Bennett at COP26: 'Start-Up Nation can save the world' - watch

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaking at the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, November 1, 2021.
(photo credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)

"Our carbon footprint may be small, but our impact on climate change can be mighty... we need to contribute... the energy and brainpower of our people," Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said.

GLASGOW – Israeli technology can help save the planet from the adverse impact of climate change, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow on Monday.

“As the country with the most start-ups per capita in the world, we must channel our efforts [in]to saving our world,” he said.

Bennett was one of more than 100 world leaders participating in the conference, known as COP26, which is meant to strengthen past decisions on climate change.

The meetings between leaders are particularly focused on getting developed countries to fulfill their pledges to help poorer nations meet their goals to reduce emissions. But other aims of the conference include mitigation of climate change via slashing greenhouse gases. Many countries, including Israel, are committing to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and finding ways to adapt to the challenges of rising temperatures.

While Israel made commitments in line with Western states, the Israeli delegation was especially focused on its strengths in the last point, adaptation.

“Let’s be real,” Bennett said in his COP26 speech. “Israel is a small country. We’re less than a third of the size of Scotland.”

However, he added, “our carbon footprint may be small, but our impact on climate change can be mighty. If we’re going to move the needle, we need to contribute Israel’s most valuable source of energy: the energy and brainpower of our people.”

Bennett cited his government’s “100-step plan,” phasing out coal by 2025, cutting greenhouse-gas emissions to net zero by 2050 and other policies.

However, he said, “behavioral change will only take us so far,” and that is where new technologies that have not been invented yet will come in.”

“As the country with the most start-ups per capita in the world, we must channel our efforts to saving our world,” he added. “This is why I say to our entrepreneurs and innovators: You can be the game changers. You can help save our planet.”

Israel is 60% desert and one of the driest places in the world, but its innovations made it an expert in desert agriculture and the world leader in water technology, Bennett said.

To help Israel’s hi-tech sector pivot to climate solutions, the government established the “Green Sandbox” to provide funds and slash bureaucracy, he said, referring to a cabinet decision approved last week.

“History will judge our generation’s response to this threat– not by how ambitious we are, but by the practical steps we take,” he said. “Israel is the ‘Climate Innovation Nation,’ and we’re ready to lead the way.”

Bennett is in Glasgow for two days, along with Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg and Energy Minister Karin Elharrar and their entourages, about 36 people. Together with security, press and a number of NGOs, academics and businesses that the Environmental Protection Ministry helped get credentials, the Israeli delegation to COP26 is about 130 people.

Rachel Barr, a climate-change economist and vice president for sustainability of UBQ Materials, the only start-up in the delegation, praised Israel’s business-focused approach.

“We’re from an innovative country, and we believe this is how we’re going to solve our problems,” she said. “We need to get the biggest polluters and the best problem solvers together. Leveraging the power of business to advance sustainability... is how you solve problems.”

By including businesses in its delegation, Israel is signaling its belief that to be sustainable, businesses should have a “triple bottom line” that is good for profits, people and the planet, Barr said.

The task of the COP26 conference was made even more daunting by the failure of the Group of 20 major industrial nations to agree on ambitious new commitments at a summit in Rome over the weekend.

The G20 is responsible for around 80% of emissions of carbon dioxide, the gas produced by burning fossil fuels, which are viewed as the main cause of the heat waves, droughts, floods and storms that are growing in intensity worldwide.

“Humanity has long since run down the clock on climate change,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the opening ceremony. “It’s one minute to midnight on that Doomsday Clock, and we need to act now.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres reminded the attendees that the six hottest years on record have occurred since 2015.

In his address, US President Joe Biden sought to assure world leaders that the United States would keep its promise to slash greenhouse-gas emissions by more than half by the end of the decade, even as the key policies to ensure those reductions remain uncertain.

Biden, who succeeded former president Donald Trump in January, acknowledged that the US had not always led by example on climate change.

“That’s why my administration is working overtime to show that our climate commitment is action, not words,” he said.

Trump withdrew the US from the Paris Agreement, or Paris Climate Accords. Biden returned to it when he took office.

Biden said the world needed to help developing nations in the climate fight.

“Right now we’re still falling short,” he said.

Biden said he plans to work with the US Congress to launch a $3 billion program in 2024 aimed at helping developing countries adapt to and manage the impact of climate change through locally led measures.

Other speakers, including activists from the poorer countries hardest hit by climate change, delivered a defiant message.

“Pacific youth have rallied behind the cry, ‘We are not drowning; we are fighting,’” said Brianna Fruean from the Polynesian island state of Samoa, which is threatened by rising sea levels. “This is our warrior cry to the world.”

As Johnson took the stage, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg retweeted an appeal for her millions of supporters to sign an open letter accusing the leaders of betrayal.

“This is not a drill. It’s code red for the Earth,” her tweet said. “Millions will suffer as our planet is devastated – a terrifying future that will be created, or avoided, by the decisions you make. You have the power to decide.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose country is by far the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, ahead of the US, told the conference in a written statement that developed countries should not only do more but should also help developing countries to do better.

President Vladimir Putin of Russia, one of the world’s top three oil producers, along with the US and Saudi Arabia, dropped plans to participate in any talks live by video link, the Kremlin said.

Developed countries confirmed last week they would be three years late in meeting the $100b. climate finance pledge, which many poor countries and activists say is insufficient anyway.

The pledges made so far to cut emissions would allow the planet’s average surface temperature to rise 2.7°C this century, which the United Nations says would supercharge the destruction that climate change is already causing.

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