What Is Needed Is A Just Transition To A Low-Carbon Economy
“Taking into account the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent
work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities” (Paris Agreement, 2015)
One of the key elements of the nationwide response to climate change – Israel 2050 – must be the commitment to a just transition. The transition to a low-carbon economy (based on renewable energy sources instead of polluting fossil fuels which are at the heart of the climate crisis) will have significant advantages for all the citizens of Israel. However, for all to be able to enjoy these advantages, it is imperative that the transition to renewables be done equitably, without deepening existing socio-economic disparities and gaps, or creating new ones. This approach is becoming more and more accepted in the world as a leverage point to move towards a cleaner, less polluting economy, that will be beneficial for the entire population.
The Ministry of the Environment, together with the Ministries of Energy, Transportation, Economy and the Planning Authority are leading a multi-sectoral process whose goal is to formulate an overall vision and specific ambitious objectives for Israel to become a competitive, flourishing, low-carbon society by the year 2050. Thus Israel has joined many nations the world over who have begun to implement plans for emissions reductions and increased efficiency in natural resource use, while ensuring economic well-being. Active in this process are also the Israeli Democracy Institute, the OECD and the Heschel Center. The backbone of the process is composed of four central working groups, in the fields of: transportation, energy, structures and cities, and industry and waste. The result will be a road-map for the decarbonization of the Israeli economy, to be anchored in national policy.
While the overall process is focused on economic and environmental components, the Heschel Center is committed to integrating the perspectives of the population groups who are expected to be influenced by this transition, and bringing to the fore the challenges and opportunities that the process raises, and making the relevant policy recommendations. Thus, we have done extensive field research, including in-depth interviews with representatives of the private sector, academia, and civil society organizations who can shed light on the effects of the transition on various population groups, including among others: differently abled, Israeli Arabs, women, Haredim, and more.
The Just Transition Initiative
On Nov 24th, 2019, at 4th Israel Climate Conference, the Heschel Center led a broad consultation with civil society representatives and academics. The event was structured around four round tables – energy, industry and waste, cities and construction, and transportation, with about 70 participants all together.
The goal was to critically evaluate the social and economic ramifications of the government’s objectives of greenhouse gas emission reduction, and identify leverage points where societal inequality, public health and overall well-being could be addressed and improved.
We have consulted with (partial list): representatives of Haredi organizations, Israeli Arab society, bodies that deal with gender equality, the geographic periphery, Negev Bedouin, transportation advocacy groups, youth, the differently abled.
The round table event in November included 70 participants from among the following organizations: “15 Minutes” (mass transit), Sikkuy, the JDC, the Adva Center, the Forum for Urbanism, Brookdale, the Association for Sustainable Economics, Dror-Israel, Greenpeace – Israel, Israel Union for Environmental Defense (IUED), Itach-Maaki, Citizens for the Environment, Power to the Worker, as well as representatives from many local authorities, and senior academic experts.
We have identified 12 overarching principles which must guide policy makers in making the decarbonization of the Israeli economy and just transition:
The position paper, which was presented by CEO of HC Victor Weis at the Eli Horowitz Policy Conference in December, 2019 in front of 300 invitees, emphasizes the importance of caring for marginalized populations while transitioning Israel to a post-carbon society. The recommendations to the government are presented by general principles and by recommendations from each working group. The “Just Transition” principles are increasingly relevant in a post-COVID-19 world. At the Eli Horowitz Policy Conference, the groups presented their work to the government ministries.
Our plans this year were to promote a “climate law”, but they have been postponed due to political instability, and to the preoccupation with the pandemic.
Just Transition: More Information
The approaches to just transition in the many countries and locales around the world where it is being implemented are varied, but they all stem from the recognition that we all must share the temporary price that the transition to a low-carbon economy entails. Disadvantaged and vulnerable populations are already suffering disproportionately from the effects of climate change, and will only suffer more in the future. If also structural changes, that result in unemployment and rising prices, even in the short term, result in worsening poverty and exclusion, then “a green economy” will become an unbearable burden, and a huge failure.
The transition to a low-carbon economy will necessitate drastic measures that will be felt by all of us, but especially by the more disadvantaged sectors in the population. Thus it is imperative that policy makers integrate principles of social equality in order to take advantage of the transition to stem the rising inequality in Israel, and ensure that the entire society benefits from the implementation of government policy.
There’s no doubt that a transition to a low-carbon economy will necessitate pervasive social sensitivity, in order to be a just transition, and not one that enlarges social and economic disparities. Without attention to this dimension, workers will suffer serious losses and their rights abused because of sweeping changes in the nature of work and the availability of jobs, especially for those whose work is connected to the fossil fuel industry and its by-products, and other polluting industries, such as plastics, standard transportation (including air travel), heating and cooling, the automotive industries, and more.
Likewise, there will be a widespread need for occupational retraining from the disappearing polluting industries to the newer, more sustainable trades. If these vulnerable populations and their needs are not taken into account in this transition, we will see more and more conflicts regarding job security, wages and pensions, as in the French case of Macron’s proposed carbon tax, and the popular revolt of the “yellow vests” (gilets jaunes). It would be a grave error to place the burden of the transition on the shoulders of lower socio-economic classes, which leads to popular opposition, and climate-denying populism, as in the German and American cases. A commitment to a “just transition” thus must become axiomatic to any notion of sustainable development and climate remediation. Neither will be achieved without greater participatory engagement to include marginalized populations who can both influence and enact solutions in the face of multiple risks in a fast-changing world.
Eradicating poverty and reducing inequality are necessary conditions for successfully dealing with climate change (IPCC, 2018). While social inequality in Israel has been lessened somewhat in recent years, it is still among the highest of all OECD countries. This is even more so the case for the Israeli Arab and ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) sectors.
A just transition will:
The principle of just transition can be illustrated with two cases.
1. Case in Point: Energy
A swift transition to energy production from renewable sources is liable to preserve the highly concentrated nature of the electricity economy, which is now in the hands of the government, by transferring the controlling interests to private enterprise in a monopolistic fashion that will only widen socio-economic gaps and inequality.
In contrast, if the necessary transformation is based on the principles of a just transition, structural changes can be imposed, decentralizing the energy economy, and transferring a portion of the production to users, thus decreasing inequality, and increasing the resilience of energy infrastructure, and the dependability of the energy supply in the country.
However, the situation today is that the main populations that install solar panels are relatively well-off private home owners, or kibbutzim and moshavim, so the appropriate regulation that will also incentivize apartment buildings and public housing to independently generate electricity is necessary so that all strata of the population can benefit, and in the social and geographic periphery they can not only produce electricity for their own consumption, but also generate an income from their productions surpluses.
Possible incentives and policy tools could include: differential electricity rates based on income; small loans and government guarantees for loans for relevant populations; creating models of consumer cooperatives to purchase panels together and share resultant profits.
2. Case in Point: The Haifa Bay
The BAZAN Group, or ORL (Oil Refineries Ltd.) is an oil refining and petrochemicals company located in the Haifa Bay. It operates the largest integrated refining and petrochemical facility in the country, with a total oil refining capacity of approximately 9.8 million tons of crude oil per year. The new Minister of the Environment, Gila Gamliel (Likud) has just announced that it will be closing its doors.
After a protracted struggle over many years by environmental groups, and local citizens’ organizations, Minister Gamliel announced the ministry’s decision to close the plant over the course of the coming decade, ideally by 2025. This decision was based in part on the government comptroller’s report (June, 2019) which revealed a deeply disturbing situation of illegal air pollution, lack of enforcement of environmental regulations, and high rates of morbidity and mortality in the area.
The comptroller advised that an independent public review board be established to make recommendations to the government regarding the complex issue of closing or removing the petrochemical industries, including to insure fair treatment of the workers and their families who would lose their livelihoods.
The Heschel Center and others congratulate the minister for her bold decision, but have reiterated the need for public participation to insure adopting a “just transition.” This approach emphasizes the social aspects of environmental policy decisions, and in particular, providing an appropriate response, based on social justice and equity for those populations (such as factory workers) that will suffer from the closings of industries which are polluting or significant contributors to climate change. These principles are formulated in the declaration that was adopted at the UN Climate Change Conference held in Katowice, Poland, in December 2018, known as the Solidarity and Just Transition Silesia Declaration.
The closing of the polluting factories will of course be devastating for the workers and their families, most of whom live in close proximity to the sites. These workers are paying the price of pollution twice over: first they paid with impaired health, having been exposed to dangerous toxic materials over the course of many years, and now in losing their livelihood.
The plan must include components such as monetary compensation for workers, and retraining with up-to-date skills for those who wish to remain in the workforce; a clear timetable for cleaning and reclaiming the land where the factories are sited (and the nearby beach and the ocean area); allocation of public housing units, with preference for factory workers who have been evacuated, and more.
We can learn from similar cases in other countries where it is customary to make decisions based on public participation with input from all stakeholders, reaching a consensus that is acceptable to all concerned – government, business interests, workers’ groups, environmental watchdogs, and citizens.