Officials from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) praised Israel’s environmental progress and offered suggestions for improvement at a Tuesday gathering hosted by the Environmental Protection Ministry to discuss the findings of the organization’s first Environmental Performance Review for the country.

Recognizing Israel as a latecomer to the environmental-protection field that bears both an increasingly dense population and water scarcity, the report praises the country on the growth of its clean-tech sector and its internationally competitive development of renewable energy and water technologies.

While praising Israel for the use of green taxes in this country, the report proposes more effective schemes of allotting these taxes. Heavy criticisms fell on the government’s inefficient implementation of much-needed environmental legislation and the fact that Israel’s energy mix relies on more carbon-based sources than many other OECD countries.

The report stresses, however, the importance of the implementation of this year’s implementation of the Clean Air Law as a future means of reducing levels of greenhouse-gas emissions.

“I hope that this Environmental Performance Review provides such a helpful and stimulating influence to Israel,” said OECD Deputy Secretary- General Rintaro Tamaki.

Tamaki, who was also present at the Tuesday conference in Tel Aviv, had officially presented the review to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan the night before. Israel became a member of the OECD on September 7, 2010.

Outside the framework of the report, Tamaki was particularly congratulatory about Israel’s recent October 23 cabinet decision to formulate a framework for green economic growth in the next decade.

“The OECD stands ready to support Israel as it develops its green-growth plan,” Tamaki said.

Erdan, who had pushed for the institution of such a plan, expressed particular satisfaction that the country is looking to rework its economic strategies in a way that takes into account environmental issues.

“I’m very proud that Israel is one of the first countries that has an official recommendation to stop measuring only economic growth and now develop new mechanisms that will give you a new picture of citizens’ lives,” he said.

Israel had first become committed to the issue by signing a OECD Declaration on Green Growth – along with all 30 then-members and three other then non-members – in June 2009.

In order to transition to a green-growth framework, Israel must focus on creating an “absolute decoupling of environmental pollution and economic growth,” according to Tamaki. However, the country has already started to do so, he explained, pointing out that the GDP went up between the years 2000 and 2008, while nitrous and sulfur-oxide emissions went down for that simultaneous period.

Meanwhile, although carbon- dioxide emissions increased during a similar period, they increased at a lower rate than that of the GDP, he said.

According to data from the review, “people in Israel were relatively unsatisfied,” something that a green-growth economy would work on combating, according to Tamaki.

But Israel’s penchant for cleantech development will continue to create economic opportunities within such a growth structure, he said.

“Israel shows trends in patents for technologies with direct or indirect climate mitigation potential. There is an upward trend for renewable and none-fossil resources,” Tamaki added.

Brendan Gillespie, head of the Environmental Performance Division of the OECD’s Environment Directorate, specifically thanked Erdan and his staff for being “really present” throughout the review process and for allowing for a “very frank and free exchanges of views.”

He meanwhile invited the ministry to come back to the OECD and report what it has done with the 41 recommendations made for the country – which consist of five measures toward green growth; five toward environmental management; four toward international cooperation; five toward water management; six toward bio-diversity; 10 toward climate change and air quality; and six toward waste management.

Switching to a green-growth economy will be a “challenge for Israel,” according to Gillespie, who recommended making the most of synergies among economic, social and environmental policies.

“The progress you’ve made with green taxes is commendable,” he said. “But nevertheless we think there is still scope to redesign some of these environmental taxes.”

“The level of green taxes in Israel is already quite high,” Gillespie continued. “Therefore, the scope for increasing them more is not unlimited – it’s somewhat constrained.

That’s why we think there are some things you can do to redesign the taxes to make them more environmentally effective.”

One mode of redesign suggested by the OECD was to “shift the taxes away from the vehicle purchase to fuel usage,” Gillespie explained.

While he noted that “Israel’s use of water is among the most efficient in the world,” Gillespie said he thought Israel could benefit from eventually having the agricultural and industrial sectors pay the full costs of their water supplies.

As far as bio-diversity goes, the country needs to prepare a comprehensive assessment of its ecosystem services, Gillespie recommended. In the climate change arena, although Israel has taken positive steps, its “energy supply remains more carbon intensive than the average in the OECD,” he said.

Erdan agreed with this assessment, stressing the importance of making a major shift to public transportation.

“The public themselves say the quality of the air is poor,” he said. “After Russia, Israeli citizens are least satisfied in the quality of air among OECD members.”

Overall, however, the OECD was impressed by Israel’s progress and hoped that the efforts toward a greener state would continue.

“You’ve made some very important steps forward – you’re on a very good track and we would encourage you to continue doing what you’re doing,” Gillespie added. “The key thing is implementation.”

Erdan corroborated his opinion.

“The real test will be in implementation of these policies,” the minister said. “And we have a lot of big cities that recycle their trash, but we have a lot of smaller cities and settlements that haven’t reached this point.”

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