One Thing Missing From Israel's Exhaustive Climate Change Report

The Israeli watchdog's conclusions are clear-cut: the government has met almost none of its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, by not placing blame on any individuals, it misses the elephant in the room

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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The Jerusalem Hills, after they were hit by a massive wildfire in August
The Jerusalem Hills, after they were hit by a massive wildfire in AugustCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

As for a Hollywood movie, the State Comptroller’s Office released a trailer ahead of its report on the climate change crisis. It’s a 40-second video that follows the rules of Marvel Studios: A dramatic soundtrack, fast-paced voice-over and frightening visuals. “The climate crisis is already here! Israel agreed [to targets]! Israel is committed! Israel signed on! But what have we actually done?” the narrator says.

It’s easy to make fun of the video’s pomposity, but climate change most certainly does justify the drama it contains, The report by State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman is an impressive document by every measure. Its 665 pages analyze in great detail and with impressive depth the causes of global climate change and its economic, security and social impact.

Netanyahu at the Leader's Climate Summit in April.Credit: חיים צח / לעמ

The report also describes in immense detail the way government bodies have failed so far in contending with the crisis. It’s rich in data, graphs and international comparisons. The claim that it is by far the most comprehensive government document to come out of Israel on the crisis isn’t an exaggeration.

Spoiler alert for those who have seen the video but haven’t read the report itself: Its conclusions are clear-cut: Israel failed, The government failed to meet almost all the targets it set for itself for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, even though the targets were significantly less ambitious than those of other countries. International comparisons in everything connected with climate change – per capita emissions, number of government vehicles, transition to renewable energy and more shows Israel very embarrassingly behind.

The Israeli government has failed to prepare for the new reality created by the crisis, which is bringing with it, among other things, more extreme weather, droughts, upheavals in financial markets and public health crises. The shortcomings in all these areas are explored in rich detail and accompanied by scathing critiques.

Yet despite its enormous scope, the report lacks some important words – the names of those responsible. Readers will discover that responsibility is divided between an amorphous body by the name of “Israel” and various apparatuses such as “the government,” “the Finance Ministry” and “the Transportation Ministry,” to name a few.

It appears that someone even avoided assigning indirect responsibility, by using titles like “prime minister,” “finance minister” and “transportation minister.” The term “prime minister,” for instance, appears in the report 48 times, but in 45 of those times it is as part of the “Prime Minister’s Office.” Of the three others, two are in footnotes referring to advice given to the prime minister. The third appears inside a response from the Energy Ministry: “In Israel, the solution [concentration of government efforts like in the United States] would only work [if] the prime minister leads the way.”

Installing solar panels at Beit Shearim.Credit: rami shllush

Over hundreds of pages, the state comptroller never deemed it appropriate even once to state that it’s the prime minister who carries the responsibility.

The chapter dealing with the failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions details targets the government set, such as for reducing the use of private cars and encouraging public transportation, energy efficiency and increasing the share of renewables in Israel’s energy mix. The government met none of the targets. Progress on achieving sector targets,” the report says, “ranges between lagging behind and zero.”

But who made those decisions? Who encouraged the use of private cars rather than public transportation? Who failed to remove the barriers to renewable energy? Who refused to approve the funding required to advance these agendas?

Readers who reach page 125 of the report will find a table that contains the responses of ministers to the questions that the comptroller raised regarding implementation of cabinet resolutions. In the column headed “Status” it’s written “Not implemented” in regard to nine out of 11 resolutions. Of the two others, it’s written “Partially implemented.”

Yisrael Katz, when he was transportation minister.Credit: Gil Eliahu

Citizens who want to know who were the ministers or officials responsible for the failure to implement decisions will have to do the work themselves, to go to Wikipedia, identify the names and add another column to the table, “Name of minister or responsible official.”

Creating a distance between responsibility and between decision-makers, senior officials and ministers has been the hallmark of the state comptroller’s reports during the Englman era. His predecessors acted differently. For example, in the special report on public transportation written by the previous state comptroller, Joseph Shapira, it was written in the introduction: “This situation lies at the door of the Transportation Ministry, which has been headed by Minister Yisrael Katz ... since March 2009.”

Yuval Steinetz, when he was energy minister in 2019.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Katz’s name was supposed to also appear in the current report on climate change. He was transportation minister for more than a decade and had no small part in creating the situation we have today, including the traffic jams, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from cars.

Katz has repeatedly expressed pride in the roads and highway interchanges that he built but ignored experts’ warnings that these expensive projects would only encourage the use of private vehicles and make the congestion on the country’s roads even worse. When he was asked directly about this, Katz answered: “Ignore the laughable theory that roads bring traffic jams.” The theory may be laughable but the reality is sad.

Another figure who is responsible is Yuval Steinitz, who was energy minister from 2015-21 and finance minister before that. Steinitz has portrayed himself as the hero of Israeli natural gas and to his credit that Israel was able to reduce emissions by burning less coal to generate electricity.

Zev Elkin and Gila Gamliel at the changing of the ministers' ceremony at the Environmental Protection Ministry, last year.Credit: רפי קוץ / לעמ

But anyone studying the comptroller’s report will see that the energy minister and his ministry failed to oversee a transition to renewable energy. The ministry didn’t even meet its modest target for 2020 for 10 percent of all electricity to be generated by renewables. It was an embarrassing 6 percent.

Further responsibility falls on the finance ministers of the governments led by Benjamin Netanyahu: Katz, Moshe Kahlon, Yair Lapid and Steinitz. The Finance Ministry, according to the State Comptroller’s Office, was the main obstacle to funding programs to reduce emissions and adapt Israel to the era of climate change.

Even the ministers of environmental protection – Avi Gabbay, Zeev Elkin and Gila Gamliel – must accept part of the blame. Their ministry may not have much of a budget, but it failed in managing waste, which is a major contributor to greenhouse gases. They failed to make the case to the prime minister or the cabinet about the seriousness of the climate threat.

The list goes on – defense ministers, the directors general of the finance, housing, transportation and energy ministries, the head of the planning authority and the Israel Lands Authority, the Electric Authority staff, members of the Knesset Finance Committee and Knesset members generally.

But above them all, one figure stands out, who bears the burden of the disgraceful failure of Israel’s governments in preparing the country for the greatest crisis in its history. Only one person served as prime minister for 12 years. The name Benjamin Netanyahu, in case you’re wondering, does not appear in the report even once.

Fire near Jerusalem, two years ago
The Jerusalem Hills, after they were hit by a massive wildfire in August
Hadera power plant
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Fire near Jerusalem, two years ago
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The Jerusalem Hills, after they were hit by a massive wildfire in AugustCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg
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Hadera power plant

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