Erdan leads sustainable development delegation to UN

Minister to talk about reducing global consumption.

Erdan 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Erdan 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
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.
This year’s 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 presentation.
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 countries.”
“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 different.”
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.”
Israel’s 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.
“There 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.
“The environmental people started speaking the economic language,” she continued. “That is something that is on board, on the table in all the Western countries.”
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 disappointing.
“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 Monday.
“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.
“I think that the biggest motivation now that gives me the optimism that it will happen is that now modernization is coming everywhere,” he said.
“The entire 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 country.
“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 economy.”
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 Erdan.
“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.
And 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 conference.
“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.”