Cablegate: Embassy Tel Aviv

DE RUEHTV #0195/01 0241146
P 241146Z JAN 08





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) Summary: The Israeli government undertook several steps that
point towards a new activism on the pollution front in one of the
Middle East's most industrialized countries. Although these actions
build on earlier studies and legislation, the new measures being
implemented and commitments undertaken by the government imply a new
decisiveness. Several factors contribute to this change, including
commitments to international environmental conventions, increasing
public awareness of the country's pollution hotspots, and the
growing competition for land use due to population pressure and
industrialization. End Summary.

New Energy on an Old Issue
2. (U) Recent Israeli government action on a number of fronts points
toward a new activism against pollution in one of the Middle East's
most industrialized countries. The GOI Ministry for Environmental
Protection (MEP) released its 2008 Action Agenda January 15, which
in combination with recent actions announced by Infrastructure and
Finance Ministries implies a new decisiveness in addressing Israel's
pollution problems. The GOI also established a Cabinet-level "Green
Tax Committee" to press for change through fiscal incentives.

3. (U) One reason government attention has focused on pollution is a
report commissioned by the Ministry for Environmental Protection
(MEP) about Ramat Hovav, Israel's major toxic waste treatment
facility, located south of Beersheva. The report is due to be
delivered in February but its conclusions have already been released
on the MEP's website. It covers air quality and pollution deriving
from both spot sources (smokestacks) and non-spot sources
(accidents, wastewater) at both the waste treatment site and the
industrial park next to it. Ramat Hovav handles heavy metal,
chemical, and industrial waste, and has become a lightning rod for
negative pubic opinion about the GOI's environmental oversight.

4. (U) The report particularly grabbed public and parliamentarian
attention because the GOI announced last fall that a major new
Israel Defense Force (IDF) training base and city will be built
nearby. A Dutch environmental consultant helping prepare a report
on Ramat Hovav defended government policy, noting that under the GOI
program, by 2010 there will not be excessive pollution at the
planned military complex. By implication, however, he said that
existing pollution levels are beyond acceptable standards. The MEP
concedes this, but has gone on the offensive by planning to
implement a European Union Directive concerning integrated pollution
prevention and control (the IPPC Directive) in Ramat Hovav, and
insisting that all operators at Ramat Hovav comply with these
maximum reference values for pollutants. The timeframe for full
implementation, however, will only be at the end of 2010.

5. (U) On January 16, the GOI also released news of a tighter policy
on air pollution around Haifa, one of Israel's core industrial
areas. The Director of the MEP Air Quality Division Shuli Nezer
stated to Knesset that a study of pollution over Haifa bay revealed
the presence of the suspected carcinogens hydrogen chloride,
benzene, chloroform, methylene chloride, formaldehyde and
trichloroethylene in quantities exceeding acceptable standards. In
reaction, the MEP is imposing a plan mandating stringent standards
on industrial plants in the area, again in accordance with European
IPPC standards.

Coming to Grips With Climate Change
6. (U) The GOI also has reawakened to the reality of climate change.
Although Israel became a party to the Convention on Climate Change
in 1996, its Kyoto party status was only finalized in March of 2004.
While technically not bound by Kyoto protocol commitments to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions, the GOI is now pressing for OECD
membership, which would come with greater Kyoto obligations. In its
First National Communication under the UN Convention on Climate
Change in November 2000, the GOI said it would target reductions in
vehicular traffic, improve the energy efficiency of buildings, and
move to lower CO2 emissions from industry and electricity

7. (SBU) Seven years later, the statistics indicate a very mixed
result. Israeli data on gas emissions for the last five years show
that some airborne pollutants did decrease from 2000 to 2005.
Carbon monoxide pollution, mostly from vehicles, decreased by
approximately 30 percent, mostly due to the entry of more modern
vehicles and stricter licensing inspections. However, the amount of
carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases has soared as vehicular traffic
in Israel has increased. Israeli greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions were

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up by six percent over the period. Much of the GHG increase came
from the energy industry, whose emissions increased by 12 percent in
the wake of an increased demand, reflecting Israel's improving
standard of living. Nor has alternative energy sourced electricity
made much progress; despite a declared target of using solar power
for five percent of its electricity by 2007, the country's first
commercial solar power plant is only now entering the bidding
process, delayed by years of bureaucratic logjams over where to
locate it.

8. (SBU) In the wake of the Bali Conference on Climate Change in
December, the MEP Director of the Air Quality Division Shuli Nezer
said the GOI was preparing a major policy change. Although as a
'developing country' Israel has no fixed Kyoto commitments, "we
cannot continue as part of the international community with such a
trend" Nezer said. After the final report about emissions appears
in January, he said the Ministry will examine alternatives to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions.

Complying With Maritime Pollution Laws
9. (U) The Barcelona Convention is another instance of Israel
addressing environmental issues in the framework of its
international obligations. GOI Environment Minister Gideon Ezra led
the Israeli delegation to Almeria, Spain, January 15-18 for the 15th
Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention. The
Convention, established under the EU's Mediterranean Action Plan in
1976, now includes 21 riparian states and addresses the
environmental health of the Mediterranean. One of the primary
objectives of the meeting was to adopt a new Integrated
Mediterranean Coastal Area Management Protocol (ICZM Protocol).
Israel took a leading role in this process, trying to better
integrate its national policy and legislation into the Convention's
obligations. Energizing Israel's "Law on the Protection of the
Coastal Environment" is the objective; trying to harmonize the ICZM
Protocol to the domestic law, and assure that integrated coastal
zone management will take place along the entire Mediterranean
coast, encompassing both sea and coast. (Integrated management
relates to ecological, economic and land use features which are
specific to each region.) Israel hopes that adoption of the ICZM
Protocol will spur its efforts to protect both coastline and sea,
and also improve management of neighboring countries' coastal and
marine environments, thereby reducing adverse external impacts on
Sources of the Activism
10. (U) Several factors contribute to this re-energized
anti-pollution policy of the GOI. Visible environmental problems
and commitments to international environmental conventions are two
factors, but equally important is increasing public awareness of the
country's pollution hotspots. Israel's strong economic growth -
over 5 percent annually for the past four years, - has led to high
consumer demand and a rising standard of living, with the attendant
environmental costs. In Israel's densely populated central region,
increasing competition for land due to a growing population and high
industrialization has pushed people towards land on urban
peripheries previously relegated to waste and industrial purposes.
The demand for accountability for pollution has grown with public
awareness of it. Among other results, this has forced the removal
of Tel Aviv's landfill waste operation (not far from Israel's sole
international airport) to a more remote location 60 miles south.
The 20 million cubic meter mountain of former landfill covering 113
acres is now being converted into parkland to create a greenbelt of
parks cutting through the urbanization spreading south from Tel

11. (SBU) Urban sprawl is also behind the IDF's desire to relocate
to a new training base in the south - on land near the Ramat Hovav
waste site. Public concern about the health of military personnel
and their families put pollution issues on the front pages, and
created an odd coalition, drawing together conservative
Parliamentarians concerned about IDF readiness and liberal activists
for environmental causes. When pressed by the Knesset on how the
Environment Ministry will address the problem, MEP Deputy Director
General Yosi Inbar acknowledged that the database held by the
Ministry today does not allow for exact calculation of expected air
quality at the new base site -- although he was confident there
would be no danger to servicemen when the base opens in two years.

12. (U) Israeli NGOs have also kept environmental issues in the
spotlight. The MEP maintains a list of 1000 polluted sites in
Israel, places where ground, water and air have been polluted by the
energy sector, industry, and the GOI itself - mostly due to IDF
operations. There is growing NGO and public demand for
accountability and remediation of these sites. On January 15 the

TEL AVIV 00000195 003 OF 003

MEP outlined an ambitious work program for 2008, placing top
priority on the hotspots of industrial pollution, such as Ramat
Hovav and Haifa harbor. The Ministry also pledged to improve
environmental problems in specific venues, such as Bedouin
communities in the south and Arab-Israeli areas of the Galilee in
the north. (Post contacts claim that Palestinian and Bedouin
children have a higher incidence of pediatric blood cancers, and
question environmental exposure risks as one cause.) Finally,
targeting long-term issues, the Ministry will undertake the studies
needed to prepare policies addressing Israel's GHG emissions and
industrial waste problems.

13. (U) As public awareness of climate change has grown, it too has
led to public reconsideration of existing policies. One Israeli
professor has called for rethinking Israel's trend towards
desalination, relying increasingly on turning seawater into
freshwater for national consumption. He advocates greater
conservation and recycling, because desalination demands enormous
amounts of electric energy -- which in Israel means burning coal and
gas, generating even more CO2. Regarding climate change,
parliamentarians supporting NGO initiatives have introduced
legislation into the Knesset, not waiting for government action.
According to the draft Bill, Israel would be legally obligated to
reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by one-fourth by 2020 in
relation to the quantity in the year 2000, thus echoing the
obligations of the world's developed countries. The MEP has
indicated it prefers a goal of a 50 percent reduction by 2050 - the
objective agreed in Bali.

14. (U) In a move hailed as both popular and environmentally
friendly, the Ministry of Finance proposed a major reform of the tax
structure for vehicles based on pollution. Israel already has a 79
percent sales tax rate on vehicles. Now, for the first time tax
rates will be adjusted according to the emissions of the vehicle, in
15 different levels ranging from a 15,000 shekel surtax on highly
polluting models to a 6,000 shekel credit on low emission vehicles.
The incentive to buy electric cars will be strong, as they will be
taxed at 10 percent, versus the 79 percent rate imposed (though
adjusted) on all other vehicles. The GOI cabinet "Green Tax
Committee" approved this new tax structure on January 13, another
sign of the commitment to a government-wide assault on pollution.


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