Israeli Cabinet's Plan on the Reduction of Greenhouse Gases Is Not Enough

The plan is an improvement over prior drafts, but it lacks major provisions, such as targets on electricity production from renewable sources and appropriate economic incentives

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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The Hadera electricity power plant south of Haifa.
The Hadera electricity power plant south of Haifa.Credit: Rami Shllush
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

The plan approved by the cabinet on Sunday to shift Israel to a low-carbon economy is an improvement over what had been proposed in the past, particularly around the time of the signing of the 2015 Paris climate accord. But the final plan that was approved is disappointing in view of what it will take to reach the important targets.

The sense of disappointment is that much greater considering the fact that, what the cabinet received to vote on excludes major steps that were removed due to pressure, mainly from the Finance Ministry's budget division.

Israel has already failed to achieve goals such as the 2020 target regarding electricity produced from renewable sources. That had made it particularly important that the plan include as many measures as possible to encourage the transition to a low-carbon economy.

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The plan no longer calls for the production of 95 percent of Israel’s electricity from renewable sources by 2050. Such a goal would have given the Israeli economy direction when it comes to long-term planning, affecting, for example, the pace of construction of electricity production infrastructure such as power plants.

As a practical matter, Israel is remaining with the goal of producing 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by the end of the current decade. It's unclear, however, what will enable the country to achieve a further reduction in greenhouse gas emissions beyond 2030. If, for example, electric cars in the country get their electricity from power plants powered by natural gas, rather than renewable energy sources, it would reduce the contribution made by electric vehicles in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The Ashalim solar electricity plant in the Negev.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The plan also does not include a 2030 target for zero-energy buildings – which would produce sufficient energy from renewable sources to meet or nearly meet their own energy consumption needs, through the use of solar panels, for example. Such a goal would permit a reduction in electricity consumption in cities and curb the need for new power plants.

Another target that did not find its way into the proposal is the promotion of energy efficiencies by 2025. That could have created economic incentives to save energy, in connection with electricity used for heating and cooling, for example. The Energy Ministry has itself reminded us that energy that is not consumed contributes the most to a low-carbon economy. The cabinet plan does in fact set such a goal for the end of the decade, but it would have been appropriate to impose now and is urgently needed.

Economic mechanisms for reducing greenhouse gases that had been included in previous proposals have fallen by the wayside. Among them is carbon pricing, which sets a price on a ton of carbon emissions produced by a factory, thereby making emitting carbon more expensive and economically unfeasible. Also not included is the cost of treating the refuse generated by factories, including its environmental impact. That would have encouraged recycling or burning refuse to produce energy.

In the absence of such a provision, it's difficult to see how the plan's target of cutting refuse production by 71 from 2018 levels by the end of the decade can be achieved, particularly considering the government's failure so far to achieve existing recycling and landfill-reduction targets. At present, fully four-fifths of the garbage generated in Israel ends up in landfills, so this is a particularly challenging task.

The Efeh landfill in the south. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The omissions from previous drafts of the plan have far-reaching consequences. That's not only true in the context of the global climate crisis but also when it comes to environmental challenges facing the country within its own borders. That's not only a result of the climate crisis but all of the other environmental challenges facing Israel. Clean transportation and advanced methods of dealing with refuse are essential to improving the quality of life in a crowded country such as Israel, where most of the population lives in urban areas.

Efficiency measures and energy saving encourage innovation and make a significant contribution to the economy. A transition to a low-carbon economy would also help Israel integrate better into the global economy, which is due to be shifting towards a low-carbon orientation itself. The transition needs to be reflected in technological developments and trade agreements, to include provisions such as carbon pricing.

If the world doesn't manage to move forward in that direction, which is certainly possible, we’re all in big trouble. But if it does succeed, it would behoove Israel to jump on the bandwagon as quickly as possible.

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