The Environment Authority is becoming a sick joke

The current public debate about fuel stations is a wake-up call.

Earlier this week, the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) produced a (sick) joke of a proposal which could reduce the maximum permissible size of a “new fuel station” to 2000 square metres from the current 3000 square metres.

The joke becomes a fully-fledged farce when Environment Minister Josè Herrera declared that the 14 pending applications for fuel stations will not be subject to the amended policy.

The ERA should have objected to the Fuel Stations Policy in principle, and come up with a proposal for a no-nonsense moratorium as, at this point in time, we do not need any more fuel stations. We have had more than enough compromise with only one net result: the further accelerated rape of the environment in Malta. With its proposal, the ERA has joined the queue of boot-lickers justifying the unjustifiable.

If, at some point in time, flesh is put on the bare-bones of the government declared policy of doing away with cars running on an internal combustion engine, we will need even fewer fuel stations – and eventually we will not need even one. So why does the ERA not take the bull by the horns and confront head-on the never-ending compromise that always finds some form of excuse in order to justify the rape of our environment?

For some that may be wishful thinking but it is, however, the only way forward.

Once upon a time we had a National Sustainable Development Strategy. It was drafted after an extensive exercise in public consultation and carried out after considerable in-depth discussions between all the relevant stakeholders. The public sector and the private sector, as well as the voluntary sector, were all involved.

This strategy produced a blueprint for action which was, unfortunately, generally ignored.

Among the issues addressed in the National Sustainable Development Strategy was that of sustainable mobility: an integrated transport strategy encompassing sustainable mobility is required that takes into consideration efficiency in transporting people, the protection of the environment, the promotion of public health and safety, and social inclusion.

What does ‘sustainable mobility’ mean? Put simply, it is the model that enables movement with minimal territorial and environmental impact: planning our mobility requirements such that negative impacts are the least possible.

We need to address the causes of the current transport policy mess and not tinker with the effects. Rather then playing about with fly-overs and tunnels, the Ministry for Transport needs to address the issue of car-ownership: the cause of the mess. Instead of initiating measures to reduce the number of cars on Malta’s roads from the current staggering figure, Malta’s Ministry of Transport is determined to make it easier for cars to keep increasing their dominance of those roads.

The infrastructural projects to ease traffic congestion at Kappara and Marsa, or the proposed Santa Luċija tunnels, for example, will only serve to increase the capacity of our roads – which means more cars on our roads. Traffic congestion may be addressed in the short term by these infrastructural projects, but they will, however, also increase the traffic on our roads, until another flyover or another tunnel is deemed necessary!

This shifts the problem to the future, when it will be much worse and more difficult to address.

The government is acting like an overweight individual who ‘solves’ the problem of his expanding wasteline by changing his wardrobe instead of going on a painful but necessary diet.

Within this context the Fuel Stations Policy serves the purpose of ensuring the servicing of an ever-increasing number of cars on our roads. Who is benefitting from such a policy? If this madness is not stopped, there is no way we will – as a country – be in a position to implement the declared policy of reducing from our roads vehicles running on internal combustion engines.

As a result, we will not be honouring our commitment to decarbonise the economy.

The Planning Authority has lost sight of its mission statement long ago. Unfortunately, the Environment and Resources Authority has followed in its footsteps.

 

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 15 April 2018

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L-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli

Environment

Illum il-ġurnata, diversi jitkellmu dwar “sostenibilitá” u dwar “l-iżvilupp sostenibbli”. Sfortunatament, bosta drabi ma jkunux jafu x’inhuma jgħidu. Bħala riżultat jispiċċaw iwasslu messaġġi żbaljati.

Mela, ejja nibdew minn hawn. Meta nitkellmu dwar sostenibilitá inkunu qed nirriferu lejn dak li nagħmlu. Dan ikun sostenibbli kemm-il darba, d-deċiżjonijiet tagħna ma jippreġudikawx lil ġenerazzjonijiet futuri milli huma ukoll ikunu jistgħu jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet tagħhom. Min-naħa l-oħra, l-iżvilupp sostenibbli hi t-triq li permezz tagħha nistgħu noqorbu u eventwalment naslu viċin li nkunu sostenibbli.

Fi ftit kliem is-sostenibilitá tħares fit-tul.

Dan kollu ma jikkonċernax biss l-ambjent. Imma jiġbor flimkien kemm il-politika ambjentali, kif ukoll dik ekonomika, il-politika soċjali kif ukoll il-politika kulturali. Ifisser li f’dak kollu li nagħmlu irridu nħarsu fit-tul u rridu nassiguraw li l-ħarsien ambjentali, l-iżvilupp ekonomiku u soċjali jimxu id f’id u b’rispett għall-kisbiet kulturali.

Dan iwassal għal numru ta’ konklużjonijiet loġiċi li jiffurmaw il-bażi tal-politika għall-iżvilupp sostenibbli. Kienet Gro Harlem Brundtland, soċjal demokratika Norveġiża li serviet kemm bħala Prim Ministru kif ukoll bħala Ministru għall-Ambjent ta’ pajjiżha li fasslet it-triq meta fl-1987 mexxiet il-ħidma tal-Kummissjoni Dinjija għall-Ambjent u l-Iżvilupp tal-Ġnus Magħquda u ippreżentat ir-rapport intitolat Our Common Future.

B’mod prattiku, l-iżvilupp sostenibbli għandu jwassal għal deċiżjonijiet konkreti li permezz tagħhom, l-iżvilupp li jseħħ ikun wieħed li jirrispetta lin-nies, lin-natura u l-kultura. Fi ftit kliem, il-profitti li tiġġenera l-ekonomija ikunu ibbażati fuq kriterji etiċi. Kien għal din ir-raġuni li sa mis-snin disgħin, meta l-iżvilupp sostenibbli issemma l-ewwel darba fil-liġijiet Maltin, dan kien responsabbiltá diretta tal-Prim Ministru. Ta’ l-inqas fuq il-karta.

Għax il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli tmiss l-oqsma kollha tal-ħajja pubblika u allura teħtieġ politiku ta’ esperjenza. Sfortunatament l-ebda wieħed mill-Prim Ministri li kellna s’issa ma mexxa hu f’dan il-qasam għax dejjem iddelegah lill-Ministru (jew lis-Segretarju Parlamentari) responsabbli għall-Ambjent. Dan hu żball għax il-Ministru responsabbli mill-Ambjent rari ħafna jkun f’posizzjoni li jagħti direzzjoni lill-Ministri l-oħra, li ngħiduha kif inhi, ftit li xejn ikollhom interess fl-iżvilupp sostenibbli.

B’eżempju forsi ninftehmu aħjar dwar kemm f’Malta, l-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli hi biss logħob bil-kliem.

Inħarsu ftit lejn l-infrastruttura tat-toroq tagħna, inkluż it-trasport pubbliku. B’mod mill-iktar ċar din mhiex sostenibbli u ilha hekk għal ħafna żmien.

Marbuta mal-infrastruttura tat-toroq hemm il-mobilitá u l-kwalitá tal-arja. Dan flimkien mal-konġestjoni tat-traffiku, l-impatti fuq is-saħħa prinċipalment minħabba l- kwalitá fqira tal-arja kif ukoll l-impatti fuq l-ekonomija tal-ħin moħli fi traffiku ma jispiċċa qatt.

F’Mejju 2014 l-Istitut għat-Tibdil fil-Klima u l-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli tal-Universitá ta’ Malta kien ikkummissjonat mill-uffiċċju rappresentattiv tal-Unjoni Ewropeja f’Malta biex iħejji studju dwar l-impatti tat-traffiku f’Malta. Minn dan l-istudju, intitolat The External Costs of Passenger and Commercial Vehicles Use in Malta , jirriżulta li l-impatt tal-konġestjoni tat-traffiku hu stmat li hu ekwivalenti għal 1.7% tal-Prodott Gross Nazzjonali. Din l-istima tieħu konsiderazzjoni kemm tal-petrol/diesel kif ukoll tal-ħin li jinħela bħala riżultat tal-konġestjoni tat-traffiku. Hu stmat li f’Malta kull sewwieq, kull sena, jaħli medja ta’ 52 siegħa  wieqaf fit-traffiku.

L-istudju iżid jgħid li din l-istima tiżdied u tilħaq l-4% tal-Prodott Gross Nazzjonali jekk jittieħed ukoll konsiderazzjoni tal-inċidenti tat-traffiku, l-impatt tat-tniġġiz tal-arja, l-effett tat-tniġġiż mill-ħoss kif ukoll il-gassijiet serra. Għall-paragun, tajjeb li nirrealizzaw li t-tkabbir ekonomiku għas-sena 2017 huwa stmat li ser ikun ta’ 3.5% tal-Prodott Gross Nazzjonali.

Dan hu biss eżempju wieħed. Bħalu hemm bosta oħra.

Il-loġika tal-iżvilupp sostenibbli kellha inevitabilment twassal għal servizz effiċjenti ta’ transport pubbliku snin ilu bil-konsegwenza ta’ tnaqqis sostanzjali ta’ karozzi mit-toroq tagħna. Huwa dak li għandna nippretendu f’pajjiż żgħir bħal tagħna fejn kważi kullimkien qiegħed biss tefa’ ta’ ġebla ‘l-bogħod. Imma, kollox bil-maqlub!

Darba l-Kabinett kien approva Strateġija Nazzjonali għall-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli  ………….. imma sadanittant il-politika tat-trasport f’Malta għadha tinkoraġixxi iktar karozzi fit-toroq tagħna.

 ippubblikat fl-Illum : il-Ħadd 8 ta’ Jannar 2017

The logic of sustainable development

four_pillar-sustainable development

 

Political discourse is nowadays peppered with the terms “sustainability” and “sustainable development” but often, unfortunately,  their use is out of context and thereby transmits the wrong message.

So, let us first be clear as to what the terms really mean. Being in a state of sustainability means that our actions, attitudes and behaviour are such that future generations are not precluded from taking their own decisions. On the other hand, sustainable development is the path to be followed to achieve sustainability.

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 view and be compatible with the forces of nature, the economy, human development and a respect for culture.

All this leads to a number of logical conclusions which form the basis of the politics of sustainable development. This was first outlined by Gro Harlem Brundtland, a former Norwegian social democrat prime minister and minister for the environment in her seminal  1987 report Our Common Future,drawn up for the UN World Commission on Environment and Development. In her report, Brundtland, made ample use of the conclusions of an earlier debate in the World Council of Churches in 1974.

In practical terms, the politics of sustainable development should lead  to a number of concrete decisions, as a result of which modern-day living is simultaneously respectful of society, nature, the economy and the accumulated cultural heritage in its widest sense. Sustainable development is, in fact, a balanced approach to development. It is for this reason that, since the 1990s, when sustainable development first made it to Malta’s statute book, it was retained (on paper) as a direct political responsibility of the Prime Minister.

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.

The Minister responsible for the environment cannot make much headway as he is dependent upon – and can in no way can he be expected to direct – his cabinet colleagues, most of whom are not really interested in sustainable development, anyway. A simple example will illustrate how all the talk on sustainable development by governments in Malta has been an exercise in managing hot air.

Consider the management of Malta’s road infrastructure, including public transport. This is clearly unsustainable and has been so for a long time. The public transport reform carried out under the direction of former Minister Austin Gatt was a public disservice as it made a bad situation even worse.

The management of Malta’s road infrastructure brings to the fore a number of issues, including mobility and air quality. Linked to these are traffic congestion, health impacts primarily due to poor air quality and the impact of the clogging of our roads on our economy through a substantial amount of time spent fuming at our steering wheels.

In May 2014, the Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development of the University of Malta was commissioned by the European Union representation in Malta to carry out a study on the external costs of traffic and congestion in Malta. Among other things, this study, entitled The External Costs of Passenger and Commercial Vehicles Use in Malta, estimated that 1.7 per cent of Malta’s GDP is wiped out annually as a result of traffic congestion. This conclusion took into consideration both fuel wasted and time lost: approximately 52 hours per annum per commuter.

The study further emphasises that this estimate would rise to four per cent of the GDP if it also took into consideration traffic accidents, the impacts of air and noise pollution as well as the impact of greenhouse gases emitted.  (For comparison purposes, it is pertinent to remember that the real Malta GDP growth for 2017 is projected at 3.5 per cent.)

This is just one example. There are many more.

The logic of sustainable development would have inevitably led to an efficient public transport system ages ago and a substantially reduced number of cars on our roads. It is what one would expect in a small country where practically everywhere is within a stone’s throw of everywhere else.  Yet we get the complete opposite.

Once upon a time, the Cabinet had approved a National Strategy for Sustainable Development – yet Malta’s transport policy is still one which encourages more cars on the road.

 published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 8 January 2017

Sustainable development goals : beyond rhetoric

SDGs

 

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

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

Tackling the green skills gap

green skills 3

Launching the public consultation on the Green Economy last month, Ministers Leo Brincat and Evarist Bartolo emphasised the need to address the green skills gap in the process leading to a Green Economy strategy and action plan.

It is estimated that 20 million jobs will be created in the Green Economy between now and 2020 within the European Union. Capacity building is the greatest challenge: ensuring that more working men and women are adequately equipped with green skills.

The Green Economy includes activities in different sectors. It is possible to go about activity in these sectors in a manner which reduces their environmental impacts, is socially inclusive and economically rewarding.

Various sectors have been identified as being of key importance in the transition to a Green Economy. The basic characteristics which distinguish the Green Economy are a reduction of carbon emissions, the reduction of all forms of pollution, energy and resource efficiency, prevention of biodiversity loss  and the protection of eco-system services.

The United Nations Environment Programme  has repeatedly emphasised that the transition to a Green Economy enables economic growth and investment while increasing environmental quality and social inclusiveness. A Green Economy is one which respects the eco-system and recognises that there are natural limits  which, if exceeded, endanger the earth’s ecological balance. In effect it means that the transition to a Green Economy signifies addressing all of our environmental impacts in all areas of activity. Addressing impacts in one area would still signify progress although this would be of limited benefit.

An agriculture which forms part of the Green Economy is one which works with nature, not against it. It uses water sustainably and does not contaminate it. Green agriculture does not seek to genetically modify any form of life nor to patent it.

Energy efficient buildings, clean and renewable energy together with the sustainable use of land are also basic building blocks of the Green Economy. We cannot speak of the Green Economy whilst simultaneously tolerating  large scale building construction. Having a stock of 72,000 vacant dwellings, (irrespective of the reasons for their being vacant) signifies that as a nation we have not yet understood that the limited size of the Maltese islands ought to lead to a different attitude. The green skills of politicians and their political appointees on MEPA is what’s lacking in this regard.

Maritime issues are of paramount economic importance to Malta’s economy. The depleted fish stock and the quality of sea water are obvious issues. But the impacts of organised crime through the dumping of toxic, hazardous and nuclear waste in the Mediterranean Sea is not to be underestimated as has been evidenced time and again in the exploits of the eco-mafia reign to our north.

Heavy industry is fortunately absent in Malta. New industries like the pharmaceutical industry are more eco-conscious. However we still require more inputs on resource efficiency and eco-design.

Greening tourism is essential in order to ensure that more of tourism’s environmental impacts are addressed.  The consumption of tourism is 50% more per capita than that registered for a resident, indicating that there is room for considerable improvements.

Public transport is still in shambles. The effects of this state of affairs is evident in the ever increasing number of passenger cars on our roads which have a major impact on air and noise pollution in our communities. Greening transport policies signifies that the mobility of all is ensured with the least possible impacts.  Still a long way to go.

Waste management has made substantial improvement over the years even though it is still way  behind EU targets. It is positive that the draft waste management strategy has established the attaining of a Zero Waste target by 2050. However we still await the specifics of how this is to be achieved. It is achievable but the commitment of all is essential.

Our water resources have been mismanaged, year in, year our. Discharging millions of litres of treated sewage effluent into the sea is just the cherry on the cake. The contaminated and depleted water table which still contributes around 40% to Malta’s potable water supply is in danger of being  completely lost for future generations if we do not act fast.

All the above have been dealt with in various policy documents. One such document is the National Sustainable Development Strategy which establishes the parameters for the action required. Implementing the National Sustainable Development Strategy is the obvious first step in establishing a Green Economy.  It is here where the real green skill gap exists. Decision makers lack green skills. This skill gap exists at the level of Cabinet, Parliament, the top echelons of the civil service and in the ranks of the political appointees to Boards and Authorities where decisions are taken and strategies implemented.

When this skill gap is addressed, the rest will follow and we will be on the way to establishing  a green economy.

published in The Times of Malta, Saturday 14 December 2013

Żvilupp Sostenibbli fil-Parlament

Il-bieraħ fil-għaxija fil-Parlament ġiet fit-tmiem l-ewwel parti tad-diskussjoni dwar l-abbozz ta’ liġi fuq l-iżvilupp sostenibbli. Ikkonkluda id-diskussjoni Mario de Marco li wieġeb il-kritika li saret matul id-diskussjoni.

F’dan l-istadju tajjeb li nfakkar li din hi liġi li ma kienitx meħtieġa għax il-parti l-kbira ta’ dak li fiha ġja qiegħed fl-istrateġija nazzjonali dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli. Li qed jagħmel il-Gvern hu li joħloq liġi issa flok parti mill-istrateġija biex jipprova jiġġustifika li f’dawn il-ħames snin ftit li xejn l-iżvilupp sostenibbli ittieħdet bis-serjeta’. U dan minkejja d-dikjarazzjoni li saret favur l-iżvilupp sostenibbli fid-diskors mit-tron tal-President tar-Repubblika f’Mejju 2008 fl-ewwel seduta tal-Parlament tas-sessjoni kurrenti.

Fost il-punti negattivi li hemm fil-liġi hemm li ser tispiċċa l-Kummissjoni Nazzjonali dwar l-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli. Hu punt negattiv għax il-kummissjoni kien tiġbor lis-soċjeta’ ċivili fuq issues ambjentali flimkien ma rappresentanti tal-Ministeri u awtoritajiet pubbliċi għal diskussjoni utli. Kien forum ambjentali li l-Gvern qatlu matul dawn il-ħames snin.

Fost il-punti importanti posittivi tal-abbozz hemm l-introduzzjoni tal-Gwardjan għall-Ġenerazzjonijiet Futuri. Jiena dejjem insistejt li Gvern li jagħmel proposti fuq livell internazzjonali b’ċerta pompa għandu jkollu l-konvinzjoni li dak li jippretendi mill-komunita’ internazzjonali jkun lest li jimplimentah f’Malta stess. Għalhekk ipproponejt il-ħolqien tal-kariga ta’ Gwardjan għall-Ġenerazzjonijiet Futuri. Proposta li Mario de Marco għan-nom tal-Gvern aċċetta u inkludiha fil-liġi. Seta fassalha b’mod aħjar.

Issa l-abbozz jgħaddi biex ikun diskuss fid-dettall tiegħu u imbagħad forsi jkun implimentat.

The future we want

During the current Parliamentary debate on the Sustainable Development Bill various government spokesmen have emphasised that they consider it essential to ensure that there is a balance between protecting the environment  and economic policy. In so doing they are stating that measures that may be required to protect the environment  are to be embraced only if there is little or no economic impact.

Sustainable development is no longer a matter of choice. It is rather an issue of survival. Balancing acts do not form part of the equation!

A former Minister of the Environment during the Parliamentary debate stated that a defininiton of sustainable development is required as an integral part of the Bill. If this Hononourable gentleman is not capable of embracing Bruntland’s definiton in the report she penned as Chairperson of the World Commission on Environment and Development then it is about time that someone explains what his tenure as Minister for the Environment has achieved except the widespread environmental destruction which has been amply documented throughout the years.

Gro Harlem Brundtland had stated that “Humanity has the ability to make development sustainable – to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Brundland’s definition is the mildest possible and has been drafted in that form specifically to ensure the widest adoption possible. Taking decisions in such a manner as not to prejudice future generations is the least we can say about the politics of sustainable development.

It signifies first and foremost that policy decisions  are not postponed in order to avoid or minimise loss of votes. It also means calling a spade by its proper name and getting on with the business of proper management of  resources without delay.

The adoption of sustainable development as a basic building block of government policy should lead to the logical conclusion that the economy should not be viewed as an objective but rather as a tool: the economy should be the servant rather than the master! The point of departure should be the alignment of policies with the ecosystem of which we form part.

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 three but of acting correctly each and every time. A policy, which is economically sound but socially and/or environmentally wobbly, is of no use. 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.

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 all factored in 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: to an economy which respects the ecology. 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 was for this purpose that the Environment Protection Act of 2001 provided in Section 8 for the setting up of a National Commission for Sustainable Development entrusted with the drafting of a National Strategy for Sustainable Development for the Maltese Islands. The Commission 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.

The National Commission for Sustainable Development was representative of society in that it was made up of representatives of Ministries and civil society. The Sustainable Development Bill is proposing the dismantling of the Commission and replacing it with a network, a smaller team in the interests of efficiency! The two frameworks are not incompatible. In fact when the Commission was functioning (even though its Chairman Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi never found time to participate in its workings) it had in fact selected a small group to coordinate its work.

While I understand that the government’s objective in creating the network is to facilitate implementation I submit that the existence of this newly proposed network is not incompatible with retaining the National Commission, which, through its wide-ranging composition was and can still be an effective sounding board for formulating the nuts and bolts of the politics of sustainable development.

It has to be borne in mind that sustainable development is also an exercise through which wide-ranging policy is formed through capillarity, rising from the roots of society, and not through filtration by dripping from the top downwards. It is hence essential to embrace structures which are representative of society. This is not sufficient but it is an essential element to be complemented by reaching out to those sectors of society which are vulnerable yet are still unorganised.

The UN Secretariat of the  Rio + 20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development due to be held next June has produced a draft document for discussion aptly referred to as the zero draft. It is entitled “The Future We Want”.

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. This is “the Future we Want”. It has primarily to be a future which we can shape. A future which all of us can influence as it will impact not just those at the top of the pyramid but more so those at the very bottom.

Sustainable Development is not just an issue of environment but also one of justice, of dealing with issues of poverty and the distribution of wealth.

The future we want cannot exist without fulfilling the need of a fundamental change in  relationships. A change in the relationship between man and the earth. A change in the relationship between man and his/her fellow human beings.

This need for change can be fulfilled if we focus on the need to respect nature and fellow human beings. This is the balance to be achieved. This is the basis of sustainable development.

This article was published in The Independent on Sunday – Environment Supplement 25 March 2012

Exercise in Practical Democracy

 

 

One of the two themes that the Rio+20 summit, to be held next June, will be focusing on will be the institutional framework for sustainable development.

 

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. The objective, he emphasises, is to integrate policymaking and implementation.

He goes on to state 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 so far not been able to deliver.

The government will soon be in its final year in office in this legislature and, so far, all it has achieved is the demolition of sustainable development institutions.

 

The National Commission for Sustainable Development was disbanded at the same time that the President of the Republic was delivering the Speech from the Throne during this Parliament’s first sitting held on May 10, 2008. The President, on behalf of the government, had then declared that the government’s plans and actions will be underpinned by sustainable development. When taking decisions today, we were told, the government will give serious consideration to tomorrow’s generations.

 

In addition to disbanding the National Commission for Sustainable Development, the government ignored the provisions of the National Strategy for Sustainable Development, which Cabinet had approved on the eve of the 2008 general election. This strategy, which was the result of extensive consultations with civil society, laid down not only the targets to be achieved but also the structures to be set up in each ministry in order to proceed with its implementation.

 

All the deadlines laid down in the National Sustainable Development strategy were ignored by the government.

 

On the eve of another general election, the government has now presented proposals for a Sustainable Development Bill. This is intended to mainstream sustainable development across the workings of government.

 

The Bill seeks to create structures within the Office of the Prime Minister and the various ministries to take ownership of the National Sustainable Development Strategy.

 

The Bill confirms the abolition of the national commission and in its stead proposes the creation of a network made up of eight persons, these being a mix of public officers and representatives of civil society.

 

The national commission was much larger and had the advantage of being composed of a wider cross section of civil society together with representatives of all the ministries.

 

While I understand that the government’s objective in creating the network is to facilitate efficiency I submit that this is not incompatible with retaining the national commission, which, through its extensive reach, was and can still be an effective sounding board where the politics of sustainable development is moulded.

 

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. The Bill goes on to draw on the National Sustainable Development Strategy by reproducing the implementation structures that the strategy had determined.

 

During the month of August, on behalf of the Greens in Malta, I had the opportunity to discuss the Bill with Parliamentary Secretary Mario de Marco who was carrying out a consultation exercise. During our meeting, I suggested the creation of a Guardian for Future Generations as part of the institution building for sustainable development.

 

I am pleased to note that the proposal of the Greens was taken on board by the government even if in a different format from that intended.

 

The Bill provides for the creation of a commission to be known as the Guardian for Future Generations, which is to be made up of a president appointed by the Prime Minister and three other members hailing from environmental NGOs, business fora and social and community NGOs.

 

The Guardian for Future Generations will be assigned extensive duties related to sustainable development, ranging from sustainable development advocacy across national policymaking to encouraging NGOs and the private sector to participate in sustainable development initiatives.

 

Given the functions and role of the Guardian I think that it would be more appropriate and effective if instead of a commission it is just one person appointed by the Head of State rather than by the Prime Minister.

 

My participation in the consultation process was another opportunity through which the Greens in Malta have contributed positively to the formation of policy and initiatives.

 

The Greens are always available for cooperation in initiatives of this nature. We sincerely hope that the publication of the Bill indicates that government intends to act soon because we have been waiting for far too long.

published in The Times- December 10, 2011