The Finance and Environmental Protection Ministries announced Thursday that Israel was joining a White House initiative to bring net carbon emissions down to zero by 2050 in all government activities, in an effort both to reduce global warming emissions and to set an example for markets to do the same.
An Environmental Protection Ministry statement explained that as the biggest employers in any economy, governments own large quantities of real estate and cars, and buy goods and services in great volumes. In so doing, they also contribute significantly to the human-caused emissions that are fueling climate change.
Net zero means that global warming gasses emitted into the atmosphere are balanced, or offset, by the carbon, methane, and other materials that are removed from the atmosphere and are then either used again in industry or stored for a long time.
On Thursday, at the COP27 climate confab in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Dekel Cohen, a senior official from the Accountant General’s Office in Israel’s Finance Ministry, and outgoing Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg, joined representatives from more than 50 governments at an event also attended by US climate envoy John Kerry to celebrate participating in the White House-Canadian government project, the Green Governments Initiative (GGI). The aim is to share knowledge and act jointly to promote environmental activity at the state level.
Cohen, who is responsible for government property and logistics, said that as part of the US initiative, his division would formulate a work plan for 2050 that would also include intermediate goals.
The work plans of all participating governments are to be ready for COP28 in Dubai next year.
Israel will be leading a group on green vehicle fleets, having joined other countries about a month ago in pledging to make Israel’s government vehicle fleet net zero by 2035.
Zandberg said, “The government of Israel today joins a series of governments that pledge to serve as an example and lead the market towards zero emissions goals by the year 2050.”
Also in collaboration with the Environmental Protection Ministry, as well as other government ministries, the Accountant General’s Office published a framework for green bonds. These are geared at providing money for new and existing projects that are sustainable and beneficial for the planet. The framework paves the way for the government to issue such funds in future as part of its strategy for debt management.
Accountant General Yali Rothenberg said his department “attaches great importance to the fight against the climate crisis and to reducing emissions created by the government’s activities as part of meeting the climate goals and the commitment defined by the government.”
He said it wanted to promote projects in fields such as solar power generation (including the installation of solar panels on government buildings), desalination, composting, building zero-energy buildings, and ensuring that environmental, social and governance policies and performance are properly disclosed in financial statements.
The Finance Ministry’s participation in climate-related policy is critical.
Just before last year’s UN COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, then-prime minister Naftali Bennett and Energy Minister Karine Elharrar pledged verbally that Israel would be carbon neutral by 2050.
But that promise was never anchored in any official document — neither in law nor even a government decision. This was initially because of opposition from the Finance Ministry, and later on, after elections had been called, by the Justice Ministry, which said such a policy could not be decided by a transitional government.
The Finance Ministry has consistently placed obstacles before efforts by the Environmental Protection Ministry to formally commit the government to various targets, and in June a climate bill reached the Knesset in a very diluted form, passing its first reading.
Behind the scenes, though, in early 2020, a Green Finance Regulators Forum was established under the chairmanship of former Bank of Israel governor Karnit Flug, with voluntary representation from the financial regulators, the Bank of Israel, the Finance Ministry’s accountant general, the National Economic Council within the Prime Minister’s Office, the Environmental Protection and Justice ministries, and the Israel Democracy Institute’s Daphna Aviram-Nitzan and Erez Sommer.
The forum meets every two to three months to exchange information and learn about developments in the world.