Israel must respond to climate change, by both adapting to transforming environmental conditions and by working to mitigate the impact of the circumstances.
The government must swiftly adopt a plan to prepare for the impacts of climate change and the requisite reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, environmental organizations argued in a new policy paper presented at Knesset Environment Day on Tuesday.

The organizations presented a series of recommendations, alongside the demand that such a program be budgeted in 2015, at the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee in a new reported entitled “Israel and Climate Change: A Policy Proposal for Israel’s Government Examination of Adaptation and Litigation.”

Israel must respond to climate change, by both adapting to transforming environmental conditions and by working to mitigate the impact of the circumstances, the report said.

“The window of opportunity available to us for preparation and generation of appropriate responses to the effects of the climate crisis with all their environmental, economic and social implications is very narrow,” the authors wrote.

“Climate change may be our greatest existential challenge as individuals, communities, cities, nations and the human race as a whole.”

Edited by Yariv Naor and Liron Maoz, the policy paper was prepared by the Paths to Sustainability Coalition, Life and Environment and Heinrich Boll Stiftung, with the participation of many of Israel’s environmental organizations.

Among the participating groups and institutions are Tel Aviv University’s Porter School for Environmental Studies, the Towns Association for Environmental Quality, the Israeli Green Building Council, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, the Society for Sustainable Economics, Bar-Ilan University’s Environmental Regulation Clinic, the Heschel Center for Sustainability, the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, the Israel Bicycle Association, the Israel Energy Forum, the Israeli Forum for Sustainable Nutrition, EcoPeace Middle East, Green Course, Adam Teva V’Din, the Movement for Israeli Urbanism, the Association of Environmental Justice in Israel and the Council for a Beautiful Israel.

Citing the World Bank, the authors stressed that the Middle East region is ranked second in the world concerning vulnerability to climate change, an issue that poses potential national security and strategic risks to Israel. While government regulations and incentives can help Israel adjust to changing realities, the National Plan for the Reduction of Greenhouse Gas Emissions was frozen in mid-2013, with the government instituting no plans on the subject since, the authors wrote.

In terms of adapting to the changing circumstances, among the paper’s recommendations for a potential national plan is the maintenance of water supply resilience – preserving higher water levels in the Sea of Galilee and the nation’s aquifers, as well as reducing the need to expand desalination in the future and preventing damages to agriculture. The government also must provide incentives for local and urban agriculture, in order to achieve food security, the authors wrote. Likewise, protecting biodiversity, ecological corridors and the continuity of open spaces would also be critical, they added.

The policy paper also calls for the strengthening of local authorities, by developing administrative mechanisms and recommendations for implementing urban strategy plans and helping cities tackle extreme conditions. Institutionalizing channels for civic engagement across a variety of sectors, as well as encouraging the growth of new types of economic industries and emerging sectors will also be crucial in the formulation of a national plan to prepare for the effects of climate change, the authors explained.

As far as mitigation efforts in such a program are concerned, the authors stressed the importance of broadening the use of renewable energy for electricity producing, accompanied by the reduction in fossil fuel consumption. Israel’s natural gas reserves, the authors argued, must be preserved and protected so that they can be employed as backups to renewable sources of energy and in micro-power stations in high-demand areas.

The expansion of water desalination plants, meanwhile, should be contingent upon the use of dedicated renewable energy supplies and should potentially occur with the cooperation of Israel’s neighbors, the authors wrote. Also in the water sector, the government must formulate a policy aimed at reducing consumption without negatively impacting quality of service, they added.

Other mitigation efforts in such a national plan should involve the promotion of urban sustainability by densifying existing neighborhoods rather than creating new ones, encouraging green construction and promoting public over private transportation use, the policy paper argued. Such a preference for public transportation can be secured by improving the infrastructure involved and expropriating existing traffic lanes for dedicated bus use only, the authors added.

Naor Yerushalmi, CEO of the Life and Environment umbrella movement for Israel’s green groups, warned that the climate “crisis itself is advancing,” as he presented the policy paper to Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee members.

Yerushalmi presented the paper’s recommendations in the background of December’s Paris UN Climate Change Conference, also known as the Conference of Parties (COP-21), during which participant countries will aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement to ensure that global warming does not surpass 2°. In mid-May, the French presidency’s goodwill ambassador for COP -21 visited Israel, in order to assess the country’s progress on its “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” plan to be submitted prior to the conference.

Yerushalmi warned that Israel has failed to live up to its promises made in the Copenhagen COP-15 in 2009, when president Shimon Peres announced Israel’s intentions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020. In turn, Yerushalmi encouraged the government to institute such a national program and overcome the challenges ahead.

“We aren’t doing this for the world; we are doing this for ourselves. But the entire world is looking on,” he said. We can transform Paris into leverage for the State of Israel.”