The Climate is Changing, so Should our Economy. A Perspective from Israel
The story of climate change is not merely the story of changing components in the atmosphere, nor is it the story of drowning polar bears and melting icebergs. Climate change is also a mirror of the erroneous household management by humanity. This household management system, what we usually refer to as the economic system, currently overlooks the basic laws of nature (in a nutshell: natural resources are finite while the economy’s growth, which is dependent on them, is expected to grow infinitely), and its own definition prevents it from taking long-term, responsible decisions.
Over-exploitation of natural resources and careless practices aimed at maximizing profits often create harmful side effects that hurt the population nearby. Tar sands, oil shale extraction, the mining industry and the petrochemical industry are all a good examples.
Both industry workers and nearby communities often suffer from byproducts of the process (noise, pollution, leaks into water reservoirs) while the owners who profit from these resources do not. Those who cannot afford to buy their way out of the harmful impacts, cannot afford to pay to identify and fight against them or move away, are the ones who suffer most.
Climate change, a result of this system, is no different. Its first victims are mainly citizens of developing countries who face the implications every day. It affects their health, their income and their habitats. However, as the scale and frequency of abnormal weather events such as massive storms, floods and droughts increases, no part of any society is immune. Climate change will remind us, for better or worse, how interconnected we are.
As climate change implications worsen, tension over clean water resources will increase. Millions will become refugees and the prices of food and basic supplies will skyrocket all over the world. To be able to deal with those impacts on a global level, society must become more resilient, and start by shifting its economy to enable that.
Today it is becoming clear that the economy we have created considers natural resources as infinite and cheap, whereas artificial, human--made definitions are considered set in stone and unchangeable.
To ensure that billions of people can live in dignity, health and equity, we must turn this around. This is also the key to finding practical, long-term, achievable solutions to tackle climate change. The increasing global attention to Green Economy measures is a positive start.
Although Israel committed to carbon emissions reduction fairly late (it was only at the 2009 COP15 conference in Copenhagen that President Shimon Peres declared a unilateral commitment to reducing 20 percent of the expected growth in Green House Gas (GHG) emissions by 2020) – a National Mitigation Plan has already been created, approved and budgeted with generous government funding. Implementation is currently underway.
It is clearly not enough – the set emission reduction target doesn’t go far enough, the National Mitigation Plan is incomplete and its effectiveness is questionable – but the government has taken an important step forward.
However, as most of the attention thus far has been given to mitigation of climate change, the issue of dealing with its implications (floods, droughts, more frequent extremely hot and cold spells) – some are already visible – has been neglected.
Despite Israel’s location at the heart of the Middle East, which was described by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as highly prone to climate change impacts, the issue of tackling climate implications (“climate change adaptation”) is absent in the Israeli public discourse and decision makers’ agenda.
It is now up to society to push forward the urgent need to face the implications of climate change and to prepare accordingly. We must also make sure that the effort to adjust to climate change does not decrease the efforts to avoid it.
Currently, investments in emission reduction occurring at the same time as contradicting projects are promoted by the government (establishing a new coal-based power plant and an oil-shale extraction project to name a few). To avoid that, both climate mitigation and adaptation strategies must be backed up by comprehensive policies that will be integrated into all governmental offices, from public health to infrastructures, from transportation to employment and welfare.
They should be looked at as a part of the measures to address the challenge of creating a sustainable economy and society, one that provides descent life for all, within the limitations of the planet.
The Israeli government has recently commissioned the preparation of a National Plan for Green Growth. This step is not an outcome of the major protests against current socio-economic injustice in Israel as one might think. The Green Growth initiative is a governmental step required by the recent joining of Israel to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The process is led by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, through extensive process of stake-holder engagement.
In order to make the best out of this opportunity, civil society representatives in Israel must take a central part in this process. Among other challenges, we must ensure:
- that the success of the process is not measured only by financial growth (GDP), but includes other measures to enhance social equity and welfare
- that the process examines a wide variety of solutions, does not avoid questioning conventions and does not limit itself to technological solutions
- that the issue of climate change is integrated as a main consideration when prioritizing and selecting measures towards the green growth vision.
The UN climate conference in Durban convenes at the end of an exceptional year, in terms of civil society’s unrest and concern regarding the current system. People all over the world came together this year and took to the streets, demanding changes in political, social and economic orders.
Our ability to deal successfully with the unprecedented challenge of climate change is connected to our ability to adjust not only to the changing temperature, sea level, storm frequency etc. – but also to the calling for a better and more sustainable economy. The summit in Durban is an opportunity for leaders worldwide to answer this call, by removing political barriers and allowing a continuation of joint global effort to halt climate change.
This op-ed was first published in the Jerusalem Post.