The Malta Independent 20 April 2024, Saturday
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Sustainable development 2050

Michael Briguglio Thursday, 5 January 2023, 07:59 Last update: about 2 years ago

In my previous article in The Malta Independent, I presented a specific proposal in relation to Malta’s public consultation for sustainable development goals by 2050.  In this article I wish to discuss a bigger picture, related to Malta’s political ecology.

Malta’s economic model is one which is very much fuelled by a treadmill of land development, which, in turn, snowballs into other impacts, ranging from generation of employment and opportunities in various sectors related directly or indirectly to development of land, to environmental hazards and stresses. As things stand, it seems that Malta’s robust population growth in the past decade, generated through importation of workers rather than a high fertility rate, has been providing both labour supply as well as demand for commodities in Malta’s economy.

Big business companies are very much involved in this economic model, but this alone cannot explain its political impact and support. Indeed, I believe that one reason to explain Labour’s hegemony is to understand how it enabled people from the middle and working classes to participate in the dream of economic growth, where everyone could invest in property development due to a more liberal planning regime. Hence, the developmental landscape is being filled up not only by high-rises and mega-projects, but also by the building of extra storeys here and there on other types of property, commodification of public space, and so forth. A major class contradiction in this set-up is between the big majority who own property, and the growing minority who do not.

Whether we like it or not, we are all on this economic treadmill together, because if it collapses it will likely have a domino effect on various satellite industries as well as on the investments of many people.

And here comes the golden question: Can this economic model, highly dependent on development of land, actually fail? So far, many of us complain about the ramifications of overdevelopment but keep trusting this model. At the same time, its physical limitations are becoming increasingly evident, especially since Malta’s population grew by 20% in a decade. Should Malta keep importing workers/consumers to keep feeding its economic model?

In view of economic overdependence on the development of land as well because of its social and environmental impacts, I would urge the Government to ensure that sustainable development is not simply a ‘project’ of a Ministry among a myriad of other projects, but that it is mainstreamed across the policy process. In particular, more effort is required to help increase diversification and the greening of Malta’s economy. This is imperative in terms of trying, as much as possible, to manage upcoming risks and opportunities, including one which are possibly as yet unknown. If we go back just a few years, which Government would have imagined the ramifications of Covid and Russia’s war on Ukraine?

On the other hand, we do know that we will face challenges related to climate change. At the same time this can provide opportunities to build our resilience. I just hope that this does not produce yet another report or plan which will likely be forgotten once another Minister, with their own priorities, not least of their own political constituents, is appointed. A plan for sustainable development would thus benefit more from a ‘continuity approach’, a work-in-progress, which can be refined by successive governments. This would require evidence-based policy processes, impact assessments, and constant deliberation, rather than one-off media events which are largely forgotten as soon as another Minister takes over.

Dr Michael Briguglio is a sociologist and senior lecturer at the Department of Sociology, University of Malta


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