Israel heads to COP27 without official backing for former PM Bennett’s net zero vow

Justice Ministry won’t allow government decision so close to elections, and Finance Ministry previously overruled bid to put net zero pledge in climate bill

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

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

With just days to go before the UN’s COP27 climate conference kicks off in Egypt, the Environmental Protection Ministry said Monday that it had failed to officially anchor a verbal pledge made a year ago by then-prime minister Naftali Bennett that Israel would reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Bennett made this commitment a year ago, just before COP26 in Glasgow, alongside Energy Minister Karine Elharrar. He told those around him that the pledge would have to be made sooner or later anyway.

But at an Environmental Protection Ministry briefing on Monday for those going to COP27 in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg revealed that the Justice Ministry had ruled against passing a government decision on such a matter so close to the elections next week.

Attempts earlier this year to get the net zero commitment included in the climate bill also failed, primarily because of the Finance Ministry’s opposition.

That bill passed its first reading in May, but it only commits Israel to reducing emissions by 85 percent by 2050, compared with a 2015 benchmark.

Net zero refers to a situation in which a country reduces its emissions as much as possible and offsets what it still has to emit. This can be done by investing in projects that reduce emissions or that sequester (absorb) carbon dioxide from the air and either use it in industry or convert it into a form that can be buried for a long time.

In an undated photo, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett sits with Energy Minister Karine Elharrar at the COP26 conference in Glasgow, Scotland in November 2021. (Courtesy)

The 2015 Paris Agreement commits all signatories — among them Israel — to reach carbon neutrality in emissions during the second half of the 21st century. So far, 137 countries have made commitments of some kind.

Denmark, France, Hungary, New Zealand, Sweden and the UK are the only countries to have anchored a net zero pledge in law, with Sweden setting 2045 as the target year, and the others 2050.

The European Union, Canada and South Korea are in the process of legislating.

In addition, 24 countries have set net zero as official policy, among them Brazil, China, Germany and the US, some of the biggest emitters. A further 99 nations are only at the stage of discussion.

While Israel has a target for emissions in 2050, it does not yet have a goal for the amount of renewable energy to be in place by that year.

It is committed to having 30% of energy coming from renewable sources such as the sun by the end of this decade, but failed to hit its goal of 10% by 2020.

At present, just 8.5% of Israel’s energy comes from renewables.

The Finance Ministry has also held up proposals for a carbon tax.

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