Project’s supporters cite harm to energy-conservation targets, Israel’s international reputation.
By Zafrir Rinat | May.08, 2013

The proposed suspension of the government’s national greenhouse-gas mitigation plan is a harsh blow to Israel’s energy conservation policy and its international status with regard to environmental protection, environmentalists say.

Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz and environmental groups responded with dismay Tuesday to the publication of the relevant article in the Economic Arrangements Bill, supplementary legislation to the national budget. If approved, it would suspend implementation of the emission-reduction plan for a period of three years.

The national program was approved in 2010. It represented the fulfillment of a commitment by President Shimon Peres in 2009 to the Copenhagen climate conference, to the effect that Israel would work to reduce its anticipated increase in greenhouse-gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020.

Israel was widely praised for this commitment, since under the prevailing international climate conventions Israel is not required to reduce its greenhouse gases. The government said NIS 2.2 billion would be spent on the plan overall; NIS 539 million has already been allocated.
The cabinet was to have set the plan’s budget for 2013-2020 in the framework of the new state budget, but if the article in the Economic Arrangements Bill is approved the issue will not be revisited until 2016.

The Environmental Protection Ministry has allocated NIS 106 million to more than 200 projects launched under the national plan. They include upgrades to more energy-efficient air-conditioning systems in hotels and hospitals and to more efficient lighting by local governments as well as the establishment of solar energy networks.

The ministry estimates that by the end of the decade these projects will reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 450,000 tons, an amount equivalent to the pollution caused by the annual electricity usage of a city the size of Herzliya. In addition, businesses and local authorities will save tens of millions of shekels on electricity and fuel costs.

The Energy and Water Resources Ministry has also helped, offering incentives to consumers to replace older refrigerators and air conditioners with more efficient models. There has also been assistance to “green” building projects, which generate substantial energy savings through proper insulation and the use of low-energy lighting.

The Renewable Energy Association of Israel and the Israel Green Building Council said in a joint statement that the measure, if approved, would deal a death blow to efforts at achieving energy efficiency in Israel, because it would dry up government budgets for projects to help individuals and businesses save electricity.

“The Finance Ministry is destroying any chance of ‘green growth’ in Israel,” said Eitan Parnass, founder and CEO of the Renewable Energy Association of Israel.

“Israel is going in the opposite direction from the Western world, to an economy of polluting energy instead of green energy,” Parnass said.

Peretz said cabinet approval of the freeze would first and foremost undermine Israel’s credibility, given its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at international forums.

In addition, he said, it would cause “great damage to the local authorities, to industry and to the accelerating process of reducing energy consumption in public areas. It would cost the economy a lot. It’s time the treasury understood that environmental projects save money in the long run and generate growth,” Peretz said.

Ministry officials said postponing planned projects to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions would lessen the chances of major commercial breakthroughs by Israeli clean-tech technology companies that are focused on energy efficiency and need government assistance for their research and development.