Climate bill delayed as Energy Ministry argues it should head panel on emission cuts

‘The cat can’t guard the cream,’ objects environmental protection minister, as Energy Ministry issues list of demands, pushing off debate by a week

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Illustrative photo of carbon emissions from a power plant. (YouTube screenshot)
Illustrative photo of carbon emissions from a power plant. (YouTube screenshot)

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday delayed its debate about a climate bill for a week, ordering the Environmental Protection Ministry to discuss its proposals with other ministries that have opposed the wording of the legislation, chief among them the Energy Ministry.

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.

The Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman rejected the idea, saying: “The cat cannot guard the cream.”

She added that “it seems like some members of the government do not believe that there is a climate crisis.”

The Energy Ministry claimed that the Environmental Protection Ministry had failed to consult with it on the bill, a charge that the latter ministry denied.

Silman had hoped the committee would greenlight her bill requiring 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.

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

In a position paper submitted last week in advance of Sunday’s planned debate, 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 — compared with just three megawatts of storage currently available.

It also demanded that the Energy Ministry’s director general head a proposed ministerial environment and climate committee on matters concerning mitigation — the reduction of emissions — saying this fell within its purview.

Environmental advocates have long insisted that a climate law contain mandatory emissions reduction targets, but the Energy Ministry, along with the Finance Ministry, wants more flexibility.

Energy Minister Israel Katz attends an energy conference in Tel Aviv, March 13, 2023. Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

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.

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.

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