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Uniting for the Greater Good

Photo courtesy:  Uriel Sinai
Photo courtesy: Uriel Sinai

By Yael Weisz Zilberman

Published: Mon 28 Feb 2022, 10:50 AM

The UAE and Israel are innovation allies in the battle against climate change



This past summer, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its starkest ever warning in its comprehensive assessment of the state of our planet. The report, conducted over eight years of research by hundreds of the world’s leading climate scientists, painted a grim picture for humanity.

It said that if nations are unable to work together to cap greenhouse gas emissions and limit global temperature increases, the resulting widespread devastation and extreme weather will put billions of people at immediate risk.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres did not mince words in his statement upon the report’s release: “[This] is a code red for humanity. The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable.”

The UAE’s confirmation as the host of the UN’s COP28 Climate Change Summit in 2023 is a testament to the country’s deep commitment and dedication to leading the global battle against the greatest challenge of our times. In that battle, it will find no greater ally than Israel. Though relatively small in territory, both Middle Eastern countries can have an outsized impact on the chances of success due to their shared specialisation in technology — the weapon that will likely be the biggest key to overcoming global warming, barring radical changes in behaviour by people and corporations.

Innovation needed to shift the needle

Reaching net-zero emission targets demands cooperation on a global level. It will also require the development and scaling of new technology that will enable us to maintain and advance both our economies and our everyday lives in the face of the threats. It requires virtually every industry vertical to change its ways — from the way we generate and consume electricity, manufacture products, grow food, and get around, to the way we build, heat, and cool our houses. For that reason, there is an enormous opportunity in the hands of innovators.

Speaking at COP26 in Glasgow, Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett pledged to mobilise Israeli innovation and ingenuity to combat climate change, saying that that: "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.” But changing course on climate change will require people and countries to come together for this broader mission.

Since then, in November, the UAE was successful in bringing Israel and Jordan together to sign the landmark Declaration of Intent — the biggest ever regional collaboration agreement to combat climate change. The plan calls for solar photovoltaic plants to be built in Jordan, with all clean power produced to be exported to Israel, and a sustainable water desalination programme to be built in Israel to supply Jordan with water for household and agricultural needs. The UAE backed initiative proves the country is just as committed to environmental benefit as it is to regional peace.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said: “We demonstrate with this declaration that all nations can work together to further the energy transition and build a more sustainable future for all.”

Environmental Partnerships

With both Emirati and Israeli firms boasting strong records in sustainable development technologies, the relations between the countries are already proving to be a force multiplier in the battle to tackle this unprecedented challenge for humanity.

Other agreements between the countries include a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), signed between the UAE’s Ministry for Food and Water Security and Israel’s Agriculture Ministry to promote cooperation in areas of food production and food supply chains, as well as research and innovation. Yet another MoU was signed with Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry aimed at funding joint research efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change and to ensure biodiversity and ecosystem conservation.

These partnerships have expanded beyond governments to the private sector. Soon after the signing of the accords, UAE’s Masdar and Israel’s EDF Renewables announced an agreement to explore renewable energy opportunities and support the countries’ clean energy objectives. Another agreement was signed to launch a joint Israeli-Emirati water research programme as part of a collaboration between the Israeli Watergen company and Baynunah, a sister company of UAE’s Al Dahra Group, which specialises in food security.

Emirati leaders have long been at the forefront of the movement to address the climate crisis and have been ahead in the rolling out of major investments in renewables and clean technologies. The UAE is home to two of the world’s largest solar plants and is soon to break ground on a third. Abu Dhabi has the Middle East’s first facility for carbon capture and storage, and Masdar City has received international recognition as a pioneer in sustainable living and is on its way to becoming a global hub for clean technology.

Dr Sultan bin Ahmed Al Jaber, the UAE’s Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology and Special Envoy for Climate Change, delivered an open invitation from the UAE to the world for partnerships to find sustainable solutions that will tackle climate change and create sustainable economic growth with a positive social impact. Israel is uniquely positioned to answer that call.

Sourcing Climate Tech in Israel

Over the last 30 years, Israeli companies have been at the forefront of innovation technology, developing thousands of products and services in a wide range of sectors. Every year, these companies attract billions of dollars in investments and generate billions more in technological exports. Scores more of them are acquired to add value to market leaders in industries as diverse as fintech, smart mobility, cybersecurity, agrifoodtech, and digital health.

The country is now putting a concerted effort into also becoming the primary global hub for climate change-battling innovation.

In 2021, climatetech companies made up 10 per cent of the $26 billion in capital raised by the Israeli tech ecosystem and there is every reason to think that the sector will rise in significance as time progresses. But it’s not only investors who have identified the potential. Large multinational corporations are also taking notice and collaborating with local companies that can provide them with the solutions they need to meet their sustainability goals in a wide range of climatetech areas: Nestlé working with Future Meat to bring cell-based meat to your table; UBER partnering with Tomorrow.IO to integrate real-time weather monitoring into drivers’ paths; ASOS working with Kornit Digital to reduce the environmental impact of the fashion industry; Hitachi partnering with REE to scale-up electric transportation manufacturing; and many other examples.

What are we doing?

At Start-Up Nation Central, an NGO which supports and promotes Israel’s tech ecosystem, we have long championed the potential of technology and innovation to address the global climate crisis. We are investing significant resources to highlight the role of groundbreaking technological solutions to meet the region’s climate goals, connecting like-minded companies, investors, and innovators across the Middle East and beyond. We are identifying and mapping the Israeli tech startups that are developing solutions to help meet the net-zero emissions targets. Our preliminary mapping has identified approximately 600 Israeli startups already developing solutions for addressing climate challenges.

To channel Israel’s renowned entrepreneurial and innovative spirit into action, we are calling global players to join us for the Climate Solutions Prize, an unparalleled contest to incentivise climate-tech innovation, with annual prizes exceeding $2 million for Israeli researchers and startups. We are launching the Climate Solutions Prize in partnership with the Jewish National Fund of Canada and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF), along with the special support of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, on January 25 at an in-person event with the participation of Isaac Herzog, the President of the State of Israel. The contest will run for nine months, until the winners are announced in October 2022 during the Climate Solutions Festival which will be the apex event of a major global climate-tech expo and conference.

As we work to bring people together to achieve a shared vision for a zero-emission world, we believe the climate partnership between Israel and the UAE will be at the forefront of the movement to build a more sustainable planet. We urge innovators in both countries to make the connections so that we will reach COP28 with results and prove that innovation and cooperation are the keys to reaching sustainability.

Yael Weisz Zilberman is the Partnerships Manager for Sustainability and Climate Tech at Start-Up Nation Central, A non-profit organisation that connects governments, corporations, and investors to the Israeli innovation ecosystem


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