Solving the world’s environmental problems
Environmental Protection Minister Erdan discusses Israel’s green innovation ahead of UN conference.
Gilad Erdan Photo: Screenshot
As a 66-member Israeli delegation makes its way to Rio de Janeiro for a global
climate summit, the country’s environmental leaders hope to help provide answers
to the planet’s looming environmental crises.
The Rio+20 United Nations
Conference on Sustainable Development is a two-week summit filled with
negotiations, forums and training courses culminating in a three-day high-level
summit from June 20 through 22 in Brazil. The conference marks two decades since
the previous Rio de Janeiro climate summit, the 1992 UN Conference on
Environment and Development, as well as the 10th anniversary of the 2002 World
Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. About 50,000 people and 130
state heads are expected to attend the event, including a 66-member delegation
from Israel led by Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan.
main goal is to present Israel’s solution to the world crisis,” Erdan told The
Jerusalem Post on Wednesday night, emphasizing the country’s particular
strengths in sustainable agriculture, irrigation and other water
This is the perfect arena, he explained, to help solve the
challenges faced by two billion people in the world who lack access to
sanitation and water.
“We want to focus on giving them our knowledge,”
The Israeli delegation contains members from the government,
civil society and local authorities as well as two Knesset members – MKs Carmel
Shama-Hacohen (Likud) and Dov Henin (Hadash).
In addition to
participating in the high-level segment next week, Israel will be leading two
official side events on June 19 and 20 – the first about sustainable
agriculture, in cooperation the Foreign Ministry, the Agriculture Ministry, the
United States, Canada and Germany, and the second about water management,
together with the Industry, Labor and Trade Ministry, the Mekorot national water
company and the city of Sao Paolo.
“Our main message is that the world
has the problems and the challenges and Israel has the solutions,” said Galit
Cohen, the Environment Ministry’s senior deputy director-general of planning and
sustainability. “In our side event and in our speech whenever we are
participating we will give those messages – the Israeli solution, Israeli
innovation for the world.”
Aside from hosting multilateral discussions on
climate issues, one of the desired outcomes is the signing of the Rio
Declaration, also known as the Zero Document, whose goal, according to the
conference, is to determine “the future we want.”
The final negotiations
over this declaration are taking place in the days leading up to the high-level
summit – negotiations that have been occurring for two weeks every month for the
past six months among member states of the UN.
The Rio Declaration, Cohen
said, is essentially a consensus paper among 193 countries that are aiming to
reach an agreement on several issues related to sustainable development and how
to proceed in the future with the subjects of food security; water; energy;
sustainable cities; forests; oceans; sustainable consumption and green jobs.
Also included in the declaration are social issues, gender and generational
equality and parity among developed and developing countries, she
In terms of food security, the developing countries want to ensure
that all their citizens have access to nutritious foods, while developed
countries want to make sure that their food is produced in a sustainable way. As
far as water goes, the developing countries strive to have access to water for
every individual, while developed countries want to make sure that their water
is clean, according to Cohen.
Israel has been an integral part of these
negotiations from the beginning, with constant representation from both the
Environmental Protection Ministry and the Foreign Ministry.
“There is a
real spirit of compromise and determination among delegations to produce a
document that can be endorsed by heads of state and government,” said Sha
Zukang, Rio+20 secretary-general in a statement released by his
“Rio+20 will provide the inspiration and the guidance to
accelerate progress on the sustainability agenda.”
While some Environment
Ministry officials expressed hopefulness that the Rio Declaration will be
signed, others feared a failure due to financial disagreements; As developing
countries demand more money for their projects, developed countries are apt to
“I’m not sure that there will be a declaration,” Erdan said. “I’m
not optimistic because of the economic crisis. I’ve heard this from other
ministers around the world and especially from Africa. They are afraid – because
of the crisis in Europe it will be very hard to agree on dates and numbers and
money to be transferred to those countries that are suffering.”
issues of focus in Rio, according to the ministry, will be creating sustainable,
green economies for poverty prevention in the context of sustainable development
and establishing an international institutional framework for environmental
structures and bodies.
“In the concept of green economy, Israel has a lot
to offer and that is our message as a delegation,” ministry officials
TO PROMOTE Israel’s innovations and experience in coping with
environmental challenges, the Israeli delegation will have a special booth in
the exhibition alongside the summit. The background of the pavilion will feature
an image of a green brain in a field of grass.
An ongoing presentation
displayed in the booth will feature Israel’s historic invention and usage of
drip irrigation, which waters about 80% percent of Israeli farmland, and will
also promote Israel’s record-breaking reuse of wastewater. While Israel reuses
80% of its wastewater, the closest country in the world to our record is Spain,
which reuses less than 20% of its own sewage, according to ministry
Meanwhile, the pavilion will also showcase the country’s
productivity and efficiency in food production, which has increased by 450%
since 1950, the ministry reported. During the 1950s, one farmer in Israel was
only able to feed about 15 people, but that same farmer can now feed up to 100
The booth will also highlight Israel’s desalination activities,
the country’s extremely productive dairy cattle industry and its requirement
installation of solar water heaters on new buildings.
“All of these
solutions are relevant to developing countries and help reduce water use, reduce
energy use,” officials said.
In addition to the pavilion and side events
coordinated by the ministry, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund will
also be hosting a learning center on reforestation.
Different from an
ordinary side event, such centers encompass a longer, approximately three-hour
time period and require advanced registration, David Brand, KKL-JNF chief
forester, told the Post on Wednesday.
The learning center will look at
water harvesting as a means of forestation in semi-arid zones, advanced nursery
practices, improvements in drought-resistance and how to deal with invasive
species, such as insects that attack forest plantations, according to Brand. In
addition to an oral presentation, KKL-JNF staff will be directly involving
workshop participants “to share knowledge with other countries” in a
collaborative setting, he said.
“Our target in these conferences is to
share our advanced knowledge that we gained during the last 40 to 50 years, the
advanced research, and develop ways to find collaboration with developing
countries,” Brand added.
With an eye forward toward Rio, Israel has
created its own Sustainability Outlook for 2030 as well as Israeli adaptations
of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Environmental
Outlook to 2050 and the United Nations Environmental Program’s Global
Environmental Outlook, Cohen explained.
MEANWHILE, THE Environmental
Protection Ministry is pushing toward green growth in Israel, with an emphasis
that there are economic indicators beyond the simple gross domestic
The ministry as well as KKL-JNF will be distributing materials
about Israel’s green growth policies, its waste revolution and its path toward
sustainable consumption in hotels throughout Rio as well as at the
“Israel has a solution that everybody is looking for,” Cohen
European countries often lack such solutions because they have not
had to cope with issues of water scarcity and developing creative means of
irrigation, she explained.
“Now that the world is facing climate change
conditions, the Israeli experience is very, very important,” Cohen added. “That
is something we are hearing all the time in the OECD.”
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced that he will attend the Rio+20, as will
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Regarding their attendance
– and that of other leaders with less than friendly relations to Israel – Erdan
said that the Israeli delegation did not want to focus on Middle East conflict
issues. Rather, he said, the Israeli representatives prefer to focus on Israel’s
environmental technologies and innovative solutions to the global hunger and
“But we also did all the preparations in case the
Palestinians or the Iranians or you name it will try to take the discussion to
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Erdan said. “But we are not going to start
with that. We won’t initiate that discussion.”
Regarding Ahmadenijad in
particular, Erdan said that he finds it “a real shame” that the UN is giving the
stage to the Iranian president, an individual who expresses a desire to destroy
another UN member country, at a conference that aims to help the world survive
through sustainable development.
“I think it’s a disgrace for the
But he’s there and there’s nothing that we can do about it,” Erdan
said. “I don’t want to give them the excuses to move the discussion from what we
need to stress about Israel and what we need to demonstrate about our
technologies and solutions to what they want.”
While it might be in the
Iranian interest to talk about the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, the Israeli
team would prefer to discuss “the Middle East as a place that suffers from
desertification and water scarcity and [the ways] we learn how to live with that
and develop solutions,” the minister added.
Also important, in Erdan’s
eyes, are the various meetings that both he and Israel’s innovators will be
holding with ministers from Africa and other places that truly need Israeli
“In every country where I find the need and
they are ready to accept our experts, I will try to get the support from the
prime minister and the Foreign Ministry to hire more engineers and advisers to
send them to those countries,” he said.
If there is another Rio climate
conference in 20 years – a Rio+40 – Environment Ministry officials said they
hope that as a whole, the global population will have changed its behavioral
patterns, as the Earth’s inhabitants are currently overshooting the planet’s
Although the world has generally become more environmentally
friendly, Cohen pointed out that because there is an ever-increasing population,
people are producing more – a “volume effect.”
Environment Ministry officials did not expect any monumental, immediately
globe-altering decisions to take place in Rio, but rather a more gradual
trickle-down effect of environmental improvements.
“I think that it helps
us to create a new paradigm, a new language,” Cohen said. “It’s something that
helps us think about the connections, the impact between the environment and the
economy. A green economy is a good solution for the whole world right now and
this is the direction – going green, green economy.”
similar sentiments, stressing that events such as Rio+20 are significant simply
because they happen. At the Copenhagen Climate Conference in 2009, for example,
no agreement was signed, but because so many leaders were present, they
understood the need to dramatically transform their domestic and international
greening policies, according to Erdan. Shortly after that conference, the
Israeli government invested NIS 2.2 billion in a plan to reduce greenhouse gas
emissions by 20% by the year 2020.
Today, in the background of Rio+20,
the Environmental Protection Ministry along with the Industry, Trade and Labor
Ministry has built a plan for green growth that the team will present to the
government upon returning from Rio, Erdan explained.
“We think there is a
great chance that it will pass and we will have another budget – to make a
cleaner, wiser economy that uses less and less resources,” he
Quoting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Erdan added that Israel
– and other countries across the globe – must continue to strive “to do more