Israel's green future

14:10, December 18, 2009      

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by David Harris

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not attend the Copenhagen climate change conference, though Israeli media said his decision was rather because he did not want to run into Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than as a protest against some element of carbon-emission policy.

For Israel, observes said, the environment is very much a secondary issue.

CONTRADICTION AT HOME

"Given politics and security, it's not a top priority, but the level of environmental awareness is certainly growing," said Clive Lipchin, the director of research at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, one of the key organizations behind Israel's success in the clean-technology field.

Israel's current Environment Minister Gilad Erdan has received warm praise from environmentalists more or less across the board. That is a distinct change from what was said about previous holders of this portfolio.

However, Erdan's influence is extremely limited, said Liad Ortar, the joint CEO of the Israeli environmental consultancy Beyond Business.

Ortar does not question Erdan's sincerity but he believes that few if any businesses will listen to what he has to say.

Unless the government offers incentives to companies to green up their act, they will pay little heed to the requests and suggestions of a minister, no matter how committed to the cause he may happen to be.

"As long as there is no enforcing legislation accompanied by significant incentives, the chances of anything happening are very small," said Ortar.

Despite the lack of commitment from the government and Israel's business community, new companies are sprouting all over Israel, with a focus on water and green energy.

Israeli companies are amongst world leaders in a host of green technologies. Water desalination is becoming a major national export. Israeli drip irrigation has an estimated 50-percent share of the world market and its ability to grow vegetables in minimal amounts of water has come in for international praise.

More recently Israel has been placing greater emphasis on the energy sector, with its high-tech companies increasingly becoming known as clean-tech firms. Their know-how is spreading around the globe with China being a market of considerable interest.

"There's a strong spirit of entrepreneurship in Israel. When people see an opportunity they take the risk. There's a host of start-up companies and venture capital getting to green technologies," said Lipchin.

In fact, Israeli government is also becoming increasingly involved in projects in developing countries to help improve the local environment.

This aid work under the MASHAV arm of Israeli Foreign Ministry has been operational since 1958. Of late though, MASHAV, Israel's Agency for International Development Cooperation, has been putting greater emphasis on environmental protection, asking people like Lipchin to head projects overseas.

Traditionally, MASHAV brought scientists, farmers and others to Israel to learn about the revolutionary methods developed in Israel so they could apply them back at home. These days, according to Lipchin, who is responsible for a project in Kenya, Israel is working more in the developing nations.

MASHAV offers aid in many areas, among them arid-zone agriculture, combat of desertification, irrigation and water management, high-yield agriculture, dairy farming and agricultural and agribusiness strategies.

QUIETNESS AT COPENHAGEN SUMMIT

Despite its commitment to helping the countries, Israel is extremely quiet when it comes to this week's deliberations in Copenhagen, said Ortar.

"Israel is a bystander, looking on from the sidelines," he told Xinhua. Even though Israel has joined the industrialized club of nations in recent years, it is so small that it has no real impact in such enormous global conversations.

The country is hoping that European nations will consider investing in Israel as part of their attempt to offset their carbon emissions.

That is part of the message taken to Copenhagen by Israeli President Shimon Peres, whose key focus though is on pushing for regional cooperation on environmental issues.

There is some collaboration between Israel and Jordan on water-related issues, particularly the construction of a canal that will bring water from the Red Sea to the ever-shrinking Dead Sea. However, this has been subject to diplomatic battles over the years and many environmentalists remain opposed to the scheme.

Peres believes that the environment transcends borders and he hopes Israeli know-how will eventually persuade Arab nations in the Middle East of the benefits of cooperation in this field even if peace still remains a somewhat distant hope.

Source: Xinhua
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