INTERNATIONAL CONVENTIONS

As a small country, Israel is a small contributor to such global trends as ozone depletion and climate change. Nevertheless, efforts are currently being invested in implementing the provisions of the Montreal Protocol and in ratifying international accords such as the Climate Convention and the Convention on the Transboundary Transport of Air Pollutants.

Ozone Depletion

Israel ratified the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and the London Amendment in June 1992. Since Israel consumes, but does not produce CFCs and halons, annual quotas for import have been restricted to the volume of imports recorded in 1986 (about 4000 tons of CFCs and 500 tons of halons).

Israel is currently investing major efforts in addressing the problem of methyl bromide. This soil fumigation agent and pesticide has been targeted as a potential ozone-depleting substance, and heavy pressure has been exerted to reduce or ban its use. Methyl bromide is produced in very large quantities at the Dead Sea Bromide Works, where 90% of production is designated for export. While Israel uses some 2,800 tons of methyl bromide a year in agriculture, it produces about one-third of the world’s supply of this pesticide.

Due to the risks associated with continued methyl bromide use, Israel’s Minister of the Environment appointed a task force in September 1993 to survey the status of methyl bromide use in Israel and worldwide and to present recommendations on means of reducing emissions and introducing substitutes. While international and local experts have noted that no one effective alternative to methyl bromide exists or is likely to be discovered in the near future, the committee’s recommendations, published in February 1994, include a wide range of suggestions on reduction of doses, use of alternatives, accelerated research and development of methods for adsorption, neutralization and recycling, and training and information. The committee concluded that research and development integrated with instruction, information, legislation and inspection of methyl bromide applications can bring about significant reductions of methyl bromide emissions to the environment and faster adoption of alternatives. In the wake of the report, a team of specialists has been appointed to supervise the use of methyl bromide.

Climate Change

Although Israel has not yet ratified the Climate Change Convention signed at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, Israeli scientists have taken an active part in research efforts on the possible impacts of climate change on this area of the world. In 1991, the Ministry of the Environment and the Israel National Academy of Sciences sponsored an international workshop on the subject. Its objectives were to determine the requirements of climate change research in Israel. Examples of the research projects encouraged by workshop participants include: a study of the impact of land-use intensity on the national water balance and energy consumption; a study on the impact of afforestation on the national water balance; studies on the impact of sea level rise on the shoreline of Israel; and studies on the effects of water level change on economic, energy, agriculture and water demand.

One of the most critical issues raised in the workshop was the availability of a fresh water supply in the eastern Mediterranean in the face of climate change. A central question for Israel is the impact of climate change on the desert line. Israel is divided into two distinct areas of nearly equal size: the northern part which receives adequate amounts of precipitation and the southern part which is a dry desert. Potential changes in the regional distribution of precipitation as a result of atmospheric warming may transform Israel’s south into an area well-endowed with rain, or alternatively, may transform the presently rainy north into a desert. Additionally, a rise in sea level will exert pressure on Israel’s invaluable coastal aquifers and bring them under threat of an accelerated rate of salination.

The eastern Mediterranean area, and Israel in particular, have a wide multi-disciplinary body of research on climate change; a relatively high number of observations; and a distinct boundary region through all relevant scientific disciplines including meteorology, geology, geomorphology, hydrology, botany, zoology, archeology and history.