COP28: Israel should not be allowed to greenwash its war on Gaza

As its war on Gaza continues with no end in sight, Israel will be participating in the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) which started on Thursday in Dubai. For the Israeli government, this will be an invaluable opportunity to engage in “green diplomacy”, promote its climate technologies, and divert the international community’s attention from its illegal occupation, apartheid and ongoing war crimes against the Palestinians.

Indeed, participating in the world’s top climate event while continuing to indiscriminately bomb an unlawfully besieged territory will allow Israel, which has long been trying to conceal its theft of Palestinian land and resources under a cloak of pseudo “environmentalism”, to push its extensive “greenwashing” agenda to dangerous new extremes.

Given the scale of atrocities Israel has committed in Gaza in the past few weeks, the presence of an Israeli delegation – no matter its size or the relative seniority of its members – will cast a shadow over COP28.

The Israeli government has said its delegation to the conference has been significantly “scaled down” due to “current events”, and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his top ministers will not be in attendance. Nevertheless, it said Israel will still have a pavilion at the conference which will be used to promote its environmental start-ups and initiatives, especially those from the southern regions affected by the war.

Regardless of who in the Israeli government ends up attending the summit this year, however, they will struggle more than ever to sell the image of Israel as an environmental leader. The dissonance caused by Israel’s representatives suddenly switching from genocidal threats to eco-friendly jargon will be mind-breaking for global audiences.

Can anyone take seriously, for example, any recommendations on clean and sustainable energy from Israel’s Energy Minister Israel Katz, who at the start of the war stated: “Humanitarian aid to Gaza? No electric switch will be turned on, no water tap will be opened, and no fuel truck will enter until the Israeli abductees are returned home”? Or can anyone with any self-respect take ecological advice from Israel’s Agriculture Minister Avi Ditcher, who declared that Israel is “rolling out Nakba 2023” in Gaza?

Saying the genocide part out loud, the Israeli government cannot expect its rhetoric to not have long-term diplomatic, economic, and potentially legal consequences, or to not damage the country’s standing as a climate leader. Jordan, for example, has already pulled out of an energy and water deal with Israel which was hatched in COP27 due to what Jordanian Foreign Minister called “Israel’s barbarism in Gaza”.

The public relations fallout caused by Israel’s war will also make it difficult for it to sell its climate tech solutions as global audiences will find it hard to reconcile Israel’s supposed concern for the environment with its current actions in Gaza.

Israel’s air raids and total blockade of Gaza have left civilians on the verge of dehydration and starvation. The UN had to pressure Israel to allow clean water into the territory and refrain from using water as a “weapon of war”. More than 15,000 people in Gaza have been killed in indiscriminate attacks on residential areas, schools, and hospitals, including thousands of children. Those who survive are without adequate shelter, food, and medical care.

The Gaza Strip was barely habitable before Israel’s latest assault due to a years-long, relentless blockade. Now, Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment and total siege – its ongoing genocide – has also triggered an ecocide in Gaza. Even if the war ended today, it would take years for Gaza’s natural ecosystems to recover.

Of course Israel’s greenwashing efforts also did not start with this war. Israel has been trying to greenwash its occupation of Palestine and oppression of the Palestinian people since its inception.

Indeed, since the founding of Israel in 1948, the Jewish National Fund, Israel’s largest green NGO that controls 13 percent of state land, has been evicting Palestinians from their lands and destroying their villages under the pretence of protecting forests and preserving natural reserves. It has also uprooted hundreds of thousands of olive trees to destroy Palestinian lives and livelihoods.

Meanwhile, Israel’s national water company Mekorot created a “water apartheid” in the occupied West Bank, where Jewish settlers consume six times more water than 2.9 million Palestinians living there.

Despite its apartheid policies in the West Bank, in the international arena, Mekorot has managed to position itself as a leading contributor to the quest to achieve UN sustainability goals. It led a special session on water at COP27 and has been publishing annual environmental, social and governance (ESG) and corporate responsibility reports with little consideration or even mention of its practice of water apartheid against the Palestinians.

At last year’s COP27, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, who recently supported the collective punishment of civilians in Gaza, promised that Israel would be “net zero” by 2050. Since he failed to mention Palestine and Palestinians in his speech, however, it is unclear whether the environmental consequences of the occupation, the apartheid, or the 40,000 tonnes of explosives dropped on Gaza (which amounts to more than two nuclear bombs) would be included as part of Israel’s carbon footprint this year.

Writer and analyst Zena Agha has described Israel’s environmental policy as “Janus-faced”, on the one hand promoting “environmental reform and technological development” and on the other, depriving “Palestinians of their land, water, and other natural resources”.

Amid the ongoing genocidal assault on Gaza, at COP28, this two-sidedness will reach new extremes.

COP28 is already under fire for maintaining strong connections to big oil companies while purporting a technical and diplomatic agenda to transition away from fossil fuels. The optics of an Israeli delegation at COP28 amid an ongoing offensive that inflicted unprecedented humanitarian and environmental damage on Gaza will undoubtedly damage the reputation of the conference further.

Indeed, the scale of the humanitarian crisis Israel created in Gaza has not only exposed Israel’s decades-old greenwashing strategies and tarnished its image as a climate solution leader, but also called into question the credibility of a state-centred approach to global warming that ignores human rights.

By allowing itself to become a venue for Israel to greenwash its increasingly more brutal attacks on Palestinian people, land and essential infrastructure, as well as its disregard for UN resolutions, institutions and staff (more than 100 UN employees have been killed in the Gaza war so far), COP28 threatens to undermine critical features of the global climate agenda, namely state compliance, accountability, and respect for international law and institutions.

While Israel’s attendance at COP28 exposes one of the many existing problems with our current approach to tackling global warming, it is not too late to change course.

Those committed to achieving climate justice should treat this conference as an opportunity to call out greenwashing and state the obvious connection between human rights and the climate emergency. As Greta Thunberg rightly said, there can be “no climate justice on occupied land”, and occupiers should not be allowed to use climate conferences to greenwash their wars.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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