2014 at HaMaarag: what does the ecosystem give me?

ישראל מחולקת למערכות אקולוגיות

A walk in nature is without a doubt an enjoyable experience, however the values that functioning ecosystems provide us greatly exceed this simple pleasure. Food provisioning, drinking water purification, regulation of agricultural pests, and prevention of soil erosion are but a few of the benefits that we receive from the ecosystems on which, in actual fact, we rely.

In order to raise awareness of the value of nature for humans and to develop a knowledge base that will assist policy designers to assimilate the values of ecosystem processes, we initiated the ‘Ecosystems and Human Wellbeing – A National Assessment’ project. Within the framework of this project a staff of over a hundred scientists and experts was put together to write a report that will present a national picture of the benefits that Israel’s residents receive from the ecosystems within its territory. The assessment will also present information about the importance of biodiversity for providing these benefits, threats to continued service provision, and quantification of the value of ecosystem processes for humans from economic, health and social-cultural perspectives.

During 2014 the project progressed from the planning stage to the execution stage, which will end in 2016 with the report’s publication. The progression signaled the publication in March of the handbook ‘From Planning to Execution: the Ecosystems and Human Well-being Project’, that describes the planning stages and the structure of the project, and also includes an advanced draft of the conceptual framework chapter that constitutes the conceptual base of the project. During the year the writing staff was finalized and began writing the various chapters. Work on the project is being guided by Dr. Alon Lotan, who joined the staff of HaMaarag during this year as the program coordinator, replacing Keren Klass who left to pursue studies. Prof. Uriel Safriel and Prof. Eran Feitelson from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem serve as chairmen of the project and provide continuous professional guidance.

The writers’ work is not easy and includes gathering and analyzing information and writing the chapters that deal with a wide range of topics, ranging from the different ecosystems in Israel, through the different services they provide and their economic contribution, to health and society, and ending with various future scenarios and their effects on provision of these services. From time to time there are meetings of the writing staff as well as work sessions. After writing, the chapters are brought to the peer review staff that was put together this year, a group of experts who are not partners in the work on the project; its role is to read the chapters and provide comments prior to the report’s publication. Additional partners on the project’s work include: the project’s council headed by Dr. Sinaia Netanyahu, the chief scientist of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, comprising representatives from 40 organizations and institutions that have an interest in the project and are likely to use its products: governmental offices, local government, public institutions, the business sector and the public. Representatives from the project’s council and management staff comprise the assimilation staff that works to ensure that knowledge about ecosystem services in Israel will not remain on paper alone; its aim is to determine appropriate ways of assimilating the ecosystem service approach in general, and the project’s products in particular, into decision-making processes and into the public eye.

During 2014 the third council meeting took place, with 25 representatives of the council’s member organizations. At this meeting, an update on the project’s progress was presented, questions about assimilation of the products were raised, and a discussion took place on the topic of scenarios, as part of building and analyzing scenarios within the framework of the project. For example, how would a future war affect provision of ecosystem services in Israel?

2014 saw continued cooperation with international organizations in the field of ecosystem service assessment, headed by ESP – Ecosystem Services Partnership, the leading international framework in this field. The ESP organizes international conferences and work groups on different topics related to ecosystem services, and within this framework Yossi Mosel and Alon Lotan are the chairmen of Israel’s National Network. The annual international conference of the ESP took place this year in Costa Rica in September, at which the Israeli project was presented.