Israel Prepares to Meet Copenhagen Carbon Goals


The Reading power plant in Tel Aviv, recently converted to burn natural gas instead of crude oil. (photo by Daniel Cherrin)

In a sign that it intends to take its climate change commitments seriously, Israel has appointed a high-level committee to find ways to reduce its carbon emissions.

However, a controversial reform of the town planning system has many in Israel accusing the government of promoting environmentally destructive policies. Meeting Copenhagen Goals
The inter-ministerial committee, composed of senior representatives of various government ministries, was set up last week.

Israel committed to a 20% reduction (below business as usual) in carbon emissions by 2020 last year in Copenhagen. A tiny country, Israel's contribution to climate change is negligible compared to the big polluters, but, left unchecked, its emissions are set to double by 2030. The plan will be presented to the government in October, ahead of the next UN climate summit in Mexico City.

While local environmentalists have been pushing the government to adopt greener policies for years (with limited success), the government's newfound enthusiasm for climate change policies is apparently the result of external pressure, namely the Copenhagen summit and the environmental requirements of the OECD, which Israel seeks to join.

A report by the international consulting firm McKinsey has also proven quite influential, and will likely determine in large part the outcome of the committee's work. The report, commissioned by the Environmental Protection Ministry, was presented to the government in November 2009 and stresses the economic benefits of reducing emissions.

The report's recommendations (which environmentalists have described as under-ambitious) include setting up a network of electric cars, increasing renewable energy production (mainly from wind and the sun), converting power plants to burn natural gas instead of crude oil and coal and building more energy-efficient buildings.

While an inter-ministerial committee is a clear sign that the government intends to take action, it is worth noting that a similar committee, which operated between 1996 and 2004, was dissolved without having presented any recommendations.

Controversial Land Planning Reform Advancing
In the meantime, the government is promoting a plan to reform the town planning system which environmental activists say would have severe social and environmental consequences. The reform, essentially a new law replacing the old planning law, is moving quickly through the Knesset, despite overwhelming opposition from diverse sectors of society and a recommendation by the High Court to allow more time for public input on the law.

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