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Tech can save countries like Israel threatened by climate change

3 min read

As the nations of the world gather in Glasgow, we all face the same critical question. How do we combine courageous steps to combat the urgent threat of climate change, with the pressing need to reaccelerate our economies post-Covid?

The answer lies in sustainable innovation. Israel, located between three continents and five climatic areas, with a dearth of natural resources and a wealth of cutting-edge start-ups, is quickly becoming a global leader in the climate technologies needed for a sustainable future.  

As the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report makes clear, anthropogenic climate change means that we must transform our economies, cities and societies in order to avert a climate disaster. The window of opportunity is quickly closing. Israel has already experienced a 1.4C rise in average temperatures since 1950, as well as an increase in extreme weather events. We can no longer ignore the fact that climate change is not just a critical issue for our natural environment, but for our national security. 

As Israel’s minister of environmental protection, I am leading numerous reforms in order to close policy gaps and bring Israel in line with the highest international standards. On 25 October, the Israeli government approved several wide-ranging plans, including the provision of hundreds of millions of shekels to assist industry in becoming more energy efficient, promote low-carbon transportation, map out all of Israel’s built-up areas to assess potential for solar energy generation, and enable local authorities to develop emergency plans for adapting to climate change.

These steps are just a start. I deeply believe that Israel must pass comprehensive climate legislation with binding emissions targets, and implement a carbon tax to ensure that polluters, not the public, pay the full price of their pollution.

However, Israel’s greatest contribution to the fight against climate change will be in the realm of sustainable innovation. Israel is a start-up nation, with more start-ups, foreign direct investment (FDI) and unicorns [privately owned companies valued at more than $1bn (£759mn)] per capita than any other country. What is less known is that Israel is quickly becoming a global hub of clean technologies. 

Since our founding, we have faced extreme water scarcity. As a result, we became world leaders in water reuse, recycling close to 90 per cent of our wastewater, and pioneers in drip irrigation. Israel’s vibrant climate start-up ecosystem is now expanding beyond these areas, and blazing new trails in fields such as alternative proteins, AI-based agriculture, and low-emissions mobility.

Climate innovation is not only the key to resilient low-carbon economies. It can also play a central role in Middle East peace. The countries of the region share many of the same climatic conditions. Covid-19 highlighted the need to come together across borders to face common challenges. As I recently discussed with my Emirati counterparts, the countries of the Abraham Accords, and all peace-seeking nations in the Middle East, must join hands to meet our shared environmental challenges. 

One particularly exciting initiative taking shape is DeserTech, an international hub for desert technologies in Israel’s southern Negev desert. DeserTech is bringing together top research institutes, medical centers, start-ups, corporations, governmental bodies and civil society organisations, to develop solutions for the more than two billion people across the globe living in arid and semi-arid environments. 

The UK government, through its embassy in Tel Aviv, has been an important partner in a DeserTech competition which is part of expanding its international reach. I would like to invite all UK environmental entrepreneurs, researchers, investors and activists to take part in this groundbreaking initiative. By working together, we can create a healthier, safer and more sustainable future for the Middle East and the entire world.

Tamar Zandberg is Israel's Minister of Environmental Protection.

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