State Watchdog: Israel Is Failing to Handle the Climate Crisis

Israel's State Comptroller deals harsh criticism on the government's apathy to its commitments that will lead to severe environmental and economic damage

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A congestion on the Ayalon freeway in Israel
A congestion on the Ayalon freeway in IsraelCredit: Moti Milrod
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

The state watchdog slammed Israel’s failure to reduce carbon emissions in a scathing report released Tuesday, warning that the country is at high risk from extreme weather events due to long-term inaction. 

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman noted that the progress of the dozens of government ministries and public bodies responsible for dealing with the crisis had ranged from “negative to none at all.”

The report states that even though Israel signed and ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1996, it took until 2016 for Israel to bring forth a national plan that includes targets for greenhouse gas emission. When it finally did so, Israel’s declared goals fell short “of the conservative recommendation” reached by the interministerial steering committee – setting a target of 7.7 tons of carbon dioxide per capita rather than 7.2 tons per capita.

Moreover, Israel set goals based on per capita greenhouse gas emissions, while developed countries set goals for absolute amounts. Setting a target on a per capita basis led to an absolute increase of 103 percent in emissions compared to 1990, due to population growth.

The targets of the other countries surveyed – Switzerland, the European Union, Canada, United States, Mexico and South Korea – were expected to lead to a decrease of 32-33 percent on average by 2030.

Israel ranks 10th on a list of the top 29 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries for per capita greenhouse gas emissions. 

The comptroller noted that steps that could have had tremendous economic benefits were not taken. He stated that even if the state were to take at this stage all reduction measures laid out in the national plan, they would only be partially implemented. He estimated that the late implementation of the goals would lead to a savings of 50 billion shekels ($15.6 billion) rather than $217 billion shekels.

Transportation Ministry: Use of private cars has increased

Englman found that various directives resulting from cabinet resolutions made in  2015 and 2016 were not implemented at all.

These include the expansion of public transportation, promoting energy efficiency measures in government ministries, and removing obstacles to the construction of renewable energy facilities.
Englman specified the failure of the Transportation Ministry under Yisrael Katz to meet its explicit targets of reducing private vehicle travel by 20 percent over the past decade. Instead, private vehicle use actually rose from 42 billion kilometers in 2015 to about 50 billion kilometers in 2019, said the comptroller.

The State Comptroller’s findings were further supported by the annual monitoring report of the Environmental Protection Ministry from May, which stated: “The government is not likely to meet its transportation sector goal of reducing private driving.” In addition, The Transportation Ministry did not prepare a detailed plan to reduce private car usage as is required according to cabinet resolution 1403 from 2016.

The report also found that significant parts of the plan to reduce greenhouse gases in the transportation sector, for which the transportation, environment and energy ministries were responsible, remained merely recommendations.

Under the present transportation minister too, Merav Michaeli, the ministry was found not to have yet formulated a detailed plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in order to integrate it into the ministry’s other strategic plans. Examples of recommendations that have not yet been adopted or budgeted for are: increasing investment in public transportation infrastructure, and in particular mass transit systems; closing streets to motor vehicles and creating infrastructure for encouraging walking and bicycling; and a national plan to encourage work, studying and shopping remotely.

The report states that as of 2020, electric vehicles accounted for just 0.05 percent of all vehicles in Israel, and actions to increase this percentage are still in the very preliminary stages. In addition, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the Energy Ministry postponed by five years, to 2035 from 2030, the target for banning imports of vehicles with internal combustion engines – even though it did not show that other countries acted similarly.

Conflicts between goals, a multiplicity of legislative and administrative power

Israel’s carbon reduction efforts have been complicated by a multiplicity of legislative and administrative powers, a conflict between the targets of government ministries, and a structural gap between responsibilities and authority, the report noted. Consequently, handling of the climate crisis faced a “structural difficulty in advancing the targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” the comptroller reported.

The comptroller’s report stated that even though the Environmental Protection Ministry’s recently formulated a strategy to move to a low carbon economy by 2050, “delays were found in formulating the goals, mostly in the area of energy because of the lack of agreement on the targets between the Energy Ministry and the Environmental Protection Ministry.”

Englman further criticized government ministries, saying: “[T]hey prioritize advancing their core ministerial responsibilities over reducing emissions, except for the Environmental Protection Ministry. The result is the pushing off of dealing with the climate crisis.”

He called on the government to make a shared effort to lead Israel to a low carbon economy, “and even zero carbon,” similar to many developed nations. He said it is not the sole responsibility of the Environmental Protection Ministry: “The effect of the move to a zero or low carbon economy are far-reaching for the electricity and transportation sectors, and for cities and the Israeli economy. This is a continuum of long-term reforms linked one to another – over at least 30 years – so they require optimal planning. The enlistment of numerous governmental bodies is necessary for the switch to a low carbon economy.”

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