Climate risk map will help Israel’s communities plan for storms, floods, fires

National map plan, inspired by work of US Federal Emergency Management Agency, is presented to government officials in update on climate efforts

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

A Israeli man tries to open a sewer drain as water floods a street during a storm in Netanya, north of Tel Aviv, on October 25, 2015. (AFP/Jack Guez)
A Israeli man tries to open a sewer drain as water floods a street during a storm in Netanya, north of Tel Aviv, on October 25, 2015. (AFP/Jack Guez)

The Environmental Protection Ministry is working to produce a detailed, interactive map of climate risks to enable Israeli communities and local authorities to better prepare for disasters such as floods and heatwaves, the ministry’s chief scientist said Wednesday.

Noga Kronfeld-Schor spoke during a four-hour video conference held to update almost 120 representatives of government ministries and state bodies on progress made since November’s United Nations COP26 climate confab in Glasgow.

The project takes inspiration from a national risk index created by the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

With multiple layers of data, the US index color codes the risk of being hit by any one of 18 natural hazards, down to the level of census tracts, which are subdivisions of a county. Anyone can tap in an address to access the information and see the risk.

The natural hazard data, based on data from more than 70 different sources, is combined with information on economic losses from natural hazards each year and the level of social vulnerability or resilience in a particular area. It is so detailed that one can check, for example, what the level of internet connection is in a particular locale.

Using FEMA data, the city of Boston has a highly detailed risk map of its own, Kronfeld-Schor explained, presenting examples that showed the port area color-coded for flooding risks and overlaid with information about where senior citizens live and where there are communities that don’t speak English.

A natural hazard risk map for the port of Boston showing the flooding risk overlaid with the location of communities that don’t speak English. (Environmental Protection Ministry)

Kronfeld-Schor said the Israeli map — being created with the Open Landscape Institute at Tel Aviv’s Steinhardt Museum of Natural History — would help to focus funds for dealing with the worst effects of climate change on the most exposed places in the country, while also raising awareness about the extent of the risks and the urgency of preparing for them.

Storms, flooding, fires, heat waves, and sea-level rise will be among the main risks addressed.

Kronfeld-Schor said she hoped a pilot would be ready by the end of the year. The long-term aim is to have a dynamic map that will forecast extreme weather events.

Ministry Director-General Galit Cohen told the conference that efforts to meet the challenges of climate change had substantially increased since the Glasgow conference.

She said that the National Economic Council, National Security Council and National Emergency Authority had all added climate change to their own risk assessments, while the director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office was coordinating teams to look at potential extreme weather events.

She said that substantial budgets would be invested during the coming year to help local authorities adapt to climate change, adding that a plan to increase tree cover in urban areas was on the agenda for a cabinet discussion on Sunday.

Dov Khenin, a former lawmaker picked to head President Isaac Herzog’s new Climate Forum, said that Herzog understood the critical importance of acting on climate during the next decade and would be using the Forum to put together proposals for decision-makers.

One of the forum’s key aims, Khenin went on, was to try to help bridge the gap between Israel’s “embarrassing” target of a 27 percent reduction in global warming emissions by 2030 and the United Nations’ goal of a 45% cut, if the world is to have any hope of limiting temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) compared with the period before the industrial revolution.

President Isaac Herzog and his wife Michal take part in the first professional meeting of the President’s Climate Forum at the President’s Residence, on January 5, 2021. (Haim Zach, Government Press Office)

The Forum was launched just before the Glasgow conference and held its first meeting earlier this month with 150 participants. It includes representatives from ministries, local government, academia, business and industry, non-profit organizations, students and youth.

Khenin coordinates the Forum in collaboration with Life and Environment, the umbrella body for all green organizations in the country.

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