With Copenhagen Summit Looming, MKs Remember Green Legislation

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation will decide Sunday, a day before the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen begins, whether the cabinet will support four bills promoting energy efficiency, renewable energy sources, public transit and sustainable construction.

The bills are being introduced Sunday because MKs Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), Dov Khenin (Hadash) and Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor), who will be attending the conference, want to show that Israel is advancing environmental legislation.

The only obstacle is that the 18th Knesset has yet to do so; the 17th Knesset, however, passed a clean air act and laws protecting Lake Kinneret and the Gulf of Eilat - legislation some observers have hailed as a "green revolution" in parliament.

Willingness to act

"Over the last two months, with the support of the Knesset speaker, we made a great effort so we could get to the Copenhagen conference with parliamentary action on a series of key issues underway," said Khenin. "The process included a serious and thorough dialogue with professionals in various government ministries, and is supposed to wind down on Sunday, when four environmental laws dealing with key issues will come before the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. We hope that these laws will win the committee's support. That will be a significant statement on the part of the Israeli government and the Knesset that, beyond the arguments we have here, we also make an effort and demonstrate a genuine willingness to take action on a practical level."

Four bills

One of the bills - which the last Knesset passed in a preliminary reading - calls for decreasing energy consumption in public buildings, in part by using energy-efficient lightbulbs and requiring employees to turn off electrical equipment when it is not being used.

Another bill seeks to set national goals for generating electricity from renewable energy sources like the sun, wind and water, while a third requires the transportation minister to submit a plan within the year to improve public transit across the country.

A fourth bill offers incentives for regulations governing sustainable construction, and which incorporates energy conservation and a reduction in noise pollution.

At the conference in Denmark, representatives of 192 countries will seek a new agreement to curb emissions of greenhouse gases. The Israeli delegation will be attending the December 7-18 conference for four days, at the end of the summit.

Pines-Paz said the government had yet to take a clear stance on climate change.

"It's not clear to me, and that's what's most troubling, what the policy of the Israeli government is ahead of Copenhagen," he said. "As of today, the cabinet has not passed any resolutions on the matter, and a decision might be made only during the conference."

The cabinet does not have an unlimited amount of time to act, said Pines-Paz.

"The earth doesn't take into account the timetable of the Israeli government," he said, "or even that of the Copenhagen conference."