Israel advances its first Climate Bill in bid to hit emission goals

Draft law, met with lukewarm response from green groups, is a compromise between Environment Ministry, which wanted tougher targets, and Finance Ministry, which wanted none

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Illustrative. Heatwave. (iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative. Heatwave. (iStock by Getty Images)

After several delays, and in what Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg hailed as a “historic moment,” the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday approved Israel’s first Climate Bill.

The draft legislation, which must now go through the Knesset, seeks to commit the government to cutting global warming emissions by at least 27 percent by 2030, compared with a 2015 benchmark, and to reaching net zero by 2050.

It was unanimously approved by the committee, with the backing of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett — who announced the net zero goal shortly before leaving Israel for the United Nations COP26 climate conference in Scotland last year — and by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.

The bill reflects a compromise reached after a tough battle between the Environmental Protection Ministry, which wanted more ambitious targets for emissions cuts, and the Finance Ministry,  which fought against including any specific goals in primary legislation. The Energy Ministry, which is responsible for ensuring Israel’s energy security, is more reluctant than the Environmental Protection Ministry to reduce Israel’s reliance on natural gas.

While welcoming the bill’s approval, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel’s director of climate policy, Tamara Lev, said that the targets were not ambitious enough and that there were not enough milestones to guide and ensure progress toward a carbon neutral economy.

Lev said that the SPNI would continue to press for improvements as the bill moved forward.

Amit Bracha, Executive Director, Adam Teva V’Din. (Courtesy)

Amit Bracha, CEO of Adam Teva V’Din, which helped to draft the Environmental Protection Ministry’s original bill, said that it, too, would press for upgrades, partly by submitting a more ambitious private member’s bill through lawmaker Yorai Lahav-Hertzano (Yesh Atid).

With targets to cut carbon emissions by 45% and generate 50% of energy from renewable sources by 2030, that alternative bill sets out the legal framework for creating, budgeting, implementing, and reporting about national plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the effects of climate change, which are expected to be felt particularly severely in Israel and the Middle East.

Zandberg said that the bill represented a “dramatic stage” in the climate change battle and that anchoring the goals of emissions cuts in legislation would provide certainty for the economy, allowing it to plan ahead and develop innovation and smart and clean growth.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (right) with Minister of Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg during a plenum session at the Knesset in Jerusalem on February 28, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We promised and we delivered,” Lapid said, adding that the bill put Israel on par with other developed countries belonging to the OECD.

The bill provides for the establishment of a Ministerial Committee on Climate Affairs, to be headed by the prime minister, for the purpose of ensuring smooth coordination between various government bodies.

It commits the environmental protection minister to producing a National Emission Reduction Plan for government approval.

It orders government ministries and other bodies to compile climate change preparation plans, implement them and report on them once a year. These plans are to be approved within two years of the bill becoming law, and are to be updated every five years.

Within one year of the bill becoming law, the government will have to create a framework and targets to allow all relevant plans submitted for government or ministerial approval to be assessed for their climate impact.

A man holds a display depicting dead penguins during a march demanding the world leaders to take action in reversing climate change and stop the use of fossil fuels in Tel Aviv, October 29, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

At the end of each calendar year, cabinet ministers will have to report on  implementation of the national plan, detailing their greenhouse gas emissions cuts and forecasting reductions for the coming years. These reports will be made public.

The government will also report to the Knesset on its implementation of the law’s various provisions.

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