Tackling Sustainable Development

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published on May 2, 2009

by Carmel Cacopardo

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Ecological Footprint analysis is a planning tool: it accounts for the manner in which the earth’s resources are used to satisfy our needs, and converts the result into the corresponding land area required. It highlights dependence on nature and quantifies this dependence, thus focusing attention on the link between consumption and the earth’s bio-capacity.

The first step in the road leading to sustainability is to understand the ecological reality of our impacts. Ignoring this reality and continuing on a business-as-usual strategy would mean that we do not care about what will be bequeathed to future generations.

Ecological Footprint analysis is therefore a tool through which we can estimate the consumption of resources and the waste assimilation requirements of an economy in terms of the land area required. It considers the land required by an economy for food, housing, transport, consumer goods and services.

The World Wide Fund publishes information on a regular basis relative to ecological footprint analysis. From the information available, Malta’s ecological footprint is 3.9 hectares per person. The EU average is 4.9 ha, ranging from a minimum of 3.6 ha for Poland and Slovakia to a maximum of 7 ha for Sweden and Finland. The world average on the other hand is 2.2 ha: the USA having a footprint of 9.5 ha, with China having a footprint of 1.5 ha. China’s footprint is obviously on the increase (source: WWF: Europe 2005, the Ecological Footprint).

With a population estimated at 410,000 and an area of 316 square kilometres, the above signifies that Malta’s consumption patterns are impacting a land area of about 50 times the size of the Maltese islands. This information could place the politics of sustainable development in Malta in its proper perspective.

Such a high impact is necessarily linked to the high population density of the Maltese islands. It is also however the result of the fact that, as a nation, we lag far behind in adopting sustainable practices. For example, as a country we did not use our small size to our advantage in order to develop sustainable transport policies that, through an increased use of public transport, could gradually lead towards the substantial reduction of road traffic. Gimmicks as those associated with the “environmental criteria” of the revised car registration and circulation tax will not solve the matter, as they are just designed to protect the Exchequer and only use environmental criteria as a means to compute taxation.

Transport is one of the issues in respect of which, a Maltese government, serious about the pursuit of sustainable development, could achieve results. Tangible results would be fewer cars on the road and, consequently, less emissions, which are damaging our health in addition to contributing towards climate change.

Readers would remember that the reform of public transport has been continuously on the agenda for at least the past 15 years. Notwithstanding the injection of millions of euros in public funds, no tangible results are yet in sight.

The use of energy is another major contributor to Malta’s ecological footprint. The projected wind farms are essential in this respect. Now that some studies and documentation has been made available to the public, an informed public discussion may be possible. It is however imperative that additional alternative sites are also taken into consideration if these are identified, even at this stage.

While macro projects are being planned, more attention should be given to initiatives on a micro level. In the area of renewable energy generation these micro projects and initiatives could, if implemented, add up to a substantial contribution to satisfy the need and demand for clean energy.

What about, for example, ensuring that all new development is provided with solar water heaters at roof level? While this would not cost one cent to the Exchequer it would undoubtedly require revisiting land use planning policies relative to the provision of penthouses, policies of which were rather relaxed in the recent past. Malta’s land use planning policies should, as a result, be less elastic than they have been in the last years in this respect.

What about the use of micro wind turbines? When will Mepa tackle the issue by producing a policy which encourages their use for discussion?

Sustainable development, if seriously tackled, could impact all areas of policy and not just those referred to above.

To actively pursue the sustainable development path, initiatives that reduce ecological impacts and simultaneously improve our quality of life are required. Notwithstanding all the talk, the government has not yet embraced this path wholeheartedly and, as a result, (unfortunately) the sustainability gap is widening. This gap can be reduced if talk and action correspond more often

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