How our house is slowly becoming uninhabitable

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As fires raged in Jerusalem in July and August this year, it was an event all too familiar to locals, but one that became increasingly exacerbated. The smell of smoke lingering longer in the city and dark clouds invading the horizon were a reminder that nature always trumps everything.

This summer in particular, however, Israel has finally seized the opportunity to tackle climate change, even if it means small steps to save its home.

“Israel is not ready to fight climate change; there is no doubt about it, ”said Galit Cohen, director general of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, at the start of the summer. “We must prepare … to avoid the hell that is expected of us if we do nothing, we must work to reduce [greenhouse emissions]”Cohen told Channel 12 News on July 31.

Cohen was pushing politicians to allocate more money for climate action in the next state budget. This year has seen a number of proposals for more dedicated climate change funding, in the hopes that a new government will go ahead with a budget.

The government announced on July 25 that it would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 85% by 2050 from 2015 levels, as part of an international campaign to limit global warming.

The government then set an interim target of 2030 to reduce emissions by 27% from 2015 levels, the year global climate agreements were reached in Paris. The Paris agreement aims to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius, and preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.

“We have set important goals, we have kept our international commitment on time and, above all, we have mobilized the whole government,” said Minister of Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg (Meretz Party) at the meeting. ‘announcement.

“The Israeli government made a decision on July 25; it was a historic decision, ”Blue and White MP Alon Tal said. “Which doesn’t mean to be dismissive of what the government is doing; reaching a target of 90.5% carbon emissions is unprecedented. However, Israel can do more and achieve its goals higher, like the rest of the Western world, Tal said. “[US President Joe] Biden is 100% committed [in carbon emission] by 2035. Israel is not even in the same stadium, ”he said.

The report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on Climate Change was released on August 11 and provided no indication of deviating from Earth’s climate change trajectory. The report finds that the earth’s surface will continue to warm more than the ocean surface (1.4 to 1.7 times more) and that the Arctic will continue to warm more than the global surface temperature – at more than twice the rate of global warming.

Prior to the publication of the IPCC report, climate change continued to dominate the conversation. US Vice President Kamala Harris spoke by phone with President Isaac Herzog on August 9, with much of the reported conversation focusing on climate change, according to the reading, particularly water scarcity, and the frequency and intensity of fires, such as those in the western United States.

With each further increase in global warming, the changes in extremes continue to intensify. For example, each additional 0.5 ° C of global warming causes clearly noticeable increases in the intensity and frequency of heat extremes, including heat waves and heavy rainfall, as well as agricultural and ecological droughts, according to the report.

According to an IPCC report published in November 2018, global warming is expected to be limited to 1.5 degrees on average. However, temperatures in Israel are expected to be warmer than the global average. This can cause more extreme phenomena, such as nighttime temperatures that could heat up at a faster rate than daytime temperatures in Israel, as well as more frequent, harder, and longer-lasting heat waves.

A disturbing forecast

The Ministry of Environmental Protection spells out loud and clear the looming problems that endanger Israel, and what is at stake in very real numbers.

Since 2000, extreme heat waves in Israel have been at least 6 degrees above average temperature for more than three consecutive days.

The Israel Meteorological Service (IMS) also released a report on extreme weather events which indicated a global warming trend across the country. The rate of warming is particularly high in the western regions of the country – the coastal plain, the lowlands and the northern Negev.

An increase in temperature and force of torrential rains will require further preparations, in terms of infrastructure, preparedness of local authorities and measures to increase the resilience of ecosystems. Due to increased warming, there may be longer dry seasons and there may be droughts, urban heat islands, dry rivers and fires.

Heavy rainfall over short periods of time also means more land flooding – especially in cities – and land erosion. The danger of flooding is generally higher in cities because most of the land is not exposed so water cannot seep into the ground.

This became a particularly relevant issue at the start of the year for Nahariya, which experienced heavy flooding following torrential rains. January’s precipitation broke a 51-year precipitation record over a two-week period, with more than 400 millimeters (15.7 inches) of rain in the west and the upper Galilee. A 38-year-old man died in the Nahariya floods in January, after trying to rescue people trapped in an overturned car.

“I am very happy that Israel has decided to come to the table,” said Tal. “We are doing our best, but not enough. There are some areas [in which] we can do more.

Among the wishlist that Israel could make to catch up, Tal said that integrating electric vehicles is a huge step that is achievable, in addition to providing more staff to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, to immediately deal with drainage problems in places like Nahariya, as well as to have more planes and resources ready before the inevitable wildfire season.

The Foreign Ministry said national targets included a 96% reduction in carbon emissions from transport, an 85% reduction in the electricity sector and a 92% reduction in the municipal waste sector.

Regarding the changes planned for Israel, various agencies have managed to paint a picture of how the region will continue to face challenges.

According to the Water Authority, there is a probability of a 10% reduction in precipitation by the end of the 21st century. The change in the distribution of precipitation could lead to a decrease in the replenishment of water sources, which will also face increased salinity. The flow of the Jordan – the main source of water for Lake Kinneret (the Sea of ​​Galilee) – is expected to decline by up to 22% throughout this century.

According to the IMS, there has been no significant change in precipitation or the seasonal distribution of precipitation since the early 1920s. However, since 2000, there has been some change in the distribution of precipitation, characterized by a decrease in average rainfall in the North and an increase in average rainfall in the South, as well as an increase in the volume and intensity of torrential rains.

The sea level in Israel also continues to rise by 10 mm. per year, which should eventually affect the entire coastline of the country. As the sea level continues to rise, the waterline should recede until it reaches the coastal cliffs, and the coastal cliffs could be damaged. This would then have an impact on all buildings and heritage sites located on the coastline, as well as factories, which would need to be relocated.

The increase in average temperature and decrease in rainfall will affect the quality and quantity of crops, animal husbandry functions, such as milk yields, and lead to a decrease in fish due to the potentially harmful effects of warming seas. on Israel’s marine ecological life.

For the people of Israel, climate change also poses potential problems of food security and for vulnerable populations. Heat waves can be harmful to the elderly, children and the chronically ill. With climate stress events damaging food resources, food security is becoming an increasingly imminent challenge.

A predicted water shortage also means more pressure on our current water sources. As more water will have to be pumped from rivers and streams, the less water these sources will have (also with the predicted decrease in precipitation), which will damage the ecosystems connected to these rivers and streams.

The expected increase in water salinity, especially for Lake Kinneret, will make the water more difficult to use. Departments therefore expect surface water to become a resource to the detriment of groundwater.

Fortunately, the environment is a shared issue, not an issue that has become partisan within Israel, Tal said.

Zandberg, who took over as head of the Environmental Protection Ministry in June, called for better funding for the Climate Change Preparedness Directorate, which was launched in 2018.

However, securing sufficient funding has been a challenge for management. He asked for NIS 2.5 billion in a report in April for short-term climate change preparedness projects. The crisis demands even more funding for adequate personnel and preventive measures, Tal said.

“Thank goodness the climate is not a partisan issue and does not exist on either side of the political divide, which means we can really do something,” he said.

The author holds a PhD in Desert Studies from Ben-Gurion University in the Negev.


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