The Malta Independent 20 April 2024, Saturday
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The new green logic

Michael Briguglio Thursday, 2 February 2023, 07:50 Last update: about 2 years ago

In these past days, the Government announced the availability of hundreds of millions of Euros for green development and urban regeneration. At the same time, it was announced that Malta will be benefitting from a 2.2 Billion Euro budget, which, among others, includes an environmental element in relation to areas such as Natura 2000 sites, water management and energy.

One highlight which is being promoted is the setting up of the ‘Project Green’ agency, which is responsible for a 700 million Euro budget over 7 years on green projects. These include afforestation, land reclamation for open/green spaces, regeneration of spaces which are abandoned, urban greening, carparks, and so forth. This expenditure may also include Government’s purchase or rental of private property for public use, as well as initiatives such as the publicised ‘Community Greening Grant’, where 10 million Euro will be at the disposal of local councils, NGOs, schools and other organisations to create or enrich green spaces. Here, it is pertinent to note that, according to Times of Malta (31 January), NGOs have raised concerns they do not have the time or resources to apply for the grant, even due to its short deadlines.  

Government has also announced other major initiatives, such as infrastructural investment in the Grand Harbour area, estimated to cost 180 million Euro, which has been on the cards under different administrations.

Government’s expenditure plans can be seen as a continuation of the Keynesian economic model which has been in place in the past years in relation to hefty public capital investment, especially on roads. One important piece of logic of such investment is that government is a main protagonist in the creation of jobs and economic growth.

At the same time, the State has also been pushing a neoliberal model based on construction and development of private initiatives, which is very much sustained by a hefty increase in Malta’s population, mainly through the importation of workers/consumers. On paper, we can all participate in such development by investing in property, courtesy of a highly permissive planning regime. In other articles in this newspaper I dubbed this as a ‘treadmill of land development’ and questioned its sustainability.  

But let us go back to Government’s projects referred to before this short detour. Government’s public expenditure plans are very much in synch with the logic of ecological modernization, which assumes that the economy can keep growing, this time in a green direction, which, at the same time benefits from support by the European Union within a context of climate change goals, the Green Deal, and so forth.  

At face value, it is positive that greening is now a declared priority of the Labour Government. It is also positive, that as far as ‘Project Green’ is concerned, we are being told that there will be public consultation on development plans. But let us play the devil’s advocate and highlight various challenges which do not seem to feature in Government’s discourse.

First, can we protect what is already there? On this matter, ADPD has highlighted the contradiction of making various green promises, whilst Malta’s environment is under siege courtesy of car-centred development, supermarkets, loss of open spaces, and so forth. A recent example of this is Government’s insistence of privatising open-spaces (such as Sliema’s Chalet), which offer relief amid the hustle-and-bustle.

Second, what does government mean by public consultation? I hope that this is not the ‘transactional’ type of consultation which we are used to, where everyone can write to Government, but lobbies (whether through public noise or behind-the-scenes networking) seem to be more equal than others. Instead, we should have more of a deliberative consultation model. Along these lines, in last Sunday’s Malta Independent, new MCESD Chairperson David Xuereb has also highlighted the importance of discussion with social partners. Others, such as the Malta Sociological Association (which I am form part of) are regularly appealing to government to mainstream social impact assessments as ongoing exercises during the entire policy process.

Third, a short comment about the spectre of ‘gigantism’. To date, different Governments in our small-island state have given disproportionate value to the growth generated by mega-projects, but have given much less attention to nuisances, inconvenience, and everyday needs along-the-way. A greening project in a country of sub-standard pavements is self-contradictory.

 

Dr Michael Briguglio is a Sociologist and Senior Lecturer at the University of Malta www.michaelbriguglio.com

 

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