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Ahead of UN deadline, 40 groups urge Israel to adopt stiffer climate goals

Environmental, civil society organizations demand bolder moves from government to cut greenhouse gas emissions, as environment and energy ministries fight over targets

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Illustrative: A firefighter is silhouetted against a fire burning outside the village of Roqueiro, near Oleiros, Portugal, September 14, 2020 (AP Photo/Sergio Azenha, File)
Illustrative: A firefighter is silhouetted against a fire burning outside the village of Roqueiro, near Oleiros, Portugal, September 14, 2020 (AP Photo/Sergio Azenha, File)

More than 40 environmental and civil society organizations belonging to the Clean Energy Forum appealed Monday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and various ministers to substantially increase Israel’s targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions before the UN Climate Change Convention deadline of December 31.

The Paris agreement of 2015 aims to cap global warming at well under 2° C (3.6° F), and ideally no more than 1.5° C (2.7° F), by the end of the century.

The 189 countries — including Israel — that are party to the Paris agreement are required to submit their updated targets to the United Nations by the end of the year.

In a letter to the prime minister and other ministers, the 40 signatories point out that 2020 has not only seen COVID-19 and an economic crisis but intense upheaval in the planet’s climate — record-breaking heat, unprecedented fires, substantial melting of polar ice and higher-than-ever average temperatures — and, in the Middle East, heatwaves and unprecedented flooding, all adding up to a “promo for what is expected to happen” in the near future.

Israeli firefighters sit in a rescue boat as they search for People at a parking lot that was flooded following heavy rainfall in Ness Ziona, November 21, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

It added: “The climate crisis that befalls us is an existential issue, no less,” and “a strategic threat to the resilience of the State of Israel.”

Specifically, the letter proposes 20 policy measures, including commitments to 100% renewable energy and net-zero emissions by 2050, the passing of a Climate Law, and the creation of a cross-ministerial climate cabinet which would oversee a properly funded and broad-based climate administration.

Other proposals call for the imposition of a carbon tax and immediate cessation of oil and gas exploration and drilling, as well as any other new fossil fuel projects, including the construction of new gas-fired power plants, gas and oil pipelines or oil shale initiatives.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, left, visit the Leviathan natural gas platform off the Israeli coast, on January 31, 2019. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

“There is a solution to the growing climate crisis and there is also a broad international consensus around it. First and foremost, the use of oil, gas and coal must be stopped and the transition to renewable energy must be accelerated,” said Yonatan Aikhenbaum, Director of Greenpeace Israel in a statement.

He added, “The government must stop the false pretense of promoting renewable energy and support for polluting energies, and courageously adopt a plan to move to a low-carbon economy that will benefit society and the Israeli economy and open up tremendous opportunities for Israeli start-ups.”

With just two days to go, the Environment and Energy ministries are still arguing over the targets.

Earlier this month, the Environment Ministry rolled out its proposals for upgrading Israel’s climate goals. These specify a greenhouse gas reduction of at least 27 percent by 2030, as compared to 2015. It lays out two long-term national goals for 2050: a reduction of at least 85% in Israel’s greenhouse gas emissions compared to 2015 and generation of 95% of electricity from renewable sources.

This, said Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel, will put Israel on a par with developed nations such as Germany, Britain, France, Japan and China.

The Energy Ministry’s goals are more conservative, with Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz a staunch supporter of using and continuing to extract natural gas, and even oil, from the large reserves discovered and still being explored off Israel’s Mediterranean coast.

According to a plan released earlier this month, the Energy Minister aims to cut emissions from all facilities under its control, including those for electricity production, by 80% by 2050, compared with a baseline of emissions from 2015.

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