“We only have one planet, and we must all work together to protect it.” – Ran Gidor, Israeli Ambassador to Georgia
The coronavirus pandemic has presented us with one of the most acute challenges of our generation. It has also, however, presented us with a unique opportunity to pursue economic recovery programs following the pandemic that incorporate strong sustainability and low-carbon dioxide measures. The world could effectively use the exit from COVID-19 to accelerate a green transition, and the commemoration of this year’s Earth Day has thus taken on an even deeper meaning.
In Georgia, too, air pollution had decreased in the capital city of Tbilisi as well as in the whole country, the National Environment Agency of Georgia announced a year ago: “The levels of atmospheric air pollution are significantly reduced. The content of nitrogen dioxide in the air is particularly reduced, which is likely to be related to the reduction in emissions from vehicles” (May 20, 2020). Similarly, methodical analysis by the CRRC (Caucasus Research Resource Center) of air quality data collected by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Agriculture, prove that particulate matter in Tbilisi’s air had fallen by as much as 45% following the introduction of measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 (March 30, 2020).
However, this is merely a short-term gain rather than a long-term trend. For over a decade, the UN Environment Program has produced an “Emissions Gap Report” that analyzes the disparity between where greenhouse gas emissions should be by 2030, and where they are actually predicted to be. The 2020 report found that, despite a “brief dip” in greenhouse gas emissions caused by the pandemic’s broad economic slowdown, the world is still headed towards a temperature rise of over 3 degrees this century, well above the goal of 1.5 degrees set out in the Paris Agreement. In fact, there is a direct link between environmental crises, climate change, and the novel coronavirus. Experts have found that global warming has led to the emergence of new infectious zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19, meaning that our current global pandemic is most probably tied to the grim environmental situation of our planet. This fact should serve as a strong and urgent call to action for all of us.
When it comes to climate innovation and sustainability, Israel can serve both as an example and as a provider of solutions to global problems. The country’s arid and water scarce conditions, combined with its entrepreneurial and problem-solving spirit, have made Israel a leader in the field of environmental innovation. Drip irrigation and the development of resistant, fortified crops are world-renowned and highly sought after technologies that were actually originally developed in Israel. The country is also at the forefront of one of the world’s latest trends in sustainability: animal protein replacements. Innovative Israeli companies have successfully produced lab-grown protein that is almost indistinguishable from high-quality meat, and have even grown real meat from animal cells in a lab.
Israel also happens to be a global water powerhouse. The country holds the world record for water reuse, recycling almost 90% of its wastewater for use in agriculture. It also has one of the most unique national water systems in the world, with some 80% of its drinking water being desalinated saltwater. Over a century of experience in reforestation have also made Israel a leader in the reforestation of semi-arid areas, expertise that will only grow in value as large-scale tree planting and other nature-based solutions become ever more prevalent as methods of mitigating against the effects of climate change.
Israeli embassies across the globe commemorate Earth Day on an annual basis. Just like every year, Israel’s diplomatic missions will be launching a global campaign to mark the occasion, highlighting the many innovative and cutting-edge solutions that Israel has provided to global problems. Whether opening a community garden in Beijing, cleaning beaches in Spain, educating new biology and sustainability graduates in Rwanda, or holding an online panel on Israeli solutions for sustainably recovering from the coronavirus pandemic in Delhi, Israeli diplomats will truly be at the forefront of this year’s Earth Day.
Israel has an exceptional set of assets that mean it is well-placed to make a unique contribution worldwide when it comes to pursuing green recovery programs from COVID-19. Its cutting-edge technologies and decades of practical experience were all borne of the demanding environmental challenges that Israel faced from the very outset of its statehood, and the solutions it developed to meet those challenges could now serve the world well.
As Georgia is gearing up to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its rebirth as a state, it is worth remembering that environmental awareness has always played an inseparable part of its historic drive towards self-determination and independence. MASHAV, the Israeli International Development Cooperation Agency, has been operating in Georgia since 1992 and has trained over 1,500 Georgian women and men in various spheres, contributing to environmental protection, among them sustainable agriculture, water purification, and clean and renewable energy.
With all of the hardships that the coronavirus pandemic has inflicted upon us, it has also provided us with a unique opportunity to change our ways moving forward. Israel is willing to share its experience and knowhow with our Georgian friends and partners; we only have one planet, and we must all work together to protect it.
Op-Ed by Ran Gidor, Israeli Ambassador to Georgia