Editorial

Get Over the Natural Gas Obsession

An aerial view shows the foundation platform of Leviathan natural gas field, in the Mediterranean Sea, off the coast of Haifa, Israel January 31, 2019.
POOL New/ REUTERS

Since 1950, the average temperature in Israel has risen by 1.4 degrees Celsius – and by 2050 it is expected to rise by another 0.9 degrees. This is what the Israel Meteorological Service published in a report on Tuesday that analyzed climate change in Israel. The report also noted that warm nights are becoming more frequent. The implications of this warming are a drop in the quality of life for people and animals, environmental damage and a rise in energy use, namely through increased use of air conditioners.

This week the UN Climate Conference opened in Madrid, and representatives from some 200 countries came with plans for action. Ahead of the summit, Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz announced that by 2030 Israel will raise the percentage of electricity production from renewable energy from 17 percent to 30 percent.

It sounds good on paper – the Energy Ministry is working in the right direction and has set a realistic goal – but in practice this is just lip service. The target is too low and has been set too late. Israel should have reached this target, and even beyond that, years ago.

Steinitz’s announcement is even more outrageous when you learn that at the same time the Energy Ministry is continuing to issue licenses to search for natural gas and oil fields, and allows the operation of power plants fueled by natural gas – an energy source whose production has been proven to be polluting. It also turns out that the Tamar offshore production platform has emitted 30 times the quantity of pollutants that was forecast by its rich operators before it went into operation.

What is also outrageous on this issue is that more than 100 Israeli scientists, including two Nobel Prize winners, professors Robert Aumann and Dan Shechtman, have warned Steinitz that the targets he set are too low and that the problem is the natural gas obsession of the cabinet members and the Israel Electric Corporation. In the letter the scientists sent to Steinitz, they noted that renewable energy is cheaper than any other form of energy – even natural gas – and it does not pollute and does not accelerate global warming. Even the price of storing energy – which in the past could have been cited as a barrier by those who wanted to block renewable energy – has fallen to a great extent and cannot serve as an excuse.

If Israel strives for life, it must wean itself off its obsession with natural gas, which causes pollution and warming, and gradually march toward the future of renewable energy. Beyond the advantages of energy efficiency and environmental sustainability, this energy can be used on regional networks, and even private ones, which are not centralized. Such a step, even if it is done gradually and takes some time, is clearly called for in these critical times. It will improve the state of the environment and Israel’s economy.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.