Israel Warming at Triple Rate Than in Recent Decades

According to data by Israel Meteorological Service, average temperature in the country has risen by 0.59 degrees a decade over the last three decades

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The dissipating Dead Sea.
The dissipating Dead Sea.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

The pace at which average temperatures are rising in Israel has tripled in recent decades, and the total increase recently crossed the threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius, new data from the Israel Meteorological Service shows.

The service compared Israeli data from 1980 through 2020 with data on that same period from the latest report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It found that average temperatures in Israel rose by 0.59 degrees a decade during this period, while the average increase globally was 0.21 degrees per decade.

The data, which was presented Monday at an international conference of 31 European meteorological services in Brussels, showed that Israel’s average temperature has risen by 0.59 degrees a decade over the last three decades. That is significantly higher than the rate for the past 70 years as a whole, when warming averaged 0.21 degrees a decade.

The Israeli data is in line with a global trend of accelerated warming.

Previously, the Meteorological Service had analyzed the data from 1950 to 2017 and concluded that average temperatures rose by 1.4 degrees compared to the baseline period. But the new analysis adds the years 2018 through 2020, and it found that temperatures have risen 1.55 degrees compared to the baseline.

Moreover, in the three decades from 1990 to 2020, temperatures actually rose by 1.7 degrees. The figure for the entire 70 years is lower because temperatures fell slightly between 1950 and 1990.

“In our new calculations, we found that Israel continued warming over the last three years, and that the rise in temperatures was larger than we had realized and exceeded the 1.5-degree threshold,” said Avner Forshpan, head of the Meteorological Service’s climate department. “The data shows that climate change is already here and that it’s continuing.”

The service’s director general, Nir Stav, noted that warming has accelerated worldwide in recent years, but it isn’t uniform in every part of the globe. “The rise was greater over land than over the oceans, and it was greater in the Northern Hemisphere than the Southern Hemisphere,” he explained. “Therefore, the rise in temperatures here over the last 30 years was greater.”

Forshpan deemed this “worrying,” adding, “We have to prepare immediately for the effects” of warming.

Experts on climate change from three Israeli universities all agreed that the new data is significant.

The data “casts a heavy shadow over Israel’s preparations for climate change,” said Prof. Yaron Ziv, the head of Ben-Gurion University’s School of Sustainability and Climate Change. “Warming at this level has great significance for changes in semidesert regions and Mediterranean climates, both of which are sentenced to desertification.”

“Years of governmental neglect and dismissal of the climate and ecological crises now confront us with an enormous challenge,” he added. “The time has come for significant steps. Real, responsible Israeli leaders, as well as Israelis in general, won’t be able to sleep at night following publication of the new data.”

Prof. Hadas Saaroni, a climatologist from Tel Aviv University, added, “The findings underscore the intensification of warming in our region. This trend has especially grave implications for our region, which is known as a region subject to high heat stress throughout the long hot season.”

Prof. Colin Price, the head of Tel Aviv University’s Environmental Studies Department, compared global warning to the coronavirus.

“Israel is heating up faster than global warming,” he said. “Therefore, this data is very worrying. Just as we’re familiar with waves of the pandemic, which start slowly but accelerate exponentially, global temperatures, including in Israel, are starting to accelerate upward, and we don’t know when they will peak.”

A climate march in Brussels, Belgium, ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in October.Credit: Yves Herman / Reuters

The new data was published just days before the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, where leaders from around the world will try to reach agreements on reducing emissions of warming gases in order to prevent average temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees compared to the pre-industrial age. That is the target leaders set in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Scientists have warned that any warming beyond that level would be perilous. This is not merely because it would lead to more extreme climate events, like wildfires, floods, droughts, severe heat waves and rising sea levels, but also because it could accelerate economic collapse, increase security threats, undermine countries’ stability and produce waves of refugees.

Local environmental groups say that despite these risks, Israel has set low targets for emissions reductions compared to other developed countries, because it hasn’t yet recognized the magnitude of the threat. The Environmental Protection Ministry has been trying to enact climate legislation, but has been stymied by opposition from the energy and finance ministries.

“We in Israel are at a point where we have a lot to lose from global warming,” said Prof. Ron Milo of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences. “The impact on rainfall in the winter, heat waves in the summer and the Mediterranean Sea will undermine quality of life for all of us.”

The data shows that the impact has already begun, he continued, adding, “We in Israel have a strong interest in the success of the discussions in Glasgow. Now is the time to abandon the use of oil pipelines transiting Israel, which will encourage global warming and, if there are any failures, could shut down the desalinization plants that supply us with drinking water and probably also harm our beaches.”

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