Israel in Violation of Paris Climate Agreement, Risks 'Global Embarrassment'

Signatories to the climate change pact were supposed to submit greenhouse gas emission reduction targets by end of last year, but Israel has yet to do so. It now has a week left

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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The Tel Aviv skyline, in February.
The Tel Aviv skyline, in February.Credit: David Bachar
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

Israel is in violation of its international obligations under the Paris climate accord and must present within a week new national targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

If Israel doesn’t act, it will suffer “unprecedented international embarrassment,” one senior official said. “The consequences will be severe international pressure, damage to our international image, and consequences for the way the Biden government and the European Union cooperate with us.”

All the signatories to the 2015 pact were supposed to submit updated targets as well as a strategic plan for becoming a “low-carbon economy” by the end of last year. A few countries have extended the deadline, but Israel and Turkey are the only ones belonging to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that have yet to submit plans.

Over the last several months, the European Union, the United States and the British government – which is hosting the next UN climate conference in November – have asked Israeli government officials about the delay in submitting plans.

The UN Convention Secretariat has told Israel that if it doesn’t present its new targets by the end of July, Israel will not be included in the report being prepared for the next conference. Senior Israeli sources said this would be a major diplomatic embarrassment both for the country and for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who is expected to attend the conference.

The Environmental Protection Ministry has been trying since last October to bring a proposal to the cabinet for approval. Such a so-called decision-making proposal requires the backing of all the ministries before it goes to the cabinet for a vote. If approved, it becomes binding and is forwarded to the convention secretariat of the United Nations.

However, no plan has been approved due to continuing differences of opinion among the ministries. Sources involved in the process said most of the objections were coming from the energy and finance ministries.

In response, the Energy Ministry said that “together with other ministries, [it] is working on formulating an ambitious and professional decision-making proposal suitable for the Israeli economy that will place Israel on a par with most countries in the world.”

The treasury said that it “supports a low-carbon economy and will align itself with the countries of the OECD the day that it goes into effect.”

The Environmental Protection Ministry’s proposal includes a series of targets and measures to achieve them, aimed at making Israel more of a low-carbon economy than targeted in its original 2016 plan.

The proposal, which has been revised at least six times due to objections from other ministries, contains relatively modest goals by international standards – a reduction in greenhouse emissions by 27 percent by 2030 and by 85 percent by 2050, relative to 2015 levels. By comparison, the United States has committed to reductions of 50 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.

Sources involved in the process said that with the formation of the new government last month, they had expected that an agreement on the proposal would be reached quickly, among other things because Energy Minister Karine Elharrar and Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman are committed to the fight against climate change.

“Israel must present targets in line with developed countries and define the principal measures it will undertake to realize the plan,” said Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg. “Therefore, the electricity sector, renewable energies, the transition to zero-emission transportation and carbon pricing must all be taken into consideration.

“We are working with our partners and heading toward an agreement with all the relevant parties to ensure that Israel meets international expectations while ensuring it maintains a competitive and prosperous economy,” she said.

“We’re doing everything we can so that the government of Israel meets the timetable set by the United Nations,” said Zandberg. “The proposal will move Israel a step higher in the war against the [climate] crisis and bring us closer to the world’s most ambitious targets.”

Gideon Bachar, the Foreign Ministry’s special ambassador for climate change and sustainability, said in response to a query by Haaretz: “Emerging international norms are to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. That’s the target that has been set by the G-7 countries – Japan, South Korea and, in fact, most of the countries of the world. It’s important that Israel also adopts a similar target and is aligned with this global trend.”

Yoni Sapir, chairman of the environmental nonprofit Homeland Guards, who has been following the efforts by the government to agree on a plan, said that “Israel is embarrassing itself internationally and endangering itself vis-a-vis world trade because of its failure to meet the terms of the Paris Agreement that it signed and is now violating.

“It’s a shame that it has required so many months of deliberations and correspondence on an issue that is so critical to human life,” he added.

Sapir said that he was disappointed by the targets that are now under discussion.

“Israel must strive for a carbon-neutral economy, as most countries in the world are, and not be content with a transition to a low-carbon economy, especially after what we’ve seen happening all over the world and the growing recognition that our region will suffer more than others from climate change. We need to show that we’re doing our part.”

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