OECD slaps Israel with poor marks on environmental performance in new report

Country behind on climate targets, has increased subsidies for fossil fuels, has the lowest level of renewable energy in 38-member club, highest rate of threatened native mammals

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

A traffic jam at the entrance to a gas station in Jerusalem, on March 11, 2022. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)
A traffic jam at the entrance to a gas station in Jerusalem, on March 11, 2022. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

Israel scored poorly on a range of environmental issues compared to other members of the 38-member Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, according to a report released by the group on Wednesday

Israel is behind on its targets to reduce global warming emissions, has increased subsidies for fossil fuels over the past decade, is failing to provide financial incentives to encourage waste recycling rather than burial, and still exposes its citizens to levels of pollution from particulate matter that are among the highest in the developed world, according to the OECD report. 

The Environmental Performance Review, which follows a similar review in 2011, was carried out on behalf of the OECD by Germany and Greece and includes 24 recommendations, starting with the need for a climate law that has legally binding emissions reductions and renewable energy production targets.

Such binding targets are opposed by both the finance and energy ministries, holding up efforts to pass a climate law, including a current one by Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman.

Other recommendations include removing bureaucratic barriers for solar power installations and speeding up the integration of renewable sources into the electricity grid; developing a “coherent” strategy for lowering carbon emissions in transportation; shifting to a circular economy (in which one person’s waste becomes another’s resource); implementing a national biodiversity strategy and action plan to protect nature and open spaces outside of national parks and nature reserves, and integrating ecological corridors into planning; and improving monitoring and enforcement of environmental compliance — an issue highlighted in a recent State Comptroller report.

Environmental Performance Reviews are carried out for all OECD countries

The 2011 report highlighted the need to improve inspections and enforcement, and called for the removal of environmentally harmful subsidies. Wednesday’s document points out that subsidies for fossil fuels — key drivers of global warming — have not only not been removed, but have increased over the last 10 years. They include excise tax rebates on diesel fuel for vehicles such as buses and taxis, and financial support for companies that extract natural gas from sites in the Mediterranean Sea.

The OECD urges Israel to phase all of these out and to tax carbon emissions instead while ensuring that the impact on low-income households is always cushioned.

An Israeli Navy Sa’ar 6-class corvette guards the Energean floating production, storage, and offloading vessel at the Karish gas field, in an image published by the military on April 23, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Echoing the 2011 report, Wednesday’s document also points out that the country’s flora and fauna suffer from habitat fragmentation, invasive alien species, over-exploitation of water resources and pollution.

Efforts to adapt to the consequences of climate change are at an early stage, the document goes on, and focus too little on nature-based solutions (such as rehabilitating natural areas around rivers to absorb floodwaters before they reach urban areas).

A special chapter is devoted to Israel’s management of waste, which contributed eight percent of the country’s global warming gas emissions in 2019, compared with an OECD average of 3%, according to the report.

Landfill levies are not high enough to discourage local authorities from sending their garbage to landfills, it says — again repeating what was written in the 2011 report — and waste burial is still cheaper than more sustainable treatment methods such as organic recycling.

The Tarbin Tribe of Bedouins lives next to the Dudaim dump site, the largest landfill in Israel, near the city of Rahat in southern Israel, seen on August 10, 2016. (Yaniv Nadav/ Flash90/ File)

As in 2011, the new report recommends implementing a mechanism that will charge householders according to the weight of their trash to make waste reduction and recycling more attractive.

On green transportation, the report recommends speeding up investment in charging infrastructure. It notes that among the total vehicles registered in Israel in 2020, only 0.1% were electric vehicles (EVs) and 6% were hybrid.

Jo Tyndall, Director of the OECD’s Environment Directive, who presented the findings in person to Environmental Protection Minister Idit Silman and senior ministry staff, noted that the level of renewably-sourced energy in Israel was the second lowest among all member nations, and that the percentage of native mammals under threat was the highest.

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)

Tammy Ganot, deputy director of the environmental advocacy organization Adam Teva V’Din — an organization that drafted Israel’s Clean Air Act and has been trying to push a climate bill, said the report shows Israel to be a third-world country when it comes to environmental performance.

Some of the “embarrassing” failures highlighted in the report, such as the continued high levels of waste being sent to landfill, could be blamed directly on the Environmental Protection Ministry, she added.

Officials from the ministry said they would study the findings, adding that there was clearly much work to be done.

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