Greening the Economy

It was a pleasure to participate in the UĦM extraordinary general conference on November 25. Dealing with Climate Change And Its Impact On Employment it was an eye opener as to the increasing sensitivity to environmental issues within the ranks of trade unions. I noted during the interventions from the floor and in one-to-one contacts during breaks that age was no barrier in ever-increasing awareness.

The Maltese trade unions are in a position to understand the interrelationship between the environmental and social policy and, although to date they have been largely absent, they have much to contribute to the debate.

Climate change is a fact even though some would prefer to ignore it. It is all pervading. It is manifesting itself in temperature changes, in reduced but more intense rainfall, more frequent and severe storms, melting icecaps, a rising sea-level and a shift in seasons.

Moreover, immediate and direct effects of these changes include more dependency on reverse osmosis water, a migration into local airspace and waters of alien species and damage to our agricultural infrastructure. In the long term, maritime and tourism infrastructure and what’s left of the water table would be seriously under threat. All this affects the quality of life of one and all.

Malta contributes to the cause of climate change primarily through energy generation and transport and to a lesser extent through waste generated and agriculture. A proper management of all four areas could lead to a substantial reduction of greenhouse gases produced, thereby reducing the Maltese carbon footprint to within the acceptable criteria determined by the international community.

Addressing climate change adequately could lead to a net gain in employment levels. Reacting slowly or not reacting at all to this challenge will lead to net job losses.

A Green economy should be an achievable target, tied and conditioned by its effect on the eco system of which we form part. The eco system establishes limits which we exceed at our peril. It is these limits we should observe at all times as it is within an eco system that we live and not within an economy. The economy is a tool adopted by society and we should be reluctant of accepting it as a master. It is to ecology that we should defer at all times. If we do not we have to pay a substantial price.

One of the bills for actions taken in the past is currently due: it is climate change. This bill cannot be waived nor can it be ignored. We can realistically only pay up in instalments through reforming the manner we proceed with in our lives. Not by adapting to climate change but by addressing its causes unequivocally.

A Green economy is an economy that values both nature and people and creates decent, well-paying jobs. In a Green economy jobs are generated to preserve and enhance existing environmental quality and restore it were necessary. It reduces waste generation and increases the efficiency in use of water, electricity and other resources. It ensures that the eco system and bio-diversity are protected. According to the German-based Roland Berger Strategy Consultants the global market volume for environmental products and services currently runs at about €1,000 billion. This is projected to rise to €2,200 billion by 2020.

Green jobs can be created in the generation of alternative energy and in the energy efficiency of buildings and equipment. In the area of transport there may be a shift in employment to the servicing of public transport in all its forms. Likewise, there will be new jobs in the recycling industry: reducing waste generated and re-injecting into the economy resources that would otherwise have been lost.

The Green economy is capable of creating what is known as a double dividend: generation of employment and environmental gains. The transition must however be just. It must not be led by market forces but within a framework of social solidarity, where the economy is a servant and not a master. The transition to a Green economy requires that politicians with a social conscience cease playing second fiddle to Thatcherite colleagues.

Substantial reforms are required but these will only bear fruit if they are sustainable, a word which is much abused nowadays. The budget is peppered with its use, many times within a misleading context.

It should be clear that policies based on cost recovery concepts may be unsustainable if they do not inbuild a thorough consideration of social and environmental impacts.

Reform always moves at a slow pace. Taking on board the environment is slower because it is a challenge to an attitude that has generally ignored environmental impacts. If the trade unions adopt a Green view, the necessary reforms may not only take place at a faster pace, they will also be more equitable.