Amid climate bill gridlock, 1st cabinet meetings held on dangers of rising sea levels

Environmental Protection Ministry initiating plan to deal with potential damage to coastal cities despite Energy Ministry’s resistance to emissions bill

A Tel Aviv's municipality worker cleans the beach from plastic waste, in Tel Aviv, January 9, 2023. (Oded Balilty/AP)
A Tel Aviv's municipality worker cleans the beach from plastic waste, in Tel Aviv, January 9, 2023. (Oded Balilty/AP)

The Environmental Protection Ministry held its first meetings this week on preparations for the expected effects of climate change in Israel, according to a Sunday report.

The ministry is primarily concerned with how the expected 1.86-meter (6.1-foot) rise in sea levels by the end of the century will affect the country’s coastal cities, the Maariv news site said.

At the beginning of the meetings with the Inter-ministerial Administration for Climate Change Adaptation, Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman reportedly said that “the administration is moving to the operational phase that will include preparation for concrete forecasts regarding climate change.”

Different climate scenarios and their consequences were presented during the meetings, the report said. The implications of each scenario will be examined by relevant parties over the upcoming month, after which a recommendation will be made that will guide government policy for the next two years.

The meetings coincide with Silman’s struggles to receive support for her climate bill from the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, which shepherds coalition-sponsored bills through their Knesset readings. The committee met on Monday following a debate on the bill that was delayed last week.

The bill would require greenhouse gas emissions to be halved by 2030, compared with a 2015 baseline. That target, which formed part of the government’s coalition agreements, far exceeds the 27-percent emissions reduction goal included in a climate bill that passed its first reading under the previous government.

Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman attends a conference in Haifa, Israel, on March 21, 2023. (Shir Torem/Flash90)

The Energy Ministry is demanding that global warming emissions reduction targets be left flexible and that its director-general head a special committee on such reductions. Environmental advocates have long insisted that a climate law set mandatory emissions reduction targets.

In a position paper submitted late last month, the Energy Ministry repeated arguments made many times in the past, claiming that ambitious targets would be costly — since in the absence of government subsidies, solar installation costs are passed onto the consumer — and that the continuity of power could be threatened because the sun, Israel’s main source of renewable energy, doesn’t shine at night when power is needed as well.

The Energy Ministry estimated that a 50% cut in emissions would require the provision of 58,000 megawatts of solar power, compared with the 5,000 megawatts available today, plus 280 gigawatts of stored energy — to provide electricity at night and on cloudy days. Currently, only three megawatts of storage are available.

In recent years, the Energy Ministry has focused on exploiting as much of Israel’s natural gas reserves as possible before this fossil fuel goes out of fashion.

Energy Minister Israel Katz arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on May 7, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

It has consistently failed to meet its own targets for renewable energy. These were to generate 10% of energy from renewable sources by 2020 — a figure the ministry barely scraped by the end of last year — with the goal being to reach 30% by 2030.

A UN panel of scientists recently said that the world must slash 60% of greenhouse gases by 2035, relative to a 2019 baseline, to keep temperatures from rising beyond the 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) maximum increase agreed to in 2015 by countries in Paris.

“The pace and scale of what has been done so far, and current plans, are insufficient to tackle climate change,” the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in its Sixth Assessment Synthesis Report, the final document of the Panel’s Sixth Assessment.

The world has already warmed by 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) since humanity started burning fossil fuels on an industrial scale during the 19th century.

In Israel, temperatures rose by around 1.4 degrees Celsius between 1950 and 2017, with most of the increases happening over the past 30 years, according to Prof. Yoav Yair, dean of the School of Sustainability at Reichman University in Herzliya.

Sue Surkes contributed to this report.

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