Expert opinion prepared by Prof. Uriel Safriel, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Human development has resulted in the transformation of natural ecosystems into pastures, forestation, agricultural tracts, artificial bodies of water, and urban areas. These efforts have benefitted human beings (for example, by providing food) but have weakened other functions (such as natural protection from flooding). The systems that provide most ecological support services in Israel are natural forests and groves. The biological diversity in Israel has enjoyed relatively good protection and has been the subject of extensive research and scientific exploration.
The local ecosystems of today are already unable to meet the needs of the population, thus increasing Israel’s dependence on imported biological goods (grains, beef, timber ) from dry ecosystems elsewhere. These ecosystems are under pressure because of growing populations and global warming, and their continued capacity to provide services is therefore uncertain. Development efforts in Israel have decreased, fragmented, and contaminated natural ecosystems, particularly forests, scrubland, freshwater systems, and coastal areas. The loss of these systems as control mechanisms exposes Israel to extreme events. Some have technological alternatives, but these are expensive. Water subsidies for agricultural purposes facilitated agricultural development in a way that did not accord with local ecosystems, and local produce was transformed into produce for export, without taking into consideration the value of the control mechanisms of the ecosystems as opposed to the income from marketing agricultural produce abroad. Cultural services (landscape and heritage) in all their aspects generated great value in terms of tourism and recreation. Despite Israel’s need to preserve the ecosystem’s control mechanisms and reinforce resilience following change, it in fact undermines the natural systems that provide natural protection.