Environment minister unveils ‘green deal’ to kickstart economy sustainably

As ministries finalize plans and prepare to compete for funds, Gila Gamliel says coronavirus crisis represents opportunity to push economic growth promoting environment, health

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

File: Silhouette of the Ashkelon power station at sunset, Oct 17 2007 (Edi Israel/Flash90)
File: Silhouette of the Ashkelon power station at sunset, Oct 17 2007 (Edi Israel/Flash90)

New Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel on Monday announced a raft of proposals aimed at kickstarting the coronavirus-battered economy by investing in sustainable projects to reduce greenhouse gases and pollution.

“The coronavirus crisis, along with the challenges it has created, represents an extraordinary opportunity to promote economic growth that supports the environment and health,” she said.

“The State of Israel must anticipate and prepare for significant crises that are emerging, most notably climate change and biodiversity depletion.”

The coronavirus crisis had given everyone a chance to “recalculate the trajectory,” she said.

“The State of Israel, as a startup nation, must take advantage of this historic window of opportunity and encourage and leverage investments in the cleantech industry and breakthrough technologies to develop alternative energies.

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel. (Courtesy, Environmental Protection Ministry)

“The principles of the program are based on an investment strategy that yields fruit and efficiency, as opposed to an expense approach. Realizing the potential could lead to savings and generate billions of shekels.”

Warning against “harmful” subsidies and investment in infrastructure that can lock Israel into a high-emissions economy in the long term, the ministry is calling for large investments in nature and ecosystem restoration, as well as in physical infrastructure that can bring down greenhouse gases and pollutant emissions and create jobs.

“There is a clear link between health and the environment,” said a ministry report on emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, released Monday. “The coronavirus crisis illustrates the unbalanced relationship between humankind and nature and the price that we pay for over-exploiting nature.

“Research shows that environmental phenomena such as climate change, pollution from chemicals and biodiversity loss increase the danger of epidemics and sickness. Air pollution, for example, reduces a population’s physical resilience and increases the rate of infection by coronavirus and other illnesses.”

The ministry recommends that government economic policy rest on a package of incentives to support and encourage sustainable economic activity, and on an advanced economic database that measures quality of life and resilience.

It calls for the adoption of the OECD’s proposals for exiting the coronavirus crisis. These include reviewing and weeding out short term economic measures that have negative environmental implications, not weakening any environmental standards and conditioning support for business and industry in different sectors on improving environmental performance.

Among the report’s specific proposals on investments in energy are incentives to get solar panels into or onto all types of built environment, with the creation of 5,500 to 10,500 jobs; electrification of production lines in industry to cut reliance on fossil fuels, along with incentives to reach better energy efficiency; subsidies to enable construction of public buildings such as schools in line with green building codes; and help with municipal plans to prepare for the effects of climate change, such as a rise in sea levels and extreme rainfall and flooding.

The document also calls for progress towards a circular economy — one in which one person’s waste is another’s resource. Circular systems emphasize reuse, repair, refurbishment, re-manufacturing and recycling to create a closed system, which requires minimum new inputs, generates minimum waste, and therefore leaves as small a carbon footprint as possible.

Workers recycling the vegetable and fruit carton boxes at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, on June 25, 2015. (Nati Shohat/FLASH90)

In 2015, the EU Commission adopted an action plan for the circular economy based on a “waste hierarchy,” which prioritizes waste prevention, reuse, and recycling over “other recovery” and “disposal” methods, on the grounds that they have the highest potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In March of this year, the commission adopted an ambitious new Circular Economy Action Plan, in the form of a massive report reflecting five years of detailed work.

The Environmental Protection Ministry’s “green deal” includes cash grants for small- and medium-sized companies that reduce pollution, along with help and guidance from a new Center for Efficient Resource Use on how to use less. This would help to cut dependence on imports.

The Israeli recycling industry — very limited at present — needs expanding, the report recommends, and ways have to be found to reuse building waste.

Investments should be made in cleantech, with pilot projects, innovation laboratories, help with marketing and sales, and the creation of an innovation zone in the southern city of Beersheba, which could create jobs, the report proposes.

It also calls for a series of steps to clean up open spaces and encourage biodiversity. These include rehabilitating polluted rivers and streams as well as urban nature sites.

Fish in the Alexander River, central Israel, killed by industrial toxins. (Courtesy, Dr. Ran Farhi)

To minimize building on open spaces, the report recommends cleaning up state land rendered toxic by pollution so that it can be made safe for construction of residential blocks or infrastructure.

On cutting transport-related air pollution, the report calls for more work from home and for more investment in electric buses.

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