Let’s Talk About Environmental Justice
With all the importance of environmental protection (more on that later), a vital discussion on environmental justice is perhaps falling between the cracks. We’d like to rectify that a bit here, at least in the Israeli context.
First of all, just to level the playing field: it’s our understanding that environmental “protection” refers to acts of conserving natural resources and the existing natural environment; whereas “justice” is about the meaningful involvement of people – regardless of their background or circumstances – in the relevant activities to protect the environment.
Israel has understood this important distinction for some time now. Its Environmental Protection Minister made clear barely a month after the new Government took office that “justice” would be as important as “protection”; she emphasized her goal with a prominently displayed video that highlighted the environmental blight existing in the Arab community (no Hebrew fluency necessary to get the point). The Minister wasted no time putting her intention on the table: “We will change the unacceptable reality in which some two million citizens have been left behind,” she said. Her Ministry then quickly launched a well-funded, collaborative process – working closely together with the Arab community – in order to close the significant gaps that remain.
Of course, environmental challenges don’t begin and end with one particular community; reality is much more complicated. Indeed, it increasingly seems that almost every step forward has a down side – making progress that much more elusive.
Case in point: the Government did recently approve its first Climate Bill, intended to legislate a cut in global warming emissions by at least 27% by 2030; but then this good intention was countered by the Finance Ministry – everything comes with a price tag – whose optimism doesn’t go beyond a 20% cut.
And then there’s the regional aspect. At the highest level, the President – who recently hosted the Israeli Climate forum – has reportedly conducted talks on climate change cooperation with his counterparts from Turkey, Jordan and the UAE. Not long before that, however, Israel’s Special Climate Envoy lashed out at fellow participants at a mid-April conference of Middle East countries in Dubai – organized to set the stage for the November COP27 in Egypt: “We need to shift the discussion from describing the problem to taking action,” he said. Not very diplomatic, of course, but definitely spot on.
We hope that the international community will figure out this frustrating tug-of-war by the time COP27 rolls around in November. The future of climate action (SDG13) – environmental protection and justice – absolutely depends on it.