Renewable Energies Cannot be Promoted Without Low-Income Consideration

Meira Hanson, Ran Raviv, and David Dunetz

29.05.22, 16:12, Calcalist (the original in Hebrew)

One of the challenges of central importance in formulating Israel’s energy policy is integrating tackling the climate crisis while taking into account the basic needs of those living in poverty. Solutions that do not take into account such social implications, are liable to cause significant harm and are also often not politically feasible.

The Prime Minister’s declaration at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, on Israel’s commitment to zero carbon emissions, issues of climate resilience, and transitioning to renewable energies – which are beginning to receive the government attention they deserve – prove that the Israeli public and public system have begun to internalize the fact that the climate crisis is already here.

Although Israel is lagging behind industrialized countries in the world, it is already in the ignition stage of transitioning to renewable energies. According to government plans, we were already supposed to be at the peak of the transition. Yet even the modest goal established by the Israeli government (30% renewables energy by 2030) remains distant, due to the conduct of the various state authorities responsible for its achievement.

One of the challenges of central importance is to integrate tackling the climate crisis and taking into account the basic needs of people living in poverty while recognizing that energy is a basic existential right.

In the rapid transition to renewable energies, as required by Israel’s commitment to the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the government must adopt an energy policy that reduces societal economic disparities. The overarching principle of the 17 goals that the Israeli government undertook to incorporate into its strategic planning processes in 2019, is unequivocal: to constitute a useful indicator of a just social and economic policy, without leaving anyone behind. In practice, poverty eradication is the initial target for SDGs.

What would our energy policy look like if it were required to contribute to the eradication of poverty in Israel, and to a concrete goal like halving the number of people living below the poverty line by 2030? Macro-analyses of the energy economy in Israel indicate that for the State of Israel to transition to renewable energy, it must slow down its rising rate of consumption and enable the renewable energy economy to catch up with growing demand.

Encouraging efficiency and change in modes of energy consumption entails a necessary change in the means of managing the electricity economy: from the current state of encouraging consumption to the perception of energy as a scarce commodity that must be managed accordingly. This conceptual shift will require an increase in the cost of electricity, which is currently low compared to many countries. Yet under the current conditions, raising the cost of electricity will harm many low-income families, which would constitute an unfair process likely to face public protest. A solution proposed by the Heschel Center for Sustainability is to shift to a differential tariff model, which would integrate the goals of ensuring clean and sustainable energy for all residents, along with energy efficiency and tackling the climate crisis.

Similar to water bills, electricity bills will also be calculated according to a differential tariff. The lower level will ensure electricity at a low price in accordance with an amount adapted to consumption – contingent on the number of people in the household – taking into account the growing need to contend with extreme weather events. The increase in prices will be reflected in greater degrees of consumption, in order to encourage more efficient consumption.

In this sense, any citizen may enjoy a low electricity bill, without necessitating proof or meeting certain criteria. Consumer choices will impact the size of electricity bills, including the size of the apartment and the number of appliances. Beyond the use of differential electricity, of course, green building standards must be adopted along with investment in renovating apartments to meet “green” standards.

Faster and more efficient solutions that promote energy-efficient policies may surely be proposed. Yet solutions that do not take into account the social consequences or different communities’ diverse needs – especially those of often transparent people – are liable to cause a great deal of harm and are often also not politically feasible.

In an age of climate crisis and transition to renewable energies, the use of sustainable global goals, as an outline and framework, may help formulate beneficial and fair policy measures that promote the common good and even contribute to reducing social disparities.

Meira Hanson, Ran Raviv and David Dunetz work at the Heschel Center for Sustainability and are partners in the NZO project (a national program to transition toward renewable energy), and civil society’s Agenda 2030 Coalition to promote the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, in collaboration with the organizations Itach-Maaki – Women Lawyers for Social Justice and Civic Leadership.