Op-Ed by Marc Shapiro
On February 27th, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz introduced a plan to eliminate the use of coal, gasoline and diesel by 2030. Despite its small population and limited natural resources, Israel has long been a leader in sustainable practices and was in the Global Top 20 for 2017’s Environmental Performance Index. While Israel’s decision certainly appears to be in line with recent progressive environmental trends, there are also underlying political and foreign policy motives behind this move. Additionally, though this decision may superficially appear as progressive, opponents are making a credible argument that this could actually be a step backwards in environmental sustainability.
As well as supposedly contributing to the nation’s environmental sustainability, the decision to eliminate coal, gas and diesel would make Israel less dependent on gasoline. This would be a welcome development for Israel, as their turbulent relationship with the Arab world has made the price of importing gasoline extremely high. Additionally, Israel has large reserves of natural gas which already accounts for much of Israel’s current energy consumption. Since the discovery of substantial natural gas near Ashkelon in 1999 and near Haifa in 2009, Israel’s production and use of natural gas has received major media coverage throughout the world. Many people see Israel’s natural gas reserves as leverage in diplomatic relationships and Israel plans to use these newfound resources for this exact purpose. Per a recent agreement, Israel will be exporting natural gas to the neighboring nations of Egypt and Jordan which will surely help improve tumultuous relations between the countries. Since the 1994 peace accord, in which both nations settled their relations, this agreement of the trade of natural gas could be the most significant diplomatic development between the three nations. Foreign trade is perhaps the best way to create favorable diplomatic relationships between nations and many hope that the potential exportation of Israeli natural gas will have this effect with Israel’s Arab neighbors. If trade could establish economic links between the nations, this could hopefully greatly reduce any risk of conflict.
Although Israel has certainly made a habit of bold and progressive environmental trends, there is reason to be skeptical about the possibility and motives of this newest plan. In addition to withholding from the use of coal, gasoline and diesel, Israel also intends to eliminate vehicles with an internal combustion engine by 2030. Driving on the streets of Israel however, it is very easy to be skeptical that Israel will be able to eliminate all internal combustion vehicles within twelve years. To do so, the Israeli government will have to convince their citizens to switch to vehicles running on renewable energy sources or simply hope that this will become the more economically viable option. Additionally, the vehicles owned by the Israeli Military are almost all run on diesel and a viable substitute has yet to be implemented for military vehicles. While Israel’s track record on environmental sustainability has been strong, successfully eliminating gasoline and diesel looks like a daunting task.
Israel’s move from petroleum to natural gas has come with objection from those who claim that natural gas actually harms the environment, similarly to petroleum based gasoline. However, Yuval Steinitz has revealed that Israel’s commitment to natural gas will go on despite concerns from opponents. As coal and petroleum are major pollutants that harm Israeli public health, it is promising that the Energy Minister has committed the nation to using more renewable sources of energy, however primarily using natural gas for energy is not the best solution. For example, a much more sustainable environmental practice would be focusing on the use of solar and electric power, unfortunately, given Israel’s abundant natural gas reserves, it is unlikely that this will be the primary source of energy to replace petroleum based energy. It is certainly promising that Israel will be aiming to eliminate harmful sources of energy, however it seems that they are planning on replacing one non-viable source of energy with another. It is yet to be seen how the implementation of this plan will affect the environment and Israel’s geopolitical position in the Middle East.
Marc is a sophomore from Chevy Chase, Maryland who is pursuing a double major in Communication Studies and History. Marc is a lifelong DC sports fan, who has a passion for Israeli Affairs.