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

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Green talk but no more

four_pillar-sustainable  development

 

When push comes to shove it is always the rights of future generations which are ignored and thrown overboard. This is done repeatedly as governments tend to give greater value to the rights of present generations, in the process discounting the rights of the future.

It is a recurring theme in all areas of environmental concern. Whether land use planning, water management, resource management, waste management, climate change, biodiversity or air quality,  procrastination is the name of the game. With 101 excuses governments postpone to tomorrow decisions which should have been implemented yesterday.

Future generations have a right to take their own decisions. It is pretty obvious that they will not be able to take adequate decisions as their options will be severely curtailed as a result of the implementation of present and past decisions.

The politics of sustainable development aims to address this deficiency.

On a global level it all started in Stockholm in 1972 as a result of the sensitivities of the Nordic countries which set in motion the UN Human Environment Conference. After the publication of the Brundtland Report in 1987, the Rio Summits (1992 and 2012), as well as the Johannesburg Summit (2002), we can speak of charters, international conventions, declarations and strategies all of which plot out in detail as to what is to be done. However as pointed out by UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon at the UN Rio+20 Summit (2012) in his report entitled “Objectives and Themes of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development” institution building has lagged behind. This signifies that the integration of policymaking and its implementation is nowhere on target, Malta not being an exception.

The Sustainable Development Annual Report 2013 presented in Parliament by Minister Leo Brincat on the 27 May 2014 indicates that not much progress has been made to date on the matter, notwithstanding the number of meetings as well as the appointment of coordinating officers and focal points in each of the Ministries.

Way back in 2008 Malta had a National Sustainable Development Commission which through the inputs of civil society, in coordination with government involvement, had produced a National Sustainable Development Strategy. This was approved by Cabinet at that time but never implemented. So much that to try and justify its inertia the then government tried to divert attention in 2012 by proposing a Sustainable Development Act. This essentially transferred (with changes) some of the proposed structures and institutions identified in the National Sustainable Development Strategy to the legislation and used the process as a justification for not doing anything except talk and talk. The changes piloted through Parliament by then Environment Minister Mario de Marco included the effective dissolution of the National Commission for Sustainable Development (which had been dormant for 5 years). The justification which  the responsible Permanent Secretary uttered as an excuse was that the Commission was too large and hence of no practical use.

It has to be borne in mind that sustainable development is also an exercise in practical democracy whereby policy is formed through capillarity, rising from the roots of society, and not through filtration by dripping from the top downwards. For sustainable development to take root the strategy leading to sustainability must be owned by civil society which must be in the driving seat of the process.

Readers may remember that the President’s address to Parliament  way back on 10 May 2008 had emphasised 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.”

This was not manifested in the government’s actions throughout its 5 year term. Not just in its approach to sustainable development but also in its dealing with the individual issues of environmental concern: be it land use planning, water management, resource management, waste management, climate change, biodiversity or air quality.The politics of sustainable development is an uphill struggle. It signifies a long term view in decision making, that is, considering carefully the impacts of today’s decisions on tomorrow. It requires much more than chatter.

As the report tabled by Minister Leo Brincat states in its conclusion, we are in for more chatter as the emphasis in the coming year seems to be the revision of a strategy which has never been implemented. The strategy is worded in such general terms that it is difficult to understand what this means, except that there is no practical interest in getting things done. It would have been much better if some effort was invested in the Action Plans which the different Ministries have to draw up in order to implement the strategy in the various departments/authorities under their political responsibility.

This, it seems, is unfortunately the Maltese long term view.

Published in The Times of Malta, Monday June 30, 2014