Environmental awareness is a prerequisite for environmental improvement. This assumption stood at the base of Agenda 21, the global plan for sustainable development which was adopted at the Rio Earth Summit. It also stood at the base of my own first initiative as Director General of the Ministry of the Environment an initiative which bore fruit in the government resolution to declare this year as the Year of the Environment in Israel. This momentous decision proved essential in raising environmental awareness and political commitment to previously unknown levels.
This year’s information campaign involved all government ministries, every municipality, numerous public organizations, the private sector and the entire educational system in a unique and unprecedented environmental partnership. The 650 central activities carried out by 160 organizations were essential stepping stones on the road toward increased environmental consciousness and participation. Beach cleanup campaigns, collection and safe disposal of batteries and "recruitment" of over one hundred thousand volunteer cleanliness trustees were some of the highlights of our own ministry’s endeavor to increase public awareness.
Under the able and committed guidance and leadership of Minister of the Environment Yossi Sarid, we have made major strides in our pursuit of a better environment. Alongside growing public awareness and commitment, significant breakthroughs were made in pollution prevention and resource management.
In a landmark government decision, a comprehensive plan for closing some 400 illegal garbage dumps and replacing them with a few state- of-the-art sanitary landfills was approved and is now being carried out. In the area of hazardous substances control, our resolve to prevent the potentially catastrophic results of accidents led to the approval of a comprehensive contingency plan for integrated response in hazardous substances emergencies. Our ever-growing concern with the impacts of air pollution has resulted in an innovative and comprehensive program for the management of our country’s air resources.
In all fields, plans are now being translated into action: tenders for building, operating and rehabilitating Israel’s new-generation landfills have been published; bids for the establishment of a nationwide air monitoring network have been issued; river restoration programs are being carried out; criteria for granting green labels to environmentally-friendly products have been finalized; pilot recycling projects are being introduced. The recent reorganization of the ministry will further augment our ability to deal with ever-growing challenges, ever-pressing needs.
Today, we face new challenges and new opportunities as we take part in one of the most pivotal developments in recent history the peace process. As the chairman of the Israel delegation to the multilateral peace talks on the environment, I have helped search for new paths of cooperation on the sensitive environmental issues facing the Middle East. As part of a contingency plan for marine pollution prevention in the Gulf of Aqaba, riparian states have committed themselves to joining efforts in case of an oil spill in order to protect this fragile ecosystem. Especially gratifying is the progress made on our proposal for regional cooperation in combating desertification, a project which has been hailed as a model of environmental cooperation. Combating desertification, combating environmental degradation these will be the forms of combat in which we will engage in the years to come.
The challenges facing us on all fronts are great, but Israel is determined to surmount them. We have pledged ourselves to a path of peace, development and environmental protection. We stand ready to fulfill the motto of the Year of the Environment: "To the Environment with Love."
Dr. Israel Peleg