While national budget grows, funds for environment shrink
While Israel was established in 1948, the Environment Ministry was founded in 1990. Its budget grew steadily until 2003, as did the national budget, but since then it's been shrinking, and fast.
There is a growing consensus that environmental issues are not only of the essence, they're urgent too. Glaciers are shrinking, species are going extinct, ice sheets are sporting new holes, and here in Jerusalem the Knesset does devotes more time to "green" issues. But when push comes to shove, Jerusalem falls short.
Where it really counts, in the national budget, environmental issues are a non-entity. The Ministry of the Environment's budget was tiny to begin with: the only ministry that gets less is Communications. And it's shrinking with the ice caps. In 2008 the Environment budget loses NIS 35 million, or 19 percent, to a mere NIS 145 million. It may not help that Environment is headed by a minister, Gideon Ezra, and a director-general, Shai Avital, who spent most of their careers in the military.
While Israel was established in 1948, the Environment Ministry was founded in 1990. Its budget grew steadily until 2003, as did the national budget, but since then it's been shrinking, and fast. Yet its ministers did practically nothing to halt the erosion, perhaps because in 2006 and 2007 the ministry had difficulty using all the money the treasury and the Knesset had allocated. In fact, its budget execution was a poor 60 percent. In other words, it left 40 percent of its budget unused.
"No wonder the ministry has become so impotent, mainly in respect to enforcement," complains a source at the Israel Union for Environmental Defense (Adam, Teva V'Din). "The economy has been growing, and we see it in the national budget and GDP, but the Environment Ministry's share in it has been shrinking."
The ministry already has trouble fulfilling its own goals, says the Union for Environmental Defense. If the trend persists, the Ministry of the Environment will become meaningless and so will enforcement of "green" laws, it adds.
The Union for Environmental Defense hopes to jolt the lawmakers and public out of their complacency, and save the ministry's budget ahead of the final budget discussions in the cabinet and Knesset next month. Oren Azaria, environmental economist at the Union, says NIS 35 million is petty cash for most of the other ministries, but it's huge for the Environment Ministry - as stated, it's 19 percent of its budget.
"The world is waking up to the green revolution, but in Israel the trend is the reverse when it comes to financing the Environment Ministry," the Union added.
On the bright side, Israel may soon have no choice but to reverse track. It wants to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. To do so, Israel will have to comply with the OECD's standards on the environment, especially in respect to handling and disposing hazardous chemicals and substances. Greater budget allocations will be inevitable.