Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan was on Thursday unanimously elected vice chairman of the ongoing Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, in what his ministry called “a diplomatic achievement for Israel.”Erdan is leading a 66-member Israeli delegation to the conference, where a three-day, high-level summit ends on Friday.Spanning two weeks overall, 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. Approximately 50,000 people and 130 heads state are attending the events.“My choice is a recognition of Israel’s ability and an appreciation of its contributions to the world in the efficient use of resources and dealing with hunger, food security and water scarcity,” Erdan said, in a statement released by his office. “All this by means of technological innovation and Israeli experience.”Erdan’s candidacy was presented by the “Western Group” at the conference, which includes Western European nations, the United States, Canada, Australia and Turkey, and was adopted unanimously by the 193 UN member-states.“The election of Minister Erdan constitutes a diplomatic achievement for Israel and recognizes its contributions to sustainable development and environment in the world,” the ministry said.Before the high-level summit, the Israeli delegation held two official side events, about sustainable agriculture and water management. In addition to leading these and partaking in multilateral discussions, the representatives were heavily involved in negotiations over the Rio Declaration, or Zero Document, whose final discussions were occurring right before the summit. The Rio Declaration is a consensus paper among 193 countries dealing with the subjects of food security, water, energy, sustainable consumption and green jobs, as well as social issues such as gender and generational equality and parity among developed and developing countries, Environment Ministry senior deputy director- general of planning and sustainability Galit Cohen told The Jerusalem Post in an interview before she left for Brazil.Stressing the importance of environmental protection on a global, cross-cultural scale, members of the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land endorsed a statement on sustainable development directed at political leaders and Rio+20 participants, the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development announced on Thursday.The council, which represents the Chief Rabbinate, the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Religious (Wakf) Affairs and Shari’a Courts, and the assembly of the Heads of Churches of Jerusalem, stressed in its statement the need for “action posed by the environmental challenges facing humanity.”The statement urges members of the three Abrahamic faiths “to address this crisis by undertaking a deep reassessment of our spiritual and physical relationship to this Godgiven planet and how we consume, use and dispose of its blessed resources.”Speaking with the Post at the Presidential Conference in Jerusalem on Thursday, Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund chairman Efi Stenzler expressed optimism about the progress of the Rio summit. Particularly, he hoped that KKL-JNF’s efforts in the Israeli delegation, where it presented a learning workshop, would be effective.“We know they are doing tremendous work with many countries, some of whom do not have diplomatic relations with Israel,” Stenzler said, stressing the importance of teaching forestation and water reuse skills to other countries.Planting trees in the desert, he explained, can be a “medicine against global warming,” and he expressed confidence that the delegates in Rio were doing a great job transmitting this message, as well as that of recycling water, to representatives from across the world.“It’s not only the Third World countries – the developed countries also should be aware of the water that they are losing every year,” Stenzler said.