Beyond GDP

“The GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.” This was stated by Robert Kennedy at the University of Kansas 52 years ago in what is known as his GDP speech!

In what was a highly charged US Presidential campaign, during which he was assassinated, Robert Kennedy had further explained that the GDP “does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.  It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country.”

We may use different language or emphasise different aspects to explain the problem, but not much has changed since: The GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile!

Pursuing economic growth as the single most important policy goal is in conflict with the earth’s limited resource base. It contrasts with the fragile ecosystem of which we are a part and on which we depend for our survival.

Economic growth is supposed to deliver prosperity. Instead it has delivered unbridled climate change, fuel insecurity, sky-high commodity prices, collapsing biodiversity, reduced access to depleted water resources or clean air, and an ever-increasing global inequality. Is this measured by the GDP? Definitely not.

The GDP is just concerned with material wealth, ignoring in the process our health, our education, the safety of our streets, the social tissue of society, the state of our families, the devastation caused by all forms of hatred …………… GDP includes the production of armaments and the destruction of the environment carried out in the name of “progress” as well as the television programmes that glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

The earth’s resources are limited and, consequently, they cannot fuel infinite economic growth. There are practical limits to growth, which should lead our economic planners to consider decoupling prosperity and economic growth.

This is the context in which Greens welcome the Justice and Peace Commission of the Church in Malta looking beyond the GDP. It is welcome not only because it is the correct approach but also because we have been at it for so long, mostly practically on our own.

The 54 page published Church Commission study entitled Beyond GDP – A framework to gauge Malta’s success through quality of life justifiably argues that limiting ourselves to gauging progress through the use of the GDP leads to a situation where other factors leading to a satisfactory quality of life can be easily disregarded.

The study, supported by EY, APS Bank and Seed Consultancy is a very valid contribution to a mature political debate which we lack so much.

The insistence that we should go beyond GDP in gauging our quality of life is not an exercise in diminishing the importance of the economy. Rather, it signifies the determination that the economy should not be seen in isolation but that it should be viewed within a realistic context. Social, environmental and cultural dimensions are extremely relevant, as much as economics, in the gauging of our wellness, or the lack of it.

A more just economy needs to look at the bigger picture and not limit itself to the GDP to get its bearings right. This is another way of emphasising the need for a sustainable development, a term which is much in use nowadays but unfortunately not sufficiently understood or catered for. Going beyond GDP in measuring our state of wellness would definitely yield more realistic indicators which we urgently require. 

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 29 November 2020

The debate on the National Environment Strategy

The human person forms an integral part of the eco-system.  We do not form part of “the economy”. The economy is the manner in which we organise ourselves, but the eco-system is our DNA.

This is what the ERA National Strategy for the Environment for 2050, currently in consultation phase, should be about.

The strategy is entitled “Wellbeing First”.  A strategy drafted only in the English language, once more ignoring Maltese. While our quality of life is of the utmost importance, an environmental strategy which is anthropocentric does not make sense. An anthropocentric environmental policy is short term in nature and does not lead to enhancing well-being. Environmental policy should be eco-centric: its subject matter should be the achievement of a healthy ecology, as free as possible from human toxicity. Ensuring a healthy ecology will definitely also enhance our quality of life too.

Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) Chairperson Victor Axiaq, in the forward to the consultation document, emphasises that we have yet to learn to live within our ecological limits. Obviously, as a result of his participation in the Planning Authority Board over the past seven years, he has first-hand experience of the manner in which these limits have been continuously stretched beyond any elastic limit. There is a need to reverse this trend the soonest.

The pursuit of economic growth as the single most important policy goal is in conflict with the earth’s limited resource base and the fragile ecosystem of which we are a part and on which we depend for our survival. While economic growth is supposed to deliver prosperity, it has instead delivered unbridled climate change, fuel insecurity, sky-high commodity prices, collapsing biodiversity, reduced access to depleted water resources and an ever-increasing global inequality. These are all issues the tackling of which cannot be postponed to the next generation.

Progress is measured through the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) yet the GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.

The GDP is just concerned with material wealth ignoring in the process our health, education, the safety of our streets, the social tissue of society, the state of our families, the devastation caused by all forms of hatred…………… GDP includes the production of armaments and the destruction of the environment carried out in the name of “progress” as well as the television programmes that glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. The earth’s resources are limited and, consequently, they cannot fuel infinite economic growth. There are practical limits to growth, which should lead our economic planners to consider decoupling prosperity and economic growth.

The consultation document seeks to guide the national debate towards identifying the long-term objectives of the National Environmental Strategy. Once this is done ERA should be in a position to develop action plans for the achievement of such objectives.

It should be undoubtedly clear to all that a sustainable future will only be achieved when we start respecting the eco-system without any exception. Our eco-system determines our permissible limits which we only ignore at our peril. This is our challenge which must be addressed by the National Environment Strategy.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 30 August 2020

Il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli

Il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli hi materja li għandha tkun f’idejn il-Prim Ministru minħabba li tmiss ma’ kull qasam tal-politika. Hu interessanti li għal darba oħra r-responsabbiltà politika għall-iżvilupp sostenibbli reġgħet ġiet lura Kastilja, f’ħoġor il-Ministru Karmenu Abela, li nħatar Ministru fl-Uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru. Sal-lum dan rari seħħ ħlief għall-perjodu qasir li fih Mario Demarco kien Segretarju Parlamentari għat-Turiżmu u l-Ambjent.

Robert Abela mhuwiex l-ewwel Prim Ministru li emfasizza l-ħtieġa li jingħata iktar importanza lill-iżvilupp sostenibbli. Ħadd minnhom, imma, ma rnexxielu!

It-terminu “żvilupp sostenibbli” huwa l-iktar wieħed mit-termini fid-dizzjunarju politiku li huma użati ħazin. Il-lingwaġġ politiku użat kważi qatt ma jasal biex ifisser u jispjega li l-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli hi politika li tħares fit-tul: li kontinwament, huma u jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet, tagħti każ il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri.

Il-gvernijiet ma jagħtux importanza biżżejjed lill-iżvilupp sostenibbli għax din m’hiex biss dwar illum imma hi ukoll dwar għada. Hi dwar kif il-ħidma tal-lum teħtieġ li issir b’mod li ma jkunx ippreġudikat għada u l-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri. Għada min rah? L-interess ta’ bosta minnhom iwassal sa ħames snin, jiġifieri sal-elezzjoni ġenerali li jmiss.

Dan hu punt li saħqet dwaru Gro Harlem Brundtland, Norveġiża u soċjalista demokratika li kienet Prim Ministru ta’ pajjiżha. Fir-rapport li hi ħejjiet għall-Ġnus Magħquda snin ilu dwar l-ambjent u l-iżvilupp, intitolat Our Common Future, emfasizzat li “Naġixxu b’dan il-mod għax nafu li mhu ser jiġri xejn: il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri ma jivvutawx; m’għandhomx poter politiku jew finanzjarju; ma jistgħux jeħduha kontra d-deċiżjonijiet tagħna.”

Il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli mhix biss dwar l-ambjent: hi dwar kif inħarsu b’mod integrat lejn il-politika ambjentali, ekonomika, soċjali u kulturali. Tfisser li l-ħidma tagħna jeħtieġ li tħares fit-tul u li simultanjament trid tkun kompatibbli man-natura, l-ekonomija, l-iżvilupp uman u l-kultura tagħna.

L-iżvilupp sostenibbli hu dwar kif nistgħu f’kull ħin inkunu f’armonija ma’ dak li aħna mdawrin bih. Il-ħin kollu, u mhux biss meta jaqbel. Tirrikjedi s-sinkronizzazzjoni tal-politika kulturali, soċjali, ambjentali u ekonomika. Għax il-ħarsien tad-dinjità umana, l-apprezzament tal-wirt kulturali u l-ħarsien ambjentali huma essenzjali daqs l-iżvilupp ekonomiku.

Fil-qafas globali, kif ukoll Ewropew, il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli tfisser ukoll l-implimentazzjoni tal-miri dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli approvati mill-Ġnus Magħquda: 17-il mira imfissra f’169 oġġettiv. Din hi l-Aġenda Globali 2030 li dwarha l-Unjoni Ewropea ħadmet ħafna biex tkun maqbula mill-komunità internazzjonali. Filwaqt li l-Aġenda 2030 hi importanti kollha kemm hi, partijiet minnha għandhom importanza ikbar għalina f’Malta.

Ħu, per eżempju, l-immaniġjar tal-ilma. Hu essenzjali li nifhmu li huwa meħtieġ li r-riżorsa tal-ilma nieħdu ħsiebha sewwa u li l-użu li nagħmlu minnha jkun wieħed sostenibbli. Sfortunatament, sal-lum, l-immaniġjar tal-ilma f’Malta huwa kkaratterizzat minn doża mhux żgħira ta’ inkompetenza. Hemm aċċess kważi bla kontroll għall-ilma tal-pjan filwaqt li kwantità kbira ta’ ilma tax-xita jintrema l-baħar: kemm direttament permezz tal-mini li tħaffru għal dan l-iskop kif ukoll permezz tas-sistema tad-drenaġġ. Ir-regoli dwar il-ġbir u l-ħażna tal-ilma tax-xita applikati mill-awtoritajiet għal bini u żvilupp ġdid ħafna drabi mhumiex osservati. L-awtoritajiet ftit li xejn jagħtu kas.

Il-politika dwar it-transport hi qasam ieħor fejn l-ippjanar li ma jħarisx fit-tul jeħtieġ li jkun sostitwit billi tkun applikata l-politika ta’ żvilupp sostenibbli. Il-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Trasport, li jibqa’ fis-seħħ sal-2025, jiġbdilna l-attenzjoni tagħna li nofs il-vjaġġi li nagħmlu bil-karozzi privati jdumu inqas minn kwarta. Dan jindika li inizjattivi biex ikun imrażżan it-traffiku fuq livell lokali u reġjonali jista’ jindirizza b’mod effettiv il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku fit-toroq tagħna bil-vantaġġ doppju ta’ titjib fil-kwalità tal-arja fejn din hi l-iktar meħtieġa.

Il-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Transport jgħidilna li f’dan il-qasam, tul is-snin, ftit li xejn ħarisna fit-tul. Dan wassal, jgħidilna l-pjan, għal nuqqas ta’ direzzjoni strateġika u bħala riżultat ta’ dan żviluppajna l-inkapaċità li jkunu indirizzati materji diffiċli bħalma hi dik li tikkonċerna t-tnaqqis tal-karozzi privati. Min-naħa l-waħda għandna dan il-ħsieb sostenibbli dwar l-ippjanar tat-trasport, imma imbagħad min-naħa l-oħra l-Gvern ġie jaqa’ u jqum u għaddej bi programm ta’ nfieq sostanzjali fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq bl-iskop li tiżdied il-kapaċità tagħhom u bil-konsegwenza li d-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi tibqa’ tiżdied.

Dan kollu żejt fil-bażwa għax ġie ippruvat tul is-snin, bi studji li saru f’diversi pajjiżi, illi l-iżvilupp tas-sistema tat-toroq ma tnaqqasx il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku, imma isservi biss biex il-problema tkun posposta inkella tiċċaqlaq minn żona għall-oħra.

L-affarijiet huma agħar fil-qasam tal-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art. Gvernijiet suċċessivi wrew li ma kienux kapaċi jrażżnu l-iżvilupp esaġerat. B’wiċċ ta’ qdusija artifiċjali t-tmexxija politika tiddeskrivi lilha nnifisha bħal ħbieb tan-negozji (business friendly) inkella, kif smajna din il-ġimgħa ħbieb tas-suq (market friendly) u dan biex jippruvaw jiġġustifikaw in-nuqqas ta’ azzjoni adegwata. Qalulna li l-industrija tal-bini tant ħolqot impjiegi li qed tikkontribwixxi b’mod effettiv għal titjib fil-kwalità tal-ħajja.

Imma, kif bla dubju nafu lkoll, l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni kienet fuq quddiem nett tkattar il-ħsara lill-pajjiż permezz ta’ żvilupp esaġerat bil-pretensjoni li l-ħsara ambjentali ikkawżata minnhom nagħmlu tajjeb għaliha aħna, l-bqija. Sfortunatament, ġew mgħejjuna minn gvernijiet suċċessivi li kontinwament fittxew kif jagħmluhielhom iktar faċli biex igawdu l-frott ta’ ħidmiethom. L-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art kif ipprattikat f’pajjiżna mhux sostenibbli u iktar ma jkun imrażżan malajr, ikun aħjar għal kulħadd.

In-nuqqas tal-politika għall-iżvilupp sostenibbli tinħass prattikament fl-oqsma kollha. Jeħtieġ li llum qabel għada nħarsu fit-tul f’kull deċiżjoni li tittieħed. Kien pass tajjeb, pass ‘l-quddiem li r-responsabbilta politika għall-iżvilupp sostenibbli marret lura f’Kastilja, fl-Uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru. Imma dan għandu jkun biss l-ewwel pass. Il-bidu, segwit minn hafna iktar passi.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 19 ta’ Jannar 2020

The politics of sustainable development

The politics of sustainable development is a matter for the Prime Minister’s direct consideration as it is wide-ranging and concerns all areas of policy.

It is quite interesting that once more sustainable development has taken up residence at Castille, being the responsibility of Minister Carmelo Abela, who has been appointed as a Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister. This was very rarely the case to date except in the short period during which Mario de Marco was Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism and the Environment.

Robert Abela is not the first Prime Minister who has emphasised the need to give much more importance to sustainable development. To date, however, none of them has delivered.

Sustainable development is one of the most abused and mis-used terms in the political lexicon. Political discourse continuously fails to project the politics of sustainable development as having a long-term view and continuously factoring future generations in the decision-taking process.

Governments do not give sufficient importance to sustainable development as this is not just about today. It is rather about how today’s activity should not prejudice tomorrow and future generations. This is not sufficiently on the radar of today’s politicians. Their interest, generally, does not span more than five years: that is until the next general election.

This is a point underlined by former Norwegian social democrat Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland in her seminal UN Report Our Common Future who emphasised that “We act as we do because we can get away with it: future generations do not vote; they have no political or financial power; they cannot challenge our decisions.

The politics of sustainable development is not just a matter of environmental concern: it involves a holistic consideration of environmental, economic, social and cultural policy. It signifies that our actions must have a long-term view and be simultaneously compatible with the forces of nature, the economy, human development and our culture.

Sustainable development is about living in harmony with all that surrounds us, at all times, not just when it suits us. It 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.

Within a global and EU framework the politics of sustainable development also involves following and implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals: 17 goals and the associated 169 targets. This is the global 2030 Agenda to which the European Union contributed substantially. While the whole 2030 Agenda is important, some aspects of it are relatively more important on a local level.

Consider water management, for example. It is imperative that we realise that we need to manage our water resources in a sustainable manner. To date gross incompetence has characterised water management in Malta. Access to the water table is still substantially a free for all, while storm water is mostly dumped into the sea, either directly or through the public sewer system. Rules for rainwater harvesting within the framework of land use planning are more honoured in the breach, without the authorities taking the minimum of enforcement action.

Transport policy is another area where short-term planning needs to give way to the politics of sustainable development. The National Transport Master Plan which runs until 2025 draws our attention that 50 per cent of private car journeys involve trips that are shorter than 15 minutes. This indicates that taking initiatives to reduce vehicular traffic at a local and regional level would be of considerable help in addressing road congestion and improving air quality where it matters most.

The National Transport Master Plan emphasises that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has, to date, generally been short-term in nature. This “has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint.” On the one hand we have this “written” sustainable approach to transport policy, yet on the other hand government has embarked on an unsustainable spending spree of infrastructural development to increase the capacity of our roads, as a result ensuring that car-dependency continues unabated.

Addressing traffic congestion through expanding the road network only results in shifting the problem: either physically to another area, or else moving it in time.

The cherry on the cake is land use planning. Successive governments have been unable to restrain overdevelopment.

Sanctimoniously they describe themselves as being business friendly or market friendly to try and justify their lack of adequate action. The building industry, we are repeatedly told, creates so much jobs that it “contributes to the quality of life”.

As we are all well aware the construction industry has been a major force in ruining this country through over-development and through expecting us to foot their environmental bills. Unfortunately, they have been aided by successive governments who continuously seek ways to make it easier for the industry to plunder their way through. Land use planning is clearly unsustainable and the sooner it is restrained the better for all.

Sustainable development is conspicuous by its absence in practically all areas of policy. The politics of sustainable development still needs to be ingrained in the day-to-day policy-making structures. Assigning political responsibility for sustainable development to a Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister could be a good first step forward. However, there is still a long way to go.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 19 January 2020

Il-karba tal-art, il-weġgħat tan-Natura

Il-faqar u l-ħsara ambjentali huma relatati. Qishom tewmin, inkella ż-żewġ naħat tal-istess munita. Il-faqar jiġġenera ħsara ambjentali filwaqt li l-ħsara ambjentali inevitabilment twassal għall-faqar.

Dan kien emfasizzat minn Indira Gandhi, dak iż-żmien Prim Ministru tal-Indja, meta fl-1972, fi Stokkolma, indirizzat konferenza tal-Ġnus Magħquda dwar l-Ambjent Uman. Din hi wkoll it-tema ewlenija tal-eko-enċiklika Laudato Si tal-Papa Franġisku, kif ukoll l-argument bażiku tas-Sinodu tal-Isfqijiet tar-Reġjun tal-Amazonja li presentment għaddej f’Ruma. Il-konferenza ta’ Stokkolma kienet l-ewwel waħda tax-xorta tagħha dwar materji ambjentali internazzjonali. Kienet ix-xrara li kebbset l-iżvilupp tal-politika ambjentali internazzjonali.

Fi ftit kliem, il-politika soċjali u dik ambjentali huma interrelatati: huma dak li l-egħruq Latino Amerikani tat-tejoloġija tal-liberazzjoni jiddeskrivu bħala “ekoloġija integrali”.

Maurice Strong, Segretarju Ġenerali tal-konferenza tal-Ġnus Magħquda dwar l-Ambjent Uman fi Stokkolma kiteb, fil-memorji tiegħu, dwar kemm u kif id-diskors ta’ Indira Gandhi fil-konferenza mhux biss baqa’ miftakar imma fuq kollox kemm kien influwenti. It-tema li Gandhi żviluppata b’komunikattiva kbira kienet dwar kif “il-faqar hu l-ikbar sors ta’ tniġġiż”. Kienet emfasizzat b’qawwa : “ kif qatt nistgħu nikkonvinċu lin-nies fl-irħula u fil-griebeġ biex iżommu l-ibħra, ix-xmajjar u l-arja ndaf u ħielsa mit-tniġġiż, meta ħajjithom hi kollha kemm hi tniġġisa waħda?”

Il-ħajja hi katina. Aħna l-bnedmin niffurmaw parti ntegrali min-natura. Saħhitna hi rifless tas-saħħa tan-natura. Id-dmugħ tagħna huma d-dmugħ tal-istess natura.

Leonardo Boff, il-Franġiskan Brażiljan, esponent ewlieni tat-tejoloġija tal-liberazzjoni, jitkellem ċar ħafna biex jiddeskrivi dan, saħansitra fit-titlu tal-ktieb influwenti tiegħu tal-1995 : “Il-karba tal-art, il-karba tal-fqir” (Grito da Terra, Grito dos Pobres.) L-argumenti f’dan il-ktieb kienu influwenti kemm fl-eko-enċiklika ta’ Jorge Bergoglio kif ukoll fis-Sinodu tal-Isfqijiet tal-Amazonja li għaddej bħalissa.

Il-ħsara ambjentali għandha impatt enormi fuq il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll. Fuq il-ħajja ta’ kulħadd ħlief ta’ dawk il-ftit li jaħtfu għalihom u għal ta’ madwarhom vantaġġi ekonomiċi jew ta’ xorta oħra u fl-istess ħin jitfgħu l-pizijiet fuq ħaddieħor.

Il-ħsara ambjentali hi strument għall-inġustizzja soċjali. Il-ħarsien ambjentali hu, għaldaqstant essenzjali biex tissaħħaħ il-ġustizzja soċjali.

Id-dinja li qed ngħixu fiha hi d-dar komuni tagħna: flimkien magħha għanda futur komuni. Kull ħsara li nagħmlu fin-natura jispiċċa lura fuqna. Bħal min jobżoq lejn is-sema, u tgħallem li dak li jagħmel dejjem jiġi lura f’wiċċu!

Hemm l-impatti diretti bħal meta l-arja tant meħtieġa għan-nifs tkun imniġġsa, inkella meta l-ilma jkun ikkontaminat, jew ħaxix inkella ħut li jkun imniġġeż minħabba diversi fatturi ambjentali.

Imbagħad hemm l-impatti ndiretti li jieħdu ż-żmien biex jimmaterjalizzaw. Bħat-tibdil fil-klima. L-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju ilhom jakkumulaw għal mijiet ta’ snin b’mod li jidher, minn diversi studji, li qed noqorbu lejn xi waħda kbira. Bħala riżultat tat-tibdil fil-klima qed nisograw impatti katastrofiċi: żieda fit-temperatura u silġ li jdub b’mod aċċelerat fil-poli u fil-Grenlandja b’mod partikolari: dawn iwasslu għal żieda sostanzjali fil-livell tal-baħar.

Il-vulnerabbli u l-foqra ikunu dawk li l-iżjed ilaqqtuha. L-istati gżejjer żgħar fil-Paċifiku diġa qed jgħaddu minn din l-esperjenza. Għandna speċi ġdida ta’ immigranti: ir-refuġjati tal-klima li qed jaħarbu minn impatti ambjentali li jridu jissaportu mingħajr ma kkontribwew għalihom.

In-natura, kif nafu, tirritalja b’qawwa kontinwament biex tirrestawra bilanċ. M’għandhiex għażla. Lanqas ma tiddiskrimina.

Dan hu kollu frott tar-rgħiba. Hi frott ta’ viżjoni li ma tħarisx fit-tul. Viżjoni li ma titlifx opportunità waħda biex issarraf vantaġġi li jistgħu jinkisbu malajr bla ma jkun hemm l-iċken idea tal-impatti fit-tul.

In-natura hi kapaċi tipprovdi għall-ħtiġijiet ta’ kulħadd. Imma ma tistax tissodisfa r-rgħiba fit-tul. F’din il-komunità ekoloġika jeħtieg li mhux biss ningwalawha man-natura, mal-ambjent immedjat tagħna, imma iktar mal-ambjent fit-totalità tiegħu, mal-ambjent integrat. Dan jista’ jsir biss jekk jirnexxielna nifhmu u nagħtu kaz tal-weġgħat tan-natura.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 13 t’Ottubru 2019

The tears of the Earth

Poverty and environmental degradation are inter-related. They are, in fact, twins or possibly the two sides of the same coin. Poverty generates environmental degradation while environmental degradation inevitably results in poverty.

This was emphasised by Indira Gandhi, then Indian Prime Minister, way back in 1972 during her intervention at the United Nations Stockholm conference on the Human Environment. It is also the underlying theme of Laudato Si, the eco-encyclical of Pope Francis, and a basic theme of the Bishops Synod for the Pan-Amazonian Region currently proceeding in Rome.

The Stockholm Conference was the United Nations first major conference on international environmental issues and marked the definite turning point in the development of international environmental politics.

Put simply, social and environmental policy are interlinked: it is what the Latin American roots of liberation theology describe as “the integral ecology”.

In his memoirs, Maurice Strong, Secretary-General of the UN Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment described Indira Gandhi’s Stockholm speech as being the most memorable and influential speech of the entire conference. The theme – which she forcefully developed and communicated – was that “poverty is the greatest polluter”. She eloquently emphasised: “…… how can we speak to those who live in villages and in slums about keeping the oceans, the rivers and the air clean, when their own lives are contaminated at the source?”

Everything is related. We humans are an integral part of the natural order:our health is the earth’s health; our tears are the earth’s tears.

Leonardo Boff, the Brazilian Franciscan Liberation Theologist, uses crystal clear language to describe this, even encapsulating it in the title of his 1995 seminal publication: “Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor” (Grito da Terra, Grito dos Pobres) which is the essential backdrop for both Jorge Bergoglio’s eco-encyclical as well as for the Amazonian Bishop’s Synod currently under way.

Environmental degradation has a considerable impact on the quality of life of all of us except, that is, for the quality of life of the select few who pocket profits by appropriating for themselves advantages (economic or otherwise) and lumping the negative impacts on the rest.

Environmental degradation is an instrument of social injustice. Consequently, enhancing the protection of the environment is also essential to restore social justice. The Earth is our common home: together with the earth we have a common future and all the damage we cause comes back to us.

There are the direct impacts, such as having to breathe contaminated air, drink polluted water, or eat fish and/or vegetables which contain various contaminants.

There are also the indirect impacts which take time to materialise. Climate change is a case in point. A slow build-up of carbon emissions over the centuries is currently close to a tipping point. We risk a catastrophic impact as a result of climate change: an increase in temperature and an accelerated melting of ice at the poles, and in Greenland in particular, which would lead to a substantial increase in sea level rise.

The poor and the vulnerable will be those most affected. The vulnerable small island states in the Pacific are already experiencing these impacts. “Climate Refugees” are a new breed of immigrants, fleeing from the environmental impacts which they have to shoulder but to which they did not contribute.

The Earth continuously retaliates to restore a natural balance. It has no choice: it does not discriminate.

This is the result of greed – a myopic vision which takes every opportunity to cash on short-terms gains but is unable to understand the long-term impacts.

Nature is able to provide for the needs of everyone. It is, however, unable to sustain long-term greed. In our ecological community we need to interact not just with nature, our immediate environment, but more with the total environment. This can only be achieved if we take heed of the tears of the Earth.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 13 October 2019

Il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli

It-terminu “żvilupp sostenibbli” hu wieħed mill-iktar abbużat fil-lingwaġġ u d-diskorsi politiċi. Nazzarda ngħid li hu terminu abbużat iktar mill-kelma “demokrazija”. Jintuża f’kuntest żbaljat u bħala riżultat jitwassal messaġġ mhux korrett.

Żvilupp sostenibbli jfisser żvilupp li jħares fit-tul, jiġifieri jqis, jikkunsidra u jindirizza impatti fit-tul. B’mod partikolari jfisser żvilupp li jassigura illi r-riżorsi jintużaw bir-reqqa u li l-interessi tal-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri jkunu kkunsidrati. Dan mhux biss materja ta’ interess ambjentali. Imma li l-politika ambjentali, ekonomika, soċjali u kulturali jimxu id f’id. Ifisser li dak kollu li nagħmlu jrid iħares fit-tul u jkun kompatibbli simultanjament man-natura, mal-ekonomija, mal-iżvilupp uman kif ukoll mal-kultura.

L-iżvilupp sostenibbli jirrikjedi li nkunu f’armonija ma’ dak li hawn madwarna, f’kull ħin. Huwa dwar ħajja f’armonija kemm man-natura kif ukoll mal-bnedmin ta’ madwarna. Dan li hawn madwarna nqiesuh bħala parti mill-familja. Hi t-triq lejn iktar dinjità mmirata simultanjament lejn il-qerda tal-faqar u l-ħarsien tal-ambjent kollu madwarna. L-iżvilupp sostenibbli jirrikjedi li l-politika kulturali, soċjali, ambjentali u ekonomika jkunu sinkronizzati. Għax il-ħarsien tad-dinjità umana, l-apprezzament tal-kultura tagħna u l-ħarsien ambjentali huma essenzjali daqs l-iżvilupp ekonomiku.

L-iżvilupp sostenibbli hu fil-fatt żvilupp ibbilanċjat għax suppost li għandu perspettiva wiesgħa ħafna. Huwa għal dan l-iskop li sa mis-snin disgħin, meta għall-ewwel darba daħlet referenza għall-iżvilupp sostenibbli fil-liġijiet Maltin, ir-responsabbiltà politika għal dan il-qasam (fuq il-karta) kienet dejjem waħda diretta tal-prim ministru. Għax fil-prattika tfisser il-koordinazzjoni sħiħa tal-poltiika tal-Gvern u għandha tkun riflessa f’kull qasam, mit-trasport, sal-agrikultura u l-politika marittima.

Huwa minħabba li l-iżvilupp sostenibbli jidħol f’kull qasam ta’ politika li jeħtieġ li responsabbiltà għalih ikun f’idejn membru anzjan tal-Kabinett. Sfortunatament l-ebda wieħed mill-Prim Ministri li kellna ma żamm din ir-responsabbiltà f’idejh u b’mod jew ieħor kollha ddelegaw din ir-responsabbiltà lill-Ministru jew lis-Segretarju Parlamentari responsabbli għall-ambjent.

Ikkonsidra, per eżempju l-politika dwar it-trasport li dwarha ktibt b’mod estensiv tul dawn l-aħħar ġimgħat. Fuq il-karta għandna strateġija nazzjonali dwar it-trasport li tipprovdi kemm għal titjib fiżiku tax-xibka ta’ toroq fil-gżejjer Maltin kif ukoll li jittieħdu inizjattivi speċifiċi biex jonqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna. Hu ovvju li fejn it-toroq mhux qed jaqdu sewwa għandhom ikunu rranġati. Imma huwa daqstant ieħor ovvju li hemm limitu dwar id-daqs tat-toroq tagħna

Studji mad-dinja kollha juru li jekk il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku ikun indirizzat b’iktar żvilupp tal-infrastruttura tat-toroq, il-problema tkun effettivament posposta u tiċċaqlaq minn triq għal-oħra inkella tkun posposta għal data oħra.

Li nindirizzaw is-sostenibilità tal-politika tat-trasport ifisser li għandna nifhmu dak li hu bażiku għall-mobiltà: il-mobilità faċli minn post għall-ieħor f’kull ħin. Sfortunatament dan mhux qed isir. Dan hu rifless f’numru ta’ kontradizzjonijiet fil-politika tat-trasport. Uħud minnhom diġa iddiskutejthom f’dan l-artikli imma hemm oħrajn bħall-politika dwar l-elettrifikazzjoni u dik dwar il-pompi tal-fuel. Politika dwar it-trasport li tħares verament fit-tul mhiex kompatibbli ma’ policy li tmexxi l-quddiem l-iżvilupp il-pompi tal-fuel. Il-fatt li f’data fil-viċin suppost li nibdew il-proċess tal-elettrifikazzjoni tal-karozzi, mifrux fuq numru ta’ snin, iwassal għal konklużjoni loġika li f’data mhux il-bogħod in-numru ta’ pompi tal-fuel meħtieġa ser ikun wieħed insinifikanti. Ministeru tat-Trasport iggwidat minn prinċipji bażiċi ta’ sens komun kien jifhem dan u jaġixxi b’mod loġiku.

Il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli jeħtieġ li ssir parti integrali mill-istrutturi politiċi li jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet. Jekk dan isir inkun f’posizzjoni ferm aħjar biex nindirizzaw il-kontradizzjonijiet u dan iwassal għal deċiżjonijiet aħjar fl-interess ta’ kulħadd.


Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 5 ta’ Mejju 2019

The politics of sustainable development

The term “sustainable development” is one of the most misused and abused in political discourse. I would dare say that it is as misused as much as the word “democracy”. It is generally used in the wrong context, and,  as a result, sends a wrong message.

Sustainable development refers to development which has a long-term view, that is a view that considers and addresses long-term impacts. In particular, it signifies development which ensures that resources are carefully used so that the interests of future generations are taken into consideration. This is not just a matter of environmental concern – it is an intertwining of environmental, economic, social and cultural policy. It means that our actions must take the long-term view and be simultaneously compatible with the forces of nature, the economy, human development and a respect for culture.

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 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.

Sustainable development is, in fact, a balanced approach to development, as its perspective is all-encompassing. It is for this reason that, since the 1990s, when sustainable development first made it into Malta’s statute book, it was retained (on paper) as a direct political responsibility of the Prime Minister. In practice, it involves coordinating all areas of policy and should be reflected in transport policy as much as in maritime or agricultural policy.

Sustainable development permeates all areas of policy and hence requires a senior politician in Cabinet to be in charge. Unfortunately, not even one of our prime ministers assumed direct political responsibility for the matter as, formally or informally, all of them delegated the matter to the Minister (or Parliamentary Secretary) responsible for the environment.

Consider, for example, transport policy – about which I have written extensively in recent weeks. On paper, it is described through the National Transport Masterplan which envisages both physical improvements to the road network as well as specific initiatives to limit cars on our roads. It is obvious that bottlenecks have to be addressed, but it is just as obvious that there is a practical limit to the size of our road network.

Studies all over the world have clearly shown that addressing traffic congestion through expanding the road network has only postponed the problem and has either moved it physically to another area, or else moved it in time.

Addressing the sustainability of transport policy means that we should get to grips with the basics of mobility issues: the movement with ease from one point to another at all times. Unfortunately, this is not being done. This is reflected in the large number of contradictions encountered in the various aspects of transport policy and ranges from the electrification policy to the policy on the development of fuel stations.

A long-term view of transport policy would have easily made short shrift of the fuel service station policy. The fact that the electrification of motor vehicles will shortly commence and will be spread over a number of years, makes it  pretty obvious to one and all that, at the end of the process, the number of fuel service stations required will be insignificant. A Transport Ministry guided by the basic principles of common sense would have easily understood this basic point and acted accordingly.

The politics of sustainable development still needs to be ingrained in the day-to-day policy-making structures. If this is done, we will be in a position to weed out glaring contradictions and, as a result, be in a position to produce policies which promote the interests of all.

Zero waste : a 2050 target

Malta’s Waste Management Strategy for 2014-20 establishes the year 2050 as the one by which our society should achieve a zero waste target. In fact the first of four principles of Malta’s national waste policy is specifically: “to reduce waste and to prevent waste occurring, with a view to achieving a zero-waste society by 2050” (page 14 of Malta’s strategy).

It is pertinent to point out that the Zero Waste International Alliance has defined zero waste as follows: “Zero Waste is a goal that is both pragmatic and visionary, to guide people to emulate sustainable natural cycles, where all discarded materials are resources for others to use. Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to reduce the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources and not burn or bury them. Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water, or air that may be a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health.”

A Zero waste philosophy is thus a strategy and a set of practical tools seeking to eliminate waste and not just to manage it. The point at issue is how to go about reducing and eventually eliminating the waste that we generate.

This is basically a cultural change, waking up from our slumbers and realising that we live in a world where resources are finite. It is about time that we address our ecological deficit: from which there is no bale-out option.

There is one basic first step in the road towards zero waste which should be carefully planned and managed and this is a meticulous recycling strategy. Zero waste municipalities in Europe are continuously indicating that an 80 to 90 per cent recycling rate is achievable. The fact that Malta’s recycling rate is, at best, estimated at around 12 per cent, shows that there is room for substantial improvement: a seven-fold increase in Malta’s recycling rate.

How can this be brought about?

A first step would be to discard the apparently easy solutions which lead nowhere. Government’s proposed incineration policy, as a result of which 40 per cent of the waste generated will be burned, is a policy that seeks to manage waste and does away with the target of reducing and eventually eliminating its generation. The very fact that incineration is being proposed signifies a failure in the implementation of the waste management strategy just three years after its last revision, in 2014.

A second step would be to ensure consistency in waste policy. Malta’s Waste Management Strategy is aptly sub-titled ‘A Resource Management Approach’. By no stretch of the imagination can Malta’s proposed incineration policy be deemed to be consistent with such an approach. It is, in my view, just a panic reaction to the fact that there is no more space available for landfills.

The issue involved is very straightforward: can we deliver on our own target of a zero waste society by 2050? In planning to achieve this objective, each Minister has to be a Minister for the Environment, as each Ministry has a role in preventing or re-using the waste generated by the different economic activities. It is certainly a headache not only for Environment Minister José Herrera, but also for all the other Ministers, in particular Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi and Minister for the Economy Chris Cardona.

In analysing waste management strategy targets achieved to date, it is not only Wasteserve that should be in the dock. The Minister responsible for the Economy has a duty to give account as to what measures and initiatives are in hand to develop the circular economy. It is the point where the paths of environment policy and economic policy cross, and rhetoric has to give precedence to results achieved or in the pipeline to be achieved.

Likewise, it is about time the Tourism Ministry seriously addresses the waste generated by hotels, bars and restaurants. This is an area that has been neglected for several years and is creating considerable difficulties in various parts of the Maltese islands, especially those along the coastline.

It is about time we realised that the implementation of an environment policy is not to be restricted to the corridors of the Environment Ministry: it is an activity that should be carried out by each and every Ministry.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 26 November 2017