Ministers again delay debate and vote on climate bill

Energy and finance ministries continue to insist on non-binding targets for global warming emissions cuts, while Environmental Protection Ministry demands mandatory goals

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

A brush fire near Barta'a in the Wadi Ara region amid a heatwave, July 17, 2019. (Screenshot: Twitter)
A brush fire near Barta'a in the Wadi Ara region amid a heatwave, July 17, 2019. (Screenshot: Twitter)

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation again delayed a debate and vote on a climate bill on Sunday after the ministries of finance and energy persisted in their demand for emission reduction targets to be non-binding, and the Environmental Protection Ministry insisted that they must be if they are to have any value.

The government pledged in its coalition agreement to pass a climate law that would commit it to cutting global warming emissions by 50 percent by 2030. That raised the bar from 27% that was codified in a climate bill that passed its Knesset first reading in July last year under the previous government’s environmental protection minister, Tamar Zandberg.

The stated desire for an improved goal was given as the reason not to vote to continue the Zandberg bill, but to submit a new one from scratch.

But interministerial wrangling has meant that no progress is being made.

In recent days, there have been reports about ministers compromising on a 30% rather than a 50% emissions cut target.

Tammy Ganot, deputy CEO of the environmental advocacy organization Adam Teva V’Din, told The Times of Israel that arguing over percentages looked more like a delay tactic.

Adam Teva V’Din Deputy CEO Tami Ganot. (Adam Teva V’Din)

Adam Teva V’Din has helped successive environmental protection ministers to draft a climate bill that will obligate the government to meet emissions targets.

In 2020, the cabinet greenlit the Energy Ministry’s aim of having 30% of Israel’s energy come from renewable sources by 2030.

The state should have been generating 10% of energy from renewables by the end of 2020 but only hit 9.2% by the end of last year.

The energy and environmental protection ministries are constantly at odds over the pace of moving to renewable energy, with the former determined to exploit Israel’s natural gas reserves to the full.

Energy Minister Israel Katz attends an energy conference in Tel Aviv, March 13, 2023. Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Last week, it extended the deadline for the fourth competitive procedure for granting new licenses for natural gas and oil exploration at sea until July 16.

Also under dispute is whether to create massive solar fields in open spaces, which the Energy Ministry backs, or to preserve open spaces by focusing on dual-use sites — erecting panels on everything from roofs, parking lots, and agricultural buildings to traffic intersections and cemeteries.

Erecting solar panels in urban areas means that the production of energy is closer to where it is consumed. Creating solar fields in peripheral areas where there is room necessitates the building of infrastructure to get the energy to the center of the country where most Israelis live.

A solar field in Timna, southern Israel, built by EDF Renewables Israel and formally opened on December 15, 2021. (EDF Renewables Israel)

Last week, the Energy Ministry asked the National Planning and Building Committee to expand the 20,000 dunams (4,950 acres) it had zoned for solar fields to 69,000 dunams (17,000 acres), arguing that bureaucratic and other obstacles severely limited the potential for dual-use facilities.

The committee agreed to zone an additional 40,000 dunams, despite the Environmental Protection Ministry’s opposition.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the 38-member Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development criticized Israel for lagging behind on its targets to reduce global warming emissions and for increasing subsidies for fossil fuels over the past decade.

Jo Tyndall, Director of the OECD’s Environment Directive (left) and Idit Silman, Environmental Protection Minister, pictured in Jerusalem on May 31, 2023. (Michael Dimenstein/GPO)

In October 2021, the State Comptroller issued 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.

A report by the United Nation Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released in March said the world must slash 60% of greenhouse gases by 2035, relative to a 2019 baseline, to keep temperatures from rising above the 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) maximum agreed to in 2015 by countries in Paris.

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