Israel's cabinet unanimously approved an ambitious plan on Sunday to cut greenhouse emissions by 85 percent by 2050, but many important clauses fell by the wayside due to heavy pressure by the Energy Ministry and the budgets department of the Finance Ministry.
Left out of the plan, for example, are goals for generating electricity from renewable sources and a requirement for net-zero-energy building constructions. Required reporting of the costs of burning polluting fuels was also eliminated, along with a requirement for the state to examine every new infrastructure project also by its environmental impact.
Two particularly important goals – requiring Israel to produce 40 percent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2030, and 95 percent by 2050 – were removed. As a result, Israel will not commit to a specific goal for producing electricity from renewable energy. Instead, it was decided that Energy Minister Karin Elharar will establish an interministerial committee to study the subject and to decide on goals within 12 months of the cabinet’s approval of the plan.
Haaretz has learned that just before the cabinet voted on the plan, the provision requiring that government ministries set goals for energy-neutral construction for "all types of structures" within a year was changed under Finance Ministry pressure to simply state "structures."
The plan will see Israel gradually transition to a low-carbon economy, including an obligation to reduce 27 percent of its greenhouse emissions by 2030 before the 2050 target of 85 percent, with a base year of 2015. Nevertheless, these goals are considered significant compared to the steps Israel has taken so far to address the climate crisis.
Israel was obligated to declare its reduction goals by 2020 under the Paris Climate Accords, but failed to do so due to opposition from various government ministries, in particular the finance and energy Ministries, to many of the plan’s provisions.
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The UN Climate Change Secretariat had informed Israel that if it did not submit its goals by the end of the month, it would find itself excluded from the international report to be presented in the United Nations in November. Senior Israeli officials have told Haaretz that this would be a major diplomatic embarrassment, with Israel and Turkey alone among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development member states failing to produce their goals so far.
According to the Paris Accord, signed in December 2015 at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Israeli government set a national goal to reduce greenhouse gas reductions. However, that goal was defined only in terms of emissions per capita, so in practice, the absolute rate of emissions has only grown in recent years, due to population growth. Israel will now update its goal to reflect an absolute reduction rate, in line with most countries. Although this is a significant and precedent-setting decision for Israel, the goals that it has now set are low compared to most countries in the West. For example, the United States has committed to a reduction of 50 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050. The European Union Commission has also set a goal of at least 55 percent reduction by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050.
Foreign sources and environmental groups that spoke with Haaretz expressed anger at the low thresholds Israel is committing to. The Environmental Protection Ministry is aware of the criticism, but believes that this is a sufficient goal in light of Israel’s inaction so far. In a statement issued last week, government ministries affirmed that “Israel recognizes the importance of reaching the goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, in keeping with the Paris Accords and its other international obligations, and that the cabinet will occasionally reexamine the goals it has set itself in this resolution.”
Furthermore, the statement said: “This joint resolution is the first time that an outline has been offered to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and a national strategy has been formulated for the transition to a clean, efficient, and competitive economy. By so doing, Israel takes its place alongside other developed countries in the global fight against climate change.”
Prior to Sunday's cabinet vote, Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg, who is leading the plan, said her ministry was seeking to approve the plan “with the widest possible agreement and submit to the UN goals that are backed by a plan to which the entire Israeli government is obligated."
"We are in negotiations at this time as well with the government ministries, and indeed we will have to compromise – but not on the elements required for a decision that will truly bring us to a low-carbon economy," she said at the time. "This step is part of the effort to responsibly lead to the basic change required in the Israeli economy. The wording of the agreement now in process indeed meets these principles, which we will not give up on no matter what the price.”
In an earlier statement, the Energy Ministry said: “Based on the resolution, the energy minister will set a long-term renewable [energy] goal, after she thoroughly studies the subject in all its ramifications, together with a team that will include the relevant government ministries. Among other things, the required balance will be expressed in issues on the ground. There is not nor will there be disagreement between the energy and environmental protection ministries regarding the goals of emission reduction by 2050, either in the realm of electricity or the economic goals.”