Energy Ministry hopes to have 1.4 million electric cars on the roads in just over a decade
A plan to completely phase out the sale of gas- and diesel-powered vehicles in Israel by 2030 is a step in the right direction for environmental protection, but is unlikely to be actualized so quickly, experts hold. Earlier this week, Israel’s Energy Ministry announced that Israelis would no longer be able to purchase cars with internal combustion engines after 2030, due to growing health concerns.
“In 2040, Israel’s population will number 13 million people and there will be six millions cars on the road,” Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said. “We must ask ourselves whether positive developments like growth and living standards are not leading us into an environmental abyss. We won’t want to find ourselves 20 years from now living with air filters inside our homes.”
Steinitz noted taxes on electric cars would be greatly reduced in order to make them more affordable and added that charging stations would be set up around the country. He added that he expects the Israeli government to approve the plan by the end of the year. Today, hardly any of the 3.5 million vehicles on Israeli roads are electric. As part of the plan, large trucks would be permitted to run on natural gas.
“Steinitz’s plan states that starting in 2030 people won’t be able to buy new non-electric cars in Israel, which means that gas and diesel cars will still be on the road,” Dr. Bracha Halaf, the Chief Scientist at the Ministry of Energy, clarified to The Media Line. “What we propose and would like to bring to a government decision is to gradually place limitations or caps on automobile importers.”
The ministry projected the number of electric vehicles on Israeli streets would increase dramatically in the coming years, rising from 177,000 in 2025 to 1.4 million in 2030.
“Regarding the infrastructure [for charging electric cars], we’ve already researched this…and have discovered we will need tens of thousands of charging stations across the country by 2030,” Dr. Halaf revealed. “But at the same time, in the coming years we will only need a few thousand overall and for that the Ministry will publish a tender in the coming month calling for proposals to build them.”
The proposal is part of a broader initiative to move towards renewable energy sources and away from coal, diesel and gasoline. In the next decade, Israel is planning to shut down its coal-fired power stations.
But environmentalists and economists are skeptical the campaign can be realized so quickly.
“There has not yet been a government decision to implement this plan,” Dr. Raanan Raz, a senior lecturer at Hebrew University’s Braun School of Public Health, stressed to The Media Line, before qualifying that “this is the right step to take and it’s similar to steps other countries have taken. I’m happy Israel is headed in this direction.”
Dr. Raz argues that while Israeli cities currently suffer from less air pollution than urban areas in India or China, for instance, the levels remain significantly worse than cities in the United States.
“We suffer mainly from two issues in regards to air pollution,” he elaborated to The Media Line. “[The first is] extremely high levels of particulate matter [PM], which comes in part from dust in nearby desert regions, and the [second] problem is that we suffer from serious traffic and an underdeveloped public transportation system.”
Israel is one of the countries with the highest levels of air pollution, according to a 2016 report released by the World Health Organization (WHO). In the report, which surveyed 1,600 cities in 91 countries, Israel was ranked 12th from the bottom in terms of urban outdoor air quality.
Air pollution in cities around the globe is responsible for the deaths of 4.2 million people each year, the WHO noted.
Dr. Raz believes that Israel has not taken advantage of the abundant solar energy available to it for the production of electricity and explained that it was the “cleanest form of energy available in Israel.”
According to Dr. Alex Coman, a researcher at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya’s Adelson School of Entrepreneurship, Steinitz has “a beautiful vision, but there’s not much serious thought behind it. Israel’s electric infrastructure is only capable of supporting a small proportion of automobiles,” he related to The Media Line, observing that additional power plants would need to be built to supply higher energy demands as a result of electric cars.
“Steinitz mentioned 2030, which is not enough time for Israel to build the required number of power plants. I think it’s wishful thinking.”
Like Dr. Raz, Dr. Coman points to public transportation as an area which could be improved to alleviate air pollution and road congestion. He also says the government could encourage Israelis to purchase environmentally-friendly vehicles by providing incentives.
“Cars are heavily taxed [in Israel]. These taxes should be used to encourage people to move to electric cars gradually so that the government could be exposed earlier to the [infrastructure] problems associated with it,” Dr. Coman concluded.
The Energy Ministry’s announcement comes on the heels of a damning United Nations climate report, in which the world’s leading environmental scientists warned urgent changes are needed to avoid natural disasters like floods, extreme heat and drought. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report claimed that nations have 12 years to meet the target of keeping global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid unprecedented ecological catastrophes.