In recent months the Environmental Protection Ministry has warned a number of times of the impact of climate change on Israel. It has emphasized that Israel must do its part in the international commitment to reduce greenhouse gases, ahead of an important international conference on the issue next year in Denmark.
Israel, however, has not shown impressive achievements. On the initiative of the French Embassy, a conference was held last week in Tel Aviv on the implications of climate change for Israel and the region. The representatives of France and the European Union countries, the nations Israel would like to resemble in terms of environmental policies and other areas, explained how during the next two decades their countries intend to meet an ambitious goal of cutting greenhouse gases from current levels.
Israel, in contrast, has no plans to reduce greenhouse gases. The best it can do - according to the Environmental Protection Ministry - is to reduce the growth rate of such gases in the coming decades. Expected growth according to a business-as-usual scenario (without taking action to reduce gases) is 63 percent in two decades. After various steps such as transfering to natural gas to generate electricity, or preventing the relase into the atmosphere of methane from garbage dumps, the growth rate will be reduced by two-thirds.
At the conference, a senior ministry official explained the constraints, among them the meager areas available to build renewable energy facilities, and Israel's inability to depend on nuclear energy as the French government does. For example, solar energy facilities that would produce a significant amount of clean electricity would take up a good deal of space.
Environmental Protection Minister Gideon Ezra revealed some Israeli chutzpah at the conference, and not in a good way. He proposed working to increase the Palestinians' awareness of the need to reduce greenhouse gases. We really should have a word about this with the Palestinians in Gaza, whose electricity consumption threatens to drown the world in greenhouse gases.
Israel does indeed face many obstacles on the way to achieving far-reaching goals of reducing greenhouse gases, and it must be said that its impact on global warming is minuscule. We cannot fill the Negev, for example, with solar facilities or plant forests of greenhouse-gas absorbers because that would leave little left of the Negev, the last area in the country with significant open space.
And yet, despite these difficulties, Israel must present an approach based on extensive changes in planning in energy, transportation and water. Streamlining energy consumption in buildings, reducing demand for electricity and household water, and increasing the use of public transportation are only some of the excellent changes that could further decrease greenhouse gas emissions.
Of course, population growth must also be mentioned, which Israel is encouraging in every way possible with no consideration for its impact on the country's meager resources. A democratic country does not dictate its people's rate of reproduction, but it can change the trend by family planning, raising the level of education and bringing women into the workforce.
The need to reduce greenhouse gases is not the only justification for an overall policy change in all the areas above; the release of such gases reflects an economy and society not making efficient and economical use of natural resources. Better use is good not only because it helps Israel get accepted to bodies like the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. It is essential in a country that has a dense population in an arid zone, but the lifestyle and consumer culture of countries much richer and more developed. Instead of defending itself and arguing that the reduction of greenhouse gases is a difficult goal to achieve, the Environmental Protection Ministry should sell the Finance Ministry a strategy that presents this reduction as streamlining, and therefore economically worthwhile.
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