The fact that a common vocabulary of environmental and related terms has been adopted across the political divide may lead some to the mistaken conclusion there exists a widespread agreement as to environmental objectives to be attained. However, while a common vocabulary is in existence through the use of the same terms and expressions, we sometimes seem to refer to dictionaries that vary substantially. As a minimum, they may be said to be substantially different editions!
Consider sustainable development. The term is ubiquitous but there is a wide range of and, at times, conflicting views as to what constitutes sustainable development.
When this Parliament met, at its inaugural sitting, the President as head of state and on behalf of the government read what is known as the Speech from the Throne, that is the government’s political objectives and programme it intended to fulfil while in office. It was then stated that: “The government’s plans and actions are to be underpinned by the notion of sustainable development of the economy, of society and of the environment. When making decisions today, serious consideration will be given to the generations of tomorrow.
“Sustainable development has three main dimensions: economic, social and environmental. Our challenge is to ensure continuous economic development, promoted by education, social development, with particular attention to environmental protection. When we evaluate our activities in view of these three interrelated dimensions, we would be placing every person at the heart of the government’s actions.”
The notions of sustainable development the President put forward on behalf of the government were the minimum possible. They are reasonable as a first step as they contain the seminal ideas that should form the building blocks of a strategy for ending business as usual and moving towards a path eventually leading to a sustainable society.
Economic, social and environmental dimensions are rightly defined as being interrelated. I would go further by stating the social and environmental impacts we must continuously address are the result of the manner in which the economy has been permitted to operate.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The government’s commitment towards sustainable development is not to be gauged by its rhetoric but through its actions.
The Commission for Sustainable Development set up in terms of the Environment Protection Act has not met for more than four years, since December 2006. Then it had approved the final version of the National Sustainable Development Strategy, which it submitted to Cabinet. A primary function of the commission now is to oversee the implementation of the Sustainable Development Strategy for the Maltese Islands, approved by Cabinet prior to the March 2008 election and having a 10-year lifespan (2007-2016).
This fact on its own speaks volumes as to the government’s unwritten policies. It is in line with the abolition of the Commission for Sustainable Development by the Conservative/Liberal coalition government in the UK as a result of its bonfire of quangos. The UK government too describes itself as being the greenest ever. Actions, however, speak louder than words. Lip service is clearly the name of the game.
Instead of honouring its commitments and ensuring that each one of the 20 priority areas identified in the Sustainable Development Strategy are implemented throughout the lifetime of this Administration, a free-for-all has ensued.
How can a government committed to sustainable development justify an administrative set-up that subjugates responsible environmental management to the whims of those who still consider the building construction industry as a prime economic mover on these islands?
The Dwejra debacle, which will, hopefully, soon enter into its final stages, has confirmed once more that, within the set-up of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, the Environment Protection Directorate may be consulted, yet, it is set aside when decisions are taken.
What is the purpose of drawing up local plans to regulate development if these are repeatedly ignored as has been shown once more by the Mepa audit officer in his report on the extension of the Church-run Seminary at Tal-Virtù?
Why speak of eco-Gozo yet issue a development permit for a Church-run cemetery, which is in the process of completely ruining a rainwater harvesting infrastructure that has served the agricultural community at Nadur’s Għajn Qasab for about three centuries?
Government actions speak louder than words. As aptly stated by Marco Cremona (The Times, January 18) we are witnessing mixed messages and conflicting policies.
There is no coordination of environment policy across government. This is in part the result of the abandonment of the sustainable development infrastructure. It is clear there is no one who has the ability to enforce environment policy throughout the government.
Late in 2010, Parliament approved a motion moved by the Prime Minister to introduce a Sustainable Development Bill, which has been given a first reading. The political will to act is, however, nowhere in sight.
Published in The Times of Malta on January22, 2011