The Malta Independent 9 December 2019, Monday

‘Sustainability should be ingrained in society’ – President George Vella

Sunday, 10 November 2019, 09:00 Last update: about 28 days ago

Ahead of his opening address at this week’s Malta Sustainability Forum, President George Vella says he hopes people will realise – as a matter of urgency – the importance of sustainability. Jo Caruana writes

On Thursday, His Excellency President George Vella will make the opening speech at the first ever Malta Sustainability Forum in which he will stress how crucial sustainability is to long-term success – both economically and in the wider concept of humanity.

“I would not pin down sustainability to any particular point in a country’s development,” he explains. “This is a concept that should be ingrained at all levels of society – at all times. This is also a complex, multifaceted ideal that should be assessed at the level of the individual and his role in society, the community itself and the nation, as well as at a global level.”

In the Maltese context, the President says he feels very strongly about the balance that needs to be found between the growth in real estate and the preservation of the natural environment, along with the pressures on our resources due to Malta’s growing population.

“On the plus side, I am increasingly pleased that the term has become a buzzword,” he continues. “Appreciation of this concept has reached the grass roots – our youth, workers, parents and schools. This is the only way to speak of real, effective change.

“I am often impressed, during my visits to schools and contact with the younger generations, by how conscious they are of the need for sustainability. I am frequently told by the children themselves that they reprimand their older relatives at home when it comes to not wasting water, separating waste and switching extra lights off.

“We should continue speaking, as much as possible, of sustainability and introduce the idea in horizontal discussions involving not only the pertinent authorities but also the business communities, civil society, professional classes and so on. This is, after all, something that touches each and every one of us.”

In his role as President, Dr Vella says sustainability is a theme he tries to reflect in most of his public statements, be they domestic or during his foreign engagements. “I still carry, very vividly, the knowledge and expertise I garnered during my Ministerial post some years back, when I was responsible for the Environment together with Foreign Affairs, and am very conscious of the pitfalls entailed by inaction on environmental and climate change issues.

“I feel very strongly about the preservation and protection of our oceans, pollutants and single-use plastics, to mention but a few, and am always willing to extend my patronage to – or, indeed, participate directly in – events that target environmental sustainability.

“I am aware that sustainability, in the broadest interpretation of the word, also includes the economy, social stability and development and, ultimately, positive change. Of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, about half are directly linked to the protection of the environment, while the other half will not be achieved if environmental parameters are not respected.”

The President stresses the fact that unless society introduces the concept of sustainability in its actions on a daily basis, then future generations will face a very bleak outlook. “There is no middle way of saying this,” he continues. “And I do not only mean this in the environmental sense. If, at a global level, we do not think in sustainable terms, we will be looking at weaker economies, random, unpredictable growth patterns and increasing instability.

“Beyond that, business can only really thrive in a stable environment. Short-term planning does not work for successful business as much as it does not work for a sustainable society. Resources are not limitless and markets are very susceptible to change: long-term, sound visions, developing hand-in-hand with a strategy for sustainability, are therefore necessary. Once again, in today’s world, no challenge can be taken in isolation from any other.”

As for his concerns from a local perspective, His Excellency says these are very much in tune with those of the population at large – the preservation of the natural environment, striking a balance between the consequences of an economic boom and the country’s limited natural resources.

“From a social perspective, I worry greatly about the well-being of the more vulnerable members of society: those who cannot make ends meet at the end of the month due to rising rents. I come across these realities at times, during my meetings with the public, and I have made the eradication of poverty one of the objectives of my Presidency.

“Then there is the ‘sustainability’ of current discourse on migration and ‘the other’ coming from abroad. I am deeply concerned about the rising trend in intolerance and the way this is being propagated, especially on social media. The individuals spreading such narrative are doing a great disservice to society.

“At the cost of being utopic, my hopes are rooted in the aspiration for all people – Maltese and foreign alike – to enjoy a healthy and balanced sense of well-being in a secure environment, controlled by the rule of law and respect for law enforcement officers. It is one that ranges from financial stability, accountable and modernised institutions, efficient health and education services, and ambitions for their future. This requires Government, political actors, civil society and NGOs to work in tandem. A lot has been achieved, but a lot more needs to be done.”

With this in mind, Dr Vella is enthused by this week’s Forum and looks forward to addressing it. “This is the first Forum of its kind in Malta and I am very keen to give my contribution to the discussion – as President of the Republic, and, above all, as a citizen. I find the theme ‘The Thinking Citizen’ very appealing, as it immediately shows that this will not be an event where speakers talk and the audience merely listens. The onus is placed on the responsible individual, and this is an approach I very much like.”

He sees the Forum as the perfect platform for the public – from every walk of life – to address their concerns and goals out in the open, and in a structured fashion. “We need more opportunities of this kind to learn to constructively discuss issues that affect our well-being and that of future generations. These events are small but important steps in changing the mentality towards a better appreciation of sustainability.

“I hope this will be the first of many debates of this nature. It should not be a one-off occasion but a motivating agent for similar discussions to be held on a number of other pressing matters that impinge on our environmental, economic and social well-being.

“I commend the organisers for having taken the initiative to launch this discussion and for the range of themes identified. I hope the sessions are as interactive as possible and that everyone’s voice is heard. Finally, I hope such fora will help people realise the importance of sustainability, especially in environmental matters, and acknowledge the harm being done to this cause by those who deny the impact of human activity to climate change.”

 

The general public is invited to attend the Malta Sustainability Forum, and tickets are available at:  maltasustainabilityforum.com.  The Forum will run from 11am until 4.30pm, with a networking lunch at 1pm. A special edition of the APS Talks series will take place after the Forum, addressed by sustainability and CSR Strategist Prof. Ioannis Ioannou. Further details and combination tickets are available on the website.

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