Israel Advances Environmental Bill to Reduce Climate Change Damage

The country is expected to experience an increase in heat waves, fires, flash floods

Anyone who has lived in Israel in the last few decades has felt the scorching heat getting hotter.

Summer heatwaves now last longer and electricity consumption records are broken every year.

The data supports that sweaty feeling. And according to the Israel Meteorological Service, the country’s average temperature will rise by 4° Celsius (7.2° Fahrenheit) by the end of the century, double the global forecast.

In the coming years, Israel is expected to experience more heat waves, fires, flash floods and other extreme weather conditions.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett approved plans in October for Israel to fight climate change, before attending the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.

“The climate crisis is one of the main issues on the world agenda. This concerns the lives of all of us, as well as the lives of our children and grandchildren. We are obligated to deal with it in Israel; it is the essence of our existence,” he said.

Fast forward to last Sunday, when the Ministerial Committee on Legislation approved Israel’s first Climate Bill. This is expected to be brought to a vote in the Knesset in the coming weeks.

“This is a historic moment,” said Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg in a statement provided to The Media Line.

But there are questions whether the proposal is sufficient to address complex and multi-faceted problems.

The draft law should place the energy, industry, agriculture and transportation sectors under equal obligations to make Israel a carbon-neutral economy and fight the climate crisis at the national level.

The government set a goal of achieving zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and drastically reduced it before then, reducing emissions by at least 27% by 2030.

“It is true that there is a gap that must be closed. I think we need to increase the goal to at least 40% by 2030 and I will continue to fight for this,” Zandberg said in his statement.

An unnamed finance ministry official was quoted in Israeli media as criticizing the bill for fear that the government and major industry would be restricted in their activities.

Lawyer Tammy Gannot Rosenstreich, deputy executive director of the Israeli Union for Environmental Defense, said, “Even in its current format, the law completely changes the status of climate change in Israel by legislation and makes it something that is enforceable, with real commitments. . It symbolizes a new era for Israel.”

The draft law includes a concrete milestone along the way, a compromise between the two ministries.

“I am surprised that any environmentalist could be satisfied,” said Knesset Member Alon Tal, founder of the Israel Union for Environmental Defense and the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. “Laws are inadequate and weak compared to standards that have emerged internationally. It is the product of a painful compromise.”

“Clearly the law needs to be more ambitious,” said Gannot Rosenstreich.

The bill does not have a specific purpose for the use of renewable energy. Israel appears to be going in the opposite direction from most developed countries, increasing its dependence on natural gas and constantly expanding its electricity limits, while still using coal as an energy source. The plan to build a new natural gas-based power plant has been criticized by environmentalists.

Tal hopes to amend the bill, “to restore some of the vitality and integrity of the original draft.”

Despite its ambitious goals, Israel still lags behind most of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, both in goals and implementation.

“There is not enough understanding of the scope of the problem,” said Dr. Avner Gross, of the School of Sustainability and Climate Change at the Negev’s Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba.

While Israel may think of itself as a small country with little impact on the global environment, its geographical position makes it highly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.

Indeed, Israel’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 accounted for 0.16% of CO. global2 emissions, according to the Global Carbon Project. However, in CO2 emissions per capita, Israel ranks higher than similar countries in size and population.

“We know how to create economic incentives and regulatory tools to dramatically reduce our carbon footprint,” Tal told The Media Line. “This climate law lacks vision and does not mention any economic instruments.”

He suggested a carbon tax on gas but also on beef.

The warning signs are already here.

Gross said, “Because of its geographic location, Israel is very sensitive to climate change and could be more severely affected by the climate crisis than any other country. He has an obligation not to wait for someone else to take a step. This would be a national security threat to Israel no less than an Iranian threat.”

Zandberg says, “This is a plan to reduce emissions, but a preparedness plan is no less important. It is important that Israel takes part in reducing global gas emissions but more importantly protects its citizens from the consequences of the climate crisis which is expected to hit harder here than in any other country.

“This plan will guarantee Israel’s climate immunity in the decades to come and reduce the risks that come with climate change in the country,” he said.

Israel’s dry climate is expected to worsen as the Sahara Desert in North Africa pushes its boundaries ever closer due to global warming.

“The main thing that needs to be done is to come to an understanding that this is an existential crisis and by treating it as one, Israel needs to allocate more resources to deal with this issue,” Gross said.

“We are the first generation to recognize climate change and the last generation who can do something to stop it,” and the window is closing, Tal said.

The consequences of desertification are serious.

According to Gross, if urgent action is not taken, Israel will have 20% to 30% less rainfall by the end of the century. Not only would the country be much hotter, but the food supply would also be reduced. Massive flows of refugees could occur from neighboring countries with soaring temperatures and limited access to water. As temperatures soar, it will be more difficult for people in the Middle East to survive. This will create new geo-political challenges in an already volatile region.

And Israel is also facing rising sea levels that will make life in areas next to the sea even more difficult.

Assuming the Knesset approves the legislation, it will still take some time to translate it into action. The road to a carbon-free economy is not short.

Under the law, a Ministerial Committee on Climate Affairs would be created and chaired by the prime minister. This is meant to coordinate the work of all ministries and ensure the bill is implemented.

Israel, with its thriving high-tech innovation sector, has the potential to become a world leader in solutions to various problems brought about by climate change.

“Discourse is starting to change,” said Gannot Rosenstreich. “We see the beginning of understanding in statements, not in important actions. It all has to do with the gap between short-term political considerations and the long-term investment needed to address this issue.”

The bill’s existence, despite its weak points, and the discourse around it, leaves room for optimism, activists say.

“A few years ago, we couldn’t even imagine such a law in Israel,” Gross said. “The next decade will be the climate decade and we will face this challenge successfully because we know the solution, we have the vaccine. But we have to wake up now.”

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