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Examining Durban: How Will the Last Climate-Change Talks Impact Jews, Israel and the World?


COP President Maite Nkoana-Mashabane (in red checkered blouse) leads a huddle at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP 17/MOP 7) in Durban. 

(Photo courtesy IISD)





OUnited Nations Conference on Climate Change in Durbann Feb. 29, 2012 the Green Zionist Alliance and COEJL: The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life hosted a free webinar about the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP 17/MOP 7) in Durban, South Africa, and what actions we can take going forward, answering the questions: What happened at the climate negotiations? How will Durban affect Israel? And how can we be involved as a Jewish community?


Co-sponsored by the American Zionist Movement, Hazon, Jewcology, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Religious Action Center and Siach.


Read more and listen to the audio version of the webinar below:








Sybil Sanchez, moderator

Sybil Sanchez of COEJL: The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish LifeSybil Sanchez is the director of COEJL: The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, where she focuses on Jewish environmental sustainability, presenting a Jewish voice on environmental policy, and providing resources for environmentalism and Jewish life. Sybil also heads the Jewish Energy Covenant Campaign. A leader for years in advocacy on social-justice issues — including the environment, workers' rights and universal human rights — Sybil has served as executive director of the Jewish Labor Committee and as director of United Nations Affairs at B'nai B'rith International. Sybil completed her master's degree in international affairs at Columbia University. She speaks Hebrew, French and Serbo-Croatian, and she wants to learn Spanish to communicate with her extended Mexican family and share in the preservation of her husband's crypto-Jewish Latino heritage.

Dr. Orr Karassin

Dr. Orr Karassin of the Green Zionist Alliance

Climate-change adaptation has become, and will continue to become, an ever more important issue. As we go forward and there is no generally binding agreement that will begin to lower the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere down to 350 parts per million, we are seeing more and more adverse effects, especially in developing countries, where they have lobbied hard for more attention to be paid to adaptation. In response, in Durban we formed an adaptation committee as a formal part of the climate-change conference.

Some countries have begun making pledges for the Green Climate Fund, with about $4 billion in commitments raised so far and a goal of $100 billion — but about 65 percent of that is slated for adaptation projects, which is interesting when considering that the initial purpose of the fund is to prevent climate change, not just adapt to it. What we're seeing is a move from responsibility to liability. And what we're saying in this shift is that we understand that a lot of the damage is already happening or is unavoidable at this point.


The continued refusal of the United States to come to any sort of international agreement is very distressing. The United States is jeopardizing its position as a world leader — instead of America, we're seeing the leadership coming from Europe.

Israel in the last decade has become a comparatively large emitter of carbon dioxide per capita. Israel has moved 13 places up the ladder in per-capita emissions since 2005. Compared to the United States, Israel has a smaller carbon footprint, but Israel's carbon footprint is rapidly growing.

Still, Israel has strategically decided to reduce its dependency on oil, and I think that's a very smart move. For example, Israel has the highest rate in solar water-heater use in the world. And regular incandescent light bulbs recently have been phased out in Israel — now you have to buy compact fluorescents.


Israel has a target of 20 percent reduction from expected 2020 levels in greenhouse-gas emissions.


Dr. Orr Karassin is one of the Green Zionist Alliance representatives on the board of directors of Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael (KKL / Jewish National Fund in Israel), and she led the KKL-JNF delegation to the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Durban. She is also the chairperson of the Sustainable Development Council of Kfar Saba. Orr was the first executive director of Life and Environment, the umbrella group for Israeli environmental organizations. She was appointed by the Israeli government to serve as a charter member of the National Committee for Environmental Quality. Orr has held the position of visiting research fellow at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science and she is currently a lecturer at Sapir College Law School in Sderot, Israel, where she is responsible for the law-and-environment program. Additionally, Orr was among the founders of Green Course, Israel's largest environmental organization for students. Orr is the author of two books on environmental policy and she has published widely on environmental policy and law both in academic and non-academic journals.

Michael Schut

Michael Schut

There was a large faith-based rally the day before the climate-change conference started, hosted by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, with COP President Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, musical group Ladysmith Black Mambazo and several thousand people in attendance. I think that there is a continued need for a strong faith presence at these sorts of political gatherings. As representatives of faiths, we continually advocate for the poorest of the poor, those that don't have political power.

In some ways it's a wonder that 190-plus countries can get together to discuss climate change, but for me Creation is the real wonder. And it's Creation that's in trouble. As Bill McKibben points out, we're not talking about political or economic challenges but physical and chemical realities. When we pour carbon dioxide unto the atmosphere, things warm up.

Speaking with a great sense of urgency, the representative from the small Pacific state of Tuvalu described his country as one of the most vulnerable in the world to climate change. Just before he left for Durban, his government declared a state of emergency, with Tuvalu experiencing the worst drought in its history, and fresh water and desalination equipment being imported. It's those states that the faith community needs to support and raise up — we need to be helping those who don't have much political power. And, in that sense, it's an honor to be part of the ecumenical community, raising up those voices.


Michael Schut serves as the economic and environmental-affairs officer of the Episcopal Church, following 11 years on the staff of Earth Ministry. He has edited and partially authored three books and study guides: "Money and Faith: The Search for Enough;" "Food and Faith: Justice, Joy and Daily Bread;" and "Simpler Living, Compassionate Life: A Christian Perspective." He coordinates and provides resources for  eco-justice programs in the church and speaks and leads workshops and retreats connecting faith, justice, economics and ecology. Michael represented the Episcopal Church on a Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships White House Task Force on Environment and Climate Change. He has worked with the homeless, served as a park ranger and led wilderness-backpacking trips. He received his master's in environmental studies from the University of Oregon.

David Turnbull

David Turnbull

After the challenges in Copenhagen, we were able to revive the climate-change talks last year in Cancun, but there were a lot of questions that remained. We're still on a path to potentially catastrophic climate change, but the Durban negotiations opened the door to a new direction, where we could have a truly comprehensive and sufficient global agreement to address the climate crisis, but we really have to kick that door open, and walk through it quickly.

In the end, there was an agreement to see a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol enacted. There are a lot of open questions that need to be ironed out, such as how many years the second commitment period will contain, but we do know that there is the commitment to see the Kyoto Protocol continue in some form — iand that's an important step toward a global comprehensive agreement.


Many of the logistical decisions were made concerning the development of the Green Climate Fund, which is good, but the question of how the fund will be financially supported remains unanswered. There also were discussions of how to set up green technology centers — so that countries could share environmental technologies — and how to measure, record and verify emissions-reductions targets.


Perhaps most importantly, a new platform was launched: The Durban Platform for Enhanced Action. These negotiations were very clearly aimed at developing a legally binding framework, to be agreed upon by 2015 and effective by 2020. A legally binding agreement would allow us to hold countries accountable.

Going forward, there needs to be a raising of ambition for emissions targets.


There was quite a large faith-based presence at Durban, but only a small Jewish presence. Additionally, being an American is really tough at these negotiations. The entire time that we were there, the United States was putting forth proposals with which we did not agree at all. At the end of the day, the European Union and India were the key leaders, and the United States was unusually not center stage.


David Turnbull is the former director of Climate Action Network, which includes hundreds of NGOs in dozens of countries working together to develop and advocate for global solutions to the climate crisis. David serves on the board of directors of SustainUS: U.S. Youth for Sustainable Development. Previously, David worked at the World Resources Institute as a coordinator for a pair of international networks working to promote inclusive and accountable environmental governance. He also has conducted climate research at the Mount Washington Observatory in New Hampshire. David received his bachelor's degree from Dartmouth College in geography and environmental studies.




Further reading:


Webinar hosts:


Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life

COEJL: The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life

Green Zionist Alliance
Green Zionist Alliance

Webinar co-sponsors:


American Zionist Movement
American Zionist Movement
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Religious Action Center
Religious Action Center





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