Analysis: Israel’s environment will remain a mess as long as security is the priority

By Anshel Pfeffer, December 10, 2009

It was only on Wednesday that Binyamin Netanyahu’s ‘will he, won’t he go to the Copenhagen climate conference?’ was finally decided. He won’t.

His office has said a number of times over recent weeks that he would like to be there, but every time they also leaked pressing reasons why he would not be able to.

This week there were two new ones. Apparently all the cheap hotel rooms are taken and, thanks to Ehud Barak’s scandalous stay at the Paris Air Salon in the summer — following which he was blasted for wasting public money —no minister, not even the prime minister, is going to risk public scorn right now over an expensive trip.

The other excuse is that he doesn’t want to be under the same roof as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is expected to attend.

Not that his presence will be especially missed. As surprising as it sounds, this is one international conference in which Israel and the never-ending conflict is simply not on the agenda.

In the arena of global warming, Israel barely weighs in. Its tiny size and an economy not highly reliant on heavy industry means it is not one of the world’s major carbon producers.The country will be represented by the environment minister, Gilad Erdan, some officials from his underfunded and understaffed ministry and three backbench Knesset members.

That does not mean that Israel is not facing its own environmental mess. The State Comptroller’s Office this week published a special report detailing the lack of governmental planning for the reduction of greenhouse gases. None of the relevant agencies seem to have got their act together.

The Metrological Service lacks the professional tools to monitor climate changes, the Central Statistic Bureau has not been collating information and the Environment Ministry has failed to set out a national plan.

The whole issue is nowhere near the top of the country’s official list of priorities. That is why Mr Erdan is fighting what looks increasingly like a losing battle against the construction of a coal-fuelled power station —there is no joint government policy.

In the end, security considerations will win the day. Oil and natural gas are purchased from countries which are hostile to Israel, while coal suppliers are much friendlier. And the biggest polluter, the IDF, with bases that operate without any environmental supervision, will continue doing so with impunity.

While some politicians and pundits will continue to yearn for a more “civilian agenda” in which green issues will also feature, it is still very difficult to imagine a time when Israeli citizens and their representatives will get all worked up about the air they are breathing, at least not while security remains concern number one, two and three.

Last updated: 3:39pm, December 10 2009