The signing of the international climate change accord in Paris on Saturday has created a new situation for Israel, which will force it to reexamine its energy policy.
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Until now, Israel has been included as a developing country under the framework of the climate change agreements, and as a result was exempt from the requirement of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Now Israel will be required to make such reductions as part of the new agreement signed in Paris.
The accord sets a sweeping long-term goal of eliminating net man-made greenhouse gas emissions this century. It also creates a system to encourage nations to make good on voluntary domestic efforts to curb emissions and provides billions more dollars to help poor nations cope with the transition to a greener economy.
While leaving each country to pursue those measures on its own, the fact that the world has signed on to a common vision and course of action - including a commitment to regularly review and step up their efforts - marks a breakthrough after years of bickering over how to move forward.
The Israeli government presented a target at the Paris talks of reducing the country's growth in greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2030. This will be achieved partly by switching to generating up to 17 percent of Israel's electricity using renewable energy by then - but Israel is far from this target today.
The plan for implementing this policy and emissions targets has not yet been approved by the government. The Environmental Protection Ministry wants to include reductions in the use of coal as part of this plan, while National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Ministry objects, and has proposed its own plan which focuses on energy efficiency. So far the dispute between the two ministries has held up implementation of any plan to reduce emissions.
Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay emphasized throughout the conference that the greenhouse emissions reduction plan is a technological and economic opportunity for Israel. It could help in reducing industrial pollution, direct budgets to developing public transportation and advancing cleantech industries, in which Israel is considered a world leader. Energy efficiency would also save Israel a great deal of money, and taken all together the lowered pollution levels from all these steps would significantly reduce health costs related to pollution, he said.
The Green Course environmental organization, which sent a member as part of the Israeli delegation to the Paris talks, criticized the government's policies on Saturday, saying it is not acting to implement its decisions. "Israel is one of the leading nations in the world in the cleantech industry, but in Israel the percentage use of renewable energy is only 2 percent," said the organization. "It is not clear why Israel does not use its economic power to change policies at home."
MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), who was one of the Knesset's representatives to the Paris conference, said the dispute between the Israeli ministries threatens the government's commitments. "Work was done on the government plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions that included 100 professionals," she said. "Instead of it being translated into a cabinet decision and working plan with a budget, it was thrown into the garbage."
Greenpeace Israel said that the new accord "does not give answer to the nations and the public facing the brunt of the changing climate, since the commitment made by the nations that brought about the existential threat isn't enough. The agreement alone doesn't get us out of the hole, but is without a doubt a critical improvement in positions."
Reuters contributed to this report.