Israel’s Environmental Future? Not the Government’s Problem

Stav Shaffir
Stav Shaffir
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Demonstrators in Jerusalem protesting a lack of action on the climate crisis, January.
Stav Shaffir
Stav Shaffir

Ofer Malka, the director general of the Transportation Ministry, is angry at the Israelis. When journalist Ifat Glick asked him about the traffic jams, he replied that the problem was “Israelis don’t really go in for public transportation.” Later, following her expected question – how he gets around – he was forced to confess that he’s one of the Israelis who “doesn’t really go in for it.” Not surprising.

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu represented us at the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate convened by U.S. President Joe Biden. Issues included the plans for addressing global warming of Israel’s environmental protection and energy ministries.

Each ministry has stated a different objective for reducing greenhouse gases, and the two are apparently incapable of reaching a consensus or even speaking to each other. Although the answers sent to Biden’s conference are a welcome development in an area the government has neglected for years, they’re far from exciting. The goals for reducing emissions that the ministries don’t agree on are modest compared to those in other developed countries. But the main problem is the lack of innovation and hope.

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The climate crisis is a high priority for the United States after its return to the Paris climate accords. The Biden administration has canceled the Keystone oil pipeline permits and launched vigorous emissions-reduction efforts, while Europe has committed to lowering emissions to zero by 2050 and investing billions annually to address the crisis. But in Israel, the Startup Nation, the government still espouses outdated ideas about the greatest crisis of our generation.

The Energy Ministry report, for example, prides itself on natural gas as if it were a green and innovative energy source. And this year the government signed a semi-secret agreement with the United Arab Emirates for sending 30 million tons of oil annually from the Persian Gulf to Israel and Europe via the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline. One small leak and woe to the sea, the coral reefs (which are of global importance in tackling global warming), the soil and the desalination of water.

When it comes to public transportation, which the director general of the Transportation Ministry rarely uses, the government doesn’t dare posit objectives, one reason being fear of the political hot potato of public transportation on Shabbat, which is crucial for reducing the use of cars.

Moreover, public transportation contradicts the government’s ideology, which always prefers the private to the public. And so our leaders are quashing the possibility of dealing with the climate crisis.

The same is true of planning and construction – the government continues to delay green plans with the excuse of the housing crisis, which it claims mandates accelerated construction. In this way it’s contradicting itself. After all, without fast and efficient public transportation everywhere around the country, it’s impossible to build affordable housing that meets the public’s needs. The outlying areas will remain behind and the center will be forever stuck in traffic jams.

The government, in fact, is lagging far behind the private sector, which realized where things were going and has begun to develop green technologies. The government should be incentivizing companies and their exports to strengthen our economy and future.

It’s also hard to understand the thinking of a country that continues to invest in outdated models in energy and construction and incentivizes people to use their cars if it’s clear that in the future somebody will have to address the financial and environmental costs and rebuild everything from scratch.

So the government is saying to future generations: The future? Not our problem. You’ll be stuck with it.

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