The Ball is in the Hands of the Next Government: Climate Change

How do we divert Israel from a path leading towards a polluted, crowded, and expensive country to one that will take us to a low-pollution, competitive, and thriving economy? Project Israel 2050 is a one-of-a-kind cooperative venture led by the Israel Democracy Institute and the Environmental Protection Ministry, in collaboration with the OECD, the ministries of Energy, Transportation, and the Economy, and the Planning Administration. Here is a glimpse of the possible environmental scenarios for the foreseeable future and how they can be best dealt with.

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The partners in Project 2050 are the Environmental Protection Ministry, the OECD, the Israel Democracy Institute, the ministries of Energy, Transportation, and the Economy, and the Planning Administration. Professional teams in each of the government agencies will submit an operative plan so that Israel can reach these objectives. Local government, civil society and environmental organizations, academia, schoolchildren, and experts from Israel and abroad are also partners in this process. 

Israel has launched an ambitious process, geared to transitioning to a low-pollution, competitive, and thriving economy by 2050. The process will require a fundamental change in how the country plans its infrastructure and construction, integration among the various planning entities, making our use of energy and other resources more efficient, minimizing pollution and the environmental damage caused by the generation of energy, ending the generation of waste, and comprehensive planning of our entire economy.

To achieve these goals, the Environmental Protection Ministry has initiated and devised a broad and intensive multi-sector process, which includes all the many stakeholders inside and outside the government. The Ministry has joined forces with the Israel Democracy Institute, the OECD, and the Energy, Transportation, and Economy ministries, and the Planning Administration. Each of these entities is responsible for establishing a professional team to formulate concrete objectives and draft an operative plan.

In addition, a team was established to focus on social issues, composed of many and diverse relevant stakeholders, who are not usually included in processes of this type, such as representatives of towns at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, civil society organizations, schoolchildren, and environmental organizations. This unique inclusion of such groups poses both immense challenges and huge opportunities for the process and its outcomes.

The project was officially inaugurated in early March, in a large and first-of-its-kind conference at which drafts of the vision and the objectives for each of the four fields—transportation; energy; construction and the urban environment; and industry, commerce, and waste—were presented. The conference included a discussion among the directors-general of the various ministries on the strategic challenges of defining and implementing a vision of the shift to a low-pollution, competitive, and thriving economy.

In parallel, a team was formed to study the macroeconomic ramifications of the transition to a flourishing, low-pollution economy. Each of the groups will present a vision for 2050, as well as for the interim years, and the objectives derived from it; at a later stage they will devise a roadmap for translating the vision into a reality.

In the coming months, the visions produced for each field will be integrated to the project’s overarching vision. By year’s end, in time for the international climate conference to be held in December 2019, a Government resolution will be submitted. On the basis of the objectives which were defined, in 2020, an operative roadmap and detailed ministerial work plans will be devised. An Israeli climate law that provides a statutory basis for the vision and the objectives will be enacted by the end of 2020.

The Dark Future: The “Business as Usual (BAU) Scenario” 

• Already today we are facing unremitting challenges to the quality of our daily life. The need to commute between home and work requires that we drive our private vehicles on extremely congested roads; even now, we spend an average of more than 40 minutes a day navigating seemingly interminable traffic jams. By the end of the coming decade, this average is expected to balloon to no less than 90 minutes —and this, despite the continuing investment of tens of millions of shekels in improving existing roads and building new ones.

• According to the OECD, the density of motor vehicles per kilometer of road (traffic congestion) in Israel is 3.5 times the OECD average. The Transportation Ministry reports that the effects of congestion can be expected to worsen, costing the economy NIS 25 billion a year.

• In the urban space, our cities are growing, at the expense of what remains of open space in the center and north of the country. The situation is liable to deteriorate, since all the open space between Gush Dan and Jerusalem is likely to be built up over the course of the next thirty years. According to the strategic housing plan developed by the National Economic Council, there will be 60% more housing units by 2040, but land will be lacking for about 420,000 of the housing units needed in that year. 

• The buildings we live in are not properly insulated or energy-efficient. The result is that we pay exorbitant sums to maintain pleasant temperatures in the hot summer and cold winter.

• Per capita waste production in Israel is about 20% above the OECD average. The proportion of waste we send to landfills (about 80%) is the highest among the OECD countries.

• The air we breathe is polluted by the power plants that produce our electricity, the cars we travel in, and factories. According to the OECD, each year about 2,240 Israelis die prematurely due to exposure to air pollution.

These examples present only some of the problems expected to exacerbate dramatically in coming years, in tandem with the anticipated growth in population and as a result of the growing impact of climate change resulting from greenhouse gas emissions. In 2040, Israel may well be the most crowded country in the world, with a population density of 610 people per square km. Along with this population growth, the demand for all the modern services we consume in our daily lives will increase as well.

The Solution: A Different Path on the way to a Low-Pollution, Competitive, and Thriving Economy

Israel, like many countries all over the world, and first and foremost the members of the OECD, has launched a strategic process to revolutionize its economy by 2050. The essence of the change is to make the way we construct infrastructure, buildings, and cities more efficient, and to reduce our consumption of natural resources and make it more efficient, thereby decreasing, and perhaps putting an end to the pollution our economy generates. Our urban space will become more efficient, healthier, and more accessible, even as we achieve economic growth and prosper. As of now, some twenty countries, led by Germany, France, and Britain, have finalized such plans and embarked on their implementation.

In Israel, each domain is driven by a specific vision, all sharing the goal of achieving a low-pollution, competitive, and flourishing economy by 2050:


• A transition to a sustainable, efficient, balanced, fast, transportation system, including a shift to alternative forms of propulsion—vehicles with zero tailpipe emissions, and in particular vehicles powered by electricity and alternative fuels such as biofuels, hydrogen, and synthetic fuels produced by electricity from renewable energy sources.

• Planning of the transportation system will be integrated with urban planning so as to enhance the interconnection among sustainable means of transport (increasing the proportion of travel by public transit and non-motorized means by 60%–70%), minimizing the use of motor vehicles in general-- and of private motor vehicles in particular (decreasing motor vehicle use by 25% as compared to the BAU scenario), and making remote regions more accessible to the population by decreasing “door-to-door” travel times.


• Promoting low-carbon and low¬–air pollution industries that are internationally competitive, innovative, and highly productive. These goals will be reached through a transition to a cyclical economy that permits maximal efficiency in the use of resources (measured by the total input of incoming resources as a proportion of GDP). 

• In addition, all waste produced especially mixed waste, will be reused after its components have been recycled, and the use of new raw materials is reduced to a minimum.


• A transition to a low-pollution urban environment, through construction at optimum density and efficient land use that preserves open space. This is necessary to create pleasant and vibrant public spaces that encourage walking, decrease the need for the use of vehicles, especially private vehicles, and minimize the phenomenon of urban heat islands.

• In addition, the green building standard will be gradually introduced for new construction and urban renewal projects, until it applies to all structures. The standard will lead to savings in energy and water, and the associated household expenditure. The energy consumed in cities will be produced in the urban environment itself by means of renewable energy installations located atop buildings and infrastructure.