A delegation of Israeli officials chaired by Environmental Protection Minister
Gilad Erdan is in New York this week and next, partaking in the United Nations’
19th annual Commission for Sustainable Development.
commission will focus on creating global policies for transportation, chemical
use, solid and hazardous waste management, and establishing a 10-year framework
program for sustainable consumption.
Erdan, who will join members of his
delegation there next week, will be exchanging ideas with other environmental
ministers from all over the world and will also present a special talk about
using mass media to facilitate change in environmental behaviors, using his
ministry’s current “Let’s Think Green” campaign as a central theme of his
The Commission for Sustainable Development gatherings have
been occurring since the 1992 Earth Summit meeting in Rio de Janeiro, in which
members of the UN Conference on Environment and Development implemented “Agenda
21,” a plan “to promote sustainable and environmentally sound development in all
“We are taking a very active position in the CSD,” Galit
Cohen, director of environmental policy at the Environmental Protection
Ministry, told The Jerusalem Post. “Every year we are doing side events and
there was a year where we did a learning center. Every two years something
During the last cycle, 2009 to 2010, which focused on water
management and agriculture, the ministry brought to the UN an expert from the
Israel Water Authority and created an onsite learning center to teach other
participants about water management, according to Cohen. This year, Erdan’s
speech is the country’s special contribution and will take place over breakfast
on the final morning of the conference, May 13.
“We will present the
‘Let’s Think Green’ campaign as a side event at the UN,” Cohen said. “It’s not
typical that a government will talk about reducing consumption.”
term of service on the CSD – each of the 53 members has a fouryear term and then
can be reelected – ends in 2011, and Cohen doubts that the country will continue
on to another term right now.
“Each time a few different countries are
represented in this group,” she said, referring to the “Western European and
other states” category that Israel has been serving in.
Other states from
the region include Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which both also
have terms ending in 2011.
Cohen was satisfied with the strides that
green economic development has made since the original conference in 1992, and
said that much of this progress will be discussed in great detail at a Rio+20
conference, the 20th anniversary conference of the original event.
has been a lot of institutional progress of course in the Western countries – in
the UK, the US, Australia, Canada, Belgium, all the OECD countries – which have
pioneered projects within the government, partnerships between government bodies
and NGOs, and so on,” Cohen said.
“Globally, what is the most important
achievement is the connection between the environment and the economy, and the
use of economic tools to promote the environment.
people started speaking the economic language,” she continued. “That is
something that is on board, on the table in all the Western
But Erdan wasn’t quite as impressed with the global
environmental advancement in the past 19 years, and included the Kyoto Protocol
– a UN campaign to fight global warming – among the agreements he finds
“For countries that were partners in promoting
environmental change, it didn’t happen as fast as they wanted, and still most of
their agreements were not implemented – like the Kyoto Protocol, for example,
and many others,” Erdan said during an interview with the Post on
“But [the Rio Earth Summit] did motivate many governments,
politicians, organizations, NGOs form all over the world to move forward. And
even though I support George W. Bush in many things, he wasn’t so supportive of
environmental issues. Now this has changed.”
Yet Erdan remains
optimistic, and hopes to witness the realization of more global environmental
initiatives in the next year, the year leading up to Rio+20.
that the biggest motivation now that gives me the optimism that it will happen
is that now modernization is coming everywhere,” he said.
world needs much more water and electricity and materials, so the prices are
getting higher and higher, not only for fuel oil or for energy, but for
everything. So government leaders are beginning to understand – even if not from
an environmental point of view – from an economic point of view, they need to
change their financial systems to green economies, sustainable economies. So
that’s why I think it will happen much faster.”
Erdan had particular
praise for China’s transformation into a very forward-thinking, green
“I traveled last year to China together with [Finance Minister]
Yuval Steinitz, and we met many Chinese leaders – you see they ‘talk green,’” he
said. “China, which we view as a world leader, is moving to a green
Part of the obstacles still coming from developing countries,
on the other hand, is convincing them that they will be able to maintain
simultaneously sustainable economies and environments, according to
“There is a big difference between developed countries and
developing countries, because developing countries will tell us, ‘Don’t kid us –
you grew as you wanted and now we are just starting to have economic growth.
Don’t tell us not to cut our shopping or expenses,’” he said.
meanwhile, he explained, developed, westernized countries must be convinced to
cut down their spending.
“Now in Israel and in most of the Western
countries, we have approached a level of extravagance – we are spending more
than we need,” Erdan said. “First of all, we are wasting our money for nothing,
but for me as an environmental protection minister, we are also causing a real
damage to the environment.
“When you don’t use some of the things you
have purchased, all of the items are going to the garbage,” he continued. “The
waste takes up a lot of space, pollutes the water and the aquifer and also
causes greenhouse gas emissions.”
As for Israel’s advancement in
sustainability, Cohen believes the country was a bit behind the other Western
nations, only starting to make headway in developing environmental policies
about 10 years after most of them, around the time of the 2002 Johannesburg
“Our most important progress has been mainstreaming the
environment in all other ministries,” Cohen said.
“In each ministry we
can find a goal concerning environmental issues.
“[The citizens] expect
the government to serve as a model,” Erdan added, noting that he created an
initiative called Green Government just for this purpose, to monitor consumption
within each ministry. “You cannot expect the public to do things if the
government is not doing anything.”