Israel is not on track to reach its climate ambitions due to "patchwork" and outdated laws and regulations, according to a new report by the OECD.
The country has set an overall ambition of carbon neutrality by 2050, including reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the electricity, solid waste, transport and industry areas - and 85% overall. However, the OECD's Environmental Performance Review (EPR) of Israel said Israel would need to introduce additional measures across all sectors to achieve its goals.
The organization called on Israel to adopt a climate law; increase the establishment of solar electricity facilities and accelerate the integration of renewable sources in the electricity grid; implement a carbon pricing mechanism and a more precise strategy for transition to low-carbon transportation; and accelerate the implementation of green building standards.
EPRs are a tool of the OCED to provide evidence-based analysis and assessment of the work countries are doing to meet their environmental policy objectives. The current report, approved on December 5, 2022, and just released Wednesday, is based on economic and environmental data and information gathered during discussions by OECD experts with representatives from various government ministries, local government, industry, civil society and academia. In addition, it includes insights from conversations between an Israeli government delegation, and representatives of other member states within the OECD working group for environmental performance.
This report is Israel's second EPR. The last one took place in 2011.
Israel falls short of OECD peers
In most sustainability measurements, Israel ranks lower than its OECD counterparts. For example, only 5% of Israel's total energy supply comes from renewables, compared to an average of 12% among OECD countries. Regarding pollution and waste, Israelis are exposed to 19 μg/m3 of particulate matter in the air compared to an average of 14.
The country has 691 kg of municipal waste per capita annually, compared to an OECD average of 534, while only composting and recycling 20.7% of waste compared to 34.3%.
Moreover, Israel only invests 1.2% of its government R&D budget in environment and energy, compared to the 6.3% average among OECD countries.
"The Start-up Nation is taking a look in the mirror, and what is reflected is not a technological powerhouse but a third-world country in climate denial," charged Advocate Tami Ganot Rosenstreich, deputy director of the environmental NGO Adam Teva V'Din, (“Man, Nature & Law” – the Israel Union for Environmental Defense),in response to the report.
The report said that the reason for the challenging data is that the country's environmental compliance monitoring and enforcement capacity is insufficient.
"There is no consolidated national circular economy plan," the report stated. In addition, the 'patchwork' of laws and regulations and the absence of harmonized definitions hinder efficient and effective waste management, policy-making and implementation."
It added that the country's environmental regulatory system is "fragmented and partially outdated" and that while Israel has drafted a law to streamline environmental licensing procedures, it has still not been adopted.
"A roadmap towards a circular economy with clear objectives and targets could introduce a life-cycle perspective to policies and projects and foster eco-design and reuse," the report continued. "Bridging the data gap on material flows, resource efficiency, material exports and imports would help identify most resource-intensive sectors and take targeted actions to promote circularity.
"Adopting the government-approved draft Climate Law with its binding targets would be an important step."
The report is broken down into major categories and includes 24 recommendations for Israel to help achieve its goals.
From 2014 to 2020, Israel's carbon footprint increased; it has declined in recent years, primarily due to the rapid replacement of coal by natural gas. However, Israel's share of renewables in the energy mix was the second smallest in the OECD in 2021, as limited land availability and administrative barriers hinder the country's solar generation capacity.
"Israel should develop and implement a medium-term investment plan for the production, storage and transmission infrastructure for solar-based electricity," according to the report.
The largest producers of GHG emissions in Israel are the energy, transport, manufacturing and construction sectors.
In the construction arena, it said Israel should accelerate the implementation of the mandatory Sustainable Building Standard for all new buildings and establish energy efficiency standards for existing buildings.
For the transport area, the OECD recommended prioritizing investment in public transport and strengthening links between transport and land-use planning. It highlighted that among the total vehicles registered in Israel in 2020, only 0.1% were electric vehicles, and 6% were hybrid and it called on Israel to speed up public and private investment in electric vehicle-charging infrastructure.
On the other hand, it stressed that while the country's excise taxes on motor fuels are among the highest among OECD countries, fossil fuels for other sectors are taxed at meager rates. The OECD said it was time to remove that incentive and gradually increase excise taxes on other fossil fuels so that carbon pricing would cover about 80% of its GHG emissions.
While the OECD praised Israel for being the largest user of recycled wastewater for agriculture across member countries and for its world-renowned desalination efforts, it noted that the country's surface water and groundwater remain polluted, primarily by nitrogen from fertilizers. As a result, the OECD recommended that Israel consider stricter requirements for fertilizer application and taxing fertilizers and educate farmers on the risks.
Air Pollution and Waste
Although Israel implemented a Clean Air Law in 2011, exposure to particulate matter pollution - tiny particles in the air that can be inhaled and cause serious health problems - remains one of the highest among OECD countries.
Moreover, the report said that waste contributed to 8% of GHG emissions in Israel in 2019, compared to the OECD average of 3%, noting this is likely tied to Israel's low cost of landfilling - among the lowest in member countries.
"Israel aspires to 'zero waste" by 2050,'" the authors wrote. "However, Israel's sustained economic and population growth over the past decade and the absence of robust waste management policies have contributed to growing municipal solid waste (MSW) levels, while the shares of both landfilling (80%) and recovery (20%) have remained stable.
"The Sustainable Waste Economy Strategy (2021-2030) aims to reduce the share of total MSW landfilled to 20% and increase MSW recycling to 54% while reducing GHG emissions from the waste sector by 47% compared to 2015 levels," it said. "However, Israel does not yet have a clear legislative framework for waste management."
The report praised Israel for taxing single-use plastic utensils in 2021. However, the current government removed this tax shortly after taking office. And, the report said, existing instruments do not provide enough incentive for behavioral change.
The OECD recommended establishing a "pay-as-you-throw mechanism" to increase the cost of waste disposal and make recycling more attractive, and implement more robust deposit-refund schemes. It also said that local governments need to partner with the national government to help achieve these kinds of goals. Therefore, the government should provide them with regulatory and technical support.
Finally, the OECD pointed out that while Israel has adopted solid policies for protecting national parks and nature reserves, it should "pursue better mainstreaming of biodiversity protection into sectoral, particularly agricultural, policies and further integrate ecological corridors into spatial plans." It also recommended expanding the size of marine protected areas and rolling out policies to minimize urban sprawl.
"The status of indigenous species [in Israel] is quite concerning," warned OECD Environment Director Jo Tyndall, who presented the report at a briefing on Wednesday. She noted that more mammals are threatened in Israel than in any other OECD country.
"Israel does not have any official biodiversity targets," she said, adding that 19 national targets were identified in 2015 though never ratified.
Israel's "most vulnerable ecosystems are under significant stress outside protected areas," the OECD report concluded. "Invasive alien plant and animal species have a significant negative effect on biodiversity and ecosystems, which requires regulatory action.
"Adopt and implement a national biodiversity strategy and action plan with measurable targets," the report concluded. "Pursue better mainstreaming of biodiversity protection into sectoral policies, particularly agricultural."
Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman said that Israel is in a climate hot spot and feeling the effect of climate change more intensely than countries in other parts of the world. She added that developing climate technologies will also be vital to solving the climate crisis in Israel and the world, and she believes the Start-up Nation could play a key role.
"The messages that the OECD conveys have great significance to us," Silman said. "We will use this report to promote environmental policies for the benefit of the entire state."