Morielle Lotan. Sep 27, 2023

Smog covering the city of Haifa in northern Israel, June 24, 2019
Smog covering the city of Haifa in 2019.Credit: Rami Shllush

It appears that Israel’s new climate law was crafted with the precision of a ChatGPT prompt rather than the seriousness that our planet’s future demands. If the prompt had been, “Write me a climate law that will garner headlines and not make us look like total fools at the climate conference in Dubai, all while maintaining a facade of ecological responsibility, with no rigid commitments and a clear exit strategy,” it seems that the result would closely resemble the current legislation.

But let’s step back for a moment. In case you missed the news, here’s the update: The Israeli government recently passed its first climate law. The law sets ambitious goals, aiming for a 50 percent reduction in polluting emissions by 2030 and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. However, these objectives, though commendable on the surface, have encountered multiple delays and postponements during the legislative process.

Regrettably, the final product is a law that lacks substance and strength. Comparing it to Norway’s climate law, for example, which was enacted seven years ago, reveals a stark contrast. Norway’s law is fortified with clear goals, robust management tools, division of responsibilities and even a dedicated budget. Other countries in Europe also understand the necessity of climate budgets and using other critical instruments for driving meaningful change.

In contrast, Israel’s law seems to establish institutions upon institutions: a climate council, an expert committee, an environment and climate institute and a ministerial committee for climate affairs, to name a few. But what’s conspicuously missing? Essential data, such as a sector-wise breakdown of polluting emissions in Israel. This basic information is crucial for tackling the problem effectively. Furthermore, the law lacks a budget, and its minimal program’s entire cost is allocated to financing the committee of experts.

Perhaps most concerning is the absence of mechanisms and tools necessary for implementing the law, particularly in the private sector. The law assigns government ministries the task of creating a “national plan for preparing for climate change,” a task slated for completion by 2026. Additionally, while the law mandates the “obligation to carry out a climate risk assessment” for certain government programs, this requirement applies exclusively to the public sector. Even the limited provisions in the law have been diluted under pressure from the Finance Ministry, with the possibility of being overridden in the face of “vital interests” and economic implications.

I find the exclusion of the high-tech industry from the law particularly distressing. This sector has a storied history of successes in climate-related innovations and is now more critical than ever in developing solutions for the future, including alternative energy, new materials, clean transportation and other auxiliary technologies to support the drive to net-zero. It’s high time for the government, through its Innovation Authority, to champion local climate tech, recognizing the immense economic opportunities it presents for Israel.

In its current form, Israel’s climate law does more harm than good. It provides the government with a platform to declare lofty emission targets while allowing them to skirt meaningful action. The business sector and civil society must step up and intensify the pressure for change, as our Earth waits for no government. The time for real action is now, and the urgency of the climate crisis demands nothing less.

Morielle Lotan is the founder of Mile Advisory, an energy and climate consulting company.