As a 120-person Israeli delegation joins world leaders in Glasgow this week for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), many Israeli scientists, entrepreneurs, activists, educators, clergy and artists are working to understand and address the global climate crisis and its consequences, from food insecurity to natural disasters.
A multidisciplinary approach is critical, says University of Haifa marine geoscientist Beverly Goodman-Tchernov.
“Solving the problems of climate change is not going to happen using any single approach. It’s going to require that everyone comes to the table with their strongest tools,” she tells ISRAEL21c.
“We’ve passed the point where we can ask if climate change is really happening and who’s to blame. The real question now is whether we’re going to carry on the same ‘normal’ that our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents gave us or whether we’re ready to take on a new normal where we can use the technology and knowledge we have to slow, and perhaps even reverse, the damage we’ve already done.”
Ahead of COP26, Israeli President Isaac Herzog appointed government officials, academics and businesspeople to a new Israeli Climate Forum to craft Israel’s role.
Herzog said the climate crisis is “an opportunity for us as a country to do tikkun olam, to repair the world, and to be part of the greatest positive development of our generation. Although we as a small country are not a major actor in the creation of the crisis, we can certainly be a meaningful actor in the response to it.”
The government is poised to approve new projects in clean transportation, energy efficiency, reducing carbon emissions and encouraging climate-tech innovation.
“Israel’s State of Climate Tech 2021,” a fresh report from the Israel Innovation Authority and the Israel Innovation Institute’s PLANETech community, counts 1,200 companies developing technologies that could mitigate climate change in areas such as agriculture, clean energy, mobility and transport, water infrastructure and alternative proteins.
20 climate leaders
Below we introduce you to some of the great Israeli minds dealing with this pressing problem. Some are in Glasgow this week as participants or observers. We present them in alphabetical order, each with a personal mission or action message.
Yosef “Kaptain Sunshine” Abramowitz pioneered solar fields in Israel and is an activist for equal access to renewable energy. An impact investor, he heads Gigawatt Global, a renewable energy developer for Africa and other emerging markets; and Energiya Global Capital, Gigawatt’s partner in Jerusalem.
Abramowitz was nominated by 12 African countries for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize and named by CNN as a Green Pioneer in 2012. He served on the Israeli negotiating team at the Paris Climate Conference.
“The climate crisis is a threat to our way of life, our food and water security, our national security, and our economy. We [in Israel] do not have an open and free market for energy and certainly renewable energy. This is our biggest strategic threat. Israel could be a world leader in agrivoltaics — dual use of existing farmland to generate renewable energy. We could be the first country to be 100 percent solar day and night, using 10% of our land. Israel should become a world center for expertise and implementation of agrivoltaics.”
Tareq Abu Hamed is the new executive director of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, which offers accredited academic programs, research centers and international cooperation initiatives focusing on environmental challenges.
In 2008, Abu Hamed established the institute’s Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation. In 2013, he served as the Israeli Ministry of Science’s deputy chief scientist, and later as acting chief scientist, becoming the highest-ranking Palestinian in the Israeli government.
“The pressing environmental challenges faced by the Middle East are transboundary, as water, air, flora and fauna are shared by the different countries regardless of the ongoing political conflict. Therefore, cooperation in solving these challenges for mitigating and adapting to climate change is essential.”
Prof. Ori Adam heads the Hebrew University Climate Science Center (HUCS) and is a senior lecturer at the university’s Institute of Earth Sciences.
HUCS is constructing the first Israeli climate model, uniquely tailored to the Middle East, to provide reliable and actionable information for the region’s climate mitigation efforts.
“Climate change affects each region in a unique way. Therefore, aside from global efforts to reduce emissions and pollution, mitigation efforts must be at the state or regional level. We should first concentrate efforts on producing reliable and actionable information, which at present does not exist. Only then can we devise technological solutions to mitigate the unavoidable additional warming expected in coming decades.”
Prof. Ofira Ayalon is the former director of the Israel Climate Change Information Center.
She heads both the Environment & Energy Cluster at Samuel Neaman Institute, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, and the department of natural resources and environmental management at the University of Haifa.
“Planet Earth’s hourglass is running out fast. The point of no return of climate adverse effects is rapidly approaching. A joint effort of countries, organizations, investors, innovators, entrepreneurs, NGOs and all humankind to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, and take the crucial measures to adapt to these effects, is compulsory.”
Gidon Bromberg cofounded EcoPeace Middle East, which brings together Jordanians, Palestinians and Israelis to create shared water solutions, and has been its Israel director for 27 years.
An attorney by training, Bromberg has presented before the UN Security Council, UN Climate Summit, US Congress, European Parliament and other international forums on the relationship between water issues and Middle East peace.
“Conflict in the Middle East is a problematic situation made even more desperate by the climate crisis. That’s why EcoPeace introduced the Green Blue Deal — to create shared solutions in key areas, including energy, water, investment and education. By working together, a coalition of the willing is changing mindsets, fostering healthy interdependencies, and building a framework for peace.”
David Dunetz specializes in teaching about climate change and sustainability. He cofounded and led the Green Schools Network. He is head of education at the Heschel Center for Sustainability, where he directed the Climate Change Project and is now establishing the first Climate Citizens Assembly in Israel.
“As [Canadian climate activist-author] Naomi Klein has written, ‘to change everything we need everyone.’ Meeting the huge challenge of climate change requires us to transform our lives and relationships — and that is at the same time the thrilling opportunity to get things right, to work to build a more just, humane, life-affirming society.”
Beverly Goodman-Tchernov chairs the marine geosciences department in the University of Haifa’s Charney School of Marine Sciences.
She uses clues from sand, mud and soil to understand how climate is changing, how the environment is affected, how humans have interacted with these changes in the past and what we might expect in the future – for example, how increased storminess and coastal erosion could make disasters such as tsunamis more dangerous.
“I’m trying to analyze and assess conditions in remote places — the bottom of the ocean, coastlines, the Dead Sea – to understand how even in these places that seem untouchable we are changing the chemistry and composition of the most basic parts of this planet through our use of plastics, through all the ways we want inexpensive solutions for our day-to-day lives but don’t truly understand how costly and expensive this is going to be in the long term.”
Carmel Horowitz, a 3D animator, started a grassroots advocacy campaign called Climate-Ecological Emergency Headquarters to prod Israel into implementing more ambitious climate goals.
He also makes and posts videos, infographics and digital paintings on Facebook “to educate and inspire people everywhere to change themselves and their environment.”
“As concerned citizens who listen to top climate scientists, we realized that wishful thinking won’t close the immense gap between current climate plans and what actually needs to be done to save our future. I create digital environmental art because I want people to care. If you don’t care, you don’t act. And it’s hard to care because the problem is so big it’s hard to grasp.”
Maya Jacobs is CEO of Zalul, one of Israel’s most influential environmental NGOs. She speaks on environmental issues in media and conferences, and has a background in media consulting and strategy, lobbying and public affairs. In 2019, she was named one of the top 20 activist women in Israel by Lady Globes magazine.
“As we did with the immediate response to Covid-19, everyone, from all scopes of life, must do everything within their power now to stop the escalation of climate change while we still can. We don’t have time for halfway solutions and for greenwash. We must create change in many fields: quitting the use of fossil fuels, shift to clean public transportation, change urban planning, stop using disposable plastic, protect trees, stop eating food based on animals, and more. Nevertheless, there is room for optimism, from creating new jobs, investments and opportunities to the impact people, companies and organizations gain from joining the international fight to secure a healthier and safer world.”
He uses satellite imagery to study the causes and consequences of climate change and to quantify and compare its manmade and natural triggers.
“We are not able to say that the contribution of man to global warming is exactly this or that. If we had that data in our hands, all the countries of the world would more likely reach a consensus about what to do.”
Dov Khenin, a former legislator, heads Tel Aviv University’s Change of Direction initiative that proposes policy aims for Israel in energy, transportation, agriculture, food, urban planning and education. He also heads the new Israeli Climate Forum mentioned above.
“Climate change creates a genuine emergency, around the world and in Israel. But the scientists tell us that there is still a window of opportunity for change. Israel must and can contribute to the global effort, among other things, in the field of technological innovation and creative social solutions. These changes can also improve our daily lives, here and now.”
Uriel Klar directs the PLANETech community of the Israel Innovation Institute, which promotes the development and implementation of climate-change technologies and functions as a network for the Israeli and global climate-tech ecosystem.
An environmental engineer, Klar’s specialty is connecting technology, business and environmental missions to solve climate change challenges. He established an environmental research venture, founded an air pollution technology startup, and developed global partnerships in a multinational water company.
“Israel is a global leader in climate tech, with 1,200 companies that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Israel and around the world. Startups that fight climate change will build a new generation of unicorns in Israel.”
Prof. Noga Kronfeld-Schor is chief scientist of the Ministry of Environmental Protection and a researcher at the School of Zoology of Tel Aviv University.
Her research deals with environmental physiology and the impact of global warming and light pollution on biodiversity and on human and environmental health.
“The third decade of this century is characterized by the understanding that for us and our children to lead healthy and equal lives, we need to take nature into consideration, and we need to protect it. Global warming is threatening the life on our planet. The consequences are complex, and we are only starting to grasp them. Extensive research is required. We need to develop the ability to predict the broad effects of rising temperatures, ecologically, economically and socially, in order to develop ways and means to deal with them if possible.”
Doron Markel is chief scientist of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF), Israel’s largest environmental non-governmental organization. He represented KKL-JNF and Israel in the 12th international Climate Change Conference in Cuba in 2019.
KKL-JNF has been implementing innovative land-management solutions since before the establishment of Israel. Today, it shares expertise internationally and promotes large-scale research projects that put Israel at the forefront of tackling climate and desertification issues impacting the welfare of the regional population.
“KKL-JNF is now developing a Global Center for Combating the Climate Crisis. This international innovation center will be tasked with creating technological solutions to assist in the fight against climate change. We hope to foster an atmosphere of international cooperation to promote these advancements with Persian Gulf countries and other regional actors.”
He speaks on religion and climate change; co-organized 12 interfaith conferences on ecology and climate; and co-authored Eco Bible: An Ecological Commentary.
“At a deeper level, to curb climate change we will need to shift from a consumer lifestyle to one that connects to nature and shows care and concern for all of God’s creation.”
Prof. Colin Price heads the Center for Climate Change Action at Tel Aviv University and chairs the environmental studies department at the university’s Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences.
“After 30 years of researching the science of climate change, it’s time to look for solutions to the crisis. At Tel Aviv University, we have recently launched a center to focus on innovative solutions to the climate crisis.
“These solutions include not only technologies, but also out-of-the-box thinking about regulations, policy, regional security, finance, behavioral science, public health and more. The interdisciplinary approach is key to solving these urgent issues.”
Arik Rosenblum has been CEO of the nonprofit organization EcoOcean for seven years.
EcoOcean runs the Mediterranean Explorer research vessel and Megalim Education Center, teaching schoolchildren in Hebrew and Arabic about protecting the marine and coastal environment. Its programs focus on creating marine protected areas, combating single-use plastic pollution and maintaining sustainable beaches. EcoOcean’s national network of sea emergency volunteers helped clean up a disastrous tar spill in February.
“We provide data proving climate change and its consequences. We educate the public and try to educate the decisionmakers. And we lead activities which try to reduce the impact of climate change as well as try to protect nature’s biodiversity and humankind’s ability to protect itself from its own follies.”
Prof. Daniel Rosenfeld of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is a world expert on weather modification and climate change. He researches the broad climatic impacts of air-pollution particles in clouds.
Rosenfeld chaired the committee on weather modification of the American Meteorological Society and co-chaired the aerosol-cloud-precipitation climate international initiative. A lead author (and only Israeli author) of the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, he says humanity is responsible for global warming of 1.09 degrees Celsius (1.9 F) since the industrial revolution.
“Human-made emissions of particulate air pollution can offset part of the warming induced by emissions of greenhouse gases, by enhancing low-level clouds that reflect more solar radiation back to space. Predicting global warming requires a quantitative understanding of how cloud cover and water content are affected by human-made aerosols.”
Prof. Richard H. Schwartz is president emeritus of Jewish Veg and author of books including Vegan Revolution: Saving Our World, Mathematics and Global Survival and Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal Our Imperiled Planet.
“While everything possible must be done to avert the looming climate catastrophe, the best approach is a societal shift to plant-based diets. This would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions — with far fewer cows and other farmed animals emitting methane — and permit the planting of vegetation on the vast areas now used for grazing and raising feed crops for animals, thereby reducing the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide.”
Prof. Alon Tal is a veteran environmental activist, member of Knesset, and professor of public policy at Tel Aviv University. He helped establish many organizations such as Adam Teva V’din, The Israel Union for Environmental Defense, the Arava Institute, EcoPeace and This is My Earth.
“Climate change is no longer a remote and vague concern, but a real and threatening reality. We are witness to extreme rain events and floods, frequent fires, droughts, and very hot days in Israel. Around the world, many have long since observed that we are the first generation to feel the warming of the earth — and the last that is capable of doing something about it. We absolutely must be part of the international solution. We can yet serve as a ‘light unto the nations’ — a light that is entirely powered by renewable energy.”