Despite former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s promise at last year’s climate summit to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, in practice, Israel only committed to an 85 percent reduction

The Ashkelon power station, in April.
The Ashkelon power station, in April.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Lee Yaron Oct 21, 2022

Israel failed to revise its target for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in documents submitted ahead of next month’s UN climate summit in Egypt, thus breaking the goal announced last year by then-Prime Minster Naftali Bennett.

Speaking in front of the UN last year, Bennett announced that Israel is committed to zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but in practice, is only committed to an 85 percent reduction. Israel and Turkey are the only two countries in the OECD not committed to zero emissions by the mid-century.

That Israel’s commitment to reach zero emissions, which was made from the UN dais, is not reflected in its official documents, may cause it international embarrassment, sources said. The U.S. President’s Special Envoy on Climate, John Kerry, has spoken to Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg, urging Israel to raise its goals and meet its commitment as well, Haaretz has learned.

The Foreign Ministry recently released an opinion calling on the government to change its position and pass a resolution setting a zero emissions target that is promoted by the Environmental Protection Ministry, so as to avoid harm to Israel’s international standing and obligations.

Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg in the Knesset, in May.
Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg in the Knesset, in May.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg in the Knesset, in May.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Sources who spoke with Haaretz note that Israel’s target has not been updated as per Bennett’s promise due to opposition by the Finance Ministry’s budget division.

The Treasury, which has also promoted cutting down the climate bill which has yet to be passed, says that not enough work has been done to determine the feasibility of meeting a zero emissions target — in which the state reduces most of its greenhouse gas emissions, and balances any remaining emissions with actions that capture greenhouse gasses before they reach the atmosphere.

The treasury further stated that it is judicially problematic to make such a change during election time, and that the move may involve costs to the economy.

“At the climate summit in November 2021, Prime Minister Bennett announced that Israel would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. However, a target of 85 percent reduction by 2050…is still in effect,” the Foreign Ministry’s opinion reads. “We see diplomatic importance in the passage of a decision on zeroing Israel’s emissions before the elections. This decision constitutes an important means of meeting Israel’s international obligations under the Paris Treaty. It will allow Israel to present a significant diplomatic and PR coup in regards to the global fight against the climate crisis.” 

Even before presenting the commitment at the UN summit, Bennett’s office published an official statement according to which him and Energy Minister Karine Elharrar “have agreed on a carbon-emissions-reduction target, so that Israel will reduce its emissions to zero by 2050.”

Former Prime Minister Bennett and former UK Prime Minister Johnson at the Climate Summit in Glasgow, last year.
Former Prime Minister Bennett and former UK Prime Minister Johnson at the Climate Summit in Glasgow, last year.Credit: ALASTAIR GRANT / AFP

Putting the commitment to reach zero emission status into effect will require several steps, mostly in the form of legislative moves that will shift the system toward a low-carbon economy, and especially such that require action in the immediate term. 

In order to meet this target, dramatic and broad changes will be required in infrastructure, in the energy field and in people’s lifestyle, which means broader cooperation and effort by many government entities.

Among the countries that have set themselves particularly ambitious targets in the fight against the effects of climate change, many have yet to base their statements upon significant policy tools. In addition, scientists and climate activist agree that action taken by the end of this decade will be the most critical, and note that focusing on long-term goals only reduces pressure to act quickly now. Israel’s target for 2030 of 27 percent reduction is considered particularly low. 

The Climate Law was supposed to anchor Israel’s emissions reduction commitments, and since the dissolvement of the government, Environmental Protection Minister Zandberg has been trying to promote a resolution to be passed by the government, anchoring the commitment to zero emissions. The deadline for submission to the UN summit passed last month.

Energy Minister Karine Elharrar in Tel Aviv, in April.
Energy Minister Karine Elharrar in Tel Aviv, in April.Credit: Hadas Parush

Major international institutions and bodies, including the UN, the OECD, the European Union, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have determined that most of the steps planned in a transition to a low-carbon economy also promote medium and long-term growth. 

In addition, the Israeli Banks Supervisor, Yair Avidan, said last February that “the cost of ‘not acting’ [on the climate crisis] may prove to be higher than the cost of acting.”

According to the UN, efforts by Israel and the rest of the world to slow the crisis must be significantly larger to prevent crossing the red line of global warming. On the present trajectory, temperatures by the end of the 21st century are expected in high likelihood to reach 2.8 degrees centigrade higher than the pre-industrial era – a dramatic heating of the planet, which scientists warn will have devastating impacts. 

The Finance Ministry said in response: “We do not oppose updating the target – subject to a plan to support it.”