Israelis tend to think the United Nations preoccupies itself with classic political issues, but the reality is different

“We do not rejoice in victories. We rejoice when a new kind of cotton is grown and when strawberries bloom in Israel” – Golda Meir

Israelis tend to think the United Nations preoccupies itself with classic political issues, but the reality is different. On taking office, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, declared his priority would be promoting worldwide sustainable development.

Last month, in Brazil, the Rio+20 Conference met to discuss sustainable development. The conference attracted over 100 heads of state and 50,000 participants. For Israel the conference was a considerable success.

“Sustainable development” is economic growth in which resource use aims to meet human needs, while preserving the environment so these needs can be met for generations to come.

Israel’s success at Rio+20 was not guaranteed. The Syrian government tried to ban two Israeli environmental organizations from participating – the JNF and Life and Environment (an organization representing 130 Israeli environmental NGOs). At the very time the Syrian regime is slaughtering its own people, it has time to launch a diplomatic attack on Israel. A worldwide Israeli diplomatic campaign ensured that the Syrian ploy failed.

The Palestinians failed to have their status upgraded at the conference to that of a full-state member. Unfortunately Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki chose to use his speech as a platform to attack Israel rather than talking about cooperation and the environment.

The Israeli delegation came to Rio+20 with a vision of sustainable development for the world. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in his greetings, said that Israel is a country that manages to “do more with less,” and in the future expects to do even more with much less.

Israel’s ability to do more with less and successes in sustainable development have brought international recognition, causing a number of UN and international figures to describe Israel as a “sustainability superpower.”

Dr. Daniel Hillel from Israel was recently awarded the World Food Prize for pioneering an innovative way of bringing water to crops in arid and dry-land regions. CNN selected Yosef Abramowitz, founder of the Arava Power Company, as one of six world leading “green pioneers.”

In 2008, Time magazine named Shai Agassi, the founder of Better Place, the company responsible for introducing the electric car, as one of the “environmental heroes” of the year.

In a further sign of international recognition, the head of the Israeli delegation to Rio +20, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, was elected vice chairman of the Conference.

In his meetings with colleagues from around the world, many expressed a desire to increase partnership with Israel, mainly in water management.

This is hardly surprising: Israel is the world’s leader in water re-use and recycling. Israel treats and recycles 80 percent of effluent water for agriculture. There are 35 desalination facilities in Israel. The Ashkelon desalination plant is the world’s second largest.

Israel is a world leader in desalination and by 2015, 75% of Israel’s water supply will come from water desalination. The UN General Assembly recently adopted an Israeli proposed resolution calling for international investment in agricultural technology.

Israel is also a world leader in forestry as we implement Ben-Gurion’s dream of making the desert bloom – and one of the only countries that had more trees at the end of the 20th century than at the start.

Thousands of experts flock to Israel every two years to attend WATEC: The Israel Water Technologies, Renewable Energies and Environmental Control exhibition. This November, Eilat- Eilot, the largest renewable energy conference of its kind will be held in Eilat.

Since 1958, MASHAV (Israel’s agency for international development cooperation at the Foreign Ministry) has brought to Israel over 270,000 professionals from across the globe to take courses, learn from experts and see sustainable development in practice. Israeli experts have also been sent to the developing world to run courses there.

During the Rio+20 conference the Israeli government, for the first time, invested in an international campaign on CNN branding Israel as a world leader in green technology. The Foreign Ministry launched a Facebook Page called “GREEN ISRAEL” and an environmental YouTube channel.

Many places around the world suffer severe drought. Millions in Africa face life-threatening hunger. Israel is willing and able to continue to share its technology and know-how with the world and be a “light unto the nations” of sustainable development.

In the words of the prophet Isaiah: “I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.” (Chapter 41, verse 18) The writer is the coordinator for Sustainable Development in Israel’s Foreign Ministry and was a member of the delegation to the Rio+20 Conference.

Previously he was the Minister for Congressional Affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Washington.