Israel's government failing to prepare for climate crisis - comptroller

Israel has failed to meet emissions targets set in multiple sectors, including energy and transport, and has fallen behind other OECD countries in preparing for the crisis.

 View of the Power Station in Hadera, on Janury 27, 2018. (photo credit: MILA AVIV/FLASH90)
View of the Power Station in Hadera, on Janury 27, 2018.
(photo credit: MILA AVIV/FLASH90)

Israel’s absolute carbon emission rates have risen by 103% since 1990 and 12% since 2005, a new State Comptroller’s Report titled “The actions of the Israeli government and its preparations for the climate crisis” revealed on Tuesday.

The report examines Israel’s readiness in the face of the climate emergency and looks at what measures have or have not been taken by government ministries and public bodies to deal with the effects of climate change.

Due to Israel’s geographical location, the country is at an increased risk to feel extreme effects of climate change, some of which have already begun to be felt.

Despite this, Israel is one of the only developed countries in the world without a budgeted and approved plan in place to fight the climate emergency, and 84% of the country’s public bodies have no plan at all to deal with the effects of climate change, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman said.

“The climate crisis affects all areas of life – the environment, the economy, health, transportation and more,” he said ahead of the report’s release. “I see the importance of Israel being a partner in the global effort in assessing the climate crisis. We owe it to ourselves and even more to our children and future generations.”

 TRAFFIC JAMS on the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv. (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90) TRAFFIC JAMS on the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv. (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)

One of the biggest factors in fighting climate change is the reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions, which are caused primarily by the use of fossil fuels in electricity production and transportation. Despite being part of the 2015 Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change, Israel has failed to make much headway in the field of lowering emissions.

Of some 29 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries surveyed in 2016, Israel ranked No. 10 with the highest emission rates per capita, meaning that its emission rates are the same as those of a medium-sized country.

Whereas other OECD countries have set absolute emission-reduction targets, Israel’s emissions are measured per capita, which allows the absolute amount of emissions to rise so long as the population is growing, which Israel’s is. That means there has not been an absolute reduction in emission rates, even though, while looking at the emission rates per capita, it would appear that there has been a reduction.

For example, whereas Germany’s absolute emission rates have fallen more than 40% since 1990 and Australia’s by 15%, Israel’s rates more than doubled, rising 103%.

Since 2005, Israel’s absolute emission rates have risen an additional 12%, whereas Australia’s fell 22%, and the EU as a whole successfully reduced its by 21%.

Examining the various sectors across Israel, Englman said the progress being made to meet targets ranged from “lagging to zero,” with very few targets actually having been set or achieved.

In 2015, the Transportation Ministry, under the directive of then-transportation minister Israel Katz, pledged to cut private commuting by 20%. Not only did it fail to do this, the comptroller’s investigation found, but there was an increase in private commuting from 42 billion km. in 2015 to 50 billion km. in 2019.

ACCORDING TO an annual report produced by the Environmental Protection Ministry this May, the government was not expected to meet the targets set in the transportation sector.

Additionally, as of 2020, only 0.05% of cars in Israel were electric, and the steps being taken to increase this number are still in their infancy, Englman found.

Despite plans originally made in 2019 to ban the importation of vehicles with internal-combustion engines from 2030 onward, the Energy Ministry decided to postpone this decision until 2035, citing the COVID-19 pandemic as the reason, despite no other countries doing the same or demonstrating that there was a need to do so.

The report found that the Transportation Ministry, headed by Labor leader Merav Michaeli, has failed to formulate a detailed plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in the transportation sector. Significant parts of their plans remain simply proposals, with many of them unclear.

Proposals or policies that have been suggested but not implemented include increased investment in public transportation and mass transit systems and closing streets to traffic to encourage walking or cycling. However, the extent to which these plans will actually lower emissions has not been calculated or clarified.

Another sector that is failing to make significant progress in achieving its climate goals is the energy sector, the report found.

In 2008, the Israeli government under Ehud Olmert pledged that by 2020, the country’s energy usage would be reduced by 20% from what it was in 2006. However, the report found that it did not successfully meet its goal, and energy consumption has only been reduced by 12.4%.

The following year, Olmert’s government pledged to increase the use of renewable energy in Israel by 10% by the year 2020. However, at the time of the investigation, renewable energy usage had only increased by 6.1%.

This is a cause for concern because it creates serious doubt that Israel will successfully meet its initial goal of a 17% increase by 2030. It also means that despite being the lowest target of all OECD countries, the newly proposed goal of a 30% increase by 2030 will be almost impossible.

The energy sector was granted NIS 800 million to reach its goals and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, but NIS 500m. was unused due to a lack of approved plans, the report found.

The biggest issue standing between the government and a concrete climate action plan is a lack of allocation of manpower, budget or attention to the climate issue inside government ministries, compared with other issues, the report found. Additionally, the failure to declare a state of emergency over the climate crisis means that no long-term prevention methods or systemic preparations are being made to deal with the predicted effects, it said.

However, since the distribution of the report among government bodies, plans have started to be formed to declare a state of emergency, reflecting a step in the right direction, Englman said.

“Israel is not prepared for the climate crisis, and there has not yet been a change in Israel’s policy perception to reflect the issue,” the report said. “Eighty-four percent of public bodies have no plan at all to deal with the climate crisis.”

Shira Liberty, climate director for the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), said the report was “precedent-setting” and “one of the most in-depth and comprehensive documents written on the subject of climate in Israel.”

“Unfortunately, the comptroller points out that there is no national plan to prepare for climate change,” she said. “SPNI backs up and strengthens the comptroller and his staff in stating the unpleasant reality: The State of Israel is not committed to satisfactory goals, and it is failing to implement them.”