One of Israel’s leading environmentalists for the past two decades, Yael Cohen Paran is eager to bring her grassroots momentum to the Knesset floor as a new Labor-Hatnua joint list candidate.
Hatnua head Tzipi Livni announced on Sunday evening that Cohen Paran would be receiving the 24th spot on the Labor-Hatnua joint list.
Starting her environmental career as a university student activist – while studying physics at the Hebrew University and then researching solar energy at Ben-Gurion University – Cohen Paran has moved on to leadership positions at Green Course, the Israel Energy Forum and the Green Movement political party.
“Yael has proven her commitment to the environment and to social justice throughout the years,” Livni said. “The many billions that have reached the public from gas are a direct result of the uncompromising struggle of the Green Movement.”
Involved in environmental activism as a university student, Cohen Paran soon began volunteering for Green Course, the nationwide student environmental movement, in the late 1990s, she told The Jerusalem Post
on Sunday. She then advanced to become head of campaigns and then director-general of the organization.
In 2007, Cohen Paran established the Israel Energy Forum, where she still serves as CEO today.
“On Tuesday, the forum will receive the Cleantech prize for innovation,” she said, referring to an award presented annually at the Cleantech Convention, occurring this week.
Some of the focal points within the forum include renewable energy, the gas sector, long-term planning in the energy sector and greenhouse gas emissions reductions, Cohen Paran explained.
The forum has also been heavily involved with international conventions, with representatives participating in the United Nations climate change conferences in Bali, Poznan and Copenhagen, she added.
In addition to her ongoing role as CEO of the forum, Cohen Paran became co-chairwoman of the Green Movement in July 2013, alongside co-chairman Eran Ben Yemini, an environmentalist and educator who founded the Green Movement with Prof. Alon Tal in 2008.
Since its establishment, the Green Movement has undergone two failed bids to win representation in the Knesset. In 2009, Ben Yemini and Tal were second and third on a combined list with the Meimad party, but the list ended up winning no seats in that election. Four years later, in an alliance with Livni’s Hatnua, Tal held the 13th spot on this list, but only six members of the list won Knesset seats.
“Since then, the political party as an entity between elections had quite a difficult time operating,” Cohen Paran said.
Nonetheless, she stressed, the Green Movement saw some positive results in the October 2013 local authority elections, during which many council members connected with the party were elected around the country.
According to a statement from the Green Movement’s Facebook page, the party had been in touch with Livni for several weeks prior to Sunday’s announcement.
Tal, who remains a Green Movement member as well as a professor at Ben-Gurion University, called Cohen Paran’s selection “an important step for our party and for Israel’s environment.”
“Yael is among the most talented and effective environmental leaders in Israel and she will be as good an advocate as there has ever been for sustainability in the Knesset,” he told the Post
Acknowledging the environmental progress Israel has made in the past few years, particularly in the recycling sector, Cohen Paran said that the country is still “lagging behind” in areas like clean transportation and renewable energy integration.
She attributed this lag in part to the idea that no political party has been taking the issue seriously “as a main agenda.”
When asked how the ongoing development of natural gas will impact the energy sector, Cohen Paran said the resource has “huge potential for the Israeli economy.” She stressed, however, that all her views expressed about the gas sector were her personal opinions and not those of the Labor-Hatnua list, which is currently formulating a broad agenda on economic and gas issues.
“If we change transportation to gas, we will be able to breathe much better in Tel Aviv, where I’m walking right now and I’m breathless,” she told the Post
via phone. “You can see the smog.”
Regarding the recent decision of Antitrust Commissioner David Gilo to reevaluate the presence of Noble Energy and the Delek Group in the Leviathan gas basin, as well as their exemption from cartel status, Cohen Paran said that the forum had been pushing Gilo very strongly on the matter.
“Things that are being decided today will influence Israel for 30 years,” Cohen Paran said. “Leaving a monopoly like this is very dangerous.”
Acknowledging that breaking up the monopoly in the Leviathan basin could cause some lag time in its development, Cohen Paran suggested a solution could involve temporarily extracting more gas from the neighboring Tamar reservoir. Although such a move would require new infrastructure, the public would benefit, she argued. The development of Leviathan, meanwhile, will not likely remain for years in dispute, she added.
“But the regulator has to put his foot down,” she said. “Otherwise, the gas companies will do whatever they want for the next years.” Cohen Paran said her strengths lie in “bringing people from different sides to work together.”