Tiny Israel Meeting Emission Caps Can't Save World, but Could Israeli Innovation?

China and other heavy polluters have infinitely greater global warming impact – the planet's future depends on breakthrough technologies, and when it comes to brains, size doesn't matter.

Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
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Power plant emitting pollution in Ashdod.
Power plant emitting pollution in Ashdod.Credit: Baz Ratner
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

Climate change has begun, but what can tiny Israel do about it? It too has goals, including to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 30% by the year 2030. But Israel's contribution to the planet won't lie in meeting those goals, a national economic adviser said baldly at a joint Israeli-German environmental conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday.

"Israel can't lower world temperatures. We could stop breathing tomorrow morning and it wouldn't help," said Eugene Kandel, chairman of the National Economic Council and economic adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sizewise, Israel and its emissions are simply too small to matter. But there's one area in which Israel's size doesn't matter, Kandel said: thinking and initiating.

"If we find good solutions, imagine what we could do in China," Kandel said. "How many power stations would they be spared building? Israel's emissions aren't important; we won't change warming; but if we change China's consumption of energy, we can make a difference."

Somebody ought to. The best-case scenario for the year 2100 is an increase of "only" 2 degrees in the global mean temperature, and it seems to be increasingly unattainable. "We are beginning to get a little concerned that the 2-degree target might just be achievable if we work very hard," OECD representative Simon Buckle warned. "Even now we already have places with 1-2 degree change. One to two degrees already commits us to melting ice sheets, some people think, and some [effects] could happen on very short time scales," Buckle said. "The recipe for 2 degrees is to reduce emissions by 40-70% by 2050. It's a big challenge."

Walking by a coal-powered steel plant in Tianjin, China: Considering volumes, the only real impact Israel could have is through innovation. Credit: AP

By the way, the worst-case scenario – accepted by the United Nations - is that man continues to belch out greenhouse gases at the present rate, which by the year 2100 will raise summer temperatures in the Middle East by 11 degrees Celsius. Going outside during the day will be fatal.

See sun, feel wind, ignoring both

Meanwhile, Israel seems not to be planning to save the planet through its adoption of renewable energy technologies. Israel's spanking-new environment minister Avi Gabbay kicked off the conference by bemoaning Israel's record on use of renewable energy – "It's terrible. We have the sun and the wind but we hardly make use of them."

Presently Israel is emitting about 10.5 tons of CO2 per capita a year, and if anything, Israel seems to be going backwards, the minister explained – its forecast for 2030 is 10.9 tons per capita, while the European Union target for 2030 is 6.5 tons. Perhaps wryly, the minister added, "That means we have more potential to improve."

Improve? To halt the trajectory of global warming, the world has to stop using fossil fuels. Most of the suggestions being bandied about, such as cars that run on natural gas, are merely interim "solutions".

And the need for decarbonization is urgent. Change is already happening. "Of the 15 warmest years on record – 14 were in this century," pointed out Barbara Hendricks, Germany's minister of Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety.

Israeli, German environment ministers at Tuesday 'Sustainability' meet in Tel Aviv. From left: Avi Gabbay and Brenda Hendricks (Photo: Aviad Weizmann)

Decarbonize now!

Reaching that 2-degree target by 2010 requires the planet reducing its use of carbon to almost zero, she spelled out. "Climate change card is largely a problem about CO2... yet if anything, the rate of its increase in the atmosphere has been accelerating," Hendricks warned.

The goals to be formalized at the global climate change conference in Paris this December will be interim ones, for 2030. But it's a start, she said.

"The goal of 6.5 tons of emissions per capita is also an interim goal. We want to reach decarbonization by the end of the century," Hendricks said. "We in Germany decided to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80%-95% by the year 2050, versus 1990. The EU also adopted the same target for 2050. By the year 2070, the industrial nations need to decarbonize entirely. We have the technological possibilities and the capital– and we industrialized nations should lead this effort. We contaminated the planet."

In other words, saving the planet and preserving its climate within comfortable ranges depends on man shifting en masse to technologies that don't exist yet, while meanwhile doing the utmost to curb emissions, such as by using natural gas.

Of course, one problem with converting Israeli industry to natural gas is Israel's impossible red tape, Gabbay said.

"Gas can't melt bureaucracy," the minister growled. "Why does the Oil Refineries [a giant plant in Haifa Bay] have access to gas, while plants 100 meters away can't get any? Because to lay a gas pipeline, you need a building permit from the regional building council." Which as any Israeli will tell you, can take years, even if the neighbors don't raise objections.

But Gabbay vows to beat the beast. "We have gas, sun, intelligence, and a flexible business sector, which can enable us to meet the goals we set," the minister said. "The potential lies in energy efficiency and renewable energy. But we have too much bureaucracy at all the ministries and government bodies. That bureaucracy makes it hard to achieve goals. I think we can definitely handle that."

Smog-bound in Chile: Isolated solutions by isolated countries will achieve nothing. Great ideas adopted by all might help. (Photo: AP)

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