Playing our part in the ecological transition | Aaron Farrugia, Miriam Dalli

We cannot ignore the consequential rise in pollution... such reversal is only possible through an ecological transition that recognizes the value of ecosystem services

One of the very few things we can claim to have absolute control over is our own behaviour. This is a notion that transcends many disciplines and also applies to discussions about climate change and the importance of safeguarding our natural environment. When we fail to do so, we actively harm our socio-economic fabric. In fact, such consequences are being felt right now.

Whilst wellbeing has risen to the top of every country’s agenda, the toll of ecosystem-depletion manifests itself in poorer air quality, scarce water resources and a lack of open spaces. In view of all this, we have the power to change our behaviour in remits such as the energy sector, transport, construction, waste and agriculture. We have the power to formulate policies and communicate a vision that encourages investors to find new opportunities and plan for a better economic future.

Prime Minister Robert Abela has set climate action and environment as one of the five major pillars of the Government’s vision for the country’s present and future. Of course, policy direction needs to be coupled with actions and appropriate regulation, using an approach that rewards good practice and discourages damaging ones. We need to act decisively, taking immediate action in the context of a vision that spans beyond electoral terms.

As with any transition, the road ahead is a challenging yet necessary one which can only be traversed if we put our individual agendas aside and work towards the common good. Political parties, industry, and business representatives, environmental NGOs, civil society – the gauntlet has been thrown.

It is a vision that needs to be fulfilled by 2050... and 30 years is not as far away as one may think.

We must direct our economy towards becoming decarbonized, circular, and green. Malta’s Low Carbon Development Strategy provides us with a vision towards gradual decarbonisation. The costs to be borne are an investment in the future of present and upcoming generations.

There are investment opportunities related to decarbonizing our economy, be they in new technologies and systems as well as in new financing models, such as the use of green bonds in order to facilitate such investments. Financial markets have never been as ripe as they are today to incentivize borrowing as an investment vehicle for stimulating and transitioning current economies to greener pastures.

In addition to this, we need to change our consumption patterns and educate ourselves to move away from the current take-make-dispose model of production. Instead, we should reward initiatives that extend the use of products that are already available and discourage the use of virgin, natural resources. For far too long, we have failed to recognize the true cost of natural resources which are seldom factored into their retail price. For circularity to prevail, we need to level the playing field by recognizing the limits and true worth of natural resources.

We will also work towards a better planning framework to make our built environment more supportive of ecosystem services and mitigate the impact of development. The introduction of green and blue infrastructure will ensure that the microclimate of our built environment will improve, for the benefit of all. Why should the built environment exclude green spaces? A green urban environment will contribute to enhanced wellbeing and target energy efficiency, reducing consumption and increasing savings; water resources conserved rather than becoming the source of devastating flooding and heat island effects offset by improved microclimates.

Until the primary metrics of progress remain the various economic parameters, such as the increase in gross domestic product, we will not see tangible change. This is proving to be a short-sighted approach as we gradually compromise our resilience to expected or unexpected shocks.

This health pandemic has demonstrated serious vulnerabilities in our socio-economic model which has been kept afloat through substantial government investments. This is the time to learn our lessons and drive a cultural change that transcends generations. It is high time for us to stop debating whether climate predictions will manifest themselves and commit to a tangible, sustainable, ecological transition that will not only redress the current imbalance between economic growth and our natural environment, but which will bring with it a fresh wave of green, economic stimulus. Indeed, there is a way in which we can engineer such a transition without punitive consequences.

We need a new sustainable model that breaks with that which has prevailed to date, and which redefines the way we consume, produce, work, and live together. More of the same will lead to a depletion of critical resources, weakening our economic prosperity. Climate change can itself provoke a crisis of its own, not least in terms of climate migration, food security and the availability of essential natural resources such as water. This can only lead to social tensions which in turn contribute to economic instability.

So far, for all the good that economic prosperity brings with it, one cannot ignore the consequential rise in pollution in the forms of an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, waste generated and environmental degradation, to mention a few.

We need to reverse these trends. And such reversal is only possible through an ecological transition that recognizes the value of ecosystem services and which strives to strengthen them for our own wellbeing.

As with any transition, the road ahead is a challenging yet necessary one which can only be traversed if we put our individual agendas aside and work towards the common good. Political parties, industry, and business representatives, environmental NGOs, civil society – the gauntlet has been thrown.

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