take advantage of this platform to present the widespread work happening in Israel, and our solutions in the field of climate innovation, which can and must go global. From solutions in the fields of water, agriculture and renewable energy, to developing alternatives to animal-based proteins. As we know, and as shown by this expo outside, presenting just a few samples from the frontlines of Israeli science and technology in this field, we certainly have a great deal to be proud of. Therefore, I first and foremost wish to welcome the decision to send such a respectable delegation to this important summit, and I am sure that each and every one of you will do everything to take advantage of the latent opportunities in this important encounter.

I congratulate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett for leading this important delegation. This is a novel statement, consistent with the welcome spirit emerging around the world. This is no trivial matter, and I believe that it reflects the central place that this issue takes in our priorities as a country. I want to thank you, environmental organizations, not just for the present and the future, but also for the many years in which you worked with determination, even when it seemed like nobody was listening. I still remember, as a child, my mother Aura, may she have a long life, who founded one of the first green organizations in Israel, the Council for a Beautiful Israel, back when only a very small portion of the population was even aware of this issue. In particular I want to thank you, my friends: Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg, for your determined leadership, and especially for your contribution to promoting the understanding that the climate crisis is the greatest challenge of our generation. And you, Energy Minister Karine Elharrar, for your true partnership along the way, and of course for your great push in the field of renewable energy.

I think that the mere fact that this climate summit is taking place, and by all accounts in such a large and respectable forum, is itself proof that something is starting to change in humanity’s approach to the climate. As I said, this is a genuine state of emergency. Now we know all too well: nobody will be able to fix things after us. It is no coincidence that the summit in Glasgow, which I want to thank my friend British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for hosting, as well as all of Britain’s leadership, and of course also you, my friend British Ambassador Neil Wigan, is being called the most important event in this field since the 2015 Paris Accords. The world is starting to move forward and genuinely try to prepare properly for the climate crisis, and the State of Israel must not remain behind. This is why Michal and I have chosen to host this important event at the President’s Residence.

We are profoundly committed to this issue. And we are not alone, for as can be seen here today through the lectures, videos, and presentation of the government plan—this is a commitment by the whole State of Israel.

This is also the reason why I founded the Israeli Climate Forum, under the auspices of the President’s Residence, managed by former MK and head of the environmental-social lobby and the lobby for the promotion of green energy, Dr. Dov Khenin, together with the umbrella organization Life and Environment. This will be a leading forum, which will entertain deliberations on the climate crisis and especially the State of Israel’s role in addressing it. The forum will include representatives of different sectors, and we shall collaborate with all of them—from the government and of course the Environmental Protection Ministry to the Knesset and local government, and all the way to academia, the business and industrial sector, and beyond. Only with so bold a partnership between different organizations and sectors can we confront the challenges facing us. I believe in us. I believe that we will be able to place concern for the future of our children and the fate of Planet Earth above our internal arguments. Members of the delegation, I want to send my wishes ahead of your departure on this important mission, which will shape our future and the future of our children. I have no doubt that the fact that Israel is about to join, through this conference, a series of new global ventures is another expression of our national commitment to this matter, and to our understanding as a state and a society of the required urgency, and of the uncompromising approach that we must take against this global crisis. I wish you all great success on your mission and I am sure that there too, you will represent the beautiful face of Israel. Thank you.