Over 1,000 Israeli participants will attend Dubai climate conference, but has little to show since last year’s event; Israel is falling short of its set goals and lacks substantial efforts to address the climate crisis

Ilana Curiel

Three weeks ago, the government ministries earmarked a dedicated budget of $2.4 million for Israel’s participation in the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, known as COP 28, and the establishment of a pavilion to showcase its achievements. The delegation that will head to Dubai at the end of the year is expected to consist of about 1,000 people, including numerous government officials and political associates. However, the exact scope of the Israeli delegation remains uncertain.

Paradoxically, it appears that as the Israeli government’s climate commitment appears to wane, the delegation to the conference grows. The climate law, initially expected to pass six months after the government’s formation, has not been approved. Due to the government’s stance on the matter, environmental organizations have chosen to boycott the conference.

According to Gideon Bachar, the special envoy for climate change and sustainability at the Foreign Ministry, the large delegation holds significant importance. “There is no doubt that it is needed. Everyone who comes there returns as an ambassador for the quality of the environment. It is better to have Israeli companies there so that they can change their ways. It is important and critical to have as many people from Israel as possible,” he said.

Over 100 Israeli companies and 30 start-ups are set to join the forthcoming conference, showcasing Israel’s climate innovation globally. Foreign Minister Eli Cohen asserted that Israel is committed to addressing the climate crisis.

Nevertheless, environmental organizations, led by the Society for the Protection of Nature, expressed frustration, directing their concerns to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, and Energy Minister Israel Katz, warning that the “Israeli government may jeopardize the state’s ability to achieve climate goals in the coming decades.”

The environmental organizations raised concerns, highlighting that Israel’s emission reduction targets are among the world’s lowest and, if that’s not alarming enough on its own, they’re non-binding. They accused the government of obstructing an effective and robust climate law. Ahead of the Dubai conference, they urged the government to translate words into actions, passing a climate law, halting gas sector expansion, curbing oil transportation by the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company and swiftly advancing marine nature reserves in Israel’s exclusive economic zone.

Various Israeli environmental groups have boycotted COP28 UAE, saying that merely sending a delegation, devoid of any substantial environmental accomplishments, is nothing more than an empty gesture.

Attorney Amit Bracha, CEO of the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, or Adam Teva V’Din, cited two intertwined reasons for his organization’s decision not to attend the conference. “First, the leadership of the conference by the head of Abu Dhabi’s oil industry contradicts the global effort to combat climate change.”

“Second, the Israeli government’s lack of concrete action on climate issues, such as insufficient investments in renewable energies, inadequate waste management and continued operation of coal-fired power plants and gas exploration, raised concerns. Additionally, there is no mandatory adaptive plan to address the repercussions of the climate crisis,” he said.

“The decision to boycott the climate conference was made due to its perceived ineffectiveness in combating the climate crisis. Held in a country known for its significant fuel exports, the conference lacks true commitment from the attending politicians,” a member of Israel’s environmental youth protest, 17-year-old Yarden Israeli, said. “It is seen as a mere stage for empty promises and insincere gestures by decision-makers, providing little tangible progress in the fight against climate change.”

“The COP28 climate conference in Dubai is a significant event for the State of Israel, led by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Environmental Protection. It will involve 14 government ministries, civil society organizations and commercial companies,” a message from the Ministry of Environmental Protection read.

“A dedicated budget has been allocated for establishing and operating the Israeli pavilion. Various government ministries will finance the participation of their representatives, including ministers and director-generals. Last year, about 180 Israeli official representatives attended COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, and this year, an even larger delegation is expected.”