The Malta Independent 23 January 2020, Thursday

Thrive or collapse

Thursday, 7 November 2019, 10:16 Last update: about 4 months ago

Adrien Labaeye believes we can avoid an uncontrolled sustainability crash

“We're talking about sustainability because, right now, we are on a course where this spaceship is literally on fire and heading towards an uncontrolled crash.”

Adrien Labaeye, Sharing Cities Fellow and PhD researcher at Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, does not mince his words when it comes to the future he sees without serious action being taken by us all. But what does he understand by the term sustainability?

“Asking the question about sustainability means questioning whether our current way of life can be sustained over time,” he explains. “Are we, as humans, contributing to regenerating the life systems we are part of, or depleting them? It is time to look at our planet as a spaceship, wherein each element – from the smallest to the biggest – is interconnected and interdependent, and thus needed.”

Next week Mr Labaeye will be in Malta for the island’s inaugural Malta Sustainability Forum. There, he will talk about how urban sustainability can be achieved by citizens when they reclaim the city as a shared commons.

For Labaeye, this idea is at the centre of his life’s work. After starting his career supporting local governments to advocate internationally for local solutions to climate change, he then moved into researching the crucial role citizen-driven solutions play in a sustainability transformation. And it is this citizen-centred approach that sits at the heart of what is hoped will be achieved at the Malta Sustainability Forum.

In fact, the overarching theme at this year’s Forum is the ‘Thinking Citizen’ and its main objective is to raise awareness on the topic of sustainability among the general public, empowering Malta’s citizens to make conscious decisions towards achieving a sustainable life. And why should we strive to make these decisions?

“Because we can still avoid the crash,” Labaeye stresses. “Every piece in the puzzle of sustainability has a role to play. We will all eventually be affected by the consequences, and sadly that is already the case in many places: climate change feeds political instability and has already forced people to move. This puts established systems under pressure. It challenges us to switch from a mindset where we are afraid of not having enough, to one where we see the abundance of life and trust that sharing is the best survival strategy there is. We cannot afford to fight each other while the spaceship is burning. It’s as simple as that.” 

Co-sponsored by some of the island’s most forward-thinking businesses, namely APS Bank, PwC, GO, GasanMamo and Cool, the Malta Sustainability Forum is being held on 14 November at the West Dragonara Resort, and public tickets are still available. Mr Labaeye strongly encourages both individuals and businesses to attend.

“The situation is critical, action is needed, and it's already quite late,” he states. “But a Chinese saying goes like this: "the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now." 

The Forum is set to inspire individuals, businesses, and officials about what they can do in their private life, in their community, and in their organisation to make a positive change. But how will this inspiration make a practical difference?

“Although individual action is critical to sustainability, we should not forget that collective action is key: from the grassroots and small communities, to multi national corporations. It is hoped that this Forum will create momentum in Malta, and ignite a real discussion about where the island is headed.”

The discussion at the Forum will be inspired by and shaped around a panel of top local and international speakers will present practical cases about how to move Malta’s sustainability agenda forward. This will be followed by moderated discussions.

HE The President of Malta, Dr George Vella, will open the Forum and the keynote speech will be given by the Hon. Minister José Herrera, Minister for the Environment, Sustainable Development, and Climate Change. Other speakers will include Carl Pratt – Founder of Future Planet, Fiona Hornstein – Founder and Team Leader at Action Planet, and Suzanne Piscopo – Assistant Professor and Home Economist in the Department of Health, Physical Education and Consumer Studies in the Faculty of Education at the University of Malta. Then, in the evening, a special edition of APS Talks will feature CSR Strategist Prof Ioannis Ioannou, who will discuss the extent to which modern business organisations can contribute towards building a sustainable future.

“The entirety of the Forum promises to be powerful and transformative, and I believe it will have a very positive outcome,” Mr Labaeye continues.

“Opening the discussion of sustainability is talking about transformation: asking painful questions and allowing ourselves to reshape our collective dreams. It is about waking up to the scale of the challenge and realising that our current model of development is the fire that’s burning our spaceship. The good news is that many things in this model aren't really making us happy. Big change is always painful, but the promise of a sustainability transformation is actually happier and more fulfilling lives for all. I encourage the public to attend.”


Tickets to the Malta Sustainability Forum start at €20, including a networking lunch. To view the full agenda and register for the Forum, or for the evening APS talk, please visit




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