Cooperation with international organizations and states is an important component of the Ministry of the Environment’s agenda. Since the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment in 1972, Israel’s contribution to international environmental protection efforts has spanned many areas, including: environmental management and impact assessment, marine and coastal management, water conservation, wastewater treatment and reuse, solar energy, nature protection, combating desertification, and environmental education and awareness.
International activities have significantly increased in the wake of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the Earth Summit), which took place in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. This largest-ever meeting of world leaders, bringing together senior representatives of 179 governments, proved a landmark in the environmental movement worldwide. It produced two international agreements (Climate Change and Biological Diversity), two statements of principle (the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and principles on the conservation and sustainable development of forests) and a major action plan on worldwide sustainable development, Agenda 21. The principal effect of the Earth Summit, however, was to raise public consciousness of the necessity to reconcile the legitimate needs of environment and development. It has prompted both states and international organizations to adopt rational strategies for sustainable development.
United Nations Environment Programme
Israel’s international activities are carried out within the framework of various international organizations, foremost among which is the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Others include the affiliated United Nations organizations and independent international organizations.
UNEP, with its headquarters in Nairobi, was established in 1972 "to serve as a focal point for environmental action and coordination within the U.N. system." The Ministry of the Environment, as the focal point of UNEP activities in Israel, has been an active participant in UNEP-sponsored conferences sending delegates, preparing national reports and contributing of its expertise. The Ministry of the Environment also serves as the focal point for INFOTERRA, UNEP’s environmental information and referral network, now comprising over 150 participating countries.
Following are some highlights of Israel’s recent activities within the framework of UNEP:
Combating Desertification: It is estimated that one-quarter of the world’s land is already affected by degradation; an additional six million hectares are transformed into desert every year. The gravity of the problem has prompted participants of the Earth Summit to give the subject high priority and to call for the preparation of an international convention on the subject. In the wake of this recommendation, an intergovernmental preparatory committee, including an Israeli expert, was established. Based on its success in rolling back the desert and developing innovative programs of water harvesting in arid areas, Israel has expressed its readiness to share its wide experience with other countries. It has also proposed that an international center for combating desertification be established within the framework of Ben-Gurion University’s Desert Research Institute in Sde Boker. (For further details, see chapter on Nature and Desertification).
Ozone Protection: 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. Ministry of the Environment representatives have subsequently participated in meetings of the contracting parties to the convention and the protocol. Israel, a major supplier of methyl bromide, is currently investing major efforts in addressing the problem of this soil fumigant which has been targeted as a potential ozone-depleting substance. Concern over the risks associated with continued methyl bromide use has led Israel’s Minister of the Environment to appoint a task force to survey methyl bromide use in Israel and worldwide and to present and implement recommendations on the reduction of emissions and introduction of substitutes. (For further details, see chapters on Agro-Ecology and Air).
Transport of Hazardous Wastes: Growing concern over the adverse impacts of the export and import of hazardous substances on the environment has prompted Israel to accelerate the ratification procedure for the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. Israel expects to ratify the convention in 1994.
Climate Change: Israel has signed, but has not yet ratified, the Climate Change Convention. Israeli scientists are taking an active part in research efforts on the possible impacts of climate change in general, and within the Mediterranean region, in particular. In 1991, Israel hosted an international workshop on climate change. (For further details, see chapter on Air).
Endangered Species: The Nature Reserves Authority (NRA) is responsible for the implementation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) in Israel. Enforcement of the CITES provisions is highly efficient in Israel, due to its comprehensive nature protection legislation and efficient monitoring system. For this reason, Israel was chosen to host the Asian regional meeting of CITES, held in Jerusalem in March 1994.
Israel has ratified a long list of international environmental conventions. A full list of these conventions appears in the appendix to this publication.
Mediterranean Action Plan
Israel’s contribution to the protection of the Mediterranean Sea environment has been carried out within the framework of the Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP). Today the organization has 19 members, including all Mediterranean states and the European Union. Israel is an active member of the organization and is well- respected for its contribution to all components of the action plan: legal, socio-economic and scientific.
In the legislative realm, Israel has signed and ratified the Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea Against Pollution (the Barcelona Convention) and its four protocols. As an active participant in the Blue Plan (part of the socio-economic component), Israel published a national environmental scenario, analyzing current trends and predicting environmental conditions for the years 2000 and 2025. Within the context of the Priority Actions Programme (PAP), which focuses on concrete development projects, Israel continues to contribute of its expertise and experience to nearly all priority areas (from integrated planning of coastal zones to environmental impact assessment). Monitoring and research are conducted through the assessment component of the plan, known as MEDPOL, in which Israel takes an active part. (Israel’s research and monitoring activities are described in further detail in the Marine Water and Coasts chapter).
In recent years, MAP has approved two significant projects which promise to be of special significance to Israel’s environmental protection efforts: a Coastal Areas Management Program (CAMP) for Israel and a subregional agreement between Egypt, Cyprus and Israel on preparedness and cooperation in response to medium and large- scale oil spills
In October 1991, in a landmark decision, Israel was unanimously elected, along with Egypt, Tunisia and Monaco, to serve on the MAP Bureau, the steering committee of the entire plan. The breakthrough can be attributed to several factors, foremost among which is the growing regional appreciation of the important contribution made by Israel to MAP since its creation..
MAP is widely acclaimed as a model of regional cooperation. It constitutes a forum which has enabled direct contact and professional cooperation between Israel and its Arab neighbors for nearly two decades. MAP was the first large-scale project to demonstrate that the decisions taken at the Stockholm Conference could be transformed into meaningful action.
Today, in the wake of the Earth Summit, the MAP Bureau has approved a proposal to prepare an "Agenda 21" for the Mediterranean Sea area. In order to refocus MAP’s activities on the management of coastal regions, the marine environment and marine biological resources, in accordance with the recommendations of Agenda 21, an expert meeting was convened in May 1994 in Tunisia. This represented the first time that Israel was invited, in an official capacity, to participate in a MAP conference taking place in an Arab country which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel. The Tunisian invitation gave expression to the new atmosphere created in the Middle East as a result of the peace process. It is anticipated that spirit of environmental cooperation which has characterized MAP in previous years will continue to stand at the core of MAP activities in the future.
Israel’s increased involvement in environmental protection has led to several bilateral agreements for environmental cooperation, including:
Israel-U.S.A: In February 1991, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Ministry of the Environment and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The memorandum establishes a framework for scientific and technical cooperation between the two organizations in the field of environmental protection, including exchanges of scientific and technical information, exchange visits of scientific personnel, joint scientific symposiums and workshops, and cooperative research on problems of common interest.
In the wake of the agreement, several professional workshops have already been held in Israel and in the U.S. on subjects such as wastewater treatment, sludge treatment, and reuse of effluents in agriculture.
In recent months, Israel has expressed its willingness to join Vice President Al Gore’s initiative the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program. The program will link school children and their teachers worldwide in data gathering and scientific experiments designed to monitor the global environment.
Germany-Israel: A cooperative agreement, similar in content to the Israel-USEPA memorandum, was signed between the Ministries of the Environment in Israel and Germany in March 1993. Germany, a world leader in the protection of the environment, has developed some of the most advanced environmental standards worldwide in such areas as air pollution, solid waste and eco-labeling. Israel hopes to from Germany’s experience while contributing of its own expertise in such realms as water conservation and effluent reuse, nature conservation, combating desertification and solar energy utilization.
Within the framework of the accord, an agreement was reached on the implementation of an Israeli-Egyptian-German trilateral project on the reduction of pesticides in agriculture. In addition, a seminar on air quality standards with the participation of Israeli and German experts was convened in Israel in March 1994.
Egypt-Israel: In April 1993, two environmental agreements were signed between Israeli and Egyptian institutions. The Israel Ministry of the Environment and the Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture and Land Reclamation signed an agreement on cooperation, information exchange and joint projects on reduced environmental impact from agriculture. The Israel Ministry of the Environment and the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency signed a Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation on mutual environmental problems, including planning and management of coastal resources along the Mediterranean Sea and Gulf of Aqaba, establishment of marine pollution response centers in case of oil spills, environmental education and information, and creation of a regional center for combating desertification.
As part of the agreement, several joint workshops and seminars were envisioned. A five-member expert team from Egypt has already visited Israel for a study tour on wastewater treatment in small communities, and an environmental education seminar was recently held with the participation of Israeli and Egyptian non- governmental organizations.
Israel-Austria: Increased cooperation on environmental issues is also on the agenda between Israel and Austria, in the wake of a visit of the Austrian Minister of the Environment to Israel in October 1993. A seminar on the treatment of hazardous materials, with the participation of Austrian and Israeli experts, will be held in Austria at the end of 1994.
Israel-Sweden: A clause on cooperation in environmental fields was incorporated into a cooperation agreement between Israel and Sweden. Within this framework, a seminar on solid waste treatment has already been held in Israel with the participation of Swedish experts.
Israel-Spain: An agreement on cooperation in the field of desertification was signed between Israel and Spain in November 1993. Cooperation between the two states will be promoted in the areas of applied research, joint projects, vocational training and data exchange.
Israel-Turkey: An agreement on cooperation in environmental matters and nature conservation was signed between Israel and Turkey in April 1994. The agreement targets a number of fields which are of particular interest to both parties, including pollution control, environmental awareness, environmental impact assessment, environmental monitoring, environmentally-sound technologies, and diversity of species.
Israel-European Union: The European Union (EU) is actively pursuing the implementation of an environmental section included in the agreement of cooperation between the State of Israel and the EU. The European Investment Bank, on its part, has accelerated its investment plan for environmental protection projects in the Mediterranean Sea basin. Within this framework, it is allocating resources for the improvement of environmental infrastructures in Mediterranean states which are not members of the Union, including Israel.