The Malta Independent 20 April 2024, Saturday
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The environment and Malta’s 2022 elections

Michael Briguglio Thursday, 17 March 2022, 06:13 Last update: about 3 years ago

Earlier this month, a coalition of environmental nongovernmental organisations (ENGOs) published nine environmental demands for the 2022 election. These were addressed to political parties and candidates, whose feedback was in turn requested.

The ENGO demands focused on governance, climate change, sustainable mobility, urban development, rural policy, habitat and biodiversity, marine areas, agriculture and food systems, and waste management respectively. They were put together by

BirdLife Malta, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar, Friends of the Earth Malta, Nature Trust-FEE Malta, Ramblers Association of Malta, and endorsed by Extinction Rebellion Malta, Għawdix, Moviment Graffitti, Rota, The ‘ Grow 10 Trees’ Project, Wirt Għawdex, Żminijietna – Voice of the Left.

Some days later, the front representing the ENGOs stated that the electoral manifestos of the main political parties largely ignored key areas of habitat loss, biodiversity and marine areas.

As regards the former, the ENGOs asserted that investment in public gardens, though important, has nothing to do with nature and biodiversity. They added that promises related to Outside Development Zones require changes in planning policies, which are riddled with loopholes. They mentioned their disappointment that bird protection laws and enforcement are not within the remit of the Environment and Resources Authority.

As regards the latter, the ENGOs observed how there seems to be no plan on the management, protection and conservation of the sea, which is ‘our biggest natural resource’. As an academic I must emphasize that whilst the University of Malta is investing resources in researching maritime matters, many environmental, social and economic issues within this sphere are not being given the importance they deserve by political actors.

The fact that ENGOs are presenting a united front on their respective proposals is in itself most welcome, especially when one considers the various obstacles they find along their ways. At the same time, whilst ENGOs are major stakeholders in environmental policy, there are other stakeholders in the field, which, again, have much to say about policy making in this regard. These include academic, professional, business, local and community stakeholders, among others. Besides, the environment isn’t only about what makes the most spectacular news headlines.

And this takes me precisely to the crux of my article. I have the impression that various environmental policies presented at election time by political parties are half-baked. Here I am referring even to proposals, which, on paper look positive. But they should be there for discussion, and not as an be-all-end-all. For example it is ridiculous that whilst one party proposes a particular mass public transport policy, another one proposes something different, rather than trying to deliberate on what would be best for the country.

From a perspective of sustainable development, it would make much more sense if policies are articulated through an organic step-by-step manner, rather than presented as quickfix solutions on billboards. This would include exploring various options, deliberating with various stakeholders, and subjecting the initial proposals to studies such as environment impact assessments and social impact assessments before presenting them as something which is cast in stone and which immediately excludes other options. Of course, this deliberative type of policymaking does not fit the style of snackable political marketing.

I also find it ironic that whilst we live in a small island state, we often resort to gigantism in policy proposals whilst ignoring immediate concerns. Thinking small does not seem to fit the narrative of bombastic press conferences. But in the meantime, people’s everyday lives are riddled by environmental nuisances such as inaccessible pavements, noise pollution and zero enforcement. The ‘Cinderella’ status of such policies has been the case under different governments.

As far as national elections go, the environment has to compete with other areas, concerns and issues that motivate voters. Apart from the degree of validity of the respective proposals by the political parties, big and small, one would also need to take into account which party is most likely to carry out such policies. Here one needs to factor considerations such as trustworthiness, credibility, electability and so forth. Not to mention behind-the-scenes transactions related to political networks, financing and influence.

 

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