Government agrees to plant 450,000 urban trees to help counter rising heat

PM, ministers present plan to cabinet after year’s work by inter-ministerial committee; trees to be planted along 30,000 km of roads

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Israelis ride their bicycles on Rothschild Boulevard, in Tel Aviv, on June 20, 2021. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Israelis ride their bicycles on Rothschild Boulevard, in Tel Aviv, on June 20, 2021. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

The cabinet on Sunday approved an ambitious plan to plant 450,000 trees in urban areas to provide shade and help cool temperatures as climate change kicks in.

The target is to be achieved between now and 2040 and to cost an estimated NIS 2.25 billion ($716 million). The trees will be planted along some 30,000 kilometers (18,640 miles) of road, coming out to around 150 trees per kilometer.

The plan was put to the cabinet by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg, and Agriculture Minister Oded Forer.

“The government of Israel has set the subject of climate as a national aim,” Bennett said. “More than 90 percent of the country’s residents live in urban communities, and the hotter the climate gets, the harder it will be to move around outside.

“That’s why we’re preparing to plant some half a million trees along all the roads in the cities along which we walk.”

Tree shade dramatically improves temperature conditions on the street, while also helping to improve air quality and absorb intense downpours of rain, he added.

Ultra-Orthodox families picnic in the shade of trees at the Sacher Park in Jerusalem during their summer holiday, on July 26, 2019. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Zandberg said cities needed more shade, trees, and nature-based solutions to deal with climate change, and that it was time for a government decision that would ensure that urban planning adapted to the changing climatic conditions.

Forer said the plan would achieve a double objective — protecting the environment and improving the urban space.

The decision is based on the report of an inter-ministerial committee that met for a year under the leadership of the National Economic Council within the Prime Minister’s Office. Other than ministries, the committee also included representatives of NGOs and the Planning and Building Council.

Mature trees are supported by a concrete envelope at a construction site in the German Colony neighborhood of Jerusalem, June 12, 2013. (Zuzana Janku/Flash90)

The next steps will include mapping the current tree cover in cities and towns, encouraging local authorities to create climate change plans that include urban tree planting, securing the necessary funds, creating a user-friendly digital platform that will make public — among other things — requests to cut trees down, and updating green building regulations to take account of existing trees and possibilities to plant additional ones.

One aim is to have 100 local authorities with urban forestry plans by 2030.

The relevant ministries are to work together on a funding proposal for the 2023-2024 budget.

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