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Adapting to Climate Change

By Dr. Orr Karassin

CANCUN (Dec. 9, 2010) — As part of the events that took place at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP 16/MOP 6) here, our delegation joined the Israeli government delegation to present a side event to share the various ways we have learned to adapt to life in an arid region. KKL-JNF initiated the side event together with the government of Israel in order to present and share the knowledge Israel has acquired on adapting to hot and arid climates. In moderating the event, I emphasized that the purpose was not to debate policy, as was the case at most of the conference discussions, but rather to present practical solutions in the fields of agriculture and afforestation in hot and arid regions.

In an era of climate change, more countries will have to learn how to farm and prevent damage to the environment in hot and arid conditions — they will face the challenges Israel has faced on the edge of the desert. And they can learn from the practical solutions that we implemented in Israel. 

Still, we need to better study the ramifications of climate change for our region, and the effects of our ways of dealing with it. The Carmel forest fire was a terrifying reminder of this necessity. Climate change is one of the greatest challenges the state of Israel and other countries have ever faced. I will make every effort to ensure that KKL-JNF's research department will devote itself to investigating the ramifications of climate change on Israel's forests and to the ways of protecting forests in an era of climate change and changes in annual rainfall.

The first lecture at the event was by Itzik Moshe, deputy director of KKL-JNF's Southern Region, who spoke about desert afforestation and agriculture in semi-arid and arid regions. Moshe presented the methods developed by KKL-JNF, including harvesting water runoff and planting species that can survive in harsh climatic conditions. He emphasized that Israel's unprecedented success in foresting areas with an average of 250 to 350 mm. of rainfall is based on ancient methods that were used by local inhabitants for hundreds of years.

"Actually, there is not too much that is new in our forestry methods.," said Moshe. "All we are doing is combining ancient knowledge with modern tools. The methods developed in Israel could instigate a revolution in semi-arid regions. KKL-JNF is eager to share its expertise with countries throughout the world." 

The next lecture was presented by Dr. Gabi Adin, director of the Cattle Raising Department of the Ministry of Agriculture. He described Israel's success in raising dairy cows that produce the highest average yield in the world — approximately 11,000 liters per year — far exceeding the European average of about 8,000 liters annually. There are, however, claims that raising cattle for dairy and meat are the cause of about 30 percent of increased greenhouse gases, due to energy outputs and the methane emissions of cows. According to Adin, aside from the economic advantage, the Israeli dairy cow also has an ecological advantage, since it emits less methane gas per liter of milk produced.

The concluding speaker was Dr. Alon Ben-Gal, an expert on irrigation from the Volcani Institute of Agricultural Research, who spoke on irrigation in arid regions where various crops are grown, including dates and olives. Ben-Gal emphasized the benefits of drip irrigation as a means of enabling people to make a livelihood in these regions, without which it the lands would be impossible to inhabit.

Ben-Gal also addressed the use of brackish water for irrigation, which caused salification in Australia, rendering the land unsuitable for farming. So far, Ben-Gal said, brackish water-using farmers in Israel's Arava Valley have been lucky, since the water penetrates the Arava soil, preventing salification.

"The answers and solutions that future research will provide," said Ben-Gal, "are critical for enabling Israel to continue farming the Negev desert, and to continue taking advantage of the local aquifer, which has copious amounts of brackish water."




Dr. Orr Karassin is a former Green Zionist Alliance representative to the board of directors of Jewish National Fund in Israel, and an advisory-board member of Aytzim: Ecological Judaism.




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