Environmental vs climate concerns

Last Updated on Thursday, 9 February, 2023 at 7:19 pm by Andre Camilleri

Last weekend I had the opportunity to sit down and read the European Parliament’s Eurobarometer results which covers the autumn period for the year 2022. The European Parliament’s Barometer asked respondents about the extent of their current worry in their life and those of their close ones in relation to inter alia climate change, the rising cost of living, a nuclear incident, the spread of the war outside the Ukrainian territory, as well as social exclusion and poverty.

It transpired that the top concern for the Maltese is climate change. Additionally, Malta scored high on concerns relating to the rising cost of living, a nuclear incident, the spread of the war in Ukraine, as well as social exclusion. Undoubtedly, this confirms the feeling on the ground, especially on the rising cost of living and social exclusion, which I had the opportunity to write about in the past weeks. Conversely, I have a different interpretation of climate change being a top concern for the Maltese, as the question posed to respondents seems to be rather skewed. The survey asked respondents how currently worried or not, they are, on climate change.

Unquestionably, the term climate change is quite broad and covers other related ancillary topics. Indeed, the European Central Bank just released a publication on the risks connected to climate hazards including physical risks. Furthermore, in preceding publications the ECB qualified the topic of climate change to also capture the environment, by decoupling both topics in terms of risks. Hence, the ECB classified the terms Climate and the Environment under C&E risks, specifically to ensure that it also encompasses the elements of the environment, including biodiversity loss, resource scarcity and air, deforestation, water stress and water and land pollution. On water stress, I already expressed my opinion in preceding articles. However, on resource scarcity, biodiversity loss as well as deforestation I did not have the opportunity to write and explain the concerns of the majority of people.

Clearly, in the past three years the Maltese grew quite concerned about the environment relative to the preceding decade. There are differing reasons for this concern, and two major worries that come to my mind relate to the overdevelopment, as well as the overpopulation living permanently on the Maltese islands. Equally, the causes of the covid-19 pandemic, especially lockdowns and the enforcement to stay isolated and in confinement, made people realise the importance of the environment beyond climate change. Undeniably, we shall decouple climate change concerns and environmental degradation generated through human activity. Furthermore, the EU refers to biodiversity loss and environmental degradation through the destruction of pristine land outside development zone. In tandem, the European Central Bank is discouraging banks from financing such practices, due to their direct negative effect on the environment.

Also, the financing of such projects contributes to the acceleration of climate change and poses additional reputational risks. For instance, the environmental risks cover resource scarcity, and this was also addressed in the Green Deal. In fact, one of the objectives of the Green Deal relate to the doubling of the uninhibited stock of existing dwellings in order to avoid building and eating additional virgin land away. On mainland Europe, even highly urbanised zones are being transformed into green lungs and where possible, dilapidated structures are being transformed into open green spaces in densely populated areas. Pollution is also a factor that the EU is giving great importance, and the interrelated delegated acts are still being drafted for the screening of projects and economic activities under the EU Taxonomy alignment. The same applies to deforestation and water stress, which are also limited resources in Malta like our own limited territory.  Since the opening of my social media page, I reiterated the constraints of our limited territory, which must now be shared with a higher number of locals living permanently on the Maltese islands due to the rapid increase in our imported population.   

Obviously, there are elusive zones in Malta that warrant proper identification to transform them into open green spaces. In fact, the public consultation that was launched yesterday, to identify these green spots, is quite compelling. Indeed, the Parliamentary Secretary for Local Council, Alison Zerafa Civelli is creating important awareness about the role of local councils and voluntary organisations in the community. Perhaps, we might have projects that can undo some of the concrete resting on our highly urbanised pedestrian zones. Also, I augur the Minister for the environment Dr. Miriam Dalli for a successful participation.

However, I genuinely hope that projects proposing the erection of hideous concrete structures, are excluded in the selection process. Undoubtedly, such concrete structures generate more CO2 emissions to erect them rather than they absorb, especially in the absence of the planting of matured trees, upon the completion of the project. Regrettably, I have to pass by one of these structures on a daily basis to commute to work, and in those few seconds I pretend to be visualising the Keukenhof gardens. Frankly, I also believe that we must preserve the gardens that we inherited over the past centuries, and make sure to create new ones for the benefit of our Maltese families.

Clearly, today, banks are obliged to screen clients beyond profitably and credit risk, because there is also a correlation between the destruction of natural capital and money laundering. When I wrote about the democratisation of Europe’s financial system, what I meant was that banks have an important role to play, and they are now delegated to an oversight function, especially for the screening of those economic operators that fall under very high-risk sectors. Essentially, banking practices are being remodelled to consider new emerging risks such as C&E risks, while embracing a new culture of responsible lending.

Certainly, not every project generates economic benefits and positive externalities. The economic benefits for the current and future generations, go beyond the multiplier effect and economic growth, otherwise, the country would not be pushing for the greening of our past concrete structures. Undoubtedly, we must also limit the destruction of our existing green spaces and natural capital. Similarly, the construction of additional petrol stations, while Europe is accelerating the road to decarbonisation, must seriously be reconsidered. Or else, they provide a different economic model that caters for this green transition beyond hydrocarbons.    

And while assessing the decarbonisation strategy of the continent, the EU must include the military sector within the realm of climate and environmental risks. The miliary sector is excluded. The missing data in this sector is also contributing to non-transparent disclosures and reporting, which is highly needed, if we really and truly want to transit to greener practices.

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