After years of neglecting the issue of climate change, Israel has launched a government-funded initiative, under the auspices of the Environmental Protection and Interior Ministries, encouraging several municipalities to pursue climate change initiatives.
The initiative allocates 2 million shekels ($600,000) to hire experts who will assist the municipalities in drafting plans to fight the effects of climate change. The plans should include steps to curbs greenhouse gases, as well as address the growing dangers of heavy downpours, extended periods of heatwaves and rising sea levels.
A pilot program for the initiative will last about a year. At the end of this preliminary stage, the National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Ministry has committed to provide additional funding to help municipalities implement their plans. However, the necessary and expensive infrastructure projects, will require larger sums to complete – more than the amount any one ministry has authority to allocate.
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As part of its obligations to C-40, an international network of cities committed to address climate change, Tel Aviv published its plan to tackle climate change, making it the first city in Israel to do so.
Now, it is being joined by 12 other municipal governments, including Haifa, Jerusalem and the Tel Aviv-area towns of Holon, Kfar Sava and Netanya.
The cities' interest in the national program doesn't necessarily indicate a sudden burst of eco-consciousness. Dr. Orli Ronen Rotem, who heads the urban innovation and sustainability lab at Tel Aviv University’s Porter School of Environmental Studies, said a number of cities see the program as a chance to obtain government funding for infrastructure projects and as a way to expand their international ties.
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Despite the good intentions, Israeli cities are facing the challenges of climate change alongside existing issues, such as the rising demand for housing, employment and necessary upgrades to their transportation infrastructure. This limits the amount of open space available for flood water reservoirs and planting trees.
Although no Israeli city has fully implemented a cohesive plan to address climate change, initial steps are underway. In recent years, the city of Kfar Sava has allocated funds to improve its drainage system and as a result has experienced less flooding damage. In contrast, the Tel Aviv suburb of Hod Hasharon has experience a recent building boom, cutting down on open areas necessary for drainage. As a result, the suburb saw major flooding this past winter.