By SHARON UDASIN 02/28/2012 21:41
Environmental economics vital to future development, and even to efforts against Iran, says Netanyahu.

Protesters disrupted Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s opening address at Tuesday’s First National Green Growth Convention, with shouts against the government’s intended planning and building reforms.

The reforms intend to streamline the building approval process and make it more efficient, minimizing the participation of local committees and outside organizations in the initial planning process.

“Weak, weak, weak, weak,” Netanyahu responded, gesturing toward them. “It takes seven years to plan to build an apartment in Israel. that’s what you want to praise? This bureaucracy? I don’t. I am in favor of the environment and I am in favor of development.”

The protesters, environmental activists, also sporadically interrupted Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan’s speech and a panel discussion among Environment Ministry director-general Alona Sheffer-Karo, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, Energy and Water Minister Uzi Landau and Housing Minister Ariel Attias. Security escorted out several protesters, some of whom screamed “shekalim” and “oil shale,” in protest of the ongoing shale drilling tests in the country’s Shfela region.

The convention, organized by the Environmental Protection Ministry and the Calcalist newspaper, aimed to bring together various ministers, government officials and industry experts to discuss the importance of promoting a green economy – in which environmental and economic goals are aligned.

“I request to present the difference between the two approaches that exist… the first is the normative approach – that if you develop the economy you hurt the environment,” Netanyahu said. “The collective approach says, why? I can do both of them – I can both develop the economy and develop the environment, and vice versa.”

OECD countries prefer this collective approach over the normative view, Netanyahu explained, pointing to the protesters who were continuing to shout at him. Some situations that prove this approach works in Israel include the recent investments in rehabilitating and bringing tourism to the Dead Sea, as well as innovative companies finding solutions to the country’s water and energy scarcity problems, according to the prime minister.

“You take care of the environmental problem and you create economic opportunity,” he said.

One other key benefit in creating substitutes for fossil fuels is the victory that such innovations help achieve over Iran, according to Netanyahu. If Iran was to take control over the energy centers in the Persian Gulf, it would certainly “dictate higher oil prices and would choke the global economy,” he explained.

“Therefore, anyone who wants to prevent price rises and the manipulative use of fossil fuels, which influence the global market, must mobilize to stop Iran’s nuclear race,” the prime minister said.

Netanyahu praised the government for embracing a changed attitude toward environmental policy, and particularly commended Erdan for bringing green awareness into both the public and governmental sectors.

“If in the past, conventional wisdom was that environmental protection inhibits economic growth, today it is clear to everyone that the relationship between the economy and the environment is a positive one and the internalization of environmental considerations in economic activity generates more logical economic growth,” Erdan said, following the prime minister’s address.

Integrating environmental concerns into economic planning actually saves money long-term by decreasing health risks from pollution, for example, and meanwhile encourages an “efficient and sustainable use of natural resources,” according to Erdan. Such an economy also operates in a more “reliable, stable and sustainable” manner, as it is less dependent on oil and water prices, he added.

“A green economy is a more social economy, as it emphasizes also a more equitable distribution of resources, both in the current generation and in future generations,” Erdan said.

In line with this attitude, the ministry published and presented at the conference its first environmental compliance report of public industrial companies from the Tel Aviv 100 Index. The ratings, based on steps taken against companies for violating permits as well for creating environmental hazards, will allow investors to evaluate companies based on their environmental performance and therefore economic risk, according to the ministry.

Dr. Alexander Fisher, director of management and administration at the Global Green Growth Institute in Seoul, South Korea, praised Israel for deciding to adopt a path toward a green economy. Globally, “the growth paradigm has to shift to a new development growth paradigm,” he said.

Across the world, people need to shift their way of thinking so that governments can successfully integrate green economies rather than brown economies into their growth models, Fisher said.

“Humanity is up against many challenges that we must cope with in the coming years,” Erdan added. “Global population growth, the rise in the standard of living especially in the developing world, the increasing demand for natural resources and instability of the international economic system each pit us against a huge challenge, but at the same time create a window of opportunity for creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship.”