Transitioning to a Low-Carbon Economy - An Environmental, Economic and Social Window of Opportunity for Israel

By Aviva Shemesh, The Heschel Center for Sustainability
Published in Ecology & Environment: Journal for Science and Environmental Policy of the ISEES (December 2019, issue no. 4, pp. 68-69)

In 2016, Israel ratified the Paris Accords, which obligates it to determine national objectives for reducing emissions, to formulate a strategic action plan, and anchor its implementation in legislation. Accordingly, the Ministry of the Environment began an inter-ministerial and multi-sectoral process (together with the Planning Authority, the Ministry of Industry and the Economy, the Ministry of Energy and the Ministry of Transportation), to draw up a roadmap that will determine the relevant steps in each area (energy, industry and waste, cities and construction and transportation) to reduce GHG emissions. This plan will be translated into government edicts and legislation during 2020. This process was joined by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), the OECD, and the Heschel Center for Sustainability, who have all been partners in designing and implementing the process.

Transitioning to a low-carbon economy (based on renewable energies) promises benefits for all residents of Israel, which will include a decrease in GHG emissions and health impairing air pollution, and reducing our dependence on external energy sources. Nevertheless, in order for all to profit from these benefits, it is critical that the transition be implemented in a just fashion, without creating new economic or social gaps, or deepening existing ones [1]. Therefore, we cannot focus on overall growth alone, but must take into account, already in the early planning stages, the critical need to strive for social welfare and well-being. Therefore, the Heschel Center is in the midst of an in-depth consultation process with representatives of social society and academic research, in order to map out the opportunities for reducing social and economic inequality, and to improve the quality of life and health of all residents. The results will be presented to those in charge of the national strategic plan and will become guiding principles for its application. Following are just two examples of relevant opportunities, and our recommendations:

In the realm or energy: A swift transition to energy production from renewable sources is liable to preserve the centralized structure of the electricity economy, transferring control to a small number of private concerns, controlled by tycoons, and thus increase inequality. In contrast, the transition to a low-carbon economy affords the opportunity of changing the structure of the electricity economy, by decentralizing energy production, transferring a portion to consumers, and thus decreasing inequality, while increasing the resilience of the energy infrastructure, and ensuring continuous energy supply to the country. At the moment, the majority of those who are able to install rooftop solar panels are owners of private homes, or residents of kibbutzim and moshavim, but appropriate regulation which will incentivize apartment dwellers to install panels and independently generate electricity, will contribute to reducing poverty among disadvantaged groups in the social and geographic periphery, who can both generate their own energy, and profit from income from selling their over-production. In addition, it has become apparent from the State's Comptroller Report [2] that the Electricity Authority is passing on to the consumer the costs of the transition to electricity generation from renewable sources. In order to protect disadvantaged populations from these price increases, it is imperative to create the appropriate legislation, such as a graduated fee-structure, prorated according to consumption levels. 

The development of the solar energy market has additional social import in the form of demanding new skills and creating new places of employment, in this new growing sector of the economy. In the U.S. alone, the growth of the renewable energy branch of the economy increased the overall employment market by 4.2% in 2018 [3], and in the E.U., more than 1.1 million new jobs were created in 2016 [4].

In the field of transportation: According to the OECD, Israeli roads are the most congested in the Western world. Beyond the economic damage caused by a transportation system based on the private car, convenient and efficient public transport is an urgent national need, which also promises to increase social equality and climate justice. Accessible, efficient public transportation promotes access to places of employment and leisure, improves public health through reducing pollution and promoting an active lifestyle, increases leisure time, and contributes to the productivity of the economy. 

In order to promote all those values, Israel must transition to an urban planning approach that privileges public transportation, increasing mobility, connectivity and availability for all [5], and advancing bike and walking paths. Together these encourage active transportation, and reduce the factors that encourage a sedentary lifestyle, that stems from a number of things including sitting in traffic jams. This sort of planning approach can contribute to public health, with the resources saved from reducing morbidity directed at improving well-being, in particular children and the elderly. Correcting the structural flaws of the public transportation system [6] and improving its accessibility will promote the use of public transport among people with special needs, contributing to their social and economic integration. Given the sweeping changes that are expected in the world of transportation, such as the inclusion of self-driving vehicles, and the expansion of "soft" transportation (walking, various types of two-wheeled vehicles, and others that allow for travel up to 25 km/h), these flaws demand structural responses. Moreover, it is reasonable to assume that the modes of transportation of the future will be increasingly dependent on "apps" and activation from smart-phone technology. It is therefore imperative to remember that people with special needs generally consume their information in ways that are different from the general population, and thus this too needs the appropriate arrangements and technologies. 

In sum, the knowledge and the technologies that already exist in Israel, are sufficient to make it into a leading society that can have a flourishing and just low-carbon economy.

Sources: 

[1] Jenkins K, McCauleya D, Heffron R, et al. 2016. Energy Justice: A Conceptual Review. Energy Research and Social Science 11: 174-182.  

[2] State Comptroller's Report, 2017. The Influence of Energy Generation on Air Quality In Israel. Annual Report 68a (Heb).

[3] Marcacci S. 2019. Renewable Energy Job Boom Creates Economic Opportunity As Coal Industry Slumps. Forbes, 22 April 2019.

[4] Heinrich Böll Foundation. Energy Atlas 2018: Figures and Facts About Renewables in Europe. Berlin: Heinrich Böll Foundation.

[5] A. Becker, 2018. Public Transportation in Israel – Background Materials. The Information and Research Center of the Knesset (Heb).

[6] Ministry of Transportation, 2007. The Committee to Examine the Public Transport Reform – Conclusions and Recommendations (Heb). 

The original article can be found here:
  המעבר למשק דל-פחמן – שעת כושר סביבתית, כלכלית וחברתית לישראל


The Heschel Center for Sustainability works to promote a sustainable Israel: a just and cohesive society, a robust and democratic economy, and a healthy and productive environment for all its residents, now and in the future.