(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has decided not to lead the Israeli delegation to UN-sponsored climate talks in Copenhagen, his office said Wednesday evening. Netanyahu also asked President Shimon Peres if he might be willing to go in his stead.
Peres has ordered his advisers to look into the feasibility of such an option as quickly as possible, a spokesperson told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday night.
Netanyahu's office cited the expense of the trip and a busy schedule as reasons for his decision.
Peres had expressed interest in leading the delegation until Netanyahu began to consider leading it himself. The president has spoken often about the importance of environmental protection and green issues.
One way or another, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) will be in attendance, along with a 40-person governmental delegation. A non-governmental delegation leaves at the end of the week for Copenhagen, where representatives of 192 countries and over 20,000 people are meeting to try and work out an historic agreement on reducing emissions that contribute to global warming.
The NGO delegation blasted Netanyahu for his decision.
"It is proof that Israel's government prefers to ignore the climate crisis, which the entire world is involved in solving today," Life and Environment head Na'or Yerushalmi said in a statement. "About 100 heads of state are coming to Copenhagen, but Israel's Netanyahu-led government has turned its back [on the summit] and is ignoring the severe ramifications which are likely to befall Israel diplomatically and financially as a result."
Life and Environment is the umbrella organization of environmental groups in Israel and is leading the NGO delegation to Copenhagen.
World leaders will flock to the Danish capital next week for high-level talks in hopes of reaching serious pledges to cut emissions. This week, representatives are meeting to work on the clauses of the successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.
Environmental Protection Ministry Air Quality and Climate Change Branch head Shuli Nezer spoke to the Post from Copenhagen after her first day of meetings Wednesday.
"The hottest topic right now is: Will there be one agreement which will lay out responsibilities for all states, or several separate agreements?
"The developed countries want one agreement which will lay the same legal and ethical framework on everyone - with differentiated responsibilities. The developing countries want a continuation of Kyoto, where just the developed countries have emissions reduction requirements. That issue will only be solved when the ministers get here for high level talks next Wednesday," she told the Post.
Israel has representatives at all meetings relevant to the country's issues, such as mitigation, adaptation, financing, technology transfer, afforestation, capacity building and more, she said.
"For example, at the mitigation meeting, we presented a position at odds with most of the other non-Annex I [developed] countries. We said we wanted verifiable reduction goals and were interested in international inspections to verify compliance," Nezer said.
Regarding the "Danish text," an informal proposal on which Denmark has been working for a while, and which was leaked Tuesday at the conference, Nezer said the assessment was that the basis for an eventual agreement would probably come from that effort.
The Danish text has no official status yet, not even as a non-paper. A non-paper is a recording of the differences of opinion on the issues among representatives.
The meetings this week, Nezer explained, are intended to diminish the differences of opinion ahead of next week's high-level talks.
Meanwhile, the Knesset voted in favor of a motion in the plenum on Tuesday to hold off on any construction that might impact Israel's emission levels until after it is determined what sort of reduction goals Israel must adopt. Such construction would include the new coal-fired power plant in Ashkelon that Israel Electric is keen on building.
The Knesset also approved two environmental bills in preliminary readings. One was a bill to increase energy efficiency in public buildings. The other aimed to encourage the transportation minister to develop a plan to promote public transportation and to report to the Knesset every six months on the plan's progress.
The 30-strong NGO delegation plans to present its fight against the Ashkelon plant, screen a film about urban planning, hold a bike ride on the outskirts of Copenhagen and light an eco-friendly hanukkia in the main square of the city, among other activities.
The delegation has offset the carbon for their flights, will be staying with members of the Copenhagen Jewish community and will only use public transportation provided free of charge by the city to attendees of the climate summit.