Jewish Journal


December 7, 2009

Will Israel Get Slammed At Copenhagen Summit?

Many analysts expect Israel to be criticized over its environmental policies during this week’s Copenhagen summit


Israel is likely to be criticized at this climate summit over insufficient efforts to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions.

The two-week summit, which starts in the Danish capital Copenhagen on Monday, will bring together more than 100 leaders from around the world to negotiate an international treaty to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

While Israel’s small size make the country’s overall emissions relatively low, when measuring its gas emission per capita it ranks in the unflattering top 30.

“We’re a developed country and our ecological footprint per capita is high,” Dov Khenin, an Israeli lawmaker and a member of the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee in the Knesset (Israeli parliament), told The Media Line. “On the other hand, we’re not taking measures that countries with a similar ecological footprint are taking, such as countries in Europe. This puts us in a very uncomfortable position.”

“Our energy market is mostly carbon-fuel based,” said Khenin, who will be part of the Israeli delegation to Copenhagen. “Our renewable energy market is very limited, both in solar energy and wind energy and at the same time our energy market is not efficient.”

“Another problem is that Israel is dependent on private vehicles and the public transport is not well-developed,” he said. “So a lot of energy is wasted and the vehicular gas emissions are very high.”

Khenin said that as of Sunday, Israeli officials had yet to formulate an official position to be presented at the summit.

“The Environment Protection Ministry submitted a proposal based on the McKinsey report,” he said, referring to a private consultant hired by the government to quantify the country’s potential cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. “According to this proposal, Israel will cut the increase of its greenhouse gases - they will increase by 34% by the year 2030, instead of doubling the gas emissions by that year - but it’s still not clear whether the government will adopt this position or whether it will commit to it.”

“Israel’s plan isn’t a real reduction in gas emissions but simply a reduction in the emission growth,” Yuval Arbel, deputy director of Friends of the Earth Middle East told The Media Line. “It’s good, but we think it’s still not enough and I think that in international discussions Israel will be criticized for this.”

“Israel is now entering the list of developed countries and it has no option but to work to reduce emissions like other countries,” he said. “For now, Israel has chosen a very problematic course whereas it’s setting out a plan to reduce emissions but without making commitments and without setting down benchmarks.”

Some environmental analysts argue that Israel’s combination of high population growth and a high economic growth make cutting gas emissions extremely difficult.

“There is some truth in this argument,” Arbel said, “but if the problem is really as severe as climate experts say it is, then we should do what needs to be done. Population growth is a sensitive topic, especially in Israel, but in all the developing countries, wherever there is economic growth, the natural growth goes down, and Israel and Iran are the exception.”

“By all standards, Israel is a developed country, but in the environmental sphere it’s lagging way behind and this is apparent in greenhouse gas emissions, recycling, and other areas,” Arbel said. “It’s a package deal - you can’t join the OECD and still behave with the environment like a developing country. It’s true that the initial investment is large, but the profit in the long run is huge.”

One of the main bones of contention, currently causing a brawl between the Infrastructure Ministry and the Environment Protection Ministry, is the plan to build a new carbon fuel power plant in the southern Israeli city of Ashqelon. Arbel argued that the Ashqelon station alone will increase Israel’s gas emissions by 10% and cause respiratory diseases.

Although Israel is likely to draw criticism at the summit, Arbel said the country could gain some sympathy on account of its location in a difficult environmental climate.

“Israel is located in a region where the impact of climate change is acute, and we may have to invest more in adaptation to climate change, which is what Israel is trying to champion,” he said. “We have severe water crisis here because of climate change.”

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