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Constant growth of environment practice in Israel \ Environmental Law Review

Israel was aware of its surroundings from early ages and throughout its history. As a small country with only one fresh water lake and unstable climate with regard to precipitation, and at the same time a worldwide leader of technological advancement, high-tech companies, entrepreneurs and innovative industries – all producing significant amounts of pollution and waste – Israel finds itself struggling to balance between the technology which leads the country forward, and on the other hand – nature, environmental issues and wise usage of existing fresh water resources.

In 1988, Israel established the Ministry of Environmental Protection, similar to the US and the UK’s environmental departments, which promotes various laws and regulations emphasizing the importance of environmental protection as well as obligating companies to comply.

During the past few years, the environmental legislation in Israel has significantly gained momentum. On the water aspect, as a country who’s climate is characterized as Mediterranean and since the fresh- water issue constitutes a political, economic and cultural issue, Israel’s various district planning committees have approved various master plans in recent years for building desalination facilities. Any entrepreneur wishing to build such a facility is prioritized at the top of the committees schedule before any other project.

On the waste aspect, the Israeli parliament recently approved a law submitted by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, which obligates industrial factories to report the annual amounts of waste, contaminants and pollutants produced and discharged by their plants. Another recent law obligates manufacturers and importers of electric devices to dismantle and clear the devices when they are no longer being used.

In addition, Israeli industrial companies which are traded in the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE) are rated in accordance to their environmental obedience, so that investment consultants and the general public can have an additional important tool to evaluate companies according to environmental standards. The rationale behind this regulation is to encourage companies to minimize the environmental damage they cause and the carbon footprint they discharge, and thereby, of course, help preserve the environment.

The intense Israeli high-tech industry has also taken initiative by using technological developments to protect the environment. One of Israel’s unique companies dealing with this issue is a well known world-wide initiative called ‘Better Place’, an Israeli electric car venture which tries to fight back again the world’s dependence on oil.

The company already signed agreements for deploying electric cars in certain regions of China, electric cabs in San-Francisco and Tokyo and so on. In Israel, the company signed an agreement with the Jerusalem municipality in order to deploy charging points for the electric cars throughout Jerusalem.

In recent years, the Israeli government has been transferring budgets to environmental projects in the scope of hundreds of USD millions, and in some of them, foreign companies are the main contractors.

Since the state of Israel is well aware of the environment’s financial and cultural impact on the general public, the government chose to actively protect it and take preventive measures, trying to implement creative solutions for protecting the environment, while using the private sector as a financing and implementing side, or in the way of privatization.

With regard to the Israeli legal sector and the activity of Israeli law firms, some law firms were the first to realize the importance as well as the necessity to develop their environmental practice area. Israel today has a few leading environment law firms which provide legal consultation to many industrial companies (both Israeli and foreign) with regard to their waste and pollution problems, side by side to leading law firms dealing with project finance and green energy issues. Those law firms experience tremendous growth in volume and size of the projects their represent, from solar power plants and pumped-storage hydroelectricity up to wind power turbines.

Currently, almost every large-scale transaction, whether corporate or real-estate, needs to address the environmental aspect in the financial reports, prospectuses and so on. The law firms assist their clients to comply with the relevant environmental legislation and regulations, which are slowly becoming an integral part of the ongoing corporate work.

Israel’s legal environmental practice maintains a constant rate of growth, and with oil prices rising and the discovery of gas deposits along Israel’s coastal line, hand in hand with the new Israeli regulation allowing foreign law firms to open branches in Israel, all leading to intense interest in Israel’s green industry.

* Adv. Zohar Fisher is the Ceo of Robus, an Israeli company dealing with legal marketing and consulting services

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