On the environment, we can no longer leave anything to chance

Construction is important for the Maltese economy… but for the sake of economic and social sustainability, it is time planning policies start factoring an eco-system approach

I was struck when young students who went to visit the Prime Minister a few days ago, spoke to journalists on the importance of a better environment and more green spaces. They said that this is what they wanted their Prime Minister to take action on.

Despite their young age, these children are aware – and concerned – about green sustainability in Malta.

As the minister responsible for the environment, climate change and planning, I feel it is my duty to ensure that the children and families of today and tomorrow live in the environment they deserve.

These “green” challenges are not only faced by our nation, but by all developed economies experiencing high economic growth across the globe. This has been widely stated during this week’s Davos meeting which highlighted the need for a new economic model which placed sustainability and the environment at the centre. This is also going to be highlighted during the project launched by Pope Francis, ‘The Economy of Francesco’ which seeks to realign the environmental interests within the current economic paradigm.

The challenge ahead of us is not small. Globally, urban environments occupy just 3% of the Earth’s land area, yet they are responsible for 75% of greenhouse emissions.

Studies have shown that one of the main barriers towards environmental sustainability is the lack of communication and co-operation between the stakeholders involved in spatial planning, the lack of understanding of the complexity involved in the sector, and government policies based on short-term goals.

Therefore, it was in good judgement that the Prime Minister combined the areas of planning and environment in one portfolio.

After experiencing significant growth in construction over the past years, the combination of these two interrelated areas is imperative at this point in time.

The construction industry is important for the Maltese economy generating value-added, employment and wealth creation. It has supported the creation of a new economic fabric. But for the sake of economic and social sustainability, it is time that policies related to planning start factoring an eco-system approach to planning. These policies should consider the complex setting within which planning takes place, by looking closely at the interplay between the environmental, economic, and social factors in a concurrent manner.

Based on the complexity of this ecosystem, I believe that it is my duty as a newly appointed minister to dig deep into the issues that presently define the two areas and the overlap between them. By cooperating with all stakeholders, I intend to devise a holistic vision and strategy for spatial planning in Malta and Gozo. This strategy will incorporate urban planning and management on a large scale and will definitely take into consideration the impact of such planning on the environment and climate change, as well as on people’s daily lives and struggles.

Striking a balance is necessary in order to ensure planning and development sustainability, which would translate to sustainable jobs. To this end, the strategy needs to aim at capitalising on the synergies between the environment, society, the economy, and development. This can only be attained after a thorough analysis on the strengths, opportunities, weaknesses and threats of the current planning situation.

Needless to say the environment presents both challenges and opportunities and it is up to us to find the opportunities in the challenges.

A case in point is waste management. We all know that Malta is currently facing a number of challenges in this area, especially when one speaks of construction waste. With space available for such waste in its limit, we need to embark on a national strategy on how to manage such waste, by, among others, including advanced concepts of re-use and recycling. The path towards a circular economy needs to start and it is part of our vision for this portfolio.

Other opportunities exist in the sector. On an international level, the Blue economy is gaining more traction. Being an island state, Malta is well-placed to not only pioneer this area but to act as a regional hub to attract the prototyping of new technologies. There is a vast portfolio of international and European funds in this area, and I believe that if we take an ecosystem approach and build on the synergies between different sectors including finance, technology, blockchain and maritime, Malta can carve its own niche.

The European Green Deal, President von Der Leyen’s ambitious project, is a deal we want to achieve for future generations. While together with other Member States we want to commit for a greener future, we look forward to partake in the trillion Euro investment across Europe to achieve the ambitious targets. We look forward to work hand-in-hand with Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans, a friend, to make a success for Europe’s children.

We are at a stage in the development of our country where we cannot leave anything to chance. Rash decisions simply to appease one sector of society or another can hurt us in the long term when considering the economic eco-system that we have built in the past few years. That is why we need to talk less, plan wisely and act for the long-term benefits of our country.

A balance can be achieved. But only if we all realise that the future of those concerned students who met the Prime Minister in his first days in office, lies on the decisions we make today. We won’t allow it to be too late.

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