Editorial | Israel Seems to Insist on Waiting for a Climate Catastrophe

Haaretz Editorial Jul. 22, 2021

People use rubber rafts in floodwaters after the Meuse River broke its banks during heavy flooding in Liege, Belgium, Thursday, July 15, 2021
People use rubber rafts in floodwaters after the Meuse River broke its banks during heavy flooding in Liege, Belgium, Thursday, July 15, 2021Credit: Valentin Bianchi / AP

The pictures from North America and Western Europe in recent weeks are a reminder that the climate crisis is not just a problem beleaguering undeveloped countries such as Bangladesh or people living on Pacific Ocean islands. The rich and powerful world will also need to find a response to the crisis. Even an advanced country like Germany is finding it hard to prevent disasters.

It seems that in Israel there is an insistence on waiting until a disaster occurs before people wake up. A review of this country’s level of preparedness for the climate crisis reveals a dismal picture. With regard to flooding, Israel is unprepared. The apparatus charged with forecasting floods consists of three hydrology and geography students, working in shifts, the Meteorological Service’s weather forecaster and an employee of the Water Authority, who was appointed as director of this apparatus. In the words of one government source in the wake of the latest floods in Europe: “We’d be happy to have the capabilities Germany has. Here, we can’t predict whether there’ll be a flood in Herzliya or Ashdod tomorrow. A winter with only seven fatalities is considered miraculous.”

There is also scant readiness for heat waves, which are expected to lead to temperatures of over 50 degrees Celsius in the future. Scientists know that extreme heat is the worst effect of the climate crisis. Even now, extreme heat waves increase mortality around the world, yet the National Emergency Management Authority has rejected requests by professionals to include this threat in the list of hazards for which it is responsible.

If Israel had a precise climate forecasting capability upon which such decisions could be based, one could perhaps rest assured. But Israel has no reliable forecast of the changes it can expect due to climate change since the government has not provided the Meteorological Service with the computing power required for such forecasting. Former Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot warned recently that Israel has no strategy for dealing with climate-related disasters.

There are some areas in which Israel seems to be marching backwards. The Ministry of Finance has again proposed an initiative termed “an improvement of regulation,” which would weaken the Ministry of Environmental Protection. This initiative is part of the “Arrangements Law” which regulates government activities. A ministerial committee for legislation has just approved the continued operation of a committee overseeing plans for priority housing. This committee is renowned for its rapacious nature, approving projects while ignoring environmental considerations, as reported frequently by Zafrir Rinat in Haaretz.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett talked about these issues this week, for the first time in public. He said that the climate crisis is a “truly global problem.” In order for this declaration not to remain empty words, he must instil in government ministries the understanding that climate change must be seriously addressed. This includes the ministries of energy, finance, transportation, interior, defense, education and health.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.


Israel in Violation of Paris Climate Agreement, Risks ‘Global Embarrassment’

Lee Yaron Jul. 21, 2021

Signatories to the climate change pact were supposed to submit greenhouse gas emission reduction targets by end of last year, but Israel has yet to do so. It now has a week left

The Tel Aviv skyline, in February.
The Tel Aviv skyline, in February.Credit: David Bachar

Israel is in violation of its international obligations under the Paris climate accord and must present within a week new national targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

If Israel doesn’t act, it will suffer “unprecedented international embarrassment,” one senior official said. “The consequences will be severe international pressure, damage to our international image, and consequences for the way the Biden government and the European Union cooperate with us.”

All the signatories to the 2015 pact were supposed to submit updated targets as well as a strategic plan for becoming a “low-carbon economy” by the end of last year. A few countries have extended the deadline, but Israel and Turkey are the only ones belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that have yet to submit plans.

Over the last several months, the European Union, the United States and the British government – which is hosting the next UN climate conference in November – have asked Israeli government officials about the delay in submitting plans.

The UN Convention Secretariat has told Israel that if it doesn’t present its new targets by the end of July, Israel will not be included in the report being prepared for the next conference. Senior Israeli sources said this would be a major diplomatic embarrassment both for the country and for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who is expected to attend the conference.

The Environmental Protection Ministry has been trying since last October to bring a proposal to the cabinet for approval. Such a so-called decision-making proposal requires the backing of all the ministries before it goes to the cabinet for a vote. If approved, it becomes binding and is forwarded to the convention secretariat of the United Nations.

However, no plan has been approved due to continuing differences of opinion among the ministries. Sources involved in the process said most of the objections were coming from the energy and finance ministries.

In response, the Energy Ministry said that “together with other ministries, [it] is working on formulating an ambitious and professional decision-making proposal suitable for the Israeli economy that will place Israel on a par with most countries in the world.”

The treasury said that it “supports a low-carbon economy and will align itself with the countries of the OECD the day that it goes into effect.”

The Environmental Protection Ministry’s proposal includes a series of targets and measures to achieve them, aimed at making Israel more of a low-carbon economy than targeted in its original 2016 plan.

The proposal, which has been revised at least six times due to objections from other ministries, contains relatively modest goals by international standards – a reduction in greenhouse emissions by 27 percent by 2030 and by 85 percent by 2050, relative to 2015 levels. By comparison, the United States has committed to reductions of 50 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.

Sources involved in the process said that with the formation of the new government last month, they had expected that an agreement on the proposal would be reached quickly, among other things because Energy Minister Karine Elharrar and Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman are committed to the fight against climate change.

“Israel must present targets in line with developed countries and define the principal measures it will undertake to realize the plan,” said Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg. “Therefore, the electricity sector, renewable energies, the transition to zero-emission transportation and carbon pricing must all be taken into consideration.

“We are working with our partners and heading toward an agreement with all the relevant parties to ensure that Israel meets international expectations while ensuring it maintains a competitive and prosperous economy,” she said.

“We’re doing everything we can so that the government of Israel meets the timetable set by the United Nations,” said Zandberg. “The proposal will move Israel a step higher in the war against the [climate] crisis and bring us closer to the world’s most ambitious targets.”

Gideon Bachar, the Foreign Ministry’s special ambassador for climate change and sustainability, said in response to a query by Haaretz: “Emerging international norms are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. That’s the target that has been set by the G-7 countries – Japan, South Korea and, in fact, most of the countries of the world. It’s important that Israel also adopts a similar target and is aligned with this global trend.”

Yoni Sapir, chairman of the environmental nonprofit Homeland Guards, who has been following the efforts by the government to agree on a plan, said that “Israel is embarrassing itself internationally and endangering itself vis-a-vis world trade because of its failure to meet the terms of the Paris Agreement that it signed and is now violating.

“It’s a shame that it has required so many months of deliberations and correspondence on an issue that is so critical to human life,” he added.

Sapir said that he was disappointed by the targets that are now under discussion.

“Israel must strive for a carbon-neutral economy, as most countries in the world are, and not be content with a transition to a low-carbon economy, especially after what we’ve seen happening all over the world and the growing recognition that our region will suffer more than others from climate change. We need to show that we’re doing our part.”


Analysis | Israeli Cabinet’s Plan on the Reduction of Greenhouse Gases Is Not Enough

Zafrir Rinat Jul. 25, 2021

The plan is an improvement over prior drafts, but it lacks major provisions, such as targets on electricity production from renewable sources and appropriate economic incentives

The Hadera electricity power plant south of Haifa.
The Hadera electricity power plant south of Haifa.Credit: Rami Shllush

The plan approved by the cabinet on Sunday to shift Israel to a low-carbon economy is an improvement over what had been proposed in the past, particularly around the time of the signing of the 2015 Paris climate accord. But the final plan that was approved is disappointing in view of what it will take to reach the important targets.

The sense of disappointment is that much greater considering the fact that, what the cabinet received to vote on excludes major steps that were removed due to pressure, mainly from the Finance Ministry’s budget division.

Israel has already failed to achieve goals such as the 2020 target regarding electricity produced from renewable sources. That had made it particularly important that the plan include as many measures as possible to encourage the transition to a low-carbon economy.

The plan no longer calls for the production of 95 percent of Israel’s electricity from renewable sources by 2050. Such a goal would have given the Israeli economy direction when it comes to long-term planning, affecting, for example, the pace of construction of electricity production infrastructure such as power plants.

As a practical matter, Israel is remaining with the goal of producing 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by the end of the current decade. It’s unclear, however, what will enable the country to achieve a further reduction in greenhouse gas emissions beyond 2030. If, for example, electric cars in the country get their electricity from power plants powered by natural gas, rather than renewable energy sources, it would reduce the contribution made by electric vehicles in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The Ashalim solar electricity plant in the Negev.
The Ashalim solar electricity plant in the Negev.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The plan also does not include a 2030 target for zero-energy buildings – which would produce sufficient energy from renewable sources to meet or nearly meet their own energy consumption needs, through the use of solar panels, for example. Such a goal would permit a reduction in electricity consumption in cities and curb the need for new power plants.

Another target that did not find its way into the proposal is the promotion of energy efficiencies by 2025. That could have created economic incentives to save energy, in connection with electricity used for heating and cooling, for example. The Energy Ministry has itself reminded us that energy that is not consumed contributes the most to a low-carbon economy. The cabinet plan does in fact set such a goal for the end of the decade, but it would have been appropriate to impose now and is urgently needed.

Economic mechanisms for reducing greenhouse gases that had been included in previous proposals have fallen by the wayside. Among them is carbon pricing, which sets a price on a ton of carbon emissions produced by a factory, thereby making emitting carbon more expensive and economically unfeasible. Also not included is the cost of treating the refuse generated by factories, including its environmental impact. That would have encouraged recycling or burning refuse to produce energy.

In the absence of such a provision, it’s difficult to see how the plan’s target of cutting refuse production by 71 from 2018 levels by the end of the decade can be achieved, particularly considering the government’s failure so far to achieve existing recycling and landfill-reduction targets. At present, fully four-fifths of the garbage generated in Israel ends up in landfills, so this is a particularly challenging task.

The Efeh landfill in the south.
The Efeh landfill in the south. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The omissions from previous drafts of the plan have far-reaching consequences. That’s not only true in the context of the global climate crisis but also when it comes to environmental challenges facing the country within its own borders. That’s not only a result of the climate crisis but all of the other environmental challenges facing Israel. Clean transportation and advanced methods of dealing with refuse are essential to improving the quality of life in a crowded country such as Israel, where most of the population lives in urban areas.

Efficiency measures and energy saving encourage innovation and make a significant contribution to the economy. A transition to a low-carbon economy would also help Israel integrate better into the global economy, which is due to be shifting towards a low-carbon orientation itself. The transition needs to be reflected in technological developments and trade agreements, to include provisions such as carbon pricing.

If the world doesn’t manage to move forward in that direction, which is certainly possible, we’re all in big trouble. But if it does succeed, it would behoove Israel to jump on the bandwagon as quickly as possible.


Israeli Cabinet Approves Greenhouse Gas Plan That Omits Several Key Provisions

Lee Yaron Jul. 25, 2021

A proposal to produce most of the country’s electricity from renewable sources by 2050 was dropped and other provisions have been softened

תחנת הכוח באשקלון וחוף זיקים, בפברואר. ארגוני הסביבה מתחו ביקורת על ההסכם ואמרו כי היעדים "עלובים ברובם"
Ashkelon power station Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Israel’s cabinet unanimously approved an ambitious plan on Sunday to cut greenhouse emissions by 85 percent by 2050, but many important clauses fell by the wayside due to heavy pressure by the Energy Ministry and the budgets department of the Finance Ministry.

Left out of the plan, for example, are goals for generating electricity from renewable sources and a requirement for net-zero-energy building constructions. Required reporting of the costs of burning polluting fuels was also eliminated, along with a requirement for the state to examine every new infrastructure project also by its environmental impact.

Two particularly important goals – requiring Israel to produce 40 percent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2030, and 95 percent by 2050 – were removed. As a result, Israel will not commit to a specific goal for producing electricity from renewable energy. Instead, it was decided that Energy Minister Karin Elharar will establish an interministerial committee to study the subject and to decide on goals within 12 months of the cabinet’s approval of the plan.

Haaretz has learned that just before the cabinet voted on the plan, the provision requiring that government ministries set goals for energy-neutral construction for “all types of structures” within a year was changed under Finance Ministry pressure to simply state “structures.”

The plan will see Israel gradually transition to a low-carbon economy, including an obligation to reduce 27 percent of its greenhouse emissions by 2030 before the 2050 target of 85 percent, with a base year of 2015. Nevertheless, these goals are considered significant compared to the steps Israel has taken so far to address the climate crisis.

Israel was obligated to declare its reduction goals by 2020 under the Paris Climate Accords, but failed to do so due to opposition from various government ministries, in particular the finance and energy Ministries, to many of the plan’s provisions.

The UN Climate Change Secretariat had informed Israel that if it did not submit its goals by the end of the month, it would find itself excluded from the international report to be presented in the United Nations in November. Senior Israeli officials have told Haaretz that this would be a major diplomatic embarrassment, with Israel and Turkey alone among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member states failing to produce their goals so far.

According to the Paris Accord, signed in December 2015 at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Israeli government set a national goal to reduce greenhouse gas reductions. However, that goal was defined only in terms of emissions per capita, so in practice, the absolute rate of emissions has only grown in recent years, due to population growth. Israel will now update its goal to reflect an absolute reduction rate, in line with most countries. Although this is a significant and precedent-setting decision for Israel, the goals that it has now set are low compared to most countries in the West. For example, the United States has committed to a reduction of 50 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050. The European Union Commission has also set a goal of at least 55 percent reduction by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.

הפגנה נגד בז"ן ב-2019. מקור המעורה בהסכם: "זה היה ניסיון להצניע את הפדיחה ולמחוק את האיחור, בתקווה שהעולם יעלים עין"
A 2019 protest against BAZAN Group, the Israeli oil refining and petrochemicals company Credit: Rami Shllush

Foreign sources and environmental groups that spoke with Haaretz  expressed anger at the low thresholds Israel is committing to. The Environmental Protection Ministry is aware of the criticism, but believes that this is a sufficient goal in light of Israel’s inaction so far. In a statement issued last week, government ministries affirmed that “Israel recognizes the importance of reaching the goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, in keeping with the Paris Accords and its other international obligations, and that the cabinet will occasionally reexamine the goals it has set itself in this resolution.”

Furthermore, the statement said: “This joint resolution is the first time that an outline has been offered to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and a national strategy has been formulated for the transition to a clean, efficient, and competitive economy. By so doing, Israel takes its place alongside other developed countries in the global fight against climate change.”

Prior to Sunday’s cabinet vote, Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg, who is leading the plan, said her ministry was seeking to approve the plan “with the widest possible agreement and submit to the UN goals that are backed by a plan to which the entire Israeli government is obligated.”

“We are in negotiations at this time as well with the government ministries, and indeed we will have to compromise – but not on the elements required for a decision that will truly bring us to a low-carbon economy,” she said at the time. “This step is part of the effort to responsibly lead to the basic change required in the Israeli economy. The wording of the agreement now in process indeed meets these principles, which we will not give up on no matter what the price.”

In an earlier statement, the Energy Ministry said: “Based on the resolution, the energy minister will set a long-term renewable [energy] goal, after she thoroughly studies the subject in all its ramifications, together with a team that will include the relevant government ministries. Among other things, the required balance will be expressed in issues on the ground. There is not nor will there be disagreement between the energy and environmental protection ministries regarding the goals of emission reduction by 2050, either in the realm of electricity or the economic goals.”