ODZ lessons : from  Żonqor to Għargħur

 

A planning application (PA3592/16)  to construct a home for the elderly in the area between Naxxar and Għargħur was due to be discussed by the Planning Authority Board on Thursday. Less than five hours before it was due to begin, however, the public hearing was postponed. There may be valid reasons for the postponement but, so far, such reasons – if they exist – are still unknown.

For the past few months, Alternattiva Demokratika, the Green Party in Malta, has been supporting the residents who are opposed to the development of this privately-owned  home in their neighbourhood since the planning application was first published.

There are various reasons which justify opposition to this proposed development. When faced with such a proposal, the first reactions understandably relate to the direct impact that it will have on the residential community – during both the construction phase and  the operational phase of the proposed facility. During the construction phase, this impact would include excavation noise and vibration, the nuisance caused by airborne dust during construction and the general inconvenience resulting from a large construction site very close to a residential community.

Once the home is in use, the traffic generated at all times of the day – as well as the occupying of residents’ parking spaces by visitors – will be one of the most pressing concerns to justify opposition to the proposal.

These are sensible reasons which justify opposition to the proposed development, even though some mitigation of these impacts is generally possible.

In my opinion, however, before even considering the proposal, it has to be emphasised that the construction of a home for the elderly outside the development zone (ODZ) between Naxxar and Għargħur is a good reason for objection in principle.

On the grounds of social policy, to continue encouraging the institutional care of the aged by way of residential homes does not hold water. It makes much more sense to help the older members of our society to remain in their homes as an integral part of the community, close to their roots, as long as this is possible. This should be the preferred option, rather than forcing them to abandon their roots and move away to the outskirts of our towns and villages.

The Social Policy Ministry harps on about the integration of the elderly in the community while the authority responsible for land use planning is facilitating their segregation. Obviously, somewhere there is a lack of understanding and coordination.

Locating homes for the elderly on the edges of our towns and villages is, in the long term, unsustainable. In addition to fostering segregation, instead of encouraging inclusion, it creates an environmental deficit by encouraging the displacement of a number of the residents of our town and village centres to what is now considered as ODZ land. As a result, this leads to an increase in the number of vacant residential properties while simultaneously adding to the built footprint of the Maltese islands – as if we do not have more than enough developed land!

The 2011 Census identified Għargħur as having a 28.5 per cent residential property vacancy rate. The rate for Naxxar was 24.5. These official statistics, which include both vacant properties and partially vacant properties, will undoubtedly get much worse.

This leads to another argument against the proposal to provide a home for the elderly in this particular area.  How can we justify taking up ODZ land for further development when even the site selection exercise, carried out as part of the application process, identified alternative sites within the development zone?

It seems that not enough lessons have been learnt as a result of the Żonqor debacle.  Is it not about time that the Planning Authority puts its house in order?

Policy coordination between the Ministries concerned with social policy, sustainable development, the environment and land use planning is obviously the missing link and should be addressed immediately.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday – 25 June 2017

The environmental deficit

 

traffic jam Malta

 

Going by the information available on the increased incidence of various types of cancers, both common and rare types, it is evident that the accumulated environmental impacts originating from human action is exacting its toll. Few make the link between the increased incidence of rare diseases,  cancers and environmental neglect accumulated over the years.  

Over the Christmas period, as a result of the never-ending humanitarian operations of the Community Chest Fund, we hear of the ever-increasing demand on state resources by those struck by cancer. The demand is such that the resources of the state have to be supplemented by the annual telethon which this year raised a record €5.5 million.

The advertising blitz on the switching over of Malta’s power generation from one dependent on heavy fuel oil to natural gas informs us that air quality in Malta will improve substantially as a result. This statement is only partially correct as the major contributor to Malta’s poor air quality was not power generation but the ubiquitous and exponential increase of cars on our roads.

The cars on our roads are part of the real “cancer factory” in operation on Maltese territory.

As is evidenced by the substantial investments channeled towards the improvement of the road infrastructure, it is clear that the political will to address this issue is very weak. Improved road infrastructure, such as the construction of flyovers to ease traffic congestion, will only increase the dependence on cars. In the long term, this improvement to the road network will hamper the drive to shift custom to public transport. Consequently, it will serve to further increase cars on our roads and will hence contribute to an increase in the output of the “cancer factory”.

Public transport has been improved as is evidenced by a gradual increase in its use. Various initiatives to encourage the use of public transport have been introduced. However, the Maltese state is sending conflicting signals when it simultaneously speaks in favor of public transport yet invests heavily to facilitate the continued domination of our roads by private cars.

Lack of adequate environmental protection in the past has contributed to an ever-accumulating environmental deficit which in turn will lead to total and complete bankruptcy as no one is in a position to bale out Mother Earth.

Environment protection is multifaceted. Addressing the different waste streams and seriously plotting the path to the 2050 zero waste targets established by Malta’s Waste Management Strategy would definitely signify that we are in earnest. However, it is certainly not enough. What about the excessive use of pesticides which still end up contaminating our food chain? Or what about our water table, which in addition to being depleted is also contaminated with pesticides and fertilisers?   I could go on and on with a never-ending list of examples.

The environmental deficit is constantly on the increase. Each generation creates additional environmental impacts without in any way adequately addressing the accumulated impacts handed down by the previous generations. Governments are worried by economic deficits, yet few seem to be worried by the accumulating environmental deficit. We are using the earth’s resources as if tomorrow will never come.

No one will bail us out from the consequences of this deficit, yet nature has its own way of extracting its dues. Climate change, the collapse of agriculture in various countries and a higher incidence of common and rare forms of cancers are all different forms of payment which nature is extracting. These bills can only be avoided (in the long term) if we switch back to operating in a manner which is compatible with nature.

Otherwise the accumulating environmental deficit will bankrupt humanity.

published on The Independent on Sunday – 1 January 2017

L-iżbilanċ ambjentali

 

traffic.Marsa

 

Minn dak li hu magħruf dwar l-inċidenza dejjem tikber tal-cancer, jidher li l-impatti ambjentali tal-ħidma tal-bniedem qed ikollhom effett qawwi. Ftit huma dawk li huma konxji dwar ir-rabtiet li hemm bejn il-ħsara ambjentali u uħud mill-mard rari li s-soċjetá tagħna qegħda tiffaċċja.

Fil-ġranet tal-Milied, riżultat tal-ħidma bla heda tal-Community Chest Fund, nisimgħu dwar id-domanda ma tieqaf qatt għas-servizzi li jagħti l-istat lil dawk milquta minn kull forma ta’ cancer. Id-domanda hi tant kbira li riżorsi tal-istat huma mgħejjuna mill-ġbir li jsir waqt l-Istrina, li, din is-sena laħaq is-somma record ta’ €5.5 miljuni.

Il-Gvern qed ixandar riklami dwar il-qalba tal-ġenerazzjoni tal-elettriku minn waħda dipendenti fuq il-heavy fuel oil għal waħda dipendenti fuq il-gass naturali. F’dawn ir-riklami qed jgħidulna li ser ikollna titjib fil-kwalitá tal-arja bħala riżultat ta’ din il-qalba. Din id-dikjarazzjoni (tar-riklami) hi biss parzjalment korretta. Dan minħabba li l-kontributur ewlieni għall-kwalitá tal-arja f’Malta qatt ma kienet il-ġenerazzjoni tal-elettriku iżda n-numru ta’ karozzi fit-toroq li donnu ma jispiċċa qatt. Huma dawn il-karozzi fit-toroq li jiffurmaw parti mill-fabbrika reali tal-cancer f’Malta.

Kif anke jidher mill-investimenti sostanzjali dedikati għal titjib fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq huwa ċar li r-rieda politika biex dan ikun indirizzat hi dgħajfa. Għax iktar ma titjieb l-infrastruttura tat-toroq, iktar ikunu inkoraġġiti karozzi fit-toroq, għax it-triq għalihom tkun iffaċilitata. It-titjib fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq, iżżid id-dipendenza tagħna lkoll fuq il-karozzi u bħala riżultat ta’ dan, tostakola l-ħidma biex iktar nies tuża t-trasport pubbliku.

Sar titjib fit-trasport pubbliku, anke bħala riżultat ta’ diversi inizzjattivi li ttieħdu. Imma l-pajjiż qed jagħti sinjali konfliġġenti, għax filwaqt li qiegħed jinkoraġixxi l-użu tat-transport pubbliku, fl-istess ħin qed jinvesti flejjes sostanzjali biex jiffaċilita l-kontinwazzjoni tad-dominazzjoni tat-toroq tagħna mill-karozzi.

Il-ħarsien tal-ambjent jinvolvi ħafna ħidma diversa. Jinkludi ħidma biex ikunu indirizzati b’serjetá s-sorsi differenti ta’ ġenerazzjoni tal-iskart biex b’hekk infasslu t-triq li biha rridu naslu ħalli nilħqu l-mira ta’ “skart zero”. Din hi mira stabbilita mill-Istrateġija Nazzjonali tal-Iskart u trid tintlaħaq sal-2050. Dan ċertament li mhux biżżejjed. X’ngħidu għall-użu eċċessiv ta’ pestiċidi li mhux biss qed jikkontamina dak li jkun prodott fir-raba’ imma parti minnu jispiċċa ukoll f’dak li baqa’ mill-ilma tal-pjan?

L-iżbilanċ ambjentali qiegħed dejjem jiżdied. Kull ġenerazzjoni qed tispiċċa żżid l-impatti mingħajr ma tindirizza sewwa l-impatti akkumulati li tkun wirtet mill-ġenerazzjoni ta’ qabilha.

Il-Gvernijiet qed jinkwetaw fuq l-iżbilanċ finanzjarju imma ftit wisq minnhom jinkwetaw fuq l-iżbilanċ ambjentali li iktar ma jgħaddi żmien iktar qed imur għall-agħar. Ir-riżorsi tad-dinja qed jintużaw qieshom bir bla qiegħ.

In-natura għandha l-modi tagħha kif iġġiegħlna nħallsu għal dan l-iżbilanċ ambjentali. It-tibdil fil-klima, l-kollass tal-agrikultura f’diversi pajjiżi kif ukoll iż-żieda qawwija ta’ kull xorta ta’ cancer huma kollha tweġiba tan-natura li biha kull wieħed minnha qiegħed jerfa’ l-piz tal-ħsara li saret lin-natura. Dawn il-kontijiet li qed tibgħatina n-natura jistgħu jonqsu fil-futur jekk nibdew minn issa ngħixu b’mod li joħloq inqas ħsara ambjentali. Jekk dan ma jseħħx il-kontijiet tan-natura, bla ebda dubju, jwasslu għal kollass totali.

ippubblikat fuq Illum – Is-Sibt 31 ta’ Diċembru 2016

Addressing the environmental deficit

Environment

 

The environmental deficit is constantly on the increase. Each generation creates additional  environmental impacts without in any way adequately addressing the accumulated impacts handed down by the previous generation.

Governments are worried by economic deficits yet few seem to be worried by the accumulated -and accumulating – environmental deficit. We are using the earth’s resources as if tomorrow will never come.

The Living Planet report published regularly by the World Wildlife Fund, demonstrates how the demands made by humanity globally exceed the planet’s biocapacity. In fact,  each year we consume 50% more than what  is produced by the planet.

The ecological footprint, that is the impact which each country has on the earth’s resources, varies geographically. On a global level, the average ecological footprint of a human being is 1.7 hectares. Malta’s ecological footprint has been calculated at around 3.9 hectares per person, more than double the global average. This adds up to an impact of around 50 times the area of the Maltese Islands.

Put simply, this means that in order to satisfy the needs of  each and every person in Malta  we are, in fact, utilising land in other countries.  In fact we import most of our requirements from other countries, thereby using their natural resources. We use  their air, their land, their water and their natural resources.

The politics of sustainable development seeks to view  and address these impacts holistically. It also considers today’s impacts  in the light of tomorrow’s needs and seeks to ingrain a sense of responsibility in decision-making. It does this by addressing the root causes of the environmental deficit.

Sustainable development policy understands that Maltese roads are bursting at the seams. We have reached a situation where improving the road network will improve neither connectivity nor the quality of the air we breath.  Malta’s small size should have made it easy ages ago to have excellent connectivity through public transport, with better air quality as a bonus. But it was ignored.

A sustainable water policy in Malta would have dictated better utilisation of rainwater. Instead, we spend millions of euros- including a chunk of EU funds- to ensure that instead of collecting rainwater we channel it straight into the Mediterranean Sea, only to harvest seawater  immediately through our reverse osmosis  plants. To make matters worse, we treat wastewater before dumping it into the sea when, with some extra thought (and expense) it would have been put to much better use.

Sustainable development embedded in our land use policy would lead to a substantial reduction in the land available for development and certainly to a strict ODZ protection protocol. Instead, we are faced with a situation resulting in a high number of vacant properties coupled with a nonchalant attitude to developing more agricultural land, as if we had a lot to spare!

The environmental deficit which has been accumulating over the years places us in a very precarious position as we cannot keep living on ecological credit for long.   Excessive ecological credit will inevitably lead to ecological bankruptcy from which neither the EU nor the International Monetary Fund will be able to bail us out.  The only solution is taking our environmental responsibilities seriously, before it is too late.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday, 7 June 2015

Future Generations must be heard

 

The politics of sustainable development links present and future generations. The 1987 report of the United Nations Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland report) emphasised that development is sustainable if the choices we make today do not restrict tomorrow’s generations from making their own independent choices.

Future generations, to date, have no political or financial power and cannot challenge decisions taken by present generations. They have no voice. They are not represented at the negotiating table where present-day decisions are made.

Politics is dominated by the requirement to satisfy today’s wants, irrespective of the costs, as witnessed by spiralling financial, environmental and social deficits.

During the preparatory meetings for the Rio 1992 earth summit, delegations discussed the impacts of development on various vulnerable groups.

In a four-page document (A/CONF.151/PC/WG./L.8/Rev.1/Add.2), dated February 21, 1992, Malta submitted a proposal to the working group of the preparatory committee of the UN Rio conference, which met in New York in early March 1992.

After underlining the international community’s recognition of the rights of future generations as another vulnerable group, the Maltese government rightly emphasised that it is not sufficient to simply recognise the principle of future generation rights.

Words must be transformed into action. In paragraph 17 of its document, Malta proposed to go beyond rhetoric through the inclusion in the 1992 Rio declaration on the environment of the following: “We declare that each generation has, in particular, the responsibility to ensure that in any national or international forum where it is likely that a decision is taken affecting the interests of future generations access be given to an authorised person appointed as ‘Guardian’ of future generations to appear and make submissions on their behalf, so that account be taken of the responsibilities stated in this declaration and the obligations created thereby.”

Malta’s proposal was presented by the Foreign Ministry led by Guido de Marco.

The proposal had been developed by the International Environment Institute of the University of Malta within the framework of its Future Generations Programme led by Fr Emanuel Agius. Malta’s proposal was not taken up in the Rio declaration on the environment.

Do we need a guardian of future generations in Malta? I believe that we do and I think that the issue should be addressed when Parliament discusses legislation on sustainable development shortly.

The reasons justifying the domestic implementation of Malta’s 1992 proposal to the UN Rio preparatory committee are crystallised in paragraph 7 of Malta’s proposal that focuses on responsibility and foresight. Malta emphasised that present generations are in duty bound to foresee possible risks and uncertainties that present economic, political and technological policies have on future generations.

Responsibility, stated Malta in 1992, demands foresight. Hence, one should anticipate effective measures to, at least, prevent foreseeable risks and uncertainties.

The guardian of future generations would be the voice of those still unborn to defend their right to make their own choices, independently of the choices of present and past generations.

S/he would be the conscience of present generations nudging them towards behaviour and decisions that are compatible with their responsibilities.

In particular, s/he would be in a position to speak up on behalf of future generations when current or contemplated policies give rise to long-term risks that are not adequately addressed. S/he would emphasise that it is unethical for present generations to reap benefits and then shift the consequence of their actions on future generations.

Future generations need a voice to be able to communicate their concerns.

The appointment of a guardian to protect their interests would be such a voice. Such an appointment would also be implementing the President’s declaration during the inaugural session of the present Parliament on May 10, 2008 when he emphasised that the government’s plans and actions are to be underpinned by the notion of sustainable development. He had further stated that “when making decisions today, serious consideration will be given to the generations of tomorrow”.

Hungary has already given the lead. In 2007, the Hungarian Parliament appointed Sándor Fülöp as Parliamentary Commissioner for Future Generations. Among other things, he is entrusted to act as a policy advocate for sustainability issues across all relevant fields of legislation and public policy.

International NGOs, such as the World Future Council, have actively brought up the issue of future generations requiring a present-day voice during the second preparatory committee of the UN Rio+20 sustainability conference held in March this year in New York.

The Maltese Greens consider that it is time for the government to accept that the principled action it took on an international level in 1992 is equally applicable on a national level.

Malta too has the responsibility of foresight. It has the responsibility to ensure that the future can speak up such that we can listen and consider the impacts of our actions.

The time is ripe to act. We owe an ear to future generations. They deserve it.

 

published in The Times – Saturday August 27, 2011

 

Addressing Our Environmental Deficit

published on Sunday 27 July 2008

by Carmel Cacopardo

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 In his address to Parliament last May, the President had stated: “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.”

In December 2006, the National Sustainability Commission had drawn up the National Sustainable Development Strategy. Having been approved by Cabinet, it is appropriate that the pre-budget document just published ignites the debate on its implementation. The strategy is a blueprint for action representing a holistic perspective as to how this country should be administered. Its eventual handling will in due course give a clear indication of the government’s real views on sustainable development.

Malta’s energy policy is undoubtedly up for an upheaval. Due to the absence of strategic planning over the years, Malta is one of the few countries without any significant alternative energy generated. Other countries identified their vulnerability because of fuel oil dependency years ago and took action. Denmark has since built up its wind energy industry from scratch since the oil crises in the 1970s and is now a world leader. In 2005 Denmark generated 18.5 per cent of its electrical energy needs through wind.

The pre-budget document identifies near shore wind technology as the next step forward, contributing 95MW of wind energy or seven per cent of Malta’s projected electricity demand in 2010. The shortfall in meeting the EU target of having 10 per cent of electricity demand met by alternative energy is planned to be met with wind turbines at other exposed land sites and industrial estates, including those to be identified within the framework of the eco-Gozo project.

The pre-budget document focuses on macro-generation and does not give sufficient weight to micro-generation of energy, both with small wind turbines as well as with photovoltaic panels. It must be borne in mind that micro-generation if adequately motivated could add up to a substantial amount of energy generated through alternative technology. In addition to residential application (not flats or maisonettes!), schools and public buildings could be ideal sites for the micro-generation of energy. Moreover, one can consider fitting micro-turbines to the structures of the hundreds of disused windmills (water pumps) that pepper the countryside. These windmills were strategically located by our ancestors in wind-prone areas and are now an integral part of the Maltese countryside.

The pre-budget document rightly refers to energy generated through waste. It speaks of the generation of electricity using animal waste through biogas in a facility to be constructed in the north of the island. This is a long overdue initiative. However, I believe that it is badly conceived. The lessons that should have been learnt following the Sant’ Antnin debacle seem to have been forgotten.

The point at issue is whether one facility covering the whole island is sufficient or desirable. Would it be a good idea to transport animal manure across the whole island to a facility in the north?

One point resulting from the public debate relative to the Sant’ Antnin waste recycling plant was the applicability of the proximity principle. The required plant should be sited as close as possible to the source of the waste being processed. This had led to the Sant ‘Antnin projected operation itself being scaled down to deal with one third of the islands’ waste. The rest, it was stated, should be processed on other sites (possibly two) that have not yet been identified! These other sites should be used for the production of biogas too and they should be identified in a location as close as possible to those areas that have the largest number of animal farms in order to minimise the movement of animal waste. Knowing that a number of these farms are sited very close to each other should make matters easier for our waste management planners.

Bad planning brings out another sore point, which was not discussed in the pre-budget document: namely the management of our water resources. Groundwater (a ‘free’ source of freshwater) still accounts for 40 per cent of our potable water supply. Groundwater accounts for the greater part of the water used by agriculture, the construction sector, landscaping activities and various other industrial and commercial concerns, including some hotels which are supplied by bowsers. However, as a result of over-extraction, the quality of the water in the aquifer is becoming saltier by the day and will become useless within our lifetime.

Yet, illegal extraction of ground water continues unabated and the authority responsible for the sustainable use of this precious resource (the Malta Resources Authority) persists in not taking any concrete action. The recent increase in the surcharge on mains water will inevitably result in a rush to drill more boreholes and extract more groundwater, with the consequence that our aquifer will die an earlier death.

Within this context, the construction of wastewater treatment plants treating urban wastewater and discharging it directly into the sea assumes an alarming relevance. A country whose natural water resources are not sufficient for its use ought to manage its water resources in a much better way. It certainly ought not to permit the illegal extraction of water or the discharge of treated water into the sea. The siting of the wastewater treatment plants in Malta and Gozo is such that discharging treated water into the sea is a foregone conclusion. This decision, undoubtedly arrived at based on the original siting of the sewage outfalls, ignores the possibilities to reuse the treated water, either as a second-class source or (with additional treatment) as potable water. Other developed countries, notably Singapore, produce an ever-increasing percentage of their potable water in this manner. This issue is ignored in the pre-budget report.

All this could easily have been prevented with a proper water management planning strategy, which, instead of large-scale plants for wastewater treatment, could have identified a number of smaller sites along the sewer route on the islands for the construction of small packaged wastewater treatment plants. These would have provided ample treated effluent where and when required for agricultural use, landscaping and other uses not requiring water of potable quality – at little or no distribution costs. The widespread availability of this water would have substituted the need to extract groundwater and facilitated the required enforcement action on its illegal extraction.

The total costs would have been substantially less. By costs I do not just mean economic ones but also the ecological cost of losing a strategic resource (the aquifer), which loss will have to be borne by future generations.

As indicated in the public hearings carried out by Minister Tonio Fenech, the pre-budget document deals with the sustainability of localities, rightly linking this issue to the proposed reform of local councils. It refers to the need for localities to draw up a Local Sustainable Development Strategy. In environmental management, we normally consider this within the Local Agenda 21 process currently espoused by thousands of localities around the globe: think global act local.

The sustainable localities proposal is undoubtedly well intentioned, and if adequately planned and applied can lead to positive results. The difficulty that will arise is that of economies of scale. Our localities vary substantially in size: from the largest – Birkirkara, to the smallest – San Lawrenz in Gozo. I believe that the best manner to apply Local Agenda 21 in Malta would be on a regional level. It would entail the setting up an additional level of local government that could be made up of all the local councils in the region. One possibility for the identification of regions would be to follow the boundaries of the seven local plans. These regions could be the channel for drawing up a Local Agenda 21 in conformity with national policy and strategies, which allow ample room for adequate planning. The proposed Conference on Local Sustainable Development would be a good start.

The basic point at issue in all deliberations is to view the economy as a tool at the service of the eco-system rather than as master of all. Adopting sustainable development as a policy instrument is no easy task. It entails taking a holistic view of public administration and its consequences. It signifies that national policy and administrative action need to have a continuous long-term view.

Economic policy generally takes on board social policy. It now needs to ensure that it is subservient to the eco-system because at the end of the day the eco-system is the source of our being. It is only at this point that we will be in a position to settle our country’s accumulated environmental deficit!

The politics of sustainable development

published on Sunday 29 June 2008

by Carmel Cacopardo

______________________________________________________________________________________________________

 The government is in transit: it has declared that from now on sustainable development will be the cornerstone of its policies. However, it has not yet stated how this will come about. With regard to this issue, it cannot wait five years to implement its proposal. It must be in a position to deliver immediately.

The adoption of sustainable development as the focus of government policy should lead to the logical conclusion that the economy should henceforth no longer be viewed as an objective but rather as a tool: the economy should be at our service, rather than being our master! The point of departure should be the ecosystem of which we form part. The limited capacity of our ecosystem should lead us to adopt ecocentric policies as distinguished from the current anthropocentric ones. This is what sustainability is all about and this is what the adoption of sustainable development, as a policy objective, should lead us to. The transition from the current state of affairs to a sustainable state should hopefully address the causes of our accumulated environmental deficit!

The government is now seeking ways to live up to its declarations in favour of sustainable development, hoping that it would not have to resort to make substantial changes to existing policies. It is however next to impossible to arrest the accumulated and ever-increasing environmental deficit without addressing the policies and attitudes that have caused it. The list is quite long!

In Malta too, mainstream politics is motivated by the instant link between cause and effect. The community almost immediately feels the economic and social effects of policies and administrative decisions. Thus, mainstream politicians are generally quick to react even to a perceived impact on the economy or on the social fabric. The effects of environmental impacts are however generally much

slower, in part due to the resilience of Mother Earth. Hence, for innumerable political generations, environmental impacts were completely ignored or sidelined, as there was a time lag at times of considerable duration between cause and effect. Now the chickens are coming home to roost and further postponement is not possible. Today’s generation will have to shoulder and address the accumulated environmental deficit, hopefully reducing its effect on future generations.

Policy needs to be approached in a holistic manner, focusing simultaneously on social environmental and economic considerations. It is not a question of an artificial balance between the economy, the environment and social policy but of acting correctly, preferably each and every time. A policy, which is economically sound but socially and/or environmentally wobbly, is of no use and should be discarded. The reverse side is already common practice as socially and environmentally sound policies are rarely applied if they do not pass the test of economic viability.

I acknowledge that this is quite a hard nut to crack, as it will require revisiting practically all areas of policy. Some areas will require minor policy adjustments while others will require a complete overhaul. In some areas action has already commenced. In others, action is incomprehensible at this stage given the current prevalent mindset.

The politics of sustainable development is concerned with redirecting economic activity such that this is compatible with ecological and social requirements. The environment, the economy and social needs are thus placed on the same level when decisions are taken. Throughout the years economic decisions have generally taken into consideration their social impacts. As a result, various measures have been introduced to mitigate and/or prevent negative social effects. The politics of social solidarity as developed has assisted in the transition from a free market economy to a social market economy.

The politics of sustainable development is the means leading to the next transition: an ecocentric economy. The environmental impacts of social and economic policy require attention at the drawing board rather than mitigation after they have occurred. In order for this to occur, it is required that instead of facing the effects we direct our energies to tackle the causes. It is for this reason that the Environment Protection Act of 2001 provides in Section 8 for the setting up of a National Sustainability Commission entrusted with the drafting of a National Strategy for Sustainable Development for the Maltese Islands. The Commission has laboured between 2002 and 2006 to produce a draft, which was concluded and presented to Cabinet for approval in December 2006. Cabinet approved it late in 2007.

In the public sector, the government’s adoption of the principles of sustainable development should spur action on three levels – tackling upstream impacts, direct impacts and downstream impacts. This will necessarily filter through to the private sector that will effectively have no choice but to proceed on similar lines. The government would be leading by example.

Some time last year, the government had commenced an exercise which should eventually lead to a system of public sector green purchasing, whereby non-economic criteria are inbuilt into tender documents. This would not only entail conditions of environmental importance, but also ones of social relevance. We have not heard much on developments to date except declarations during the March 2008 election campaign, and some echoes

afterwards that when contracting-out for services, the public sector will be on the look out for the conditions of work of the employees of those who take part in the tendering process. This was stated because a miniscule part of the private sector is being very innovative when it comes to determining the manner of circumventing the acquired rights of its employees. While the government is certainly hitting the right note when it identified the rights of those employed by bidders for public tenders as ripe for scrutiny, I believe that it is well past the stage of declarations. Concrete action is urgently required.

The public sector will properly manage its upstream impacts only if it ensures that all those who supply it with goods and services do so in a manner that is socially just and environmentally responsible.

The direct impacts of the public sector are the most obvious ones. The appointment of Green Leaders in different ministries and authorities was a step in the right direction as it set the foundations for a culture change among public sector employees. It can lead to quick results (known in environmental management as the “low lying fruit”) in areas related to energy and water consumption, use of stationery, other materials and equipment and waste management among others. The appointment of green leaders can thus set the public sector on the road leading to eco-efficiency.

However, an emphasis on the public sector downstream impacts will be that which eventually could make the major difference. The effects on those at the receiving end of the public sector will not only determine “value for money” but also, more importantly, in my view, it will determine whether the public sector is eco-effective.

The first on the list would be public sector employees themselves and the effects of the fixed term contract on their morale and professional conduct. Subsequently, each policy must be examined for its ecological impact while searching for alternative methods of implementation, which would reduce or preferably eliminate its undesirable impacts.

Managing the social and environmental impacts of the public sector is of paramount importance in the path leading to sustainable development. This will involve the individual policies that need to be analysed in detail. Value for money is not the only criterion used to assess whether public monies have been well spent. When this is taken in hand the public sector would have commenced trekking on the long road of sustainable development. The first steps are the most difficult. Translating rhetoric into action is only possible if the original rhetoric is a reflection of an inner conviction.

Only time will tell.

BOV’s CSR : The next step

This was originally published on the 5 January 2008 as an article in The Times

BOV’s CSR: The next step

 

Bank of Valletta is to be congratulated on the recent publication of its second Corporate Social Responsibility Report covering 2007.

In its mission statement BOV defines its commitment as being that of playing a leading and effective role in the country’s sustainable development “whilst tangibly proving ourselves to be responsible and caring citizens in the community in which we operate”. The objective of the CSR report is hence that of informing the community as to the manner in which the bank is acting as a responsible citizen. The bank’s CEO makes this even more clear in his statement on page four of the report. In fact, he rightly underlines that while the bank is responsible towards its shareholders it is also accountable towards society.

This is the crux of CSR: the accountability of business towards all stakeholders, the community at large. Profits generated on their own are not a measure of success, as the business of business is not just business!

The bank has ploughed back into the community 1.31 per cent of its profits (Lm350,000 or €815,500) through engagement in seven pillars of activity, namely the arts and culture, heritage, environment, sports, social, education and business sectors.

In particular, BOV has assisted Heritage Malta in preserving the Tarxien Temples. It has furthermore supported the restoration programme at Palazzo Falson, Mdina.

Reading through the BOV 2007 CSR report one encounters many a positive note as to the manner in which the bank is being eco-efficient. First on the list is its Santa Venera centre which, through both design and operation, is energy-efficient. Its Marsascala branch has, during 2007, been equipped with photo-voltaic panels, thereby contributing to an annual reduction of three tonnes of CO2 emissions as a minimum. The other branches await their turn.

BOV recycles its paper and has taken the first steps which will eventually lead to a paperless administration. Furthermore, it makes use of recycled toners and cartridges, not only contributing to less waste going to landfill but also paying less eco-taxes as a result. Reducing environmental impacts has a positive financial impact too!

The BOV report does not mention the environmental impacts generated by the use of transport (by both the bank and its employees). Nor is any reference made to the use of water in its branches, including the collection and utilisation of rainwater.

BOV has also sponsored a number of environmental initiatives aimed at the environmental education of the community.

While BOV is setting a good example which should filter through the business community, this should be seen as only a first step. In addition to improving the management of its direct environmental impacts, thereby reducing them, BOV can move forward, in the process retaining its leading role in banking CSR in Malta.

BOV should, on the basis of this eco-efficient experience, move on to new initiatives that address the eco-effectiveness of the banking system. In addressing its corporate responsibilities, BOV as any exemplary citizen would undoubtedly ask whether its services are being misused. In particular, whether any of its customers have used its services to contribute towards the ever-increasing national environmental deficit.

It would be interesting if in a future report we could read about environmental criteria applied in the consideration of requests for business loans, including those utilised to finance the construction industry. Additional interesting information would be whether BOV has refused its services to any client on the basis of environmental criteria.

The financial balance sheet on its own does not measure progress. It is only concerned with profits. The environmental and social balance sheets need to be addressed too, thereby having a “triple bottom line” approach to measuring progress.

Through its 2007 CSR report, BOV has proven that it is serious about managing its direct impacts. It now needs to move further by managing its upstream and downstream impacts. Managing its upstream impacts signifies addressing the environmental impacts generated by its suppliers – hence the introduction and maintaining of a green procurement service. Managing its downstream impacts would address the environmental impacts of those using its services. When this is done successfully BOV would be eco-effective, as a result contributing to a reduction of Malta’s environmental deficit.

BOV has taken the lead. I hope others will follow because profits and principles can co-exist.