Sustainable development goals : beyond rhetoric



In the past few months, considerable work has been carried out by the United Nations to produce a document on sustainable development goals and earlier this week it was announced that a consensus has been achieved over this document that lists 17 goals and 169 specific targets.

The final document, which is now ready for adoption, is brief but wide-ranging. It is entitled Transforming our world: The 2030 agenda for sustainable development.

Taking into account the different national realities, the 17 identified goals cover  a wide range of issues (vide box) that form the global sustainable development agenda for the next 15 years. They aim to eradicate poverty, promote prosperity and increase environmental protection – constant objectives of the international community, that are continuously aimed for but so far not achieved.

The renewed commitment to achieve these goals is welcome. However, both the goals and the specific objectives will have to take account of different national realities and capacities, while respecting national policies and priorities.

Although the document has been described as a historic achievement, in practice it is nothing of the sort. We have been there before. For the past 40 years, commitments have been made at one global meeting after another, only for the world community to come back years later with a slightly different document.

In Malta, the politics of sustainable development is generally cosmetic in nature: full of rhetoric but relatively void when it comes to substance.

Sustainable development should be primarily concerned with having a long-term view which spans generations. It seeks an inter-generational commitment, with the present generation committing  itself to ensure that future generations have sufficient elbow room to take their own decisions. Even if we limit ourselves to this basic objective of sustainable development, it is clear that such a commitment is nowhere in sight in Maltese politics.

Sifting through the rhetoric, a clear gap is very visible. Rather than being developed over the years, the rudimentary sustainable development infrastructure has been dismantled. The National Commission for Sustainable Development, through which civil society actively participated in the formulation of a National Strategy for Sustainable Development, was dismantled by the previous administration.

If the politics of sustainable development is to be of any significance, it has to be evident at the roots of society and the sustainable development strategy itelf has to be owned by civil society. In Malta, a completely different path is followed. The sustainable development strategy is owned by the state and not by civil society. Hence it is largely irrelevant and practically insignificant.

The net result of the developments in recent years has transformed sustainable development politics in Malta into another bureaucratic process, with government appointees pushing pen against paper, producing reports and no visible improvement.

There is no political will to implement a sustainable development strategy, as this runs diametrically opposite to the political decisions of the current administration, which seeks to intensify the complete domination of Malta’s natural heritage by economic forces, plundered for short term gain.

The fragmentation of environmental governance is the latest building block of this strategy which is clearly evident behind the rhetorical facade.

This is not the future we want nor the future we deserve and it is not the transformation that Malta requires.

Next September, Malta will join the community of nations at New York in approving a document which it has no intention of implementing. Behind that rhetorical facade, the farce continues.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 9 August 2015


The politics of Sustainable Development

four_pillar-sustainable  development


Sustainable Development is about how we satisfy our needs today in a responsible manner. We normally refer to the World Commission on Environment and Development headed by Gro Harlem Brundtland who, in her final report in 1987 entitled Our Common Future defined sustainable development as “the development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

The politics of sustainable development is hence about politics with a responsible long-term view: it is about the future that we desire to bequeath to future generations. It is a future that we can mould today as a result of the careful consideration of the impacts of each and every one of our present actions.

Sustainable Development is about living in harmony with all that surrounds us, at all times. It is about being in harmony with Mother Earth, with nature and with our fellow human beings. It is treating our surroundings as part of our family: it is the Brother Sun Sister Moon philosophy espoused by Francis of Assisi. It is the path to dignity aiming simultaneously at the eradication of poverty and the protection of the planet. Sustainable development requires the synchronisation of cultural, social, environmental and economic policy. Shielding human dignity, appreciating our culture and environmental protection are as essential as economic development.

There is a visible gap between the political declarations made and the implementation of sustainable development policies. The international community is analysing the achievements made through the Millennium Development Goals agreed to during the Johannesburg 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development. As a result, it is discussing the adoption of Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations General Assembly next September. Yet in Malta we still lack an appropriate  sustainable development infrastructure.

So far, the Maltese political class has failed in integrating Sustainable Development policymaking and its implementation. Malta is not unique in this respect. In fact, even prior to the Rio+20 Summit in 2012, in his report entitled Objectives and Themes Of The United Nations Conference On Sustainable Development, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon discusses institution building at all levels ranging from the local to the international.

Ban Ki Moon had emphasised that on a national level the integration challenge has been responded to by the creation of new institutions (such as national councils), in many cases with disappointing results. Malta is one such case. The institutional framework for sustainable development in Malta has not been able to deliver so far.

The National Commission for Sustainable Development was disbanded years ago and the provisions of the National Strategy for Sustainable Development have been largely ignored. This strategy, which was the result of extensive consultations with civil society, laid down not only the objectives to be achieved but also the structures to be set up in each ministry in order to proceed with the strategy’s implementation.

All the deadlines laid down in the National Sustainable Development Strategy have been ignored by the government. This was primarily the responsibility of the previous government led by Lawrence Gonzi. The present government is apparently still in a trance about the whole matter.

The only positive development in the past years has been the adoption of a proposal of Alternattiva Demokratika -The Green Party in Malta, leading to the appointment of a Guardian for Future Generations. However, deprived of the substantial resources required to be effective, all the good intentions of the Guardian will not suffice to kick-start the implementation process. Even the minister responsible for sustainable development has some bark but no bite. He too has been deprived of the essential resources to carry out his mission. He has not inherited any functioning sustainable development infrastructure. In addition, he has been given political responsibility for the environment without in any way being directly involved in the environmental functions of MEPA. This is not an indictment of Minister Leo Brincat but rather an indictment of his boss, the Prime Minister, who is quite evidently not interested in beefing up the regulatory infrastructure. Waiting two years for some form of indication of goodwill is more than enough.

The National Sustainable Development Strategy has a whole section dealing with the implementation process. When approved by Cabinet on the eve of the 2008 general elections, it had laid down the need for “a permanent structure, appropriately staffed and funded (which) should be established to coordinate, monitor, revise and promote the National Strategy for Sustainable Development among all stakeholders. Such a structure should be placed under the direction of the National Commission for Sustainable Development” (section 4.1 of the National Strategy for Sustainable Development).

Seven years later this permanent structure is still inexistent. Is there need of any further proof of the lack of political will to act on sustainable development?


published on 8 March 2015 in The Malta Independent on Sunday

Il-ħarsien tal-ambjent : l-istedina tal-President Marie-Louise Coleiro-Preca

M.L ColeiroMillennium-Development-Goals


Meta l-bieraħ mexxejt delegazzjoni ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika għand il-President tar-Repubblika Marie-Louise Coleiro-Preca biex nagħtuha l-awguri għas-sena 2015  kien obbligu tiegħi u ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika li ngħidulha grazzi għall-ħidma tagħha matul dawn it-tmien xhur li ilha fil-ħatra.

Fid-diskorsi tagħha l-President ta’ Malta qed kontinwament temfasizza r-rabta bejn il-ħarsien ambjentali u l-kwalità tal-ħajja, b’emfasi fuq il-ġlieda kontra l-faqar. Fil-fatt fid-diskors tagħha mxandar fl-okkażjoni tal-Milied hija qalet li kull settur li għandu impatt ambjentali jeħtieġlu jeżamina ftit il-kuxjenza tiegħu. Il-kelma sostenibilità, qalet Coleiro-Preca fil-messaġġ tal-Milied, m’għandiex tibqa’ sempliċi kelma bħall-oħrajn iżda għandha isservi bħala gwida għall-mod kif naġixxu.

Dan id-diskors ta’ Coleiro-Preca huwa ta’ importanza, iktar u iktar fil-kuntest ta’ żewġ avvenimenti ambjentali importanti li ser iseħħu matul din is-sena li jista’ jkollhom impatt sostanzjali fuq il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri.

F’Settembru li ġej l-Assembleja Ġenerali tal-Ġnus Magħquda ser tiddiskuti s-Sustainable Development Goals li fuq quddiem nett jinkludu l-ġlieda kontra l-faqar. F’Diċembru imbagħad, ġewwa Pariġi, ser ikun hemm laqgħa importanti dwar il-klima li tista’ twassal għal ftehim ġlobali li jagħmel sens u li jkun effettiv b’seħħ mill-2020.

Nawguraw lill-President iktar minn din il-ħidma. Nittama dejjem li min għandu widnejn, jisma’.


Il-kunflitti tal-Milied

sd goals


Il-festa tal-Milied hi okkażjoni ta’ kuntrasti u konflitt bejn valuri differenti.

Fuq naħa s-solidarjetà, fuq in-naħa l-oħra l-ħela u l-kunsum esaġerat.

L-appelli għas-solidarjetà f’dawn il-ġranet tal-Milied mill-mexxejja tal-pajjiż (kemm dawk ċivili kif ukoll dawk reliġjużi) bħal donnu jwassal il-messaġġ li s-solidarjetà  hi attività ristretta għal dawn iż-żminijiet. Mhiex l-intenzjoni tal-mexxejja li jwasslu messaġġ ta’ din ix-xorta, imma sena wara l-oħra dan hu l-messaġġ li sfortunatament qiegħed jasal.

Avolja f’dawn il-ġranet nitkellmu dwar dawk li huma inqas ixxurtjati, ftit nirriflettu fuq il-fatt li m’hemm l-ebda xorti assoċjat mal-faqar. Għax il-faqar hu maħluq mill-bniedem matul il-ġranet l-oħra tas-sena. Il-ħolqien tal-faqar jieħu break qasir fil-ġranet tal-Milied! Is-solidarjetà hi attivita li għandna neżerċitaw f’kull waħda mill-ġranet tas-sena. M’għandniex nagħtu l-impressjoni li din għandha tkun limitata għall-ġranet tal-Milied.

Huwa f’dan is-sens li għandna nħarsu lejn l-istrateġija kontra l-faqar, strateġija li nieda l-Gvern f’dawn il-ġranet. Dan ukoll huwa l-iskop tal-Oġġettiv numru wieħed minn 17 li l-Ġnus Magħquda preżentment qed tikkunsidra fil-proposta dwar Sustainable Development Goals, diskussjoni utli li qed issir fuq skala internazzjonali.

Dawn humal-konflitti li tpoġġilna quddiemna s-soċjeta tal-lum f’dawn il-ġranet tal-Milied. Il-Milied it-tajjeb, tul is-sena kollha.