Israeli delegates: Bali parley was wake-up call

Israel ranked alongside developing nations in its environmental policy at the two-week conference.

climate conference 224.8 (photo credit: AP)
climate conference 224.8
(photo credit: AP)
Israel will have to completely overhaul its environmental policy in order to meet the criteria set at last week's UN Climate Change conference in Bali, Indonesia, according to Israeli delegation members. Though Israel perceives itself as an industrial country, it ranked alongside developing nations in its environmental policy at the two-week conference, which ended over the weekend and was attended by delegates from nearly 190 nations. "Israel cannot afford to continue with the status quo. As a country that wants to be considered a top economic competitor, it can't be ranked with developing countries over greenhouse gas emissions. Countries we consider the Third World are ahead of us when it comes to fighting greenhouse gases," said MK Ophir Paz-Pines (Labor), who also chairs the Knesset Committee on the Interior and the Environment, on Sunday evening. "We in the Knesset, who are supposed to be making the laws, are lagging far behind other countries," he said. The conference concluded that industrialized nations must cut their greenhouse gas emissions while helping developing countries cut their own emissions and adapt to rising temperatures. The event marked the beginning of a long process by which countries hope to agree on a new pact to replace the Kyoto Protocol when it expires in 2012. That pact requires 37 industrial nations to reduce greenhouse gases by a relatively modest 5 percent on average in the next five years. Paz-Pines noted that while countries such as Germany and the United States were currently in the advanced stages of laws to cap greenhouse gas emissions, Israel had no such bill in the pipeline. On Monday, Paz-Pines plans to table a bill based on the American and German legislature. When added to the Clean Air Bill currently being debated in a subcommittee led by MK Dov Kheinin (Hadash), the legislation would drastically improve Israel's air-quality standards. The Environment Ministry is also putting together a new committee to evaluate how Israel can meet the new criteria presented at the conference. Several other ministries and non-governmental bodies will also sit on the committee, said a ministry spokesman. "The idea is to put together a program that will update various sectors of Israeli society," said the spokesman. He added that factory emissions and vehicle standards were two of the most pertinent issues. In a series of pivotal reports this year, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that the world would face severe consequences - including rising sea levels, droughts, severe weather and species extinction - without sharp cutbacks in emissions of the industrial, transportation and agricultural gases blamed for global warming. To avoid the worst, the panel said, emissions should be reduced by 25-40% below 1990 levels by 2020. The current legislation being presented by Paz-Pines would see Israel cut down on only 20% of its emissions. The MK hopes, however, that other changes to Israel's environmental policy will help to improve its clean-air standing. Tzvi Lidar, a member of the Jewish National Fund's (JNF) delegation to the Bali conference, said Israel's efforts at afforestation - planting new forests in places where forests did not previously exist - would have a positive effect. The JNF, which runs afforestation and water reclamation projects in the North and South, hopes to continue planting forests, said Lidar, who added that greenhouse gas emissions increase by 20% as a result of deforestation. "The lesson we learned in Bali is that the JNF has to re-edit all aspects of its work," said Lidar. Israel has reason to be especially concerned by the increase of greenhouse gases - which initiate a chain of events that lead to global warming and rising sea levels - according to a report released by the Friends of the Earth Middle East (FOEME) at the Bali conference. The report found that rising sea levels could have severe environmental, economic and political implications for the already-parched Middle East. Climate change could act as a "threat multiplier," exacerbating water scarcity and tensions over water between nations linked by hydrological resources, geography and shared borders - particularly in Jordan, Gaza and Egypt. "Poor and vulnerable populations, which exist in significant numbers throughout the region, will likely face the greatest risk," said the report. Rising sea levels would also contaminate the drinking water of 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza, and displace two to four million Egyptians by 2050, the report said.