Achieving sustainability

Last Updated on Thursday, 9 March, 2023 at 2:39 pm by Andre Camilleri

Last week I wrote an opinion piece to tout the idea of transforming the last standing open green spaces in our highly urbanised areas such as the locality of Fgura. Frankly, I never expected to receive so many private messages.

Clearly, the majority of people are not against development. However, citizens are in favour of better planning in highly urbanised areas. People told me that whatever is unbuilt, within highly urbanised areas, is at times either abandoned and used as a dumping zone, or else it is waiting for a development permit. Clearly, transforming dumping zones or dilapidated areas into parks, is a step in the right direction. However, the last standing green patches in highly urbanised areas must be saved from construction.

After the publication of my article, an academic approached me and told me that transforming such areas into green lungs would perhaps lower respiratory diseases for the communities living within the area. In fact, the ECB just published an academic paper on the effects of climate change and the economy. Preliminary results look rather ambiguous, especially on the reduction of CO2 emissions. Most of the effects of climate change and the accompanying costs will mostly be borne by poorer regions, with direct effects on migration, and food scarcity in the years to come. Also, it transpired that richer countries are already carrying the cost of past accelerated consumerism, as well as the exploitation of natural capital.  

Additionally, another reader texted me to gauge my sentiment on whether I agree on roofing the gap leading to the Santa Venera tunnels along regional road. Obviously, I replied that adding additional green spaces is on the government’s agenda, and a pledge of the party in government. Undeniably, planting additional trees, and keeping their maintenance, is also a climate change mitigation measure. However, until someone draws your attention, you do not realise how chronic the situation is when it comes to Santa Venera. And my reader gave me food for thought.

The following day, I was driving to Mater Dei hospital to accompany a relative for a day care surgery. As soon as I drove past the Santa Venera tunnels, it dawned on me how bad it must feel for the residents living just right above regional road. Honestly, I felt bad that I am contributing to the release of additional CO2 emissions. While I was waiting for my relative at the day care unit, I opened google earth to zoom on the gap of regional road area.

Indeed, if regional road is properly roofed to transform it into an additional open green space, it would definitely improve the quality of life of the residents living within the area. In fact, the project reminded me of the busy road junctions just under Parc du Cinquantenaire in Brussels. The number of cars that criss-cross Tervurenlan, is as busy as regional road. However, the matured trees as well as the architecture of the park, reduces pollution and improves the air quality of the residents living within the proximity of the junction.

Evidently, the joinery of the gap for the greening of Santa Venera area, can start from the corner of Triq Brighella up to Triq il-Kappillan Mifsud. Furthermore, there are other green patches, along the perimeter which can be annexed to enlarge the green spaces. And joining the gap of regional road from one side to another would certainly complete the town of Santa Venera.

Naturally, the reason for achieving sustainable development, is not just providing open green spaces, but also providing additional projects that produce positive externalities on society, especially by the private sector. Such a project would definitely improve people’s quality of life by mitigating respiratory connected diseases. A healthier society reduces the medical costs and provides a more productive and skilled labour force. Surely, we must rethink some neoliberal economics, and internalise the environmental costs that are currently borne by society.

Clearly, we cannot have a situation where those earning millions of euros, which is not necessarily wrong, do not compensate society with projects that produce positive externalities, especially if the development bears an external cost on society. Personally, I think that the majority of people are not against developers. However, they are against reckless construction, awful planning, and densely smothering residential areas, as well as lack of enforcements. This is why we truly need to preserve the last standing green patches, in our highly urbanised zones. And as I already outlined in my preceding opinion pieces, we are now feeling the effects of the lack of planning of the past five decades.

For instance, when I commute to work, I prefer passing from Tar-Rabbat Housing Estate in Ħamrun, to reach Mrieħel. Certainly, the area is greener relative to most of the other parts of Ħamrun. The green patches, consisting of low shrubs and plants, along the housing estate perimeter, truly makes it aesthetically pleasing. Plainly, il-Perit Dom Mintoff was way ahead of his times when he decided on the greening of housing estates.    

Undoubtedly, sustainability is not just about the environment. It is also about the circular economy, good governance, and social protection. Those investing and earning profits, must provide and care for their workers, under the Social of ESG, as much as they must care for the environment. Economic operators that utilise workers to attaint profitable investments, must provide for the sanity and safety of their employees, as well as their upskilling. What I mean by their upskilling is the notion of lifelong learning, as well as short and effective training courses that do not last a number of years to complete. Obviously, they must follow a proper curriculum. The public sector is already providing its employees with this kind of training.

Notwithstanding that I concur with the conditions of providing training courses to earn a promotion, however, we must be realistic. We must be mindful of the fact that for instance certain employees within a profession, are equipped with ample years of experience. Considering for instance the healthcare sector, it would sound uneven if we had to ask a health aid worker, with twenty-five years of experience, to attend a two-year theoretical course to be promoted to a higher scale.

Indeed, sustainability entails the rethinking of the way we have been living and behaving over the past fifty years. Truly, we must rethink our own past practices, especially for small island states. Surely, we do not afford to lose the productivity of the Maltese workers. Our territory is limited, and certainly it entails a change in our behaviour, as well as a cultural shift to achieve sustainability.  

Clint Flores is an economist

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