"The natural resources of the earth, including the air, water, land, flora and fauna and especially representative samples of natural ecosystems, must be safeguarded for the benefit of present and future generations through careful planning or management, as appropriate".
Declaration of the United Nations
Conference on the Human Environment,
Stockholm 16 June 1972
This special audit report on the National Climate Action by the Government of Israel, was submitted to the Knesset and presented to the public in preparation for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), scheduled to meet in early November 2021 – at a time when many countries are making pivotal policy decisions that will influence the way we will manage this global crisis, which is expected to continue in the coming decades.
This audit report is unique in several respects. First, the state audit chose to address an issue that is currently developing. This decision was based on a future-oriented approach and the desire to give decision-makers a comprehensive document that will support them in preparing for and managing this multidimensional issue. Second, the report includes analysis of risks in different fields – including financial, physical, and geopolitical. The findings indicate the need to integrate them into the national risk strategy and take them into account when addressing strategic issues under the government’s responsibility. Third, the report addresses several levels of this issue: the inter-ministerial level, which includes dozens of government ministries and public entities; the sectorial level – public, private, and civil society; the economic level, including sectors such as energy and transportation; and the international level. These levels are interconnected; taken together, they present a comprehensive assessment of the issue. Fourth, based on the understanding that the State Comptroller tracks core issues, the concluding chapter of this report includes an analysis of organizational and functional gaps. Addressing these gaps can contribute to improving government actions in managing the climate issue.
Over the past few decades, scientific studies have led the world to the understanding that continued emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) at current levels will lead to increasing concentrations in the atmosphere, and thus to significant climate change, and, that as result, a cross-borders and cross-sectors crisis is evolving and is expected to cause deterioration in the global economy, health, and ecology. To prevent the realization of this scenario, comprehensive global action is required to reduce GHG emissions through the transition to a net carbon neutral economy.
Effective management of mitigation and adaptation to climate change effects necessitates a perceptual shift and requires an understanding that climate change is not only an environmental issue – it has become a systemic crisis that threatens many areas of life. Therefore, it is relevant to the entire range of government activity. Various countries have declared a state of climate emergency, and they have begun to take actions on the national and local level. They do so based on the understanding that climate change is a significant component of the risk map, and not just another environmental issue with limited effects, and that national adaptation to climate change is a central component of a national strategy for strengthening public resilience and systemic readiness for multi-risk crises.
In the understanding that the government must take initial steps based on existing knowledge, the State Comptroller conducted a comprehensive examination of government resolutions and actions promoted by the government of Israel over the past several years, in several main areas: mitigation of GHGs emissions; multi-sectorial adaptation to climate change risks; macroeconomic and financial risks caused by climate change; and Israel’s governance structure for addressing these issues. The audit report also includes an international layer, which contains comparative reviews of actions taken in other countries, presentation of content from international professional organizations on the report topics, analysis of global trends, actions and recommendations of countries and international organizations, risk analysis, and scientific reports. Throughout the audit process, the auditors met with many experts and researchers, key staff actors, and field actors in dozens of public entities, most of the government ministries and subordinate bodies, industry representatives and other stakeholders.
The audit revealed many findings that indicate that the State of Israel has yet to make the necessary perceptual shift. Only a minority of public entities exhibited actions for improving adaptation to climate change. Israel is one of the few countries in the world that does not act based on a national adaptation plan that is budgeted and approved, although it is in a “hot spot” (high-risk area), and thus even more exposed to climate change risks. Further, climate change is not part of the national threat map. Not all the required mechanisms for reducing GHG emissions have been implemented. In addition, disagreements among government ministries have delayed Israel’s ability to meet its obligations and targets for GHG emissions reduction and the transition to renewable energy, and are expected to cause further delays. Israel has not yet internalized the risks posed by climate change to the economy and financial system. Finally, in the field of climate innovation, Israel is at the bottom of the list of countries reviewed.
The audit report recommends examining the obstacles in the existing organizational and functional structure that affect this issue. These include decentralization of authority among many government entities, segmentation of each layer related to climate change management, and the built-in gap between the responsibility of a public entity for a certain area and its authority to act in this area. These barriers impede the prioritization of the government’s public targets as well as resolution of the conflicts between them. The audit also recommends defining climate action as a core target under government responsibility (of all government ministries) and determine that climate change should be managed on a national platform that will enable decision-making based on balancing the conflicting public interests, under uncertain conditions – decisions that have the power to change the economy. This will contribute to improvement of long-term government planning through an integrative viewpoint, lead the State of Israel to a low-carbon economy, and promote the integration of climate considerations in government work. As part of this process, the audit recommends strengthening the necessary knowledge capacities in the scientific, economic, and technological fields. The government must act so that the national infrastructure and resources and public and private funding will support the State of Israel’s transition to a low-carbon economy and the promotion of adaptation actions and ensure that all necessary steps are taken to meet its obligations and targets for GHG emissions reduction.
It should be noted that during the final stages of this audit, the government made several resolutions related to climate change, and set targets and actions for implementation.
In conclusion, Israel’s government faces a two-sided challenge. On the one hand, it must address questions of risk management on the national level and construct a path that will lead to a low-carbon economy, green growth, and the transition to green energy. On the other, it must achieve maximum adaptation to the risks that climate change poses to people, infrastructure, and nature. I hope that the findings of this report and its recommendations will contribute to the promotion of the issues relating to climate change and motivate the audited entities to act in this field.
Jerusalem, October 2021