President Shimon Peres declared a goal of reducing the growth in emissions by 20 percent by 2020, during a speech in Copenhagen on Thursday afternoon.
Peres is representing Israel at the high level portion of the UN-sponsored climate talks, which were extended by a day, to conclude on Saturday, in hopes of reaching an agreement. The UN is aiming to produce an emissions protocol to succeed the Kyoto Protocol in 2012.
The goal Peres announced was not a 20% reduction from today's levels. Instead, it was a pledge to reduce the growth of more emissions by 20%. His announcement was in line with an assessment by McKinsey & Co. - commissioned by the Environmental Protection Ministry - of Israel's potential to reduce emissions. At this stage, according to the McKinsey analysis, it would be impossible for Israel to stop increasing its emissions. What is possible is slowing the growth of future emissions, the consultants concluded. McKinsey has conducted such analyses for more than 20 countries around the world.
"By 2020, the government of Israel intends to make best efforts to reduce its CO2 emissions by 20% compared to a business-as-usual scenario," Peres declared.
Announcing a specific goal to reduce emissions growth is a big step for Israel, which still has not formally approved a national plan to curb emissions. It is also a positive sign in the context of the negotiations because many other developing countries will likely not be nearly as bold and will settle for announcing intentions to do what they can to reduce emissions growth.
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan enthused over the president's speech, which, he said, takes the global warming problem out of the confines of his ministry and makes it the entire government's problem.
"Peres's declaration constitutes a significant step in Israel's commitment to the world's struggle against global warming, and will necessitate a number of comprehensive measures and significant changes to Israel's economy," Erdan said in a message following the address.
"Setting numerical goals for emission reduction, as part of the struggle against climate change, is a huge achievement for promoting environmental issues in Israel, and places us at the threshold of a new era.
"Today, this struggle has become a national mission of the Israeli government," he added.
Erdan also met on Thursday evening with Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the American Council on Environmental Quality, who praised Israel's declaration and pledged the US's cooperation in developing clean technologies. Sutley is President Barack Obama's chief environmental policy adviser. Specifically, the two agreed to work on green building standards and on developing a "smart grid" for the electricity network.
Peres noted in his address that environmental issues have no boundaries and called for regional cooperation, even with countries with which Israel does not have diplomatic relations. "I call upon our neighbors, even those with whom we have not yet reached diplomatic relations, to join hands in an effort to save our region. Political disagreements should not hinder environmental cooperation. Carbon molecules carry no passport. Rivers require no visa. Pollution travels with them," Peres said.
"All of us - Jews, Muslims and Christians - pray that the Jordan River will flow, fresh and holy. My call is the call of the Bible upon Adam, to 'cultivate and preserve the Garden of Eden,'" the president told the gathering of dignitaries and delegates. He offered Israel as a "pilot plant" for the world to conduct environmental trials.
The NGO delegation to Copenhagen, comprising the leading advocacy groups, however, decried Peres's declaration as "insufficient."
"A 20% reduction in emissions growth does not reflect Israel's capabilities as a developed nation, nor is it backed by a national plan. Moreover, we cannot even reach that goal if we do not cancel the proposed coal-fired power plant [that the Israel Electric Corp. wants to build in Ashkelon]," the NGO delegation said in a statement.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sought to put new life into the flagging talks on Thursday, by announcing the US would join others in raising $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poorer nations cope with global warming. Clinton made the offer contingent on the 193-nation conference reaching a broader deal, including on the issue of "transparency" - demanding a Chinese commitment to allow some kind of oversight to verify their actions to control emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
The negotiations intensify on Friday with a summit gathering of US President Barack Obama, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and more than 110 other national leaders.
But organizers probably will not get the climate deal they had hoped for, one Danish official said on Thursday.