B.Sustainable – Implementing the politics

Since 1978, through the United Nations, the term “Sustainability” has been brought forward in a wide array of literature, which ranges from policies to technological articles, and regulation. This was triggered by the early effects of Climate Change, which compared to the effects we are feeling today, are minimal. Humankind’s rapid development since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution imposed unrelenting pressure on the world’s natural resources and resulted in the complete depletion of certain resource hotspots and or habitats. These effects have proved our fears to be correct, the world is finite.

The National Sustainable Development Vision for 2050, together with the European Green Deal, both of which have the ultimate goal of achieving Climate Neutrality by 2050, shall be adhered to. The next step then looks into Malta’s response to Climate Change up to the present and sheds light on the trends of the Maltese. This section is therefore dedicated to a review of available literature, so that the readers may familiarise themselves with the current situation. After concluding this section, see what you can do about it in the B.Sustainable approach proposed below the literature review.

The National Sustainable Development Vision for 2050

Reaching Climate Neutrality may seem as if it is too distant for the Maltese archipelago, particularly when one considers that Malta failed to achieve some key checkpoints by 2020, and has already had targets reduced for upcoming short-term goals.

The document, which was published by the Ministry for Environment, Sustainable Development, and Climate Change in 2018 consists of three main priorities, them being: Economic Growth, Safeguarding our Environment, and Social Cohesion and Wellbeing.

The European Green Deal

President Ursula von der Leyen of the EU Commission boldly brought forward this European Green Deal, promising a modern, resource-efficient, competitive Europe upon implementation, forging a Europe that shall give out a net 0 greenhouse gas emissions, stimulate economic growth, and “leave no one behind”. It is expected to be worth around EUR 1 trillion and shall be financed through the EU emissions scheme, InvestEU (both private and public investment), national funds of member states, and other allocations from the EU Budget.

Comparative Analysis of both roadmaps.

This paper shall consider both aforementioned documents, and provide an assessment regarding their similarities, the different methods proposed their disputes, and their overall holistic goal.

While the wording is somewhat different, both Malta’s Sustainable Development Vision for 2050, and the European Green Deal have great similarities, particularly when it comes to safeguarding the environment, and future-proofing economies. It is worth noting that Malta’s roadmap to 2050 also has a dedicated section for social inclusion and social well-being, however, it will be omitted from this paper since the European Green Deal focuses on two of the previously mentioned priority areas: The Economy, and the Environment.

Economic Growth

Since 2009, economic blocs have required mutual actions and agreements, in order to stimulate trade and the regeneration of the economy after the financial crisis. Up to ten years later, the countries of the West were faring well until the pandemic struck. Now, after two years, the EU is fixed on taking this great opportunity to stimulate inclusive and sustainable growth across the bloc.

Malta had seen persistent growth, up to last year’s seven-point loss, due to the implications of covid-19. However, the government’s vaccine rollout has proved efficient, with Malta being one of the very first countries to reach herd immunity and the start of a return to normality. Malta’s growth has not been in doubt for many, but rather its efficiency and long term potential. Financial crimes and shady transactions have become all too frequent in local headlines, with severe repercussions such as financial greylisting.

Both frameworks envisage three priorities. A digital, green, innovative and competitive economy.

Innovation, training, and development.

“A high-quality workforce is required to attract high-value-added activities and consequently drive higher economic growth and standards of living.” (Malta’s Sustainable Development Vision for 2050). Training and development as regards to labour force skills and employability are of utmost importance in a country such as Malta, where the priority remains a service-based economy. This is due to both limitations in access to raw materials, and due to financial and political restrictions on emissions related to the industry (generally), which carry hefty financial penalties.

Malta’s emphasis on training and development is expected, due to the discrepancy in the number of persons who exit their national educational systems as skilled and employable, according to the requirements and trends of one’s local economy, compared to other EU member states. The European Green Deal focuses more on digitalisation and addressing the EU’s carbon footprint.

Green Economy

Achieving a carbon-neutral economy, on both a national and supranational scale will require ticking multiple boxes along the way. The change needs to happen in a way that does not only favour those who afford to adapt quickly, but also provide financial and technical backing to those who need it. Traditional and cultural practices which are unsustainable must be rectified, with incremental progress until the achievement of 0 net carbon emissions by 2050.

To date, net EU greenhouse gas emissions have decreased by 24% to those from the 1990s. By 2030, the figure is set for 55% (see Fitfor55), and 0 by the half of the century. The plans laid out in Malta’s Sustainable Development Vision for 2050, take a similar approach to that of the Green Deal brought forward by the EU Commission. The plan is to devise a circular economy, with special attention to the optimal use and reuse of resources. Favourable policies are in place when it comes to low-carbon investment and sustainable planning, which may mitigate the discrepancy in price to less sustainable methods.

In Malta, the tourism sector must operate in the utmost sustainable method, with special attention to GHG emissions generated through tourism-related activities, waste management, and addressing seasonality’s adverse impacts. For Malta, transport remains the main GHG emissions contributor, with more than a fifth of the net share, moreover, failure to change our transport policies and infrastructure could see emissions generated needlessly (example: traffic congestions) could cost Malta over a billion Euro a year up to 2050 (Malta’s Sustainable Development Vision for 2050). In its vision, the Maltese government stressed the importance of adopting the highest standards of sustainability, in both new and refurbished tourism establishments, to not only meet eco-certification but go beyond.

Both the EU’s strategy and Malta’s convey specific goals for the many different industries within both national and blocwide economies. These require to be met, and the timelines in which this would optimally be done if climate neutrality is to be achieved.

Digital Economy

Keeping up with the times is important for any organisation, be it the corner shop in your neighbourhood, or the highest institution within a state. Both the European Green Deal and Malta’s Sustainable Development Vision for 2050 consider three important checkpoints when it comes to digitising the economy, them being: security and accessibility to all citizens, fostering competition and innovation amongst businesses, and alleviating adverse environmental impacts. The Sustainable Development Vision Malta will undertake up to 2050 also prioritises the availability of state services through digitalization, bringing the public service closer to the Maltese citizens.

When referring to citizens, both roadmaps show great concern for security and accessibility and have both proposed legislation that would protect consumers from cybercrimes, such as the Artificial Intelligence Act which was proposed by the EU Commission in April 2021. At the moment, feedback from member states, including those of the Maltese government and relevant stakeholders within the Maltese market is being gathered to rectify the act’s initial shortcomings, with the Maltese pointing out various measures that could make small states competitive globally, whilst securing their interests. Both the Maltese government and the EU are set on making digital services available for all, irrelevant of their social and economic status, with the necessary training instilled in their respective educational systems.

The Environment

With the aim of having “Europe the first climate-neutral continent in the world” (European Green Deal), the EU has set a path of targets every 10 years up to 2050. As previously stated, Malta did not fare well in the allocated 2020 targets, particularly when it comes to generating electricity from renewable sources. The target for 2020 was set at 10%, considerably low when compared to other EU member states, and by the end of 2019, the Maltese only managed to muster 7.5%, with the rest (2.5%) being bought from excess energy generated from other member states at a costly price.

All 27 EU member states, including Malta, pledged to reduce the bloc’s net emissions by 55% (fitfor55), compared to 1990 levels, creating a multitude of opportunities for investment, innovation, and employment along the way. Malta’s target had been set at a 29% reduction, however, it has been recently lowered to 19% due to the severe lack of progress in implementing the switch to a greener economy.

Due to the multiple sectors impacting the environment directly, and the many policies brought forward to regenerate it, this paper shall sub-divide the sectors into energy, transport, agriculture, oceans, and construction.

Energy

The use of fossil fuels remains the principal climate destabiliser due to the extreme pollution emitted. Both Malta and the EU have set clear targets to move towards a low-carbon economy in the short term, and a climate-neutral economy by 2050.

The EU has defined clear targets for 2030 (55%) and 2050 (net 0 emissions), and even though Malta’s Sustainable Development Vision for 2050 also has the ultimate goal of net 0 emissions, 29 years off, we are a long way off. The vision stresses the importance of the use of PV-solar panels and solar water heaters in households, digitising the economy, and attracting low-carbon investment such as financial services, gaming, and other ICT, however, given the murky waters Malta has found itself in, attracting such investment may be easier said than done.

Transport

Emissions related to transport are the heaviest polluters both on a national level and in the EU. Use of heavy fuel oils is still widely used, with only 6% of the European population using electric vehicles. In its plans, the EU aims to make the combustion engine vehicle unattractive to purchase, and this will be likely done through discouraging tariffs and taxes on the sort, which may then be used to fund electric vehicle and renewable energy subsidies.

In its dawn, the combustion engine offered mobility, today (literally) a mere 20-minute commute could take double and even triple the time. We are congested, and making more roads is not the answer. Recently when asking journalists’ questions, Transport and Capital Infrastructure Minister Dr Ian Borg, conveyed how roads will only “buy us time” until a sustainable, efficient, and affordable public transport system is implemented, that would make the private vehicle’s use diminish substantially. However, Malta has greater concerns when it comes to transport, particularly to the double-insularity which Gozo suffers, and the news that a metro system, proposed for 2050 would not include Gozo, since a “population increase of 50,000 inhabitants would be required to make it sufficient”.

The EU has set clear targets regarding the use of combustion engine vehicles. Its production will be discontinued by 2035, and such vehicles will not be allowed on EU roads from 2050. The EU is set on providing regional help to address the different scenarios of mobility across the bloc, reaching the most remote regions, allowing them to be integrated and competitive.

Agriculture

It comes as a surprise to many, that one of the EU’s biggest and most sensitive policies is its agricultural policy. This is due to the many aspects of the agricultural industry, ranging from farming processes, packaging, the effect on the environment, and more. Malta’s Vision for 2050 aims to use digitalisation to collect data and carry out research to maximise efficiency in agriculture, especially in the use of water and pesticides.

The EU’s vision is expectedly more holistic, especially when it comes to food security, biodiversity loss, and similarly, reducing the climate footprint. Monitoring a reliable food production that will satisfy both national and bloc-wide populations is of utmost importance for both institutions. Through the implementation of the common agricultural policy brought forward by the EU, and national roadmaps to achieve it, greenhouse gas emissions from this sector are set to be reduced. Both national plans and those of the EU consider the welfare of farmed animals and shall enforce against the mistreatment of animals.

Both roadmaps also highly value the conservation of water and soil resources and acknowledge their scarcity – water being scarce in a more national context.

Fisheries and Aquaculture

The oceans and all its fruits are continuously diminishing. Fish stocks are decreasing, coral formations are being destroyed, and a once rich Mediterranean is finding it hard to keep up with ever-increasing demand.

Malta’s National Sustainable Development Vision for 2050 emphasises the need of conserving our seas, with the introduction of clearly defined policies and laws, adherence with regulations with structural enforcement and the constant collection of data, to formulate policies based on the evidence achieved through research. Fish stocks in Malta are on retreat, with 30% of fish being over-exploited, 50% being fully-exploited, and just 20% of fish stocks with an expected increased harvest.

The European Green Deal aims to ensure the sustainability of the blue economy and the fisheries sector. Quotes will be outlined, with harsh financial penalties upon being breached. Waste and recycling are considered of utmost importance, as waste which is not tended has a knack of finding itself in the ocean, along with the 0 pollution plan. The EU also stresses the importance of green infrastructure in coastal areas, preserving the landscape and biodiversity, and adding value to tourism and coastal related activities. Ironically, this week saw Xlendi’s last iconic boathouses being knocked down, to make room for two more monstrous, multi-story apartment blocks, just at the shore’s edge – the final nail in Xlendi’s coffin.

Construction

Infrastructure is required for the majority of activities, for rest and shelter, storage, and much more. Buildings are essential to institutions, authorities, organisations, and families to carry out their proceedings and daily activities. The method in which these are erected is often what sparks debate, especially in the local context, where construction has been granted an infamous reputation.

In the national vision for 2050, Malta has outlined a number of checkpoints for upcoming urban development, such as having a built environment that is inclusive, accessible, resilient, energy-efficient, affordable, safe, and healthy. This is planned to be achieved through fair collaboration with the private sector, and performance-based allocation of tenders. New buildings should be smart and connected through digital systems. The building process and the finished products should be human-centred, considering safety, accessibility, and affordability. The news headlines of late have depicted the contrary to most of this, with lack of safety being evident, and the continuous exploitation of the environment becoming ever more evident.

The European Green Deal plans to introduce a whole new niche of employment in the sustainable construction industry, from research and innovation (finding sustainable methods for material production) to safety standards, to long term planning and sustainability of structures, including their development and maintenance.

B.Sustainable

The insight provided in the above literature review, going over Malta’s National Sustainable Development Vision for 2050 and the European Green Deal, outline national and EU strategies in order to achieve climate neutrality. During this week’s COP26, whilst addressing world leaders, Sir David Attenborough, a renowned climate change and animal welfare activist, emphasised that the effects of climate change are no longer the woes of those to come, but the struggles this current young generation will face – them being us!

This can already be sustained by simply paying attention to the Maltese, and European climate of late. The seasons are no longer distinguishable, and it feels as if we only have a scorching summer and an unpredictable winter. Storms are becoming more aggressive and destructive, and droughts are edging longer. The rest of the EU follows, from Sicily’s ravaging a week ago to devastating fires from Turkey all the way to Gozo and the floods that rushed through Germany and Belgium. That is why this paper does not simply stop at reviewing these roadmaps, but rather stimulate the reader to take action, and do something about it.

Every day, you engage in a multitude of activities, from brushing your teeth in the morning, getting to school/work, lunch, meeting friends, resting, or doing any other activity. You have choices in the methods in which you carry the mentioned activities, some of which are more sustainable than others but maybe unattractive due to price, or another inconvenience.

There is no need to go out of pocket, but simple acts of sustainability and environmental care is better than nothing and even better than doing something unsustainable, or that harms the environment.

There are a few simple things that you should adhere to, and help make your tidyings, your community, and your country a more sustainable place:

  • Recycle – correctly and safely
  • Compost
  • Protect local flora and fauna
  • Conserve soil
  • Walk/cycle/scooter, and or use the bus when you can
  • Carpool with your friends
  • Buy sustainable clothing
  • Campaign and raise awareness
  • Report environmental harm
  • Keep yourself informed
  • Share this paper with someone who needs to read it

Communal Sustainability

In 2010 the International City/County Management Association (IMCA) carried out a study regarding the likeliness of small cities (less than 5000 people) carrying out sustainable measures when compared to large cities (100,000+ people). The study conveyed that small cities were only a third as likely to adopt sustainable measures when compared to larger ones.

It is understandable that supranational policies do not go much into implementing sustainable measures in small communities, such as the typical Maltese village. Local councils have the potential to be catalysts in the attainment of the National Sustainable Development Vision for 2050 and Malta’s share within the European Green Deal.

Organisations – ranging from the Public Service, to NGOs, non-profits, and SMEs – must formulate policies that strive for efficiency and sustainability, and make sure they are seen through.

Consider the main pollutants: energy, transport, and waste.

Energy

Organisations may adopt various measures to be sustainable, yet it is worth noting that many times financial limitations pose the greatest barriers. Apart from the conventional panels and solar water heaters, which by now should be the norm on any new building, there are many small implementations which accumulatively could make a great change, such as:

  • Switching off rooms that are not in use
  • Recycle, even if it is not part of the company policy
  • Make a compost bin – that banana peel emits methane in a landfill, adding to current problems, in a compost bin it becomes soil.
  • Buy carbon offsets (for entrepreneurs and managers) – these are companies that calculate the cost of reversing your carbon footprint
  • Use sustainable packaging and engage with green businesses.
  • Use second-hand furniture, and do note old furniture.

Transport

While it is essential, transport results in the emission of vast amounts of gases that harm the atmosphere. Through the digitalisation of business proceedings, and workplace/organisational agreements, commuting may be better managed, resulting in more sustainable use. There are many ways this can be done, like:

  • Logistics officers within organisations, check real-time traffic logistics, alternating routes as required to avoid congestion.
  • Subsidising carpooling amongst employees that live in the same localities
  • When replacing old vehicles, go green.
  • Go paperless, but this will first require IT coherence among the entire workforce.
  • Introducing “working from home”, also counts as a family-friendly measure.

Waste

A utopian society would see nothing go to waste and make use of every last atom. There are many barriers to implementing this, be they financial, or political. The CEO does not have to impose recycling on his employees, that should come from the individual. Organisations should provide clear policies for the optimal disposal of waste, and this can be done through many small actions, such as recycling, and compost.

This does not stop within, and it should not. A value such as adequate and sustainable waste management, that works, should be shared, and when financially permitted, trade should cease with those who do not show any desire to act sustainably.

Attaining nationwide targets

Rome was not built in a day, and neither will a sustainable eutopia. The statistics released year after year reflect the entire population’s actions, albeit that there are some who cause a greater degree of harm, or cases where justice turns a blind eye. Yet these are the flaws of an unsustainable society and a chapter that sooner rather than later must come to an end.

Awareness has been raised, it is no longer time to campaign politically, but it is time to take action. These were the words of a multitude of world leaders during the COP26, just as they required 400 jets to commute, emitting more fumes than 18,000 people would in a year.

The change must happen through four avenues: education, regulation, enforcement, and action.

Education

Tree saplings are often tied to a rod, in order to grow upwards and uncurved. Questions need to be asked whether educational systems and institutions are fit to invoke this change and whether those teaching are worthily equipped. Education on sustainability does not stop at an environmental level, and nor the roadmaps reviewed above. Teaching sustainability involves students acquiring knowledge and skills on efficient processes, active citizenship, home economics – including information on tax procedures, and financial self-management.

Regulations

There are laws in place, and policies too, but many laws are based on ancient and outdated philosophies that do not allow for the rapid evolution of the Maltese society. These need to be revisited and aligned with current requirements, keeping in mind the end goal.

Enforcement

A common punchline in the local media, enforcement needs a mighty boost. The job is not attractive, with policies such as a ban on tattoos and beards, strict rules, and possible financial characteristics. However, it is evident that more enforcement is needed, especially when considering the recurring headlines or illegal development, or illegal hunting, with no one around to uphold the law. A lawless place is unattractive to those who wish to maintain a clean slate, and further tarnishing of Malta’s name could see it rebranded as a cove for pirates.

The law, however, must be applied equitably and therefore consider the crime, the reason, and the perpetrator. A 23.79 EUR parking ticket would set a single parent back a couple of meals, whereas some leave them as tips. This is felt mostly on greater infringements, such as illegal development from business tycoons, to complete disregard to law and society due to having friends in high places. The punishment must fit the crime, but it must also fit the person.

Action

Policies have been published, reports released, and dramatic statements have been made. The public looks to its government for action. Make sustainability affordable, and since many only adhere to their pockets, make being unsustainable costly. Consult with the public on projects, and publish all research. Accept constructive criticism, and redevelop proposals, take everything into account, consider future generations and those of the present, assuring that their needs may be met, now and in the future. After all, that is what sustainability is all about.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and are not reflective of ‘A Bird’s Eye View’ as a whole.



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