Israel unveils plan to slash emissions by up to 80% by 2050

Road map will see renewables become main energy source and car usage reduced to almost zero, with cities and factories built around sustainable development standards

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Cyclists demonstrate for more bike lanes in Tel Aviv, December 14, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Cyclists demonstrate for more bike lanes in Tel Aviv, December 14, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israel was set Monday to unveil carbon emissions targets for 2050, seeking an ambitious 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases over the next 30 years in some areas, slashing vehicle usage and taking bold steps toward getting almost all its energy from renewable resources.

But the targets and a roadmap for how to get there — the product of two years of work by various government bodies and experts — will face serious hurdles as they require a sea change in city planning and industry operation. And the current budget deadlock can only hinder the chances of the goals being met on time, since without a budget the government cannot earmark funds for the plan, pushing off implementation.

The 16-page roadmap for getting there, entitled “A thriving economy in a sustainable environment,” was set to be presented at the Eli Hurvitz Conference on Economy and Society on Monday before being translated and packaged for submission to the United Nations by year’s end, in line with the requirement of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

“It’s an amazing achievement [to have completed the work on the targets]. The problem is that all infrastructure development is on hold because there is no state budget,” said conference director Dafna Aviram-Nitzan, who heads the Center for Governance and the Economy at the Israel Democracy Institute.

Dafna Aviram-Nitzan, director of both the Eli Hurvitz Conference on Economy and Society and the Center for Governance and the Economy at the Israel Democracy Institute. Courtesy (Israel Democracy Institute)

The Energy Ministry aims to cut emissions of all facilities under its control, including those for electricity production, by 80% by 2050, compared with a baseline of 2015 (used for all of its targets), according to the presentation. A large part of reaching that goal will depend on reducing private vehicle use to almost zero, forcing a radical rethink of how cities are built.

The Transportation Ministry envisages transit-oriented development — a form of urban development that directs development of homes, businesses and other venues toward public transportation hubs and creates sustainable, walkable communities.

Egged’s new electric buses at their charging station in Jerusalem during the launching ceremony, on September 3, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

This, the ministry says, will improve work productivity, reduce traffic jams, save time and increase leisure time, and also help to close social gaps by making access to jobs and services easier.

It aims for 25% of all buses and vehicles weighing less than 3.5 tons and 10% of heavy trucks to be zero-emission by 2030, with that number rising to 100% by 2050. Distances traveled in cars and heavy trucks will come down while sustainable methods of travel (including walking) are expected to rise, from 37% in 2018 to 50% in 2030 and 70% by 2050.

Reaching the goal will also involve measures meant to discourage vehicle usage, such as closing downtown areas to all cars or allowing in only those that do not pollute, and reducing the number of vehicle lanes while giving right of way to those driving sustainable modes of transportation.

Another section of the report from the National Planning Council calls for dense urban construction and the preservation of open spaces outside of cities, with shade trees helping reduce the effect of urban heat islands. It also urges green building, with 100% of new houses and 25% of new apartment buildings of three to five stories being net-zero energy by 2025, and all of them by 2030.

In net-zero buildings, the total amount of energy used equals the amount of renewable energy created on-site (or sometimes elsewhere) via technologies ranging from insulated walls and windows to heat pumps and solar panels.

An 80% cut in emissions from energy

On Saturday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — one of 70 world leaders attending the Climate Ambition Summit 2020 — announced that Israel was “totally committed to a successful transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy by 2050.”

In actuality, the plan calls for a slightly less drastic reduction, with the country getting 80% of its energy from renewable resources, according to an Energy Ministry estimate.

Moves toward forms of renewable energy such as solar and hydrogen, along with storage of such energy and technology for carbon capture, are touted as able to reduce climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions by 75% to 85% by 2050.

Another target aims to increase energy efficiency by 1.3% per year, further helping reduce the impact of generating electricity.

The Orot Rabin Power Station in Hadera, which is undergoing conversion from coal to natural gas, seen from the ruins of ancient Caesarea, Israel, July 24, 2015. (Garrett Mills/Flash 90)

Reaching these targets will depend on conditions such as investment in renewable energy infrastructure, finding sufficient surface area for setting up solar panels, technological advancement (in renewable energy storage and, for example, the development of solar panels for the sides of buildings), and the passing of necessary regulations. Erecting enough solar panels to reach the 2050 target will require a surface area of up to 230,000 acres (93,000 hectares), the ministry estimates. This could be found on anything from roofs to traffic circles to bodies of water to open spaces.

An orange recycling bin, with a sign setting out the types of containers that can be deposited. (Courtesy Tamir Recycling Corporation)

Industry will also see a sharp reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, down 40% by 2050, according to an Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry plan. This will be achieved by emphasizing reuse, repair, refurbishment, re-manufacturing and recycling to create a closed loop, reducing the need to extract new resources from nature and leaving a smaller carbon footprint while generating minimum waste.

Creating an economy around this system should lead to a reduction of 47% in methane emissions from landfill by 2030, and of 92% by 2050, compared with 2015, the Environmental Protection Ministry estimates.

In this March 13, 2018, photo, a tractor works at a landfill in Kibbutz Tzeelim in southern Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

At present, greenhouse gases from waste contribute more than 7% of total greenhouse gas emissions. The ministry wants to reduce the percentage of waste that reaches landfill from 78% in 2018 to 20% in 2030 and down to a maximum of 5% by 2050; and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from waste from 5.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2018 to 0.5 by 2050.

Reaching these goals will require steps such as reducing food waste, separating organic waste at source so that it can be biocomposted, and sealing all landfill sites and installing methane capture technology, a move that by itself could cut methane emissions by half.

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