Tuesday, October 13, 2015
Towards a greener economy
Minister for Environment Leo Brincat recently launched the final phase of the public consultation pro-cess tied to Malta’s green economy plan. Hopefully this will lead to more sustainable policymaking and not to a green PR exercise with little follow-up, which Malta has been
accustomed to under different administrations, and especially closer to elections.
A successful green economy plan should have a mix of both ambitious medium- and long-term goals as well as practical policies that can have an immediate impact in the short-term.
Renewable and efficient energy use and proper water management should be given priority, as they link to practically all sectors of the economy. This can help reduce dependency on fossil fuels whilst tackling water supply problems which can only get worse in the years to come, if current practices persist. In the shorter term, government can make better use of its property for alternative energy use, and extraction of ground water should be properly metered and controlled.
If one looks at the environmental challenges which are clearly visible in everyday life, air pollution and construction feature prominently. In both cases, threats can be turned into opportunities.
VRT testing and on-the-road enforcement should be upgraded so that Malta’s car fleet does not remain one of the oldest in Europe. Fiscal measures to encourage replacement of heavy polluters with newer cars should be enhanced. This can have positive economic effects in terms of employment, workers’ health and efficiency. Yet, an accessible, reliable and predictable public transport system is imperative to help reduce traffic gridlock, which, in itself is an economic cost.
As regards the longer-term, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat recently announced in Parliament that the government would be looking into possibilities of an underground metro or a monorail. Malta’s green economy plan should make sure that this vision is given the importance it deserves, though his other proposal for underground roads should be discarded as it can help encourage more usage of cars.
As regards development, the construction industry can shift focus to help beautify Malta, by making better use of sites which are already built up. It is positive that the developers’ association is joining the years-old call by environmentalists to have policies that encourage the use of dilapidated properties.
Just imagine if run-down areas, such as much of the seafront from Pietà onwards to Valley Road, are rehabilitated.
Government can also increase investment and incentives for better waste management. Once again, this should be beneficial to the environment and people’s health, whilst providing jobs in the process. Such investment can be financed through a better usage of the polluters-pay principle and enforcement, but it can also be considered as public investment to have a greener Malta, to the benefit of industries such as tourism.
I have noted increased efforts by the Government when it comes to cleaning up tourist areas such as Sliema and Bugibba, but surely more is to be done.
And there is no need to think of grandiose projects which are hard to implement. Instead, there are a myriad of practical solutions such as having joint collection of waste among retailers and increased usage of new technologies to pick up certain waste such as cigarette butts and animal droppings.
Government should also ensure that there is green management in each ministry, department, authority and governmental entity, including schools and local councils. A ‘green leader’ initiative had been introduced in the public service a decade ago yet it seems to have fizzled out.
The public sector is a major supplier and purchaser of goods and services, so it should have a prominent role in a green economic plan. To date, large entities such as University of Malta, Mater Dei Hospital and health centres have poor waste recycling schemes, even though thousands of people are on site every day. The introduction of such a basic practice would not only be environmentally beneficial, but it would also provide jobs in the waste management sector.
There are a myriad of other examples, including public green procurement, which can lead the way to move towards a green economy fuelled by green jobs and sustainable policies.
Consciousness on the need for a greener economy exists. It is now time to produce a sustainable vision and to have it implemented.
Post-script: This article was written before Malta's 2016 Budget Speech. Some issues referred to in the article have been referred to in the speech, though others have been ignored. I will be writing about this in my forthcoming article in The Times of Malta, next Monday.