In First for Israel, Tel Aviv to Discuss City Plan for Climate Crisis

The proposal, to be implemented by 2030, was formulated as part of a global network of cities. Environmental groups say Israel can't count on individual cities and must present a national plan

Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat
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Flooding in Tel Aviv, January 4, 2020
Flooding in Tel Aviv, January 4, 2020Credit: Ilan Assayag
Zafrir Rinat
Zafrir Rinat

The Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality will discuss next week the first climate change plan ever drafted by an Israeli municipality. The report contains recommendations for steps the municipality can take to cope with anticipated scenarios, in which global warming results in a growing number of extreme heat waves and winter floods.

The recommendations include cutting down fewer trees in the city, setting up residential centers with air conditioning to house people during extreme heat waves and increasing the amount of land where rainwater can drain into the ground to reduce severe flooding. The plan comes after Tel Aviv experienced severe flooding in January that resulted in two deaths

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The plan, which is slated to be implemented by 2030, was drafted after Tel Aviv joined C40, a global network of cities preparing for climate change. It was prepared by the municipality’s Environment and Sustainability Authority following consultations with experts in the climate, vegetation and drainage fields, including those from New York's Columbia University. During the drafting process, municipal employees and representatives of some cabinet ministries were briefed by the Climate Adaptation Academy in Rotterdam, which was set up by C40.

If the plan is approved by both the municipal administration and the city council, all municipal departments will be required to adhere to it. Contracts with service providers or future construction plans will be subject to its provisions.

Implementing the plan will require shifting the municipality's work habits and planning, and may also require a larger budget. But it may prove difficult to implement the infrastructure projects, due to the complexity of modifying these projects and the need to coordinate with regional authorities and other cities.

Cyclists ride bikes in Tel Aviv, July 2020Credit: Meged Gozani

To prepare the plan, its authors analyzed Tel Aviv’s climate conditions. The analysis found that over the last 40 years, average temperatures in the Tel Aviv region have risen by two degrees Celsius. As a result, over the last decade the city has had to extend the season during which it waters municipal parks and gardens by four months. The authors expect temperatures to rise by up to 1.2 additional degrees by the middle of this century.

Some possible scenarios would see the amount of rainfall in the area drop by 10 to 20 percent. Nevertheless, the number of extreme storms is expected to rise.

The experts from Columbia predicted that over the next decade, the number of days on which the temperature in Tel Aviv exceeds 33 degrees Celsius (about 91 degress Fahrenheit) will rise significantly. The city already experiences “heat islands,” meaning built-up areas that are significantly hotter than the less developed areas nearby. But the plan predicts that the temperature difference between areas could rise to as much as eight degrees Celsius.

To improve the city’s climate, the plan includes a proposal to create an “urban forest” by planting a large numbers of trees. It also recommends covering more walls and roofs with vegetation.

The authors said that construction and development have led to cutting down many mature trees in recent year, which provide significant amounts of shade. “Even though efforts have been made to plant new trees in place of the trees that were cut down, their benefit in terms of climate is lower,” the report said.

Eitan Ben-Ami, who heads the Environment and Sustainability Authority, said his agency is now examining ways to improve the land to how well trees grow.

Another major goal is improving drainage infrastructure and rainwater absorption. The plan proposes setting aside spaces where water could drain into the ground efficiently, thereby moderating flooding.

Flooding in Tel Aviv, January 25, 2018Credit: Meged Gozani

“In every new building, 15 percent of the area will be left open for rainwater absorption,” Ben-Ami said. “In parking lots, some of the area will be only partially paved to allow drainage. Instead of green roofs based on vegetation, we’ll encourage building roofs with beds of earth meant to absorb rainwater and allow [the water] to flow more gradually. There are places like the Boyer Forest north of the city where we dug pools to collect floodwater.”

The plan also recommended creating a climate index for buildings that will encourage natural cooling and ventilation. It set a target of using climate-friendly construction, including effective insulation against heat and cold, in 100 percent of new buildings in Tel Aviv by the end of the decade.

“Tel Aviv can take immediate steps toward a zero-carbon future through zero-energy construction, reducing private car traffic and switching to electric public transportation,” said Dr. Jonathan Aikhenbaum, director of Greenpeace Israel. “In addition, it can encourage a plant-based diet, create shade by building solar facilities in the city and stop cutting down mature trees, which are our natural allies in the battle against climate change.”

Tammy Ganot, an attorney working for Adam, Teva V’Din – the Israel Union for Environmental Defense, said, “Tel Aviv’s plan is impressive, and it embodies taking climate responsibility. This isn’t a privilege, but a vital need. It’s also important that there be a national policy that could help other cities to advance such plans, and not just strong cities like Tel Aviv.”

Dr. Sinaia Netanyahu, who formerly served as the Environmental Protection Ministry’s chief scientist and led its preparations for the effects of climate change, said that Tel Aviv’s plan “Must be backed by climate and hydrological data for this particular spot of land. At the moment, this data is lacking. It’s also important that there be engagament with government offices, neighborhoods and communities and neighboring towns in every field the plan addresses.”

Uriel Babchik, who formerly served as Tel Aviv’s director of sustainable planning and now heads the National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Ministry’s energy conservation department, added, “This plan has great value in the way it analyzes the threats and impacts together with relevant scientists and agencies and integrates innovative concepts from abroad like an "urban forest," a "water-sensitive city," and solutions based on nature. It’s important to note that the Energy Ministry is currently advancing a national plan for climate change and energy in local governments together with the interior and environmental protection ministries.”

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