International environmentalists, spiritual leaders, government officials and business leaders gathered for a third day to discuss practical solutions for creating greater environmental and economic sustainability at the YMCA in Jerusalem on Wednesday.

The First International Symposium on Green and Accessible Pilgrimage, which began on Sunday, came with the mission to incorporate environmental, religious, business, social and government cooperation to encourage multiple platforms of economic growth and environmental sustainability. The conference will conclude on Friday.

“Jerusalem didn’t need this symposium to realize that future investment in infrastructure has to be sustainable,” said Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Naomi Tsur, who spearheaded the conference. “Our infrastructure policy is in place. We’re creating a language and philosophy to incorporate the necessary changes.”

Tsur continued that a key part of that language and philosophy is the combination of three disparate elements.

“First we must achieve sustained urban, economic and social development. Second, to create successful, equitable sharing of the public domain and third, stimulate ecotourism and inspirational, spiritual experiences,” she said.

Tsur emphasized that cooperation among the capital’s numerous religious factions will also play a central role in achieving the symposium’s stated objectives.

“Nothing can be done seriously in Jerusalem without engaging the different faiths that inhabit it, because we’re not just any city,” she said. “This is also the best possible platform for our city’s relationship with other cities around the world, and will provide a unique opportunity for networking, dialogue and peer exchange.”

Laurence Brahm, founder of the United Nations Theme Group on Poverty and Inequality and one of the speakers at the symposium, said the outcome will have a “global impact.”

“It will establish a clear framework and definition of green accessible pilgrimage and a framework for ethics,” he said.

This framework, Brahm said, includes combining personal and government responsibility in terms of trash disposal, recycling, using renewable energy, energy-efficient transportation, creating new green-friendly architecture and encouraging multi-cultural diversity.

“The environment is one of the great drivers for economic growth,” he said. “We have to address environmental issues to reduce carbon and to do this we need technology innovation, which Israel excels at, and this symposium is an excellent opportunity to further develop this process.”

Brahm, who is based in China, cited water conservation, recycling, conversion from fossil fuel to renewable energy and overall energy efficiency as hallmarks for achieving this goal.

“Israel can lead in this part of the world,” he said.

Echoing Tsur, Brahm added that pluralism and cooperation among the capital’s different faiths is central to engendering greater investment and business opportunities in the city.

“Investors invest in places where they believe there is a longterm gain and future,” he said.

“Inclusiveness will encourage financial investment here. In this way, this is a very visionary conference involving every aspect of pilgrimage – which includes economic factors that play a vital role in infrastructure improvements.”

Brahm added that renewable energy is the best alternative to replace pollution-riddled fossil fuels.

“What is Jerusalem famous for other than being a pilgrimage city?” he asked. “Beautiful sunny weather – so this city could be a pioneer for solar energy, not only in the Middle East, but the entire world.”

Indeed, Yosef I. Abramowitz, a co-sponsor of the symposium and president and CEO of Energiyaglobal, Israel’s leading solar developer, said renewable energy is not only sustainable and profitable, but a matter of life and death.

“It’s time for the world to realize and declare that burning fossil fuel for electricity is a moral sin,” said Abramowitz, who was also named by CNN as one of the world’s top six “Green Pioneers.”

“We are destroying life on this planet and since millions of people lose their lives to the effects of an oil-addicted world, we should consider radical climate change as a crime against humanity and all life.”

Abramowitz said the most practical solution to reverse this epidemic is to change from fossil fuel to 100 percent renewable energy, which includes a combination of solar and wind power, biomass and hydraulics.

“I call not only on the State of Israel to increase renewable energy goals from a measly 10% by 2020, but [believe that] the Holy Land can easily become 20 to 40% renewable within five years through the use of solar energy,” he said.

“Imagine the effect if energy for the Old City were to be powered by renewable energy,” he continued.

“All we need is 1,600 dunams [400 acres] of uncontested land and a price of 60 agorot per kilowatt/hour and 100% of the energy of the Old City – the ultimate pilgrim city – could be a shining light for all the pilgrim cities in the world.”

While Abramowitz commended Mayor Nir Barkat for his efforts to facilitate greater use of renewable energy and infrastructure, he added that more needs to be done.

“It’s wonderful that the mayor of Jerusalem and the municipality sponsored this historic conference, but it’s time for him to do something bold,” he said.

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