Coalition MKs to push climate law within weeks to force PM’s hand

Yesh Atid’s Yorai Lahav-Hertzano will sponsor bill, drafted by Adam Teva V’Din, calling for National Climate Council, target of 50% renewables by 2030

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

An empty plastic bottle is seen in a crack of mud at the Shlomo River, near Eilat, Israel, November 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
An empty plastic bottle is seen in a crack of mud at the Shlomo River, near Eilat, Israel, November 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

A climate bill signed by the leaders of several coalition parties will be advanced in the coming weeks, in a bid to force the government to abide by its coalition agreement and anchor steps to tackle the climate crisis in law.

Drafted by the environmental advocacy organization Adam Teva V’Din, the bill will be presented by Yorai Lahav-Hertzano (Yesh Atid).

With ambitious targets to cut carbon emissions by 45 percent and generate 50% of energy from renewable sources by the end of this decade, it will provide the legal framework for creating, budgeting, implementing, and accounting to the public the national plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to prepare for the effects of climate change, which are expected to be felt particularly severely in Israel and the Middle East.

While vesting professional authority in the Environmental Protection Ministry, Lahav-Hertzano’s bill will put climate change at the door of the whole government through the creation of a National Climate Council within the Prime Minister’s Office. This will approve policy, monitor and ensure implementation, and settle inter-ministerial disagreements.

It echoes recommendations contained in a stinging report by the state comptroller issued on the eve of last month’s United Nations COP26 Environment Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, to pass a climate law, and to create, budget, and empower a permanent body that can implement climate crisis-related plans.

Under the chairmanship of the PMO’s director-general, the climate council will include broad representation from ministries, planning authorities, emergency services, utilities, local government, green organizations, and youth.

Then-Blue and White party member Yorai Lahav-Hertzano, in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on May 14, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90/File)

It will be advised by a 15-member independent committee of experts that will meet at least every two months, reporting to the public, and whose members will be paid.

“The US Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t tell other ministries what to do,” said Adam Teva V’Din’s CEO, Amit Bracha. “John Kerry (US President Joe Biden’s climate emissary) comes with his program as project leader.”

The first draft of a climate bill, also co-written with Adam Teva V’Din, was unveiled in April by former environmental protection minister Gila Gamliel. It was withdrawn by her successor, Tamar Zandberg, after it became bogged down in objections from the energy and finance ministries.

In the meantime, said Bracha, the government is in breach of its coalition agreement.

As the state comptroller pointed out in his report, governments have made formal decisions about climate action over the years, but failed to implement them. They have also set targets that were never reached. Lacking were proper budgets and legislative teeth.

Then-newly-appointed Minister of Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg (right) with outgoing minister of environmental protection Gila Gamliel (left), during the handover ceremony, held at the Environmental Protection Ministry in Jerusalem on June 15, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

In July, Israel sent a revised commitment to the UN, to cut emissions by 27% by 2030 and 85% by 2050, against a baseline of 2015 figures. It is aiming at generating 30% of energy from renewable sources by 2030, but this figure currently stands at only 9%, when it was supposed to hit 10% by the end of last year.

Even the 30% target — which, according to the state comptroller’s report, is not in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement’s requirement for “ambitious” goals — is the lowest among OECD countries, which are aiming at anything from 40% to 100% renewables by the end of this decade.

Giving an example of the importance of having a law, Bracha said, “The government has not fulfilled its commitments (to update a national program for cutting and reducing air pollution every five years) under the Clean Air Act.

“The existence of the law is what enabled us to turn to the High Court and get it to order the government to update the program within two months,” he said.

The draft of the bill that Lahav-Hertzano will present outlines the targets to be reached and the systems needed to do so.

Illustrative. Carbon emissions from a power plant. (YouTube screenshot)

It contains a 2050 target of net-zero carbon emissions (in which carbon that is emitted into the atmosphere is balanced by the carbon absorbed, for example, by forests or peatlands). This is in line with international trends, and with promises (two days before the Glasgow confab) by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Energy Ministry Karine Elharrar, but contrasts with official government policy and the most recent commitment to the UN, which is to cut emissions by 85% by mid-century

While the government is aiming to reduce emissions by 27% by 2030, Lahav-Hertzano’s bill will specify a 45% cut by that date, in line with UN recommendations for keeping global warming to within 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), compared with the pre-industrial period.

Known as heliostats, 50,000 mirrors encircle a solar tower in the Negev desert, near Ashalim, southern Israel, on December 22, 2016. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty/File)

It will call for 50% of the energy mix to be from renewable sources, mainly the sun, by 2030, based on Environmental Protection Ministry calculations that 47% of energy by that date can come from solar panels alone.

The state committed to reducing energy use by 17% by 2030, but is nowhere near doing so, as the state comptroller’s report pointed out. But there has been some improvement, nevertheless, thanks to another law.

Adam Teva V’Din was able to submit a High Court petition based on the 1989 Energy Sources Law, successfully forcing the Energy Ministry to fulfill its obligation to create an energy-efficiency program. The government subsequently budgeted NIS 900 million ($285 million) to implement it.

One of the Holon Design Museum winners in its urban shade exhibit, titled Cloud Seeding. Shade will become increasingly important as temperatures rise. (Luke Tress)

The bill includes chapters on mitigation — reducing carbon emissions — and adaptation to climate change, presenting content and timetables for the creation of national plans dealing with both.

Several years ago, the Environmental Protection Ministry’s then-chief scientist Sinaia Netanyahu oversaw the creation of a national plan to adapt to climate change and extreme weather events. But it was never budgeted, had no statutory force, and was not implemented.

The bill will also require the examination of all government permits and regulations in light of the targets and the purpose of such a climate law.

Tamar Gannot, deputy director of Adam Teva V’Din. (Courtesy)

In the past, most environmental laws were pushed by opposition members as private bills.

Neither Bracha nor his deputy, Tamar Gannot, expect the government to adopt Lahav-Hertzano’s bill as is, but to take inspiration from it and to present a bill of its own.

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