Environment Ministry to get extra NIS 625 million to fight climate change

1st time climate crisis receives allocation in state budget; another sum will help Arab cities prepare for global warming and modernize waste disposal infrastructure

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

A car drives along a flooded road in the northern Israeli city of Nahariya on January 8, 2020, after a river burst it banks. Some 40%, or 250 millimeters (9.8 inches), of the city's average annual rainfall fell from January 3 to 9, that year. (Meir Vaknin/Flash90)
A car drives along a flooded road in the northern Israeli city of Nahariya on January 8, 2020, after a river burst it banks. Some 40%, or 250 millimeters (9.8 inches), of the city's average annual rainfall fell from January 3 to 9, that year. (Meir Vaknin/Flash90)

The two-year state budget approved by ministers on Monday includes for the first time a special allocation of NIS 625 million (nearly $195 million) to fight climate change.

The complex 2021-2022 national budget must now pass through committee stages and three readings in the Knesset plenum by the November 4 deadline.

The money, to be allocated over two years to help fund a five-year program, will enable the Environmental Protection Ministry to advance renewable energy, green transportation and clean air initiatives, help local authorities to create programs for coping with climate change, and invest in environmental research and new technologies, among other things, according to a ministry statement.

Other ministries, such as energy, transportation, economy, and education, and the Israel Lands Authority will also receive as yet undisclosed sums to help them implement a multi-year government plan for cutting global warming emissions that will be presented in the coming weeks.

It remains unclear whether these sums will be in addition to their basic budgets, or earmarked from within them.

All of this funding will be used to reach the updated targets for cuts to Israel’s global warming gas emissions submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change last week.

These commit the state to slashing economy-wide net global warming gas emissions (GHG) by 27 percent by 2030 and 85% by 2050, relative to 2015.

Israelis take part in a protest march to demand immediate action on climate change, Tel Aviv, March 29, 2019. The sign reads: ‘What green do you see?’ (Adam Shuldman/Flash90)

In addition, a sum of NIS 550 million (approximately $170 million) will be allocated to enable the ministry help Arab municipalities prepare for global warming and upgrade their waste disposal systems with better infrastructure geared towards more recycling.

Of this, NIS 300 million will be new funds, and NIS 250 million will be taken from the NIS 625 million being allocated for climate change.

The Environmental Protection Ministry’s basic budget for running costs will be NIS 340 million ($105.5 million) per year for the two years, according to a ministry spokesperson.

In addition, monies from the government’s Clean Fund, generated from fees for landfill, will be earmarked for ministry initiatives to reduce disposable plastic use and clean up beaches.

Volunteers in Israel’s beach cleanup efforts, October 30, 2020. (Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel)

The Environmental Protection Ministry also said various environmental reforms were spelled out in the Economic Arrangements Bill that accompanies the state budget, which received preliminary approval on Monday.

The reforms include a carbon tax on global warming emissions, initially from fossil fuels, taxation of disposable plastic and the addition of 46 staff positions in the licensing unit.

The ministry’s ability to influence the conditions of business licenses will, however, be drastically reduced with plans to cut regulation government-wide by establishing a new business licensing committee in the Prime Minister’s Office.

The proposals, which have long been under development in the PMO, seek “the release of barriers and the acceleration of business activity,” according to the text in the Economic Arrangements Bill.

“The need for the current reform arises due to the difficulty of businesses in the face of stringent and complex licensing requirements,” it says.

Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg warned last week that the move would leave the ministry with “responsibility but no authority,” posing a risk to public health and the environment.

Maya Jacobs, Director of the marine protection organization, Zalul. (Dor Malka)

Maya Jacobs, director of the marine preservation organization Zalul, said that the government was destroying the ministry’s ability to protect citizens from air pollution caused by industry and handcuffing the power of local authorities to limit industrial pollution in their areas of jurisdiction.

“It’s not clear what will kill us first, environmental pollution or climate, but in all events, it’s a death penalty for public health and nature,” she said, adding that the government had caved in to pressure from the owners of the polluting industries.

The last state budget passed was for 2019, before Israel entered two years of political gridlock under then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. If the new budget does not pass by November, a key challenge for the coalition which holds an extremely narrow parliamentary majority, the Knesset would automatically dissolve and new elections would follow.

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