Israel’s hotter than hell: Can climate change be reversed?

Heatwaves continue to become longer, more frequent and more extreme as the years progress.

 Illustrative image of a blazing sun. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Illustrative image of a blazing sun.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Israelis who feel like they are living in a modern-day version of Dante’s Inferno might want an exit strategy just so they can breathe without sweating. Unfortunately, climate change is like COVID-19 without a vaccine. The best one can hope for is to flatten the curve while minimizing economic damage and death.

The international greenhouse gas emission agreements are meant to “flatten the curve of CO2 emissions in the atmosphere,” said Prof. Yoav Yair. “If we can do that, we can curb climate change and keep the global warming average at less than two degrees Celsius.

“If not, our grandchildren will inherit a much hotter planet that is much harder to live on.”

Yair, dean of the School of Sustainability at Reichman University, IDC Herzliya, and UNESCO chair for sustainability, spoke to The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, four days into another burning heatwave that meteorologists have said is likely to last until Tuesday. However, the current heatwave is not breaking any records like in parts of Mediterranean Europe where temperatures reached over 45 degrees Celsius – so hot that the weather people gave it a name: Cerberus, for the three-headed dog in ancient Greek mythology who guarded the gates to the underworld.

France, Germany, Italy, Poland, and Spain face significant heatwaves. Last Monday, the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization said global temperatures recorded in early July were among the hottest on record.

 Sweltering summer sun. (credit: FLICKR)
Sweltering summer sun. (credit: FLICKR)

“On the one hand, the extreme weather event we are having in Israel is not so extreme,” said Hadas Saaroni, a climatologist at the Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Tel Aviv University. “We have to be careful not to exaggerate, because when there are real extremes, no one will react or take it seriously. Israel has always had extreme summer heatwaves.”

According to Amos Porat, head of climatic services at the Israel Meteorological Service, the first 10 days of July were the eighth hottest recorded in Israel.

On the other hand, Porat said that if one looks at this heatwave and compares it and other recent waves to 20 or 30 years ago, there is a significant increase in the maximum temperature, in the number of heatwaves, and in their lengths.

“We are getting more and more extreme,” he said. “In the next decade or two, we can expect an average of five heatwaves per year that each last as long as five days.”

And this is whether or not we stop polluting the Earth.

What will happen if the world can stop pollution?

“Even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases, this instant, it would still take a couple of decades for the atmosphere to stop warming – and I am not saying anything about it cooling,” Yair said. “That is not on the horizon.”

When looking at the projections for climate change in Israel made by the Israel Meteorological Service, there are two scenarios based on the level of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. In one scenario, there would be 4.5 watts per square meter of additional heat on Earth, and the country would warm by around 0.9 degrees Celsius by 2050. In another scenario, there would be an extra 8.5 watts per square meter of heat, and Israel warms by 1.2 degrees.

“Even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gasses, this instance, it would still take a couple of decades for the atmosphere to stop warming."

Prof. Yoav Yair

Israel already averages 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer in peak seasons compared to the average temperature between 1951 and 1980. Add to it the 1.2 degrees, and in 2050 the country would experience temperatures an average of 2.7 degrees Celsius warmer than in the previous period.

“I don’t want to think further than this because it gets worse,” Yair said.

The projections are based on the country and its neighbors meeting their Paris Agreement commitments. In Israel’s case, that is achieving an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 relative to 2015 emission levels. All recent reports by the Environmental Protection Ministry, the State Comptroller, and the United Nations indicate that Israel will not meet its targets.

Because CO2 stays in the atmosphere for up to 1,000 years and methane for at least 12 years, the current situation will likely worsen for at least another two decades, Saaroni said.

“Climate change is not going away. Either we get hot or hotter.”