Editorial |

Israel Seems to Insist on Waiting for a Climate Catastrophe

Haaretz Editorial
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People use rubber rafts in floodwaters after the Meuse River broke its banks during heavy flooding in Liege, Belgium, Thursday, July 15, 2021
People use rubber rafts in floodwaters after the Meuse River broke its banks during heavy flooding in Liege, Belgium, Thursday, July 15, 2021Credit: Valentin Bianchi / AP
Haaretz Editorial

The pictures from North America and Western Europe in recent weeks are a reminder that the climate crisis is not just a problem beleaguering undeveloped countries such as Bangladesh or people living on Pacific Ocean islands. The rich and powerful world will also need to find a response to the crisis. Even an advanced country like Germany is finding it hard to prevent disasters.

It seems that in Israel there is an insistence on waiting until a disaster occurs before people wake up. A review of this country’s level of preparedness for the climate crisis reveals a dismal picture. With regard to flooding, Israel is unprepared. The apparatus charged with forecasting floods consists of three hydrology and geography students, working in shifts, the Meteorological Service’s weather forecaster and an employee of the Water Authority, who was appointed as director of this apparatus. In the words of one government source in the wake of the latest floods in Europe: “We’d be happy to have the capabilities Germany has. Here, we can’t predict whether there’ll be a flood in Herzliya or Ashdod tomorrow. A winter with only seven fatalities is considered miraculous.”

There is also scant readiness for heat waves, which are expected to lead to temperatures of over 50 degrees Celsius in the future. Scientists know that extreme heat is the worst effect of the climate crisis. Even now, extreme heat waves increase mortality around the world, yet the National Emergency Management Authority has rejected requests by professionals to include this threat in the list of hazards for which it is responsible.

If Israel had a precise climate forecasting capability upon which such decisions could be based, one could perhaps rest assured. But Israel has no reliable forecast of the changes it can expect due to climate change since the government has not provided the Meteorological Service with the computing power required for such forecasting. Former Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot warned recently that Israel has no strategy for dealing with climate-related disasters.

There are some areas in which Israel seems to be marching backwards. The Ministry of Finance has again proposed an initiative termed “an improvement of regulation,” which would weaken the Ministry of Environmental Protection. This initiative is part of the “Arrangements Law” which regulates government activities. A ministerial committee for legislation has just approved the continued operation of a committee overseeing plans for priority housing. This committee is renowned for its rapacious nature, approving projects while ignoring environmental considerations, as reported frequently by Zafrir Rinat in Haaretz.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett talked about these issues this week, for the first time in public. He said that the climate crisis is a “truly global problem.” In order for this declaration not to remain empty words, he must instil in government ministries the understanding that climate change must be seriously addressed. This includes the ministries of energy, finance, transportation, interior, defense, education and health.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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