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Ecosystems and Ecosystem Services

Expert opinion prepared by Prof. Uriel Safriel, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Past developments: 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.

 

Present trends: 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.

 

“Business as usual” scenario: Continuation of current development practices will exacerbate the erosion and fragmentation of Israel’s ecosystems. Food supply will be increasingly dependent on imports and therefore vulnerable to the uncertainties of the ecosystems of the countries providing for Israel’s needs. Global warming poses a threat to Israel’s ecosystems, for example via invasion of foreign species, frequency and intensity of floods, water loss, soil erosion, and fires, none of which the state can influence. It is expected that agricultural systems will be abandoned and natural ecosystems will return, and that a process of rehabilitation of natural ecosystems will occur as a result of increased water supply resulting from desalination and the option of replenishing natural water sources.

Recommendations for the future:

 

Scenarios under which agriculture does not compete for water:

  1. Cancellation of water subsidies for agriculture and return of abandoned lands to their natural state in light of the inability to sustain agriculture through local supply alone and the inability to complete with imported agricultural produce;
  2. There is a possibility that agriculture could become less dependent on ground resources (such as greenhouse cultivation) and could be made efficient through water use at the cost of desalination;

  3. Agriculture could be furthered on the basis of fossil water.

 

Scenarios that give priority to control mechanisms:

  1. Granting priority in land use to the cultivation of ecosystems that are important in providing control mechanisms, rather than ecosystems for provision of agricultural produce;
  2. Returning agricultural systems and deforested areas to their natural states, taken as a positive measure that is likely to contribute to ecosystems’ productivity;

  3. Strengthening the resistance to climate change by preserving areas of sharp climatic transition;

  4. Promoting biological diversity such as organic agriculture and urban nature;

  5. Guaranteeing protection for natural water supply systems in future regional agreements covering water supply.

 

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