Analysis: Despite Israel’s participation at COP26 in Glasgow and PM’s promises of how the country is going to lead the world in battle against climate crisis, only 5 months ago, ministers were claiming that adhering to UN emissions goal is nearly impossible
Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg (Photo: Yair Sagi)
Ahead of the start of the climate summit in Glasgow, the Israeli government finally approved a national program that meets the standard of other developed nations, to reach zero emissions by 2050. Although it is a welcome move, the government must now recalibrate its actions when it comes to the climate agenda in order to meet this ambitious goal.
The approval came just five months after Energy Minister Karine Elharar that Israel will reduce carbon emissions by only 80 percent by 2050, even though the new national program requires an 85% reduction in emissions by the same year.
Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg said at the time that number was the best the country could hope for due to restrictions posed by the Energy Ministry.
Under pressure from the Finance Ministry, however, Zandberg then removed her proposed climate bill from consideration, a move that would have sent Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to Glasgow with only a limited answer on how Israel would respond to the climate crisis.
This prompted Bennett push the envelope further and bring Israel up to the standard of the rest of the developed world, which is reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 27% by the year 2030 and 85% by the year of 2050.
A scathing report published by Israel’s State Comptroller last week, painted a dismal picture of Israel’s handling of the pending climate crisis over the past decade, claiming Israel is one of the few nations that has not prepared and budgeted a national response to the issue.
“The data presented in the report must be regarded as a bright red warning signal,” the comptroller said.
But have our ministers taken these warnings to heart? No. They have still not allotted the budget to institute the necessary steps in order to meet the declared goals.
“We think Israel not only should have, but could have taken the necessary steps earlier,” Zandberg said. “All other developed nations have made the commitment to zero emissions, and there is no excuse for Israel – which has the necessary tools available to it – to fall behind,” she added.
Shuli Nezer, a senior official in the Environmental Protection Ministry agrees that Bennett’s commitment to the 85% reduction in emissions is amazing. “We can now cut 12 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions. We must institute revisions to existing plans and take further action,” she said
But Israel must first increase its use of renewable energy in a massive way. The technologies are available, but it is critical that investments are made. Thus far the country has fallen far off the mark.
In fact, Israel has the lowest use of renewable energy among members of the OECD, with only 3% production and a projected goal of only 35% by 2030.
Public transportation is also slow to adopt electric vehicles to its itinerary despite. In Israel public transport is responsible for 20% of all emissions, compared to an average of 17% in the rest of the developed world.
The European Union estimates public transport to be responsible for 26% of all its emissions, including travel by air and sea, due to an almost total reliance on oil.
The Energy Ministry says 90% of energy consumption in the world comes from oil, and in Israel, these figures are even greater.
The use of electric vehicles in the private sector and in public transportation could bring a dramatic reduction in emissions.
But there are only 12,000 electric cars out of the 3 million vehicles on Israel’s roads, and the vast majority of them are hybrid. Ministers are only now beginning to take steps to increase that number.
Head of Climate Change Department at the Environmental Protection Ministry Gil Proactor says the main obstacle is money. “The state has an important role … But financial institutions and industrialists do as well. It is ultimately down to diverting public investments.”
Proactor says investments in oil industries and refineries must be a thing of the past, and the government must not waiver from its commitments, or investors will stay away.
“Today, tens of billions of shekels are invested in infrastructure that cannot contribute to the goal of zero emissions. The institutional investors must recognize their critical role and divert funds away from polluting industries,” he said, adding that without legislation Israel will not be able to move the economy towards its emissions goal.
Zandberg believes the Glasgow conference will provide the necessary push for her climate bill to be passed. “This is a matter of national security, the future of our economy, our energy, our nature and our society and we have the public support that we need in order to succeed,” Zandberg said.
Bennett will have to back his own words with a comprehensive and fully budgeted program to increase the reliance on renewable energy, bolster the use of electric vehicles in public transportation, and deploy best practices in construction, industry and more.
He will have to pass the necessary legislation if he intends to meet his stated objectives.
Although Israel is a small country in the grand scheme of things, a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions will significantly improve Israelis’ quality of life, and if technological advances follow, Israel will not only be a start-up nation but a green one as well.