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Israel Has Exerted Efforts to Fight Air Pollution, But Has It Done Enough?

© AFP 2021 / EMMANUEL DUNANDFarm animals feed in a field near the Rutenberg power station close to the border with the Gaza Strip, by the southern Israeli kibbutz of Ziqim, on June 23, 2021
Farm animals feed in a field near the Rutenberg power station close to the border with the Gaza Strip, by the southern Israeli kibbutz of Ziqim, on June 23, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 02.12.2021
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Over the years the Jewish state has come up with a number of initiatives aimed at solving the problem; in 2008 it introduced the Clean Air Law, and it adopted a national plan aimed at reducing air pollution through the supervision of industry, transportation and gas stations several years later.
Haifa, the largest city in northern Israel, is known for its Baha'i gardens and lively port, as well as its industrial zone, one of the most important in the Jewish state.
But lately its name has also been linked to heavy air pollution and high rates of patients suffering from cancer or respiratory diseases.
In 2018, an official report revealed that emissions from the port, factories and industries located in the Bay of Haifa area, home to some 600,000 people, were twice the volume registered in the Tel Aviv area.
It has also showed that some of the pollutants found in the air were considered cancerous by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Working Towards Solutions

However, David Broday, professor and member of the Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the Technion, one of Israel’s leading educational institutions, says the situation in the Bay of Haifa area has actually improved over the years.

"In the 70s, we witnessed several civil struggles that aimed at improving the environment in Israel in general, and in the Haifa Bay area in particular. Those were later accompanied by legislation and the enforcement of restrictions on industrial emissions."

The legislation that Broday is referring to kicked off in 2008, with the introduction of the Clear Air law and the limitations on factory emissions it imposed. Several years later, in 2015, the Israeli government adopted a national plan that aimed at reducing air pollution through the supervision of industry, transportation and gas stations. And three years down the line, diesel-powered trucks weighing over 3.5 tonnes were barred from entering the city unless they had implemented advanced control measures to eliminate pollutants.
Although these initiatives have bore fruit and authorities registered a decrease in the concentration of black carbon and nitrogen oxides, Broday says it is far from being enough. But a further advancement in this direction requires resources that Israel does not always have.

"The Ministry of the Environment is small and understaffed. Plus its ministers have not always been influential. The strong ones, the ones who were able to move things, preferred to take more prestigious offices, and that meant that reforms in this field have been moving rather slowly."

In 2019, the Ministry had a budget of $120 million, much less than such leading bodies as the Ministry of Health or Education. For 2022, the resources that were allocated reached $305 million, and the idea is that big chunks of this money will be devoted to fighting the acute air pollution.

A Shift Is Needed

Yet, Broday says that to further improve air quality in Israel, there is a need to shift policy.

"We live in a place full of sunlight. We can utilise it. We need to start with setting up photovoltaic systems on top of roofs that would reduce the need for high voltage transmission lines." "And we can also benefit from our peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt and use their vast territories to build solar farms that can produce electricity for all parties involved without polluting the air and without causing damage to the environment," said Broday.

Recently, Israel started moving in that direction. Attending the Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett vowed to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and work towards their termination by 2050.
Also in November, the country signed a historic deal with Jordan that stipulated the Jewish state would provide Amman with water in exchange for a solar farm -- built by the United Arab Emirates -- that would be erected on Jordanian territory.
But the future of this project is far from being certain. Part of the reason is the dissatisfaction of the Jordanians, who took to the streets to vent their anger against "the agreement of shame". Another issue is the fact that the authorities in Amman are insisting that they want to see the water pouring before the facility becomes operational.
If this is the case, Israel might need to come up with other creative solutions, some of which might be pricey. Yet, Broday is certain that it will be "money well spent".

"Let's assume that five or ten percent of all serious diseases are caused by air pollution. Think of the health and the economic repercussions that we can avoid if we adhere to certain policies."

An Israeli study published in February supported Broday's claims. It found that in 2015 the economic damage to Israel that was caused by air pollution diseases stood at $400 million.

"It takes time and money to develop and make progress. It is expensive but we might not have any other choice, especially as our population is rapidly growing and those people will need energy to sustain themselves."

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