Green groups pan hollow promises, call for real action

At Biden’s Climate Summit, PM pledges to move Israel to renewable energy by 2050

In address to online confab, Netanyahu promises to wean Israel off fossil fuels, give ‘billions of dollars’ to Israeli startups working in sustainability

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

View of Haifa's oil refineries and other industrial areas, on May 5, 2017. (Yaniv Nadav/Flash90/File)
View of Haifa's oil refineries and other industrial areas, on May 5, 2017. (Yaniv Nadav/Flash90/File)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the second day of US President Joe Biden’s Climate Summit on Friday, pledging to “transition the country from fossil fuels to renewable energy by 2050.”

The climate summit, launched on Thursday, Earth Day, and continuing through Friday, is intended to encourage world leaders from 40 nations to take more ambitious steps towards cutting the carbon emissions that lead to global warming in the run-up to November’s planned UN climate confab in Glasgow, Scotland.

Netanyahu said that he was familiar with the strength of  Biden’s commitment to stronger action on climate, a commitment that “we in Israel fully share.”

He went on, “I pledge to reduce Israel’s carbon footprint and to completing a successful transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy by 2050.”

The prime minister said that Israel had already made progress in two specific areas — cutting coal, with the aim of ending its use completely by 2025, and increasing solar energy as a percentage of all energy from 2% to almost 10% this year.

“We are committed that by the end of this decade, renewable energy will be providing over a third of Israel’s electricity,” he said.

But the country still faced the challenge of storing solar energy, he went on.

Israel was trying to overcome this and to become “a global leader for renewable energy storage.”

Hundreds of Israeli startups were working on this and other related issues and had already received “billions of dollars, and they will receive more,” he said, “because I’m convinced that Israeli science and Israeli ingenuity will enable us to play our part in the global transition to a net-zero carbon economy.”

View of the Ashalim solar power station in the Negev desert, southern Israel, on August 21, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Netanyahu went on to describe Israeli advances in water efficiency such as drip irrigation, hydroponic (water-based) agriculture, desalination and water purification and recycling. He said that 93% of Israel’s wastewater is purified and 86% of it recycled for use in agriculture. Water efficiency was also being boosted by the use of artificial intelligence.

He ended by saying that Israel was cooperating with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in water and renewable energy technology, following normalization agreements signed with the two countries last year.

It was unclear what Netanyahu meant when he pledged to transition away from fossil fuels by 2050.

There is no government policy as regards 2050. The only official goal is to ensure that 30% of energy comes from renewable sources – mainly solar energy — with the rest coming from natural gas.

Earlier this week, the Energy Ministry published a roadmap to cutting global warming emissions by 80% by 2050. This set a goal of cutting emissions across the energy sector by 23% by 2030 and from electricity in particular (one form of energy) by “approximately” 30%.

Environmentalists said Netanyahu’s pledge was at odds with the reality in Israel.

A spokesperson for Greenpeace Israel said, that “in practice, Israel has no plan to fight the climate crisis.”

On the contrary, the organization charged, the state’s efforts were mainly focussed on exploring for more gas and oil and — through plans to export gas to Europe — on “creating new demand for fossil fuels.”

“The Israeli government should sober up from the gas dream, listen to the winds of change, anchor the targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in a law or a government decision and immediately freeze all new plans for the production, transportation and burning of fossil fuels,” the spokesperson said.

Gas rigs in the Tamar field, off the coast of Israel, in June 2014. (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

“Instead, it should invest as much as is needed in the development of solar energy and storage technologies that will also lead to the creation of tens of thousands of green jobs in the coming years.”

Yoni Sappir, chairman of the Home Guardians environmental organization, said it was not clear what Netanyahu meant when he referred to government efforts to find solutions for renewable energy storage, when many large scale projects already existed elsewhere in the world, including in the US.

He also referred to an ongoing row between the Energy and Environmental Protection Ministry over the 2050 goals that should be set. The latter has called  for at least 40% of electricity to be generated by solar panels in 2030 and 95% of it by 2050.

The prime minister, said Sappir, must “immediately pass, with his personal involvement, a climate law that includes carbon taxation, which the Finance Ministry has torpedoed. Without these moves, Netanyahu’s statements will remain hollow…It’s time to stop talking and to move on to real and binding deeds.”

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