TEL AVIV (JTA) — Out of a towering mountain of waste near Ben Gurion Airport, methane gas is being captured to create thermal energy for a nearby factory.
In the Negev Desert, solar panels are on loan to Bedouin villages that don’t have electricity, allowing the residents to run refrigerators needed to store medicine for ill children.
These are two of a small but growing wave of Israeli projects to help reduce the country’s carbon footprint by curbing carbon dioxide emissions — part of the global battle to arrest climate change.
Along the way, the projects are helping bolster Israel’s energy independence by promoting energy efficiency and homegrown clean technologies.
"It’s hard to be first, and a challenge, but we believe in what we do," said Eyal Biger, founder of the Good Energy Initiative, the country’s first and only voluntary carbon offsetting organization.
The notion of reducing one’s carbon footprint has become a buzzword in the United States and Europe, but only recently has it begun to gain currency in Israel.
Last November, the Good Energy Initiative managed some of the carbon offsetting for the estimated 750 tons of carbon emissions produced by the thousands of people who attended the United Jewish Communities General Assembly in Jerusalem. To offset the emissions, caused by such uses as air travel, the Good Energy Initiative subsidized the purchase of solar water heaters and energy-efficient light bulbs for disadvantaged Israeli families.
"We see the mechanism of carbon offsetting as a way to introduce, enhance and support social projects on environmental issues like energy and air pollution because we believe social and environmental integrity are two sides of the same coin,” Biger said.
In Israel, as in the rest of the world, there are two avenues for carbon offsetting. One is the voluntary route being pioneered here by Biger’s organization. Among other projects, the group helps Diaspora Jewish organizations offset their carbon emissions by investing in Israeli energy-saving projects.
The other avenue is the commercial side, which taps into the new multimillion-dollar-a-year business of carbon trading.
The handful of Israeli companies that deal in carbon offset trading were established in the wake of the Kyoto climate treaty, which took effect in 2005.
The treaty assigned different responsibilities to developed and non-developed countries. Developed countries agreed to comply with new carbon dioxide emissions standards. Through carbon trading, polluting entities such as governments, factories and power plants from developed countries offset the environmental damage they cause by buying carbon credits from an array of greenhouse gas reduction projects in non-developed countries.
This has opened a door of opportunity for Israel and other countries defined as non-developed by Kyoto. It’s how, for example, the decomposition of organic waste being captured and transformed into thermal energy at the Hirya landfill just outside Israel’s main airport is being sold to France’s national electric company as a carbon offset.
Adi Dishon, the co-founder of EcoTraders, the largest carbon trading company in Israel, brokered that and many other such deals in the country.
"When we started out five years ago it was very difficult,” Dishon told JTA. “There was not much awareness of climate change in general. But now the global awareness is huge, and anyone who does business in Europe or the United States understands you cannot sell products without addressing the issue of climate change or energy efficiency.”
Israeli companies now realize it’s a "double bonus" to become more energy efficient, she said. They are weaning themselves off coal, Israel’s major energy source, because it reduces their own costs while providing the added revenue source of being able to sell carbon credits abroad.
Noam Gressel, Elysium’s managing partner, says Israel can be especially competitive in the carbon offsetting market because it is emerging as a clean technology hub where local industries can tap into wind, solar and bio-fuel technologies being pioneered in the Jewish state.
One of Elysium’s projects is a large coffee factory in the northern town of Safed. The factory burns the waste from its coffee production to create its own steam to replace the polluting heavy fuels it once used. Installing the biomass burner to help create the steam was not cheap, Gressel said, "but adding the revenue of carbon credits tips the scale and makes it that much more profitable."
Beyond the carbon credits being traded commercially, credits are also being traded on the volunteer market. EcoTraders had been planning to auction voluntary units from Israel in Europe, but anger in Europe over Israel’s recent operation in Gaza prompted the company to postpone the event.
This, and the nature of carbon trading itself, underscores the interconnectedness of the world. As the Good Energy Initiative’s Biger put it when speaking about how emissions in one corner of the globe can be neutralized anywhere else, "Our atmosphere is shared."