For a Thriftier, More Efficient Society

The only way for Israel to persuade the international community that it is committed to the fight against global warming is to change its use of resources.

In a last-minute rush, Israel is planning for the United Nations Climate Change Conference next month in Copenhagen, where efforts will be made to hammer out a new agreement to combat global warming. Tomorrow, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan will present the findings of the international consultancy firm Mckinsey & Company, which the ministry says has "mapped the potential for reducing greenhouse gases and the resulting costs to the economy." Maybe these findings will persuade the government to present a clear and binding program in the short time until the Copenhagen conference.

You don't have to wait with bated breath for the survey's results to know that Israel is in bad shape when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. If the Israeli economy maintains its current trend of production and consumption, it will significantly increase its emissions of greenhouse gas as other countries with a similar living standard are expected to reduce emissions, according to the agreement likely to be presented in Copenhagen.

Israel has a limited ability to produce significant amounts of alternative energy. A nuclear power station does not emit greenhouse gases, and it was proposed that one be built the last time the Environmental Protection Ministry studied the issue. But geopolitical sensitivity to the establishing of a nuclear reactor and public concern over pollution and accidents will make it very difficult to put that idea into action.

The great hope of expanding renewable energy in Israel is solar energy. But to create energy from the heat of the sun in significant quantities, plenty of space is needed. According to a paper by the Agriculture Ministry, even though the Negev seems to have endless space, "the possibility of establishing a solar power station there is limited." The ministry also said that "although Israel enjoys many days of sun and abundant sunshine, current technology to produce this energy requires a major use of land resources, which are lacking. This limits the ability to take advantage of [the energy]."

If there are no dramatic breakthroughs such as an efficient way to collect carbon from smokestacks and store it in the ground, or to develop alternatives to oil, Israel will continue to emit lots of greenhouse gas. The international community may not react to Israel's ignoring the issue; it hasn't so far. However, if global warming worsens, Israel might encounter economic and political pressure and a risk to its exports because of competition with countries that have met their obligations. Or we might have a hard time signing trade agreements.

The only way for Israel to persuade the international community that it is committed to the fight against global warming, even though it is not significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions, is to change its use of resources. Israeli society will thus have to foster energy-saving construction, use more efficient lighting and promote dense construction based on mass transit systems instead of gas-guzzling cars that emit more greenhouse gases. Israel will have to impose a tax on carbon emissions, offer incentives for recycling waste and do away with incentives that encourage higher birthrates and population increase.

As MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) has correctly pointed out, Israel must use the fight against global warming to become a more thrifty, efficient and cleaner society. Then it can persuade other countries that, within the confines of its limited area and natural resources, it is working to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that threaten the world.