Israel approves greenhouse emissions reduction plan

MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), chairwoman of the Knesset’s Social-Environmental Lobby, called the approved plan "no more than lip service."

Nature-lovers go rafting on the Jordan River (photo credit: TOURISM MINISTRY)
Nature-lovers go rafting on the Jordan River
(photo credit: TOURISM MINISTRY)
Cabinet members approved Israel’s new greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets on Sunday, paving the way for the country to submit its plans to the upcoming Conference of Parties to be convened by the United Nations this December.
The targets approved by the cabinet, however, are diluted versions of the goals originally recommended by the Environmental Protection Ministry in July - first and foremost involving a 25 percent reduction in 2005 emissions levels by 2030, rather than the originally suggested 30% goal.
After coming to an agreement with the National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Ministry, as well as the Finance Ministry, over the weekend, the Environment Ministry submitted the revised targets for government approval on Sunday.
The cabinet’s authorization of a greenhouse gas emissions target was a precursor toward finalizing Israel’s intended national determined contribution (INDC) plan for December’s Conference of Parties (COP-21) in Paris.
Participant nations in COP-21 are aiming to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement to ensure that global warming never surpasses 2°. The December conference will be the 21st such annual conference to occur as a result of the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, during which countries adopted the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
Prior to COP-21, all participant nations are expected to submit their INDC plans, the terms of which can vary according to their individual national conditions.
Environmental Protection Ministry officials, alongside members of an inter-ministerial committee, presented their original recommendations in July, expressing hopes that these goals would be approved by September. With the exceptions of Chile and Turkey, Israel is the only OECD country that has not yet submitted its INDC to the UNFCCC.
The program authorized by the cabinet on Sunday, which involves setting the greenhouse gas reduction target as well as other contributing objectives, will receive a budget of NIS 300 million for four years.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2030 means limiting Israelis to 7.7 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per capita by that year, a statement from the ministry explained. Had the government adopted the Environment Ministry’s original recommendations, the 30% greenhouse gas reduction target would have meant limiting Israelis to 7.4 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per capita, ministry officials explained.
Curbing emissions involves optimizing energy consumption with a greater focus on generating electricity from renewable sources, the ministry said. While electricity production from such sources currently only stands at 2% of Israel’s total electricity mix, the goal would be to increase that percent to 17% by 2030. In the ministry’s initial recommendations in July, the targets called for setting that figure to 22%.
Also part of the authorized program is a reduction in total electricity consumption by 17% and a decrease in private vehicle usage by 20% by 2030, the Environment Ministry said. The original July recommendations had suggested a reduction in overall electricity demand by 18% and a decrease in private vehicle usage by 25%.
Critical to curbing private vehicle use is the development of an improved mass transit system based on buses, trains and light rail, according to the program. The plan likewise encourages a transition from diesel to compressed natural gas for heavy vehicles, such as trucks and buses.
While it is impossible to precisely compare the INDC targets of different countries – since each nation’s greenhouse gas emission levels vary considerably – the submissions of most other OECD states include more robust percentage reductions than those of Israel.
The United States, which submitted its INDC in March, said that the country “intends to achieve an economy-wide target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% below its 2005 level in 2025 and to make best efforts to reduce its emissions by 28%.” In Canada, where an INDC was filed in May, the economy-wide target involves a 30% reduction in emissions by 2030, also in comparison to those in 2005.
All European Union member states, which collectively submitted their INDC in March, have committed to a “binding target of at least 40% domestic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990.”
While not an EU member state, Norway committed to the same goal, filing its INDC in March.
Iceland said in a June INDC submission that it aims to do the same, but did not yet define its goal as a binding commitment. Switzerland, the first country to file an INDC in February, committed to a 50% reduction in emissions by 2030, in comparison to 1990.
Japan, which submitted its plan in July, said that it plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26% by 2030 in comparison to the year 2013 – equivalent to a 25.4% reduction compared to 2005. Australia’s INDC, filed in August, announced intentions to reduce emissions by 26-28% below its 2005 levels by 2030. New Zealand set a loftier goal of decreasing its emissions by 30% below its 2005 levels by 2030, in an INDC submitted in July.
The Republic of Korea’s plans, filed in June, are slightly different from the format of most other OECD nation INDC plans. Rather than provide a specific base year, the Korean INDC calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 37% by 2030 in comparison to projected “business- as-usual” levels for that year.
The format of Mexico’s INDC was closest to that of Korea, committing “unconditionally” in March to a 25% reduction in greenhouse gases and “short lived climate pollutants” for 2030, in comparison to business-as-usual values for that year. The 25% figure combines a 22% drop in greenhouse gas emissions and a 51% decrease in specific “black carbon” sources like coal. Mexico also included a “conditional” clause, enabling the overall reduction figure to increase to up to 40%.
Aside from Israel, which has yet to submit its targets, INDC plans were not yet available on the UNFCCC website for OECD members Chile and Turkey, as of Sunday.
Ahead of the cabinet vote on Sunday, Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay said on Saturday that every Israeli would “feel significant savings in costs of electricity and fuel, and a reduction of air pollution, following the implementation of the program.”
On Sunday, following the vote, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz emphasized the importance of the program’s passage, adding that soon his ministry will present an energy efficiency program to help facilitate many of the objectives critical to achieving the country’s objectives.
Eitan Parnass, CEO of the Renewable Energy Association of Israel, praised the cabinet’s decision to adopt the plans, calling Sunday a “holiday for everyone who works in the field of green energy.”
“It seems that Israel has now risen to the path of green energy, and Israeli citizens are expected to be the primary beneficiaries from this change,” Parnass said.
Nonetheless, Amit Bracha, the executive director of Adam Teva V’Din (Israel Union for Environmental Defense) slammed the government for deciding to “further soften goals that from the beginning did not talk about reduction,” with an insufficient budget of only NIS 300m.
“This has one meaning – the government of Israel for years has shown contempt for what has been happening around the world in terms of global warming and continually harms public health and the environment in which we live,” Bracha said.
MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), chairwoman of the Knesset’s Social-Environmental Lobby, called the approved plan “no more than lip service.”
“It will not allow for the development of renewable energy – which in sunny Israel, was supposed to have gone without saying already for years – or for a real plan for energy efficiency,” Zandberg said. “It is time we understand what is already clear to the whole world – the climate crisis is here.”