Amid disagreements and lack of cooperation both ministries formulate a draft to radically reduce global warming only days before the Leaders Summit on Climate begins

Zafrir Rinat Apr. 19, 2021

Black smoke rises from oil refineries in Haifa, last year.
Black smoke rises from oil refineries in Haifa, last year.Credit: Rami Shllush

The Environmental Protection Ministry and the National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Ministry put forward plans to drastically reduce greenhouse gases in Israel just days prior to a U.S. climate change summit.

On Monday, the Environmental Protection Ministry published a bill that would set an Israeli target of an 85 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050. The bill, which was drafted in cooperation the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, would require the government to prepare an action plan to achieve this goal. However, the plan lacks important economic provisions due to disagreements with the Finance Ministry.

On Sunday amid lack of cooperation over the past several months, the National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Ministry presented its own plan. The plan calls for an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases from energy production by 2050.

Both drafts come only days before the Leaders Summit on Climate kicks off. The U.S. climate conference, which is due to start on April 22 and will last two days, aims “ to encourage the world’s major economies, and especially the original members of the Major Economies Forum on Climate and Energy, which together represent 80 percent of global emissions and 80 percent of global GDP, to enhance ambition to keep the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach.”

One of the speakers in the summit, which will be held over the internet and streamed live, will be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu, who has received two conflicting drafts, will ultimately have to decide which to present.

Minister Gila Gamliel.
Minister Gila Gamliel .Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The Environment Ministry’s draft is divided into stages. On the first stage, Israel should see a 27 percent reduction between 2015 and the end of the current decade. On the second stage, a national plan to reduce 85 percent of greenhouse gases by 2050 will be laid down. The plan should include new energy-saving standards as well as incentivize an efficient use of raw materials.

At this stage, however, the plan will not use carbon pricing – a widely agreed upon method to reduce global warming emissions – mainly because the Finance Ministry has yet to approve it. The ministry fears that such a move could potentially harm Israel’s economic growth and its tax revenues.

The bill relays on an extensive collaboration between different government offices, which could very well have opposing interests. For example, setting energy-efficiency standards for residential properties can raise construction prices and impede Israel’s efforts to solve the housing crisis.

This bill also defines six greenhouse gases, and if passed these would be the first legal definitions greenhouse gases. Among the definitions are carbon dioxide, methane and carbon monoxide.

If passed, the bill would extend the Environmental Protection Minister’s authority. For example, the minister could ask for the examination of infrastructure, transportation and construction plans’ effects on greenhouse gas emissions. The minister can then assess the impact such projects would have on climate change. In addition, it would be in the Environmental Protection Minister’s power to require public sector’s entities to draft a plan for climate change.

While the future of law is still not clear, Amit Bracha, the executive director of the Israel Union for Environmental Defense describes it as an important step. “Circulating the draft … starts the process,” he says. “This is the first time the government has formulated formal legislative policy of dealing with the climate crisis.”

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel has called “on all the relevant government ministers to look bravely at reality and understand that we are in a time of emergency and support the climate law.” Gamliel was referring mostly to the Energy Ministry.

Over the past few months, the energy and environmental protection ministries have not been able to reach an agreement over the long-term goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Disagreements are expected to arise again with the current bills. From the use of natural gas to produce electricity to renewable energy sources, differences are to be found across the bill.

However, the Energy Ministry announced Sunday that, for the first time, it agrees in principle to purchase renewable energy from Jordan. Jordan has large stretches of land areas which can be used to build solar power plants.