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Israel’s state comptroller leads meeting of global counterparts in Glasgow

Matanyahu Englman tells group of state auditors they are best suited to ensure ‘government decisions on climate are translated into effective action’

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

State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman (L) shows an English translation of his office's recent report on the climate performance of successive Israeli governments to the Latvian Auditor General, Rolands Irklis, during the COP26 UN climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, November 4, 2021. (State Comptroller's Office)
State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman (L) shows an English translation of his office's recent report on the climate performance of successive Israeli governments to the Latvian Auditor General, Rolands Irklis, during the COP26 UN climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland, November 4, 2021. (State Comptroller's Office)

GLASGOW, Scotland — Israel’s state comptroller initiated the first event of its kind at a UN climate conference on the role of national auditors in ensuring that governments turn glitzy declarations into action on the ground.

Addressing an event on Thursday at the European Union pavilion at COP26, Matanyahu Englman — who is also vice president of the European auditors’ organization Eurosai — said that state auditors have a critical role to play by “making sure that government decisions on climate are translated into effective action and that governments are best prepared for climate change.”

Last month, Englman’s office released a stinging report on the lack of action taken by successive Israeli governments over the past decade to prepare the country for the looming climate crisis.

The 659-page dossier laid bare how government decisions were repeatedly made and then neither properly budgeted for nor implemented. It showed how global warming gas emissions were rising in the country and how unambitious targets for lowering emissions had lost the economy a potential NIS 217 billion ($67.7 billion at today’s prices). It also found that the state’s target of having 30 percent of energy coming from renewable sources by 2030 was the lowest in the OECD.

The report stated that Israel was “one of the few countries in the world that does not yet operate on the basis of a budgeted and approved national deployment plan, even though it is in an area with increased risk, and is therefore even more exposed to the risks of climate change.” The report was referring to assessments that show the region warming faster than the global average.

At Thursday’s event, Englman told his fellow state auditors that “comprehensive global action is needed to reduce carbon emission. Climate change is not just an environmental problem, but a problem that encompasses many systems and requires the mobilization of government bodies in a joint effort.”

Flooding in southern Tel Aviv on January 4, 2020. (YouTube screenhot/ Almog Tsadok)

He added: “State auditors play an important role in the global climate campaign. We, as country comptrollers, must make sure that governments’ climate decisions are translated into effective action and that governments are best prepared for climate change.”

Katy Losse, an environment and climate change specialist at the UK’s National Audit Office, explained that while state auditors do not determine policy, they are uniquely placed to monitor its implementation, with independence and access to government information not available to the public. They could take a “birds-eye” view of many government departments and state bodies, looking at how they work together and coordinate activity and how they implement, fund and monitor programs.

Losse added that UK auditors were also working to encourage the government to engage the public in the climate debate and also to better manage competition over land use for a variety of uses, including massive tree planting to absorb carbon emissions, agriculture and food production and housing development.

Planting trees. (Dewi, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Common)

Britain has a central climate board to coordinate ministerial activities, she went on, with net-zero boards in each ministry.

Englman’s report called on the Israeli government to also set up such a central coordinating authority.

Speaking to The Times of Israel after the event, sources close to the State Comptroller attributed Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050 just before the start of the Glasgow conference to the report’s recommendations, and to the way it “held up a mirror” to what other developed nations were doing. While the report was only published on October 26, a draft was sent to ministries for comment two months ago, the sources said.

Israel’s State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman, left, meets with the UK government-appointed COP26 climate ambassador for the Middle East and Africa, Janet Rogan, on the sidelines of the UN conference on climate change, November 4, 2021. (State Comptroller’s office)

The report also called for a far greater emphasis on the development of Israeli climate technology. Bennett told journalists on the plane to Scotland on Sunday that Israel would be setting up a special fund to encourage local tech entrepreneurs to invest in green technology. On the following day, he told government leaders in Glasgow that by emphasizing the development of climate technology, “our impact on climate change can be mighty.”

The session led by Englman was held in order to share how the report was put together, learn from others, encourage climate activity by state auditors worldwide and demonstrate that Israel is involved in the global climate conversation, the sources said.

During his visit to Glasgow, Englman also met with the UK government-appointed COP26 climate ambassador for the Middle East and Africa, with his counterpart in Latvia and with representatives from similar offices from the European Union and the United Kingdom.

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