Environment Ministry unveils climate bill with sweeping powers to cut emissions

Draft legislation, which would give extensive new powers to ministry, aims to anchor steps to tackle global warming in law; will be issued for public comment in coming days

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

Air pollution around unrecognized Bedouin villages near Ramat Hovav in the Negev desert, southern Israel, December 28, 2017. (Yaniv Nadav/FLASH90)
Air pollution around unrecognized Bedouin villages near Ramat Hovav in the Negev desert, southern Israel, December 28, 2017. (Yaniv Nadav/FLASH90)

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel will on Monday unveil a draft climate bill that gives the ministry sweeping new powers, but appeared to compromise on emission targets.

The new bill specifies that Israel will reduce climate-warming greenhouse gases by at least 27 percent by 2030 and by at least 85% by 2050, compared with 2015 levels.

The draft — to be made available for comments by the public and other cabinet ministries in the coming days — aims to bring Israel into line with the 18 OECD countries that already have climate laws.

However, the bill suggests that the Environment Ministry has given in to the Energy Ministry, which on Sunday unveiled a roadmap to reach the same targets. Recent months have seen Gamliel locking horns with Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz in an attempt to force him to set more ambitious goals.

It remains unclear whether Steinitz will support the new bill, given the sweeping powers it gives to Gamliel and her successors in the job.

The bill, in its current form, authorizes the Environment Minister to bring national emissions reduction plans to the government once every five years that include targets to be reached by all relevant ministries, ministerial work plans and costings.

It empowers the minister to pass regulations to ensure that the plans can be implemented and gives him or her the right to examine and provide recommendations on the implications for emissions of all government programs in energy, as well as transportation, waste and construction.

Publication of the draft bill comes three days before Earth Day, on Thursday, and the beginning of President Biden’s two-day, virtual, Leaders Summit on Climate, which will be live-streamed on Thursday and Friday. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be representing Israel at the summit, which is aimed at urging the world to do more in the run-up to the United Nations COP 26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland, scheduled for November.

The Orot Rabin power station, seen from the Hadera Stream Park, Hadera, northern Israel, on November 25, 2017. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Monday’s announcement represents a triumph for the environmental advocacy organization, Adam Teva V’Din, which has long championed a Climate Law and worked with the ministry on the drafting.

It comes just a day after the Energy Ministry held its own press briefing at which Steinitz and Director General Udi Adiri announced their targets for cutting global warming emissions, contingent on cuts in other sectors not under the ministry’s control, such as transportation and planning.

The fact that both ministries issued statements separately underlines the bad blood between Gamliel and Steinitz.

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel. (Environmental Protection Ministry)

Steinitz told the press briefing that “without naming names,” inter-ministry relations had been good up until a year ago. (Gamliel entered office in May 2020).” We will know how to work together when we work seriously,” he said, adding that his ministry was the only one on track to meet targets promised as part of the 2015 Paris climate accords.

According to the Environment Ministry, a Climate Law will include obligatory targets in areas such as energy conservation in industry, the electrification of transport and the recycling of waste, as well as the costs of reaching the targets.

It will also oblige the Environmental Protection Minister to report yearly to the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee.

Traffic jams on the Ayalon highway in Tel Aviv, December 27, 2020. Transporation is a key contributor to global warming emissions. (Avshalom Sassoni/FLASH90)

The draft further proposes establishing an advisory committee under the ministry’s director-general and composed of representatives from ministries, environmental groups, students and school pupils, and the creation within the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities of an independent committee of experts on climate change that will ensure “an open public discourse, based on scientific facts.”

One issue that is absent from the bill is carbon taxation, due to a failure to reach an agreement with the Finance Ministry.

Israel is one of just three OECD countries with neither a carbon tax (geared to making the polluter pay) nor a “cap and trade” program (also known as an emissions trading scheme) aimed at reducing and eventually eliminating the use of fossil fuels, whose combustion is destabilizing and heating up the global climate.

The Environment Ministry said more work has to be done with the Finance Ministry.

Gamliel called on all the relevant government ministers to “take a bold look at reality, understand that we are in an emergency, and support the Climate Law we are leading.”

Amit Bracha, CEO of Adam Teva V’Din, said “Israel’s Climate Law is a legacy that we must leave for our children, for the sake of their quality of life and their existential future in Israel.”

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