Knesset declares 'Environment Day'

A series of "green" motions were passed in the Knesset as part of a day dedicated to the environment.

Recycle 298.88 (photo credit: Tallulah Floyd)
Recycle 298.88
(photo credit: Tallulah Floyd)
A series of "green" motions were passed in the Knesset on Tuesday, as part of a day dedicated to environmental causes. In their attempt to make Israel a more environmentally-friendly country, "Green" lawmakers and activists decided to start from the top. The leaders of the Knesset Socio-Environmental caucus, together with environmental student organization "The Green Course," submitted a report to the Knesset providing practical proposals for making the country's governing body more environmentally conscientious. The 25-page report submitted by MKs Dov Kheinin (Hadash) and Michael Melchior (Labor), together with "Green Course" chairman Gil Ya'acov, lays out a plan based on the principle of the three R's: reduce, reuse and recycle. The report, titled "Greenifying the Knesset," focuses on the issues of recycling and waste management, energy and water conservation, ecological gardening, and sustainable transportation solutions. Many of the suggestions arose from looking at how parliamentary houses in other countries made their buildings more environmentally friendly. The report suggests a range of practical solutions, including providing containers for sorting garbage into recyclable and non-recyclable bins, saving paper by using double-sided printing and more electronic documents, replacing regular light bulbs with more efficient ones, installing automated systems to regulate temperature and lighting, increasing the purchase of sustainable products, and relying more on public transportation and carpooling and less on private vehicles. "The Knesset now has a historic opportunity to become one of the leading parliaments in the world in the field of environmental protection. As a young country whose parliament is currently being remodeled, we have the chance to implement an environmental move that other, older buildings would have problems completing," said Melchior. "Real environmental activity in the Knesset has to take place both in legislation and in practical action," said Kheinin. "This report details how the Knesset can set an example for proper environmental conduct in public institutions." On the legislative front, the Knesset set a series of environmental protection laws in motion, including one reassigning the responsibility for environmental law enforcement away from the state government and into the hands of local municipalities. "This law is revolutionary. It gives local authorities both the legitimacy and the incentive to pursue environmental criminals," said Kheinin. The transfer of authority also means the municipalities will collect the revenue from pollution fines. The Knesset also promoted a decision to discuss the legislation of a "clean beaches" bill. The motion came on the heels of a new report released earlier this week that described high levels of water pollution along the coast. MK Ofir Paz-Pines, chairman of the Committee of the Interior and the Environment, called on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to head a ministerial committee addressing Israel's policy on global warming. "Israel must join the global village, which is in grave danger, and commit itself to joining other countries in adopting the 20/20 plan," said Pines. The plan refers to the challenge of reducing the emission of greenhouse gases by 20 percent by the year 2020. "Israel has a history of aggressive development, which is part of the Zionist ideology of taming the wilderness and building the nation. I'm telling you, we have to be very cautious in what we do," said Pines. "Israel's environment is sick, dangerous, polluting and unplanned. Every day, people in this country die because the environment is uncared-for." The caucus failed to pass two motions: a law requiring stringent environmental protection of schools and kindergartens, and another a proposal to change the government tendering laws requiring that every government service provider's environmental performance be one of the factors for consideration. The Finance Ministry's budget committee appealed both motions. "Israel must realize that global warming is no less dangerous than any other security threat facing this country," said Environmental Protection Minister Gideon Ezra (Kadima), speaking before a nearly-empty chamber. Ezra also called for each government and Knesset office to designate a staff member to be in charge of sustainable development in the office. Ya'acov noted that "the Knesset is first and foremost supposed to represent the state of Israel and provide a symbol for its citizens. At a time when there is a crisis of trust between the people and their representatives, this move can demonstrate how the Knesset can set an example for promoting environmental concern in Israel."