Knesset's new solar field.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Compared to countries with huge populations like China and India or nations with big industries like the United States or European Union member states, tiny Israel is hardly a major league contributor to pollution.
Nevertheless, for what it’s worth, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised Sunday during the weekly cabinet meeting that the little Jewish state would do its part to help halt global warming. He was reacting favorably to the climate change accord reached Saturday in Paris, which he referred to as “an important agreement.”
He went on to say that Israel, like other countries, “has an interest in slowing down global warming, if not halting it altogether. We will reduce greenhouse gas emissions on behalf of future generations.”
Israel has indeed done much to meet climate targets.
According to Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay (Kulanu), a budget of about NIS 700 million has been devoted to meeting climate goals.
More importantly, befitting its reputation as a “start-up nation,” Israel is a world leader in developing new technologies that improve the environment. SolarEdge is a company that develops power optimizers, solar inverters and monitoring solutions that help increase the output of solar energy sources; Eccopia creates robots that clean solar panels, which helps optimize output; Sologic makes “solar trees” that power electric and USB outlets, chill drinking fountain water and supply energy for Wi-Fi; Phinergy develops zero-emission batteries; and NewCO2Fuels, or NCF, has been developing its own version of a technology that allows heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions to be captured and recycled back into usable fuel. And this is just an arbitrary sampling of dozens of Israeli start-ups leading the way in the field of reusable energy.
Unsurprisingly, Israel was ranked number one last year in the Global Clean-Tech Innovation Index.
Israel is also a leader in water desalination. And thanks to the discovery of natural gas off the Israeli coast, Israel will be able to further reduce fossil fuel emissions in coming years.
However, there is still plenty of room for improvement.
For instance, the cumulative state investment in public transportation in Israel was about 1,400 euro per person, according to a 2014 Knesset Information and Research Center report, compared to an average of about 10,000 euro in comparable Western countries.
Because public transportation in Israel is less developed than in other Western countries, fewer Israelis use it; trips take longer and fewer bus and rail options are available. In contrast, investment in infrastructure for private vehicles is high in comparison to other Western countries.
Another area that needs improvement is cooperation with Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Admittedly, Palestinian incitement and terrorism are hardly conducive to fostering an atmosphere of cooperation.
Nevertheless, from both a moral and practical perspective Israel has an interest in helping Palestinians.
Lack of proper sewage treatment not only harms Palestinians, it also endangers Israelis. When sea water off the coast of Gaza is polluted; when wadis and tributaries are used to dispose of chemicals, both Israelis and Palestinians are harmed.
Similarly, more can be done to promote cooperation with Jordan, particularly considering Jordan’s potential for producing solar energy.
And while Israel has committed itself to the demands of the Paris agreement, Israel’s overall greenhouse gas emissions are set to rise in coming years, in large part due to population growth. Though Israel agreed to reduce emissions from 10.5 tons per person per day to 7.2 tons per person per day in 2030, total emissions will actually rise because population growth will outstrip emission reductions.
Israel has much to be proud of as a leading innovator in the field of renewable energy. And Israel is contributing to environmental protection by spreading its knowledge around the world. Last year Jerry Brown, the Governor of California, a state facing major water shortage problems, was here to learn more about Israeli water technologies.
Still, there is much that remains to be done. Israel’s public transportation infrastructure is inadequate and cooperation with the Palestinians and Jordanians is lacking. The Paris conference on climate change provides an opportunity to celebrate Israel’s successes while at the same time acknowledging there is more work to do.