Israel's next government must push climate legislation - opinion

The impact of the climate crisis on the well-being of Israel’s citizens is to a large extent dependent on the politicians’ coming to grips with the issue.

 LIOR SCHILLAT, director-general of the Energy Ministry, shakes hands with Birgit Schwenk, director-general for climate action at the German Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, after signing a working plan for energy cooperation, at COP27 in Sharm e-Sheikh, earlier this month.  (photo credit: THAIER AL-SUDANI/REUTERS)
LIOR SCHILLAT, director-general of the Energy Ministry, shakes hands with Birgit Schwenk, director-general for climate action at the German Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, after signing a working plan for energy cooperation, at COP27 in Sharm e-Sheikh, earlier this month.
(photo credit: THAIER AL-SUDANI/REUTERS)

The climate crisis is an environmental, economic, social and security threat to the State of Israel. If the climate law is not enacted and if Israel does not take concrete steps to deal with the crisis, Israel will lag behind the rest of the world, and trading with the developed world will become more difficult.

At the international climate change conference (COP27) held recently in Sharm e-Sheikh, the Israeli government’s delegates were forced to face the fact that Israel is lagging behind in the international arena. It is the only OECD member country, besides Turkey and Mexico, that has not committed to reach zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050.

Although at last year’s COP26 conference in Glasgow, then-prime minister Naftali Bennett declared that Israel was committed to zero emissions by 2050, to date, no legislation on this matter has been enacted, and the pledge has not been included in Israel’s official targets for reducing emissions, presented to the UN, and therefore it is not binding. Israel’s official target for reducing emissions by 85% by 2050 is considered too conservative, given the urgency of the actions that must be taken, and does not match Bennett’s declarations from exactly one year ago.

Two weeks before COP27, the Foreign Ministry published an opinion calling for the target of zero emissions by 2050 to be anchored in a government decision, thus making it possible to present it at the conference as an official goal of the State of Israel. The climate law was supposed to have tackled this issue, but because the government was disbanded, the legislation could not be completed.

It is disturbing to note that Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara blocked attempts to anchor the target before COP27. She stated that no “concrete urgency” had been presented to justify making a decision at this time, so close to the elections, that would in effect constrain future governments. Anyone familiar with the climate crisis will understand that her claim that there is no “concrete urgency” to officially ratify the zero-emission target is totally detached from the international consensus on the scientific facts.

  Gali Baharav-Miara  (credit: TOMER YAKOVSON) Gali Baharav-Miara (credit: TOMER YAKOVSON)

Global warming will not wait for Israel to solve its political problems.

The impact of the climate crisis on the well-being of Israel’s citizens is to a large extent dependent on the politicians’ coming to grips with the issue and finding the required economic, legal, social and political solutions.

Without legislation that will send a clear message about the government’s commitment to zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, both Israeli industry and its citizens will not grasp that they have to plan for reaching this goal and take the necessary steps.

Presumptive incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu should harness the political stability that can be expected in the coming years and, as soon as he officially takes up his position, should promote legislation on the climate law and taxation on carbon emissions.

In the absence of such legislation, Israel will not be planning for a crisis everyone knows is coming, a crisis whose ramifications include a food and water shortage, which could lead to conflicts generated by shortages of natural resources; rising sea levels and flooding of coastal cities, including in Israel; an increase in the frequency and severity of weather conditions that cause flooding and fires; an increase in the frequency of disease and pandemics; and waves of immigrants from areas that will no longer be habitable because of extremely hot weather, etc.

The expected fallout from global warming will not pass over Israel, which is considered a hot spot. Israel is located in a climatically vulnerable area in which the rate of warming is double the world average. For this reason, the National Security Council defined the climate crisis as one of its reference scenarios, alongside the Iranian threat.

The climate threat has dramatic social, economic and security implications. Regarding security threats, as the ice in the North and South poles melts, new naval trade routes will open up, reducing the importance of the Middle East as a trade route, thus dealing a blow to the incentive for financial and security support in Israel.

In addition, new waves of mass immigration from the Middle East and Africa may stream to Israel’s borders, in the attempt to escape from areas that have become too hot to live in.

The expected fight for scarce natural resources will increase the probability of conflict, and the soaring price of food and energy may lead to unrest among the weaker sectors of society, unless preemptive steps are taken to ensure they are not left behind.

Economic problems are also to be expected, if we do not immediately plan for the future. Climate damage is expected to harm Israel’s growth potential and lead to an increased public debt resulting from sharp increases in the cost of food and water, and massive government and commercial investments.

It is important to understand the economic-commercial interest of the zero-emission commitment. If the government and commercial sector do not plan for a zero-emission economy, Israel will lose its competitive edge, as Israeli companies will encounter difficulties in selling their products in international markets if they do not meet the new global standards for zero emissions and the transition to green energy.

Let’s not be tempted into believing that these are vague threats that will affect us only in the distant future. On the contrary, evidence is piling up that the climate crisis is already affecting us.

One piece of evidence is the extreme heat waves seen all over the world last summer. The frequency of these heat waves is expected to rise in the future. The number of heat waves caused by the crisis has already increased in Israel, resulting in increased mortality in the past decade.

BASED ON all the above, taking steps to tackle the climate crisis would not only demonstrate that Israel is playing its part in the global effort; it is also in Israel’s own interest.

We therefore hope that the incoming government will take the climate threats seriously, and that Netanyahu will lead a responsible policy of planning for the climate crisis, including promoting the necessary legislation, so that Israel’s social, economic and security resilience can be maintained.

The first step must be anchoring the target of zero greenhouse emissions by 2050 in legislation.

Daphna Aviram-Nitzan is the director of the Center for Governance and the Economy at the Israel Democracy Institute. Itamar Popliker is a research assistant at the Israel Democracy Institute.