Tel Aviv Okays Ambitious Curbs on Greenhouse Gases

The plan includes powering all public buildings in the city from renewable energy and reduction in the use of private vehicles

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A view of south Tel Aviv, January 1, 2020.
A view of south Tel Aviv, January 1, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The Tel Aviv Municipality has approved an ambitious plan aimed at reducing per capita greenhouse gas emissions in the city by 30 percent within a decade. The plan includes powering all of the city’s public buildings from renewable energy sources, reducing the use of private cars by 30 percent, planting almost 100,000 new trees and reducing the waste buried in landfills by two-thirds.

At this stage, the plan does not address rising sea levels, but it does include a plan to deal with the city’s urban heat island – the phenomenon in which urban areas are warmer than surrounding rural areas. The blueprint includes an action plan to address extreme heat stress lasting several days and a plan to cope with flooding and lightning resulting from extreme weather systems.

In the process, Tel Aviv is joining other major cities around the world that have adopted more rigorous climate policies than their national governments. Some environmental activists reacted, however, by saying that they would wait to see if the plan promises a real green revolution for Tel Aviv or whether it is a public relations move.

The plan is related to the municipality’s commitment to the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, which Tel Aviv recently joined. The group now includes 94 member cities that have committed to produce measurable action plans within the coming year to deal with greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

Some of the cities in the organization have presented ambitious plans. The most ambitious of them all is apparently the one for Copenhagen, which seeks to become the first city in the world that emits no greenhouse gas on balance by 2025, generating more renewable energy than the dirty energy used in the city.

The average Tel Aviv resident generates 7.1 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. Tel Aviv’s plan calls for reducing that to 5 tons.

The plan includes the installation of solar panels on the city’s public buildings and the adoption of tough “green” construction standards for new buildings. The goal is for new buildings to consume a minimum of energy, which they will produce themselves using solar panels or by other means.

The plan calls for new high-rise buildings in Tel Aviv to be constructed using advanced techniques that reduce their energy consumption. A comparable plan adopted by the City of New York provides standards that will apply to existing high-rises as well, but for now, the Tel Aviv standards will only be imposed on future construction, including structures now in the early planning stages. Buildings for which plans have already been approved, including a fourth tower at the Azrieli complex in the city’s center, will not be required to meet the standards.

Curbing use of private vehicles

Plans also call for a comprehensive change to the city’s transportation system, with the use of private vehicles reduced from 54 percent of all trips to 30 percent by the end of the decade. The plan relies on the light rail system currently under construction in addition to improved bus transportation, massive investment in bicycle paths and efforts to make the city more pedestrian-friendly.

Tel Aviv board walk, January 1, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod

“We are again emphasizing and strengthening the priorities in the city,” said Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, speaking at the city council meeting at which the plan was presented. “The pedestrian comes first, followed by bicycle riders and then public and shared transportation, with the private car at the bottom of the pyramid.”

The climate crisis is already being felt by the staff of the municipal gardening department and is also seen in the amount the municipality spends on water. “If at one time, we would irrigate four or five months a year, now we are watering almost 10 months a year,” said Eitan Ben-Ami, who heads the city’s environment and sustainability administration.

The plan calls for more land devoted to municipal gardens and the planting of 94,000 new trees in the city. There are currently 256,600 trees in Tel Aviv. That number is due to increase to 350,000.

“Most of them will be local trees, with an emphasis on fruit trees,” Ben-Ami said. “As in other cities, the idea is to create an urban forest that preserves biodiversity and helps cope with the urban heat island.” And he added: “Every new municipal building will be energy neutral.”

Eilam Teicher, an architect who lives in the Lev Ha’ir neighborhood, said: “Like any agency, there are places where it’s easy for the municipality to ‘greenwash’ and talk about how green we are.” The city, he claimed, “has no experience preserving the open spaces in central Tel Aviv, where every open space as far as they’re concerned is a potential building site.”

Energy recovery

Another issue is the reduction of the proportion of garbage going into landfills. The Tel Aviv plan requires that it be reduced from the current rate of 67 percent to 26 percent in another ten years. As with many other issues, Tel Aviv is reliant on national plans developed by the Environmental Protection Ministry and other government ministries.

A drastic reduction in landfill waste will require an energy recovery facility. Such facilities in many other Western countries incinerate the garbage to generate energy, but they are controversial and would be expected to prompt public opposition on the part of nearby residents.

For his part, Ori Sharon, the deputy director of the Israel Society of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, said the city should be congratulated over its overall plan. “But the devil is in the details, We need to see if they plan to take genuine steps or rely on government plans, such as the light rail, for example, which is essential to reducing the use of private cars, but it’s a government project.”

Sharon said that other cities don’t make do with the installation of solar panels and improving the energy balance of municipally owned public buildings. In other cities, officials also work with business owners and homeowners, he said. For example, in some American cities and elsewhere, there are community solar installations consisting of panels on a number of roofs, which makes them more economically feasible. But, Sharon added, that requires the active involvement of local government.

“I welcome [the plan] but it raises a lot of questions. When the plan is released in full, we will know whether it’s a public relations ploy or that there is a real goal here,” he said.

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