Sixth National Report
Section I. Information on the targets being pursued at the national level
State of Palestine has adopted national biodiversity targets but chooses to report using the Aichi Biodiversity Targets for reference.
The targets/national priorities that were developed such as those in NBSAP 1999 are general but little implemented before the State of Palestine acceded to CBD. After starting to work and build capacity related to CBD, the EQA started to look at the ABT targets as standards. This is why we measured our progress in the past five years based on existing ABTs.
Section II. Implementation measures, their effectiveness, and associated obstacles and scientific and technical needs to achieve national targets
Updating the Biosafety strategy
The State of Palestine has ratified the Cartagena Protocol of CBD on 2 April 2015. Yet, little work was done on this issue until 2020 (see below). The biotechnology field and its biosafety in Palestine is still in its early developmental stages, with minor efforts to catch up with the rapidly developing area of biotechnology, especially in the fields of food, medicine and agriculture. However, several universities have recently established graduate and undergraduate biotechnology/genetic engineering programs. (Unpublished, Palestine Biosafety assessment Report 2021, EQA)
The biological diversity and natural resources richness of Palestine should be taken into consideration when developing the national biosafety policies; The objective of the national Biosafety policy and regulations is "to protect human, plant and animal health, the environment and biological diversity, by regulating the production, importation, exportation and contained use of Living Modified Organism (LMOs), and the release of products of such organisms". Moreover, to ensure the regulations require that the risks posed by or as a result of modern biotechnology be identified and managed through regulating activities involving LMOs/Genetically modified organisms (GMO's). At the same time, the biosafety policy should not impede sound and orderly technological development/research and the promotion of modern biotechnology that may otherwise reflect positively on society.”
The following Principles should be followed for establishing the national policy and regulations:
- The Biosafety Legislations and Regulations in Palestine (see ABT17)
- The National Biosafety Committee (NBC)
- The regulation of biotechnology requires developing appropriate regulations, procedures and policies through establishing a National Biosafety Committee (NBC) under the supervision of the Environment Quality Authority (EQA).
NBC responsibilities consist of:
- The formulation of the national biosafety policy and guidelines; also by updating, development, and execution of the national biosafety legislations and regulations;
- Applications approval or rejection for importing, exporting and/or using LMOs and their products;
- Leading the national authorities and co-ordinate the efforts in an emergency created by the release, whether intentional or unintentional, of a LMO into the environment, and/or of an unintentional trans-boundary movement of a LMO;
- Guiding the capacity building of governmental authorities and institutions that are responsible for biosafety and for the development of modern biotechnology in the country;
- Periodically assess biosafety criteria and review decisions on import, export and/or domestic use of LMOs and their products;
- Monitor domestic handling and use of LMOs and their products and assure appropriate application of all procedures;
- Provide the national focal point for the Biosafety Clearing-house with all information on its decisions on import and domestic use of LMOs and their products and any other information required; and disseminate information on biosafety issues at the national level;
- Inform the public of planned releases of LMOs and their products, promote public participation in decision-making concerning GMOs, and generally promote public awareness of biosafety issues;
- Report at least annually to the Government.
- Providing guidance for safe use of modern biotechnology;
- Establishing and monitoring the implementation of policies and procedures for the purpose of handling LMOs; and assess any risks posed by LMOs and products of LMOs;
- Promotes research, development, educational and training activities relating to biosafety;
- Establishes mechanisms to facilitate the collection, storage and dissemination of data relating to biosafety; and performs obligations arising from agreements, conventions or treaties relating to biosafety to which Palestine is a party, if directed by the Minister to be harmonized with national legislations.
The NBC consists of the following members and representatives:
- Environment Quality Authority (Chairman)-headed by the Minister
- The Ministry of Agriculture (MOA);
- The Ministry of Health (MOH);
- Palestinian Standards and Measurement Institute
- The Ministry of finance and planning
- The Ministry of National Economy
- The Ministry of Higher Education
- The Ministry of Education
- The Ministry of Interior
- National Agricultural Research Center (NARC)
- Agricultural Engineering Association
- Consumers Protection Association
- Palestine Polytechnic University (PPU):Palestine-Korea Biotechnology Center
- Bethlehem University: A-Medical Laboratory Sciences Department, and B- the UNESCO Biotechnology, Educational and Training Center.
- Arab American University: Biology and Biotechnology Department
- Biodiversity & Environmental Research Center (BERC). Biodiversity and Biotechnology Institute (BBI).
It is revealed that the Environmental law No.7- for the year 1999 in Palestine requires an urgent update and modification so as to be harmonized with the international treaties and agreements and should provide the EQA with the authority and responsibility to control the intended release of GMOs in Palestine. Furthermore, the environmental law No. 7 lacks many environmental themes that should be adopted such as biosafety and biotechnology issues related to Cartagena Protocol and its provisions, the Nagoya Protocol and its provisions, and the climate change agreement (UNFCCC). In fact, within the Palestinian environmental laws there has not been any implementation for regulation to control the Biosafety related to GMOs/LMOs. (Unpublished, Palestine Biosafety assessment Report 2021, EQA).
This ABT is directly related to the infrastructure of research facilities and researchers’ capacities in Palestine. Research centers are scarce in quantity and quality but with recent initiatives like the establishment of Palestine Institute of Biodiversity Studies and Palestine Museum of Natural History (PIBS/PMNH), the status of (molecular) research will be flourishing rapidly. At PIBS, a molecular research laboratory is being established that will utilize advanced molecular techniques (e.g. Metabarcoding, eDNA) to survey the fauna and flora of Palestine. Outputs of such surveys will be shared and made accessible according to global standards (the Nagoya Protocol). At BERC a well-equipped molecular lab is already well-established in which several studies have been carried out regarding the genetic diversity of some crops including fig landraces, Cucumis landraces, some wild native vascular plants including Quercus caliprinos, and fungi including candida and dermatophytes (e.g. Abu Zaitoun et al. 2018). The full genome sequences of Palestinian isolates of different plant viruses including Fig viruses, SLCV, WmCSV, and ToBRFV, have been published and deposited in the NCBI genebank. Data is being shared constantly collected and Palestine has embarked on a new reevaluation of all regulations and policies relating to bio- and chemical safety (2021). Equitable sharing of benefits is the fourth objective of Palestine's 1999 NBSAP and the current reevaluation of the NBSAP (2021) will ensure developing specific programs to address the needs per this ABT and the new CBD guidelines being developed. Limited access (due to Israeli occupation) to natural resources and the use of the West Bank land to dump toxic wastes from Israeli industrial and other activities contrary to the fourth Geneva Convention makes virtually impossible to achieve the targets per ABT 16 (Hammad and Qumsiyeh 2013; Khlaif and Qumsiyeh 2017).
Between 2015-2020, little planning on issues of biosafety was done and we know of biosafety measures happening in centers like universities and hospitals (as per ministry of health requirements). Dr. Omar Dar Issa of Bethlehem University was tasked to do a study in 2021 (delayed from 2020 due to COVID19) for development of a biosafety Framework relating to Palestine (Darissa, Omar 2021. Development of National Biosafety Framework for Palestine. Unpublished report January 2021 to EQA). There are existing gaps in legislation and those are being remedied via reevaluation of Palestinian environmental laws relating to biosafety (in 2021)
Intensive Awareness Programs by EQA (focusing on students and relevant stakeholders)
See relevant Aichi targets 1 and 19 for details on success of these measures. We consider these to have had great progress since the fifth national report
Awareness has been very effective and is verified by our own surveys of knowledge of the public in areas like knowledge of human impact on the environment, need for recycling and more. See more detail under Aichi Targets 1 and 19.
Projects implemented by EQA for conserving natural resources
EQA received support for major projects related to biodiversity. Examples include:
1- Support from the Italian government for generating the 6th National Report and updating the NBSAP.
2- Support from Swedish Development Agency (SDA) for development of the national biosafety framework and the fourth national report in compliance with the Cartagena protocol.
3- Support from the SDA for development of national strategy for dealing with Invasive species.
4- Update of Environmental laws and regulations from the SDA.
5- Assessment and evaluation of the national system of protected areas.
Many of these projects were slated to start in 2020 but were delayed to 2021 due to COVID19. So we will know the effectiveness of the measures taken in due course.
Environmental sector is recognized by the cabinet as a cross-sectoral theme
A cross-sectoral strategy (EQA 2017) by the Palestinian Government 2017-2022 was developed and shared with key stakeholders and committed resources and experts to increase environmental awareness and find funds to work on study and conserve the environment (https://info.wafa.ps/userfiles/server/pdf/en_2017-2022.pdf). A new environmental awareness and education strategy is being developed by the EQA in 2021.
There is still a need to develop stronger cooperation between different government agencies like EQA, local government, ministries of Agriculture and Education, NGOs, academia etc. The new NBSAP will address these (being worked on now)
Reviewing and updating local laws
The NBSAP of 1999 coincided with publication of the environmental law for Palestine (http://environment.pna.ps/ar/files/Law_No_7_For_The_Year_1999_Concerning_The_Environment.pdf). Yet even as early as 2005, the EQA started to address the gaps in the law and especially areas to comply with newly signed international conventions (most signed from 2005 onward). That is why a decision was made in 2020 to review all international treaties (signed ones for obligations and unsigned ones for benefit and responsibility if they are signed) and also review local laws and regulations to ensure concordance and smooth aspects of implementation relating to environment in general including biodiversity. This includes harmonization of local laws with signed agreements as well as considering signing additional conventions.
Besides CBD, the state of Palestine signed a number of International Conventions that relate to biodiversity and that become essentially local laws (obligations are being fulfilled):
- Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage
- Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity
- Paris Agreement Under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change
- United Nations Framework Convention on the Climate Change
- United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
- United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification
- Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal
- Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants
- Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade
The environmental law for the year 1999 needs updating and is being reconsidered in 2021-2022. Enforcement was sporadic and weak but strengthened during the period of this report (2015-2020) through the establishment of environmental police and strengthening local EQA monitors.
Designation of a national bird and a national flower of Palestine by EQA
The EQA recommended in 2016 the designation of a national flower which is the Faquoa (Iris hayenae) and a national bird which is the Palestine Sunbird (Cinnyris osea). The ministerial committee/cabinet adopted a resolution regarding this matter. This increased awareness not only of those two species but also of the importance of protecting biodiversity in general.
This was evident by our surveys of both stakeholders and the general public about the importance of designating and knowledge about national species.
Signed CBD and its Cartagena Protocol
The State of Palestine signed the CBD and its Cartagena protocol on 2 April 2015. Since then, it has been eligible to attend and participate in the Conference of the Parties (COP) and Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) meetings. This also made Palestine eligible for funding from the GEF but the GEF blocked funding for Palestine for political considerations.
Due to lack of funding and the cancellation of GEF funding, the financial resources available for biodiversity are very limited including the limited small national budget and some allocations from other projects related to the environment.
Adoption of a national spatial plan
In 2014 there was an adoption of a national spatial plan and implementation proceeded rights after. The plan that takes into account protected areas within Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) for the sake of development regulation. The figure below shows this in detail.
This is partially effective because of lack of Palestinian sovereignty over land of the state of Palestine. For example Israel exerts control over Gaza maritime zone (plus Gaza is blockaded) and Area C is most of the West Bank and is under Israeli civil and military control. This limits the State's ability to implement the spatial plan.
Section III. Assessment of progress towards each national target
Section IV. Description of national contribution to the achievement of each global Aichi Biodiversity Target
1. Awareness of biodiversity values
The first Aichi target has two main outcomes. First that Palestinian individuals should be familiarized with the critical value of biodiversity and second that they should take into consideration how to conserve biodiversity and sustain it. It is expected that a large proportion of people must be aware of these aspects extending from adults to students (universities and schools) by implementing the biodiversity concepts within their curricula. The strategy used to familiarize people with the importance of biodiversity and its sustainability was the National Strategy for Environmental Awareness and Education which has three main objectives:
- The creation of an environmental media to raise the level of environmental awareness.
- The introduction of effective and creative educational curricula and activities.
- The enhancement of modern concepts in environmental values and practices. Below we will summarize achievements in this target 2015-2020 under the categories of governmental, NGOs and Academia.
Governmental: In EQA, two divisions are in charge in public awareness and education; Division of Awareness and Division of Education. School children across the West Bank are main targeted group for most of the educational programs. EQA produced a “Communication, Education and Public Awareness Strategy (CEPA)” in 2014 with efforts directed at 1) Effective and active environmental Media in raising the level of environmental awareness; 2) An integrated and innovative educational activities methodologies, and educational curricula; and 3) Environmental upscale values and practiced by community groups. The General Directorate for Environmental Awareness and Education at EQA is responsible for integrating environmental concepts and the development of Palestinian curricula. However, integrating the concepts of nature protection and environmental education within the educational matrix was not achieved yet. Within EQA's General Directorate for Environmental Awareness there is the Environmental Awareness Division: which is the most active division with offices in Hebron, Bethlehem, Jenin, Nablus, Tulkarm, and small offices in Tubas and Salfit. 400 Environmental Clubs were established in schools across the West Bank and they communicate with each other via social media (Facebook). These school clubs are supported and encouraged to develop small environmentally friendly projects such as biogas, botanic and house gardens, composting, water reuse, etc. Furthermore, nine videos were prepared on various subjects such as biodiversity, water issues, desertification, the environment and pollution. Other activities include summer camps for school students, walking in natural trails and identifying plants and birds. A number of other publications were issued such as “Garden is a Friend of the Environment” stories for school children with emphasis on environmental concepts and a national strategy for environmental education. The Ministry of Agriculture also produced some awareness pamphlets and occasionally worked with schools on educational issues. However, work with the Ministry of Education to change its curriculum has had limited success. The 9th grade syllabus “Health and Environment in our Life” includes some good concepts like better managing resources like water and reducing waste. The EQA organized events on 11 relevant days in 2020 (like world environment day, Arab environment day, Palestine environment day, biodiversity day). Over 5000 citizens engaged in activities done by EQA in 2020 (highest in Ramallah and Bethlehem). Also reached 3564 students and 901 teachers in schools and universities in 2020
NGOs: The EQA and academia work in collaboration with NGOs (such as Biodiversity and Environment Research Center-BERC, MAAN Development Center-MDC, Palestine Wildlife Society-PWLS, and Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem-ARIJ, among others) to reach out to schools to integrate some concepts of environmental education both in the classrooms and in extracurricular activities. Work from some of those groups to help the Ministry of Education change its curriculum has had limited success. The 9th grade in class syllabus “Health and Environment in our Life” includes some good concepts like better managing resources like water and waste reducing and recycling. NGOs we spoke with told us they are proud to have helped environmental clubs and other environmental initiatives at schools. Environmental clubs are indeed now found in many schools in Palestine. There was more of those in the private schools than in the public schools (e.g. in Bethlehem all private schools had an environment club while only a small fraction of public schools have them). This is largely due to lack of support and encouragement. Some schools started environmental magazines and/or newsletters focused on the environment such as at the Evangelical Lutheran Schools (Environment Education Center). Many folded because of lack of funds but these initiatives could be supported to increase outreach and imprint conservation and environmental issues among school children. Details on the role of Department of Environmental Education and Awareness at EQA. Awareness is also evident via the formation of new formal (like NGOs) and informal groups since the last NR. For example, there is a new NGO called Nature Palestine (https://naturepalestine.org/) and there is an informal network that started in 2019 called Palestine Action for the Planet (https://www.palestinenature.org/palestine-action-for-the-planet/). There's also a Palestine Environment NGO Network (http://www.pengon.org/) that coordinates activities in over 15 NGOs including on issues of education. And a first conference for Environmental Journalism was held (see https://www.maan-ctr.org/magazine/article/2449/ ) and it revealed that there is much to improve in this area despite previous accomplishments. Workshop educating children about caring for Palestine's biodiversity: https://www.lutheranworld.org/news/preparing-young-palestinians-care-creation Under the patronage of the Prime minister Dr. Mohammad Shtayyeh the first environmental exhibition for the biodiversity funded by Hanns Seidel Foundation through the "Mahmiyat.ps" project took place in the Nativity church square on the 30th of September 2020 that includes 200 pictures (posters on stands) plus tables for NGOs and academic centers engaged in nature protection. This exhibition was the result of joint efforts in which members of the local community and the Environment Quality Authority participated, who are the main partner in the exhibition. Around 400 people visited the exhibition. A video was developed for those who couldn’t reach Bethlehem due to the pandemic and was distributed online. Another NGO led activities are ecotourism paths that took thousands of people locals and internationals across landscape of Palestine including protected areas. An example of this is Palestine Trail (phtrail.org).
Academia: Issues on water and environment courses are taught in five universities (of 13 total in the Occupied Palestinian Territories-OPTs) and only 2.5% of master students studied environmental sciences (Isaac et al. 2019) but this has been growing over the years (e.g. a new master in environmental studies at Birzeit for example was launched in 2015). Bethlehem University via its Museum of Natural History worked with Qattan Foundation to bring hundreds of School students to a science festivals that focused on their responsibility to the environment. Efforts were made in collaboration with NGOs (such as ARIJ, BERC, MDC, and PWLS) and educational centers (such as EEC) to integrate some concepts of environmental education both in the classrooms and in extracurricular activities. In 2019, PMNH also held a total of five workshops in the villages that surround Al Makhrour valley (Beit Jala, Hussan, Battir, and Al-Walaja), whose aim was to increase the environmental educational awareness of the students in schools e.g. https://almakhrour.palestinenature.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Educational-Awareness-Workshops.pdf PMNH/PIBS engaged in hundreds of education activities relating to biodiversity (see palestinenature.org/education). Some universities also did environmental education via science festivals and direct school involvement. Furthermore, there are many undergraduate programs related to environmental sciences at the Palestinian universities. For example, Al-Najah university has established undergraduate programs related to the environment. Also, Hebron University offers a B. Sc. program in Environmental Science and Technology, while Al Quds University has a program in Earth & Environmental Sciences, with courses dealing with biodiversity. With a total of 9 universities who established directly environmental B.Sc. programs or indirect by adding courses related to environment in the Palestinian curriculum.
There are also many programs and courses for higher education related to Environment in Palestine, where at Birzeit University, three graduate programs are offered; Environmental Biology, Water and Environmental Sciences and Water and Environmental Engineering programs, especially the vital course in Conservation Biology and Environmental Legislations & Ethics. Similarly, the graduate program at Hebron University offers several environmental courses such as (Wildlife Management, Conservation & Monitoring of Natural Resources, Economic of Environmental Resources and Forest Improvement & Development). Efforts should be invested in upgrading these courses, by training, inviting visiting professors from countries with experience, exchange programs for students, and more programs (Masters and PhDs) that need to be incorporated in our universities. The biotechnology field and its biosafety in Palestine is still in its early developmental stages, with minor efforts to catch up with the rapidly developing area of biotechnology, especially in the fields of food, medicine and agriculture. However, several universities have recently established graduate and undergraduate biotechnology/genetic engineering programs (Unpublished, Palestine Biosafety assessment Report 2021, EQA). There's a plan to introduce a master program in biodiversity and sustainability at Bethlehem University 2021.
Other: Environmental education and awareness reaches the public in many other ways. Environmental (e.g. Maan Centers media outlet Afaq albiy'aa wa Altanmiya) and social, media play a great role. Tools used include audio, videos, magazines, newsletters, journals, webpages and internet shows. For instance, “This Week in Palestine”, a monthly-published magazine, highlights major environmental topics some of which include: fauna, flora, ecotourism and the environment. Examples of such issues were 2016 issue 220 “Animals in Palestine”, 2018 issue 244 “Hiking Trails and Alternative Tourism”, 2018 issue 243 “Sustainable Gaza”, 2021 issue 276 “Our Environment”. There are also >20 Facebook pages that actively post on topics relating to biodiversity in Palestine, which also contributes to public awareness. Examples include https://www.facebook.com/environment.quality.authority and https://www.facebook.com/PIBS.PMNH.
Conclusion: There have been a number of active movements raising awareness across Palestine including government bodies, academics, NGOs, and the voluntary individual actors. Taken together, all these movements suggest progress towards the target, as monitoring surveys and follow-up surveys document. PIBS conducted a public survey to estimate the public's general knowledge regarding biodiversity and protected areas in Palestine. Based upon a survey of 50 people, 46% claimed to have great knowledge regarding biodiversity, 50% claimed to have limited knowledge, and 2% claimed having no knowledge regarding biodiversity at all. When asked about possible ways to increase environmental awareness in Palestine, the two most popular answers were 1) introducing more environmental-related curriculums in schools and universities, and 2) discussing environmental topics and issues on media platforms.
EQA 2010. Environment Sector Strategy, Executive Summary. Environment Quality Authority. http://environment.pna.ps/ar/files/Environment%20Sector%20Strategy_Executive%20Summary_en.pdf
EQA 2012. The National Strategy, Action Programme & Integrated Financing Strategy to Combat Desertification in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. https://environment.pna.ps/ar/files/The_National_Strategy_to_Combat_Desertification.pdf