Environmental groups voice surprise at new government’s climate plans, say the right will position itself as the biggest environmental force in Israel – if its goals are achieved

Refineries in the Haifa Bay region, 2022.
Refineries in the Haifa Bay region, 2022.Credit: Rami Shllush

Lee Yaron Dec 29, 2022

Israel’s new government surprised environmental groups on Wednesday by agreeing on a number of basic environmental principles with the hopes of making a major leap forward in the fight against climate change.

These new steps aim to limit Israel’s part in global warming over the next decade, take action against polluting industries and include other initiatives to preserve nature. This news comes despite the fact that the parties in the new government did not run on an especially environmentally-focused election campaign, like Meretz and Labor did.

Environmental organizations were surprised by the announcement, and explained that if these goals are achieved, the right will position itself as the biggest and most powerful environmental force in Israel given past governments’ failures to fulfill climate promises.

“Surprisingly, this government is promising a lot more than its predecessor – only time will tell if it will keep [its promises],” a senior official in one of the environmental groups said.

The most important initiative agreed upon is the commitment to pass an ambitious climate law within the next six months – which, according to the signed coalition agreements, will “correct and improve” the law that the previous government passed only in its first vote (out of three) in the Knesset. The new bill would raise Israel’s target for greenhouse gas reduction by 50 percent over the coming decade, and will only allow officials to increase these targets, not reduce them.

However, the new government is also expected to advance a number of unambiguously anti-environmental measures as well, such as canceling the tax on disposable utensils and the “sugar tax” on sweetened drinks. In addition, its plans for a Supreme Court override clause could interfere with the practical implementation of its new environmental targets.

A supermarket in Bnei Brak, stocked with disposable cutlery and tableware, in June.
A supermarket in Bnei Brak, stocked with disposable cutlery and tableware, in June.Credit: Eyal Toueg

Other moves from the new government which could damage the environment, public health and the fight against the climate crisis include efforts to shorten construction and planning processes, removing environmental requirements for building “national infrastructure” and continued construction of new suburban communities outside of areas in high demand.

Thus far, the Supreme Court has required the state to carry out some of the most significant environmental measures it has promoted in recent decades, including its decision to ban construction on polluted land and its restrictions on construction along the shoreline.

The Israel Union for Environmental Defense told Haaretz that passing the court override clause could create a “fundamental internal contradiction, which clashes directly and sharply with the decision to reduce emissions.” A number of other environmental groups pledged to “keep an eye” on the situation to ensure that the new government’s promises will be kept.

Trash dumped at a beach in Bat Yam, 2011.
Trash dumped at a beach in Bat Yam, 2011.Credit: Alon Ron

But this is more than just a promise to pass the Climate Law – in comparison to the outgoing government, the new one has made more environmental promises. For example, compared to the new government’s seven sections on the environment in the basic principles of the coalition agreements, the previous government committed only to two.

In these two sections, the last government committed to passing the Climate Law, carbon pricing, removing polluting industries from the Haifa Bay, reducing air pollution by promoting renewable energy, and advancing a master plan for the energy sector. However, most of these promises were never implemented in practice.

MK Gila Gamliel (Likud), who had hoped to receive the environmental protection portfolio she previously served in, asked to put many of these issues into the basic principles – but it remains unclear how committed the rest of the coalition partners are regarding their implementation. Shas and United Torah Judaism introduced environmental sections into the coalition agreements they signed with Likud, including a commitment to increase solar energy production in built-up areas, aid for local governments to produce solar energy and more.

The Ashalim solar power station in the Negev, 2019.
The Ashalim solar power station in the Negev, 2019.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

The basic principles also promise that all government ministries will be obligated to prepare plans to reduce emissions in areas under their responsibility. Today, not a single ministry has an approved plan concerning the climate crisis.

The coalition agreements also stipulate that within three months of the new government’s inauguration, the resolution on removing polluting industries from the Haifa Bay region passed by the previous cabinet will be amended – and will include a target date and budgetary section for implementation. This was a central demand from environmental groups after they harshly criticized the previous government for passing a resolution to close polluting factories without setting a final date for the shutdown of oil refineries there.

Participants in the 2021 Climate March demonstrate in Tel Aviv.
Participants in the 2021 Climate March demonstrate in Tel Aviv.Credit: Moti Milrod

The basic principles also include a pledge to advance a legislative package to protect the sea – which includes national plans to handle ocean pollution and a commitment to stop fishing boats from using destructive trawling nets as part of the next state budget.

Another step the new government has committed to is increasing supervision and enforcement on polluting industries and adding personnel to environmental enforcement agencies. However, the Green Police and the Green Patrol were transferred from the Environmental Protection Ministry to the National Security Ministry, of which Itamar Ben-Gvir is minister – which leads many people to fear it will harm environmental enforcement in practice.