Over $9 billion annually: Environment Ministry assesses pollution’s price tag

Minister Tamar Zandberg says ‘frightening picture’ demands reaching renewable energy and emission goals to save cash for the economy; transportation is biggest pollution source

Congestion on the Ayalon highway, March 30, 2021. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Congestion on the Ayalon highway, March 30, 2021. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The Environmental Protection Ministry said it has calculated for the first time the annual external cost of pollution in the country, putting the figure at NIS 31 billion ($9.5 billion).

External costs render the negative impact on public health and the environment as a monetary value, in order to quantify for decision-makers the loss of social well-being from pollutant emissions and various environmental hazards. Costs are derived from negative impacts on health, agriculture, conservation, measures used to counter pollution’s effects, and more.

Of the total, greenhouse gas emissions cost the country some NIS 11.3 billion ($3.4 billion) each year, according to the ministry report published Sunday that detailed how and where Israel’s economy is affected by pollution.

“The report presents a frightening picture, and, for the first time, there is a price tag in shekels on the polluting emissions,” Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg said in a statement.

The ministry report said that the main source of emissions in terms of the financial cost on the country’s economy is transportation at 38 percent. This is followed by power plants at 30%, and industrial plants at 16%.

Zandberg said her conclusion from the report is that the “war on the climate crisis” is at the center of Israel’s economy, and it must lead Israel to reach its target of getting 40% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030, and net-zero polluting emissions by 2050.

Newly appointed Minister of Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg, at a handover ceremony at the Environmental Protection Ministry, in Jerusalem on June 15, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“This is an ambitious and achievable goal, which will save the Israeli economy billions a year,” she said.

The report said that by moving to at least 40% renewable energy sources by 2030, the country would see a saving of NIS 4.5 billion ($1.3 billion) annually.

It added that an additional NIS 970 million ($300 million) in savings would be seen if 25% of Israel’s car owners switch to electric vehicles by 2030.

Zandberg took the ministerial post two weeks ago after a new government was sworn in.

During Zandberg’s appointment ceremony earlier this month, she repeated the call made by her predecessor, Gila Gamliel, in recent months: the cancellation of a deal to channel Gulf oil through the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline, which green groups have warned could cause massive environmental damage.

“The Gulf of Eilat is in real danger because of the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline, and the State of Israel should not be an oil bridge for other countries,” Zandberg said.

The agreement is opposed by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, a forum of some 20 environmental organizations, scores of scientists, and Eilat residents, given EAPC’s poor environmental record and numerous past leaks — it was responsible, seven years ago, for the largest environmental disaster in Israel’s history — and the importance of Eilat’s coral reefs not only to the city’s tourism and employment sectors, but also globally. Eilat’s corals are proving to be unusually resilient to ocean warming, and could be used to rehabilitate reefs that cannot cope, elsewhere in the world.

An oil tanker docked at the Europe Asia Pipeline Company’s port, close to the coral reef nature reserve of Eilat, in southern Israel. (Society for the Protection of Nature)

Opponents have also drawn attention to the dangers that an oil spill at the EAPC port in Ashkelon could pose for the country’s desalination facilities, Israel’s main source of drinking water, as well as the risks of carcinogenic pollutants being released into the air during the loading and unloading of crude oil.

Zandberg also said that one of her first initiatives in office will be to “reduce the consumption of plastic and disposable utensils in Israel” in the coming weeks.

“In order to move towards a cleaner world and country, Israel must kick its addiction to plastic and to disposables,” she said.

Amy Spiro contributed to this report.

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