The pandemic could be Malta’s moment: we need to take stock now

We want to push for change. Ultimately, this can be Malta’s moment if we put all our focus on the fact that we are not facing one pandemic, but two

We need to ensure that we have the right responses and measures to help tackle the financial blow and support small and medium-sized enterprises
We need to ensure that we have the right responses and measures to help tackle the financial blow and support small and medium-sized enterprises

‘This is Europe’s moment’ were the words EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen used as the Commission’s plan for a Recovery Fund was presented during the European Parliament’s May plenary session.

The Next Generation EU recovery plan aims to address the damage caused by the pandemic and invest in a green, digital, social and more resilient EU. The funds are aimed at reaching the EU’s objectives of climate neutrality and digital transformation and to offer social and employment support.

But this could also be Malta’s moment.

The global pandemic has undoubtedly slowed down the world as we know it. Many of us stopped commuting to work, social activities stalled and economies around the world face unprecedented challenges. Malta is no exception to this.

Meanwhile, just as significantly, we are facing another unfortunate reality, with ramifications that are equally devastating. In view of the current health emergency, it is all too easy to forget that the European Parliament officially declared a climate emergency in November 2018, and we have since been living in an official state of emergency where climate change is concerned.

Before the pandemic, set in our old ways as we were, immediate and long-term solutions were not always our priority. COVID-19 sent shockwaves to our “traditional” way of doing things. This should be our opportunity to rethink methods of resistance, resilience, profitability and sustainability, in order to foolproof our future economies.

The way to get there is to make sustainability a key factor in our business models. Sustainability can no longer be a fancy word that leads nowhere but we need to pull our socks up and be innovative to introduce positive change. Small and medium sized enterprises make up the majority of Maltese businesses. One of the immediate economic consequences of COVID-19 is the sudden lack of liquidity, making banks less willing to lend money, due to increases in perceived risk.

We need to ensure that we have the right responses and measures to help tackle the financial blow and support small and medium-sized enterprises.

Since such businesses are the backbone of our local economy, we need to make sure their vulnerability is lessened in ways that can also benefit the environment. Why spend money on office space, when the space available online is so vast? Why spend time and resources travelling, when employee time can be used on actual tasks that need doing? Why build unsustainably, when space is one of our islands’ most limited resources? Why not heavily encourage investment in local agriculture, when food sovereignty is so vital to the local economy?

These times of pandemic have forced us to come up with smart solutions. We might have been abruptly forced to put them to use, but we have managed to come up with methods that work. COVID-19 has made us realize that Malta already has some of the tools it needs for sustainable living. Digitization, for example, is not a new concept to our local economy. Indeed, we pride ourselves in being innovators, striving to be a digital, modern and forward-looking nation.

On the other hand, there are aspects pertaining to our economic development that we have neglected over the years. Our local food supply is a clear example. We need to stop depending on foreign imports for the provision of food that can be produced locally, for the sake of our farmers, our nutrition, our biodiversity, our food affordability and for the sake of all those operating in the food chain.

We now need to take stock of the reality and take it a step further, by encouraging young thinkers, policy makers, innovators, people in the business community and people from all walks to life to think innovatively, with the clear understanding that economic growth should not precede our commitments, such as curbing greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. There is an economic opportunity for which we need to start planning as from today.

We need our architects, engineers and designers to consider energy efficiency as indispensable components in their work. We need investors to consider environmental sustainability as the worthiest cause for investment and we need to work hand in hand with international partners in order to improve global environmental standards. We need to seriously think of ways in which to decouple economic growth from the use of finite resources.

Such a way of thinking must no longer be considered a luxury but rather a necessity if we want to improve our lives through the very air we breathe and the food we eat.

This is precisely why together with David Xuereb, president of The Malta Chamber, Abigail Cutajar, LLED green associate at QP Design and Konrad Pule, chair of the Sustainability Malta Committee of the Malta Chamber, we are working to ensure a pathway to sustainability. We want to do this by reaching out to different stakeholders and gather different ideas.

We want to push for change. Ultimately, this can be Malta’s moment if we put all our focus on the fact that we are not facing one pandemic, but two. It can be our moment if we treat both challenges with equal measures of urgency, common will and innovation, for our sake and that of generations to come.

Miriam Dalli, David Xuereb, Abigail Cutajar and Konrad Pule have come together with a common goal: to ensure a pathway to sustainability. The objective of this opinion is to bring on board more stakeholders

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