While pleased with the performance of the Israeli delegation at the two-week global sustainability summit, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said he was disappointed that the conference itself had no concrete outcome.

A 66-member Israeli delegation has just returned from the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – two-weeks of negotiations, workshops and meetings, which culminated in a high-level conference from June 20 through June 22. It marked two decades since the original 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, as well as the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.

All in all, about 50,000 people attended Rio+20, including 130 heads of state, and about $513 billion was pledged toward sustainability projects. At the conclusion, a Rio Declaration – called The Future We Want – was signed by the participating nations, but lacked tangibility and clarity, according to the ministry.

“We are gathered here in Rio at a historic crossroads,” Erdan had said in his own plenary address at the summit on Thursday. “We are here to make history, by shifting to a new economic paradigm and achieving sustainable development. We all know that if we continue on the same path, a gloomy future awaits us.”

Selected as vice chairman of the conference, Erdan led an entire plenary session that day, where he invited many speakers – including the Turkish and Lebanese prime ministers – on stage to speak.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati had particularly negative things to say about Israel in his speech, Erdan told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

Likewise, during the Palestinian Authority’s keynote speech, delegation leader Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki highly politicized water and waste issues, slamming Israel for many problems in those fields, ministry officials said.

But despite many attempts, the PA was not able to achieve state status at the summit and remained an official observer, due in large part to the efforts of the United States and Canada, according to Erdan.

Moreover, when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad addressed the summit, the entire delegations from Israel, Canada, Australia, the US and many European nations left the hall, ministry officials said.

In his own speech, the environmental protection minister emphasized that Israel has “spared no efforts to share [its] unique experience with both developed and developing countries,” including its neighbors, and he highlighted the amount of water that Israel continues to supply to both the West Bank and Gaza, above and beyond its requirements.

“We have just heard our neighbors speak here, at this very podium, about the development challenges that we all face,” Erdan said in his speech. “I had hoped that their message would not be politicized. I was surprised, or maybe not, that they did not miss the opportunity to once again, politicize a professional forum on issues that do not belong here.”

Erdan called upon the Palestinian leaders to join him in seizing “the opportunity to meet our common development challenges and seek to overcome them, together, regardless of our differences,” and he asked that they implement 28 water upgrade projects that he had approved.

The bulk of his speech, however, did not refer to political issues and instead focused on the importance of promoting green economies around the world – basing economic decisions on factors beyond GDP.

Outside the conference itself, the Israeli delegation held successful side events on water and sustainable agriculture, as well as a Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund learning workshop on forestation. In addition to these events, Erdan held several bilateral meetings, specifically with officials from the Czech Republic, Guatemala and Germany, and he also met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The Gush Dan area’s wastewater purification system, which combines soil aquifer treatment and nanofiltration to create reusable water for agriculture, received praise in a Global Environment Outlook- 5 pamphlet, unveiled prior to the high-level summit by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability.

“Everyone spoke about Israel as one of the world leaders of water technologies and sustainable agriculture,” Erdan told the Post.

Most disappointing to Erdan and his ministry was The Future We Want declaration, signed at the conclusion of Rio+20 on Saturday. Israeli representatives had taken a very active role in the negotiations leading up to the signing of the document, which began six months before, ministry officials said.

The document, according to the ministry, called for the establishment of a universal, intergovernmental high-level political forum on sustainable development, to convene by the beginning of the 68th session of the UN General Assembly in 2013. Meanwhile, a working group to deal with the same issues would convene no later than the commencement of the 67th session of the General Assembly, in 2012, and would provide a sustainable development proposal to the assembly by the next session.

Strengthening the global role of UNEP as the worldwide environmental authority was also critical to the document, as was recognizing the importance of measures beyond GDP to define progress.

A 10-year framework plan on sustainable consumption and production was also adopted in the declaration – a plan that had been initiated in Rio+10 in Johannesburg and whose programs remain voluntary.

In terms of official development assistance, the document also asked developed countries to achieve a target of 0.7 percent of gross national product for ODA to developing countries by 2015, as well as target of 0.15% to 0.2 % of GNP for ODA to the least developed countries. The document also emphasized the importance of transferring technology to developing countries.

Despite some positive features, the declaration contained many disappointing elements, primarily the lack of “concrete action” and sufficient ambition, with “no real action, no targets, no timelines,” according to the ministry.

In exact opposition of these contentions, which have been echoed by critics around the globe, Rio+20’s secretary-general, Sha Zukang, had said that the summit was “about implementation and concrete action,” at a press conference on June 22.

Gidon Bromberg, Israeli director of Friends of the Earth Middle East, reiterated the criticisms, noting that the conference “failed because governments used the event as a marketing exercise rather than a convening to advance on earlier political commitments made.”

“Due to the poor level of deliberations from earlier preparatory meetings, it was so clear to Friends of the Earth Middle East that Rio+20 would be a failure that we decided that it would be a waste of money to even attend,” Bromberg said.

Environmental Protection Ministry officials also argued that the definitions of green economy in The Future We Want document were not precise enough, and instead of focusing on what green economy should really be, it simply focused on what it should not be. The declaration also lacked a process to end subsidies on fossil fuels, as well as mentions of sexual or reproductive rights of women, the ministry charged.

Overall, the document and the summit’s biggest achievement was the decision to plan more conferences in the future, according to ministry officials.

“It was important to have the event because it did put sustainable development on the agenda and many countries are developing their own domestic plans – like we did up to Copenhagen and what we’re doing now with the green growth,” Erdan told the Post. “But the document is quite disappointing because there are no specific dates or numbers – it’s not concrete enough.”

The process of agreeing on such a document is “very difficult,” a ministry official said, noting that by including 193 states with vastly varying agendas, it would have been nearly impossible to achieve more than the negotiating parties did at this point.

“Unfortunately, the global economic crisis is making it harder for the Western countries to initiate new financial incentives to invest in protecting the environment and transferring money to developing countries,” Erdan said. “Of course some of the western countries use it as an excuse, but we cannot ignore that there is an economic crisis in many countries.”

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