06/14/2012 22:32
Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan talks about Israel’s green innovation ahead of UN Conference on Development.

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.

“Our 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 technologies.

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,” Erdan said.

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 added.

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 office.

“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 say no.

“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.”

Two main 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 said.

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 data.

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 people.

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 product.

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 summit.

“Israel has a solution that everybody is looking for,” Cohen said.

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.”

Recently, Iranian 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 water crises.

“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 UN.

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 environmental technologies.

“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 capacity.

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.”

Ultimately, the 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.”

Erdan expressed 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 said.

Quoting Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Erdan added that Israel – and other countries across the globe – must continue to strive “to do more with less.”