The bureaucratic and rigid nature of State structuresat times serves as animpediment for changes required for more sustainable policymaking.
This may range from work practices that are not in synch with today’s needs to the lack of cross-governmental cooperation for sustainable change. For example, if the ministry responsible for sustainable development and climate change is obliged to promote environmental policies, how is this linked to the workings of ministries responsible for social policy, local councils, lands and tourism, to name a few?
A group of scholars of global influence known as the ‘new economists’ of the Green New Deal group believe that economy and environment are mutually related and can create green jobs in both public and private sectors.
Yet, very often, the dominant discourse put forward by State entities is that job creation and economic growth are twin gods which no one can question. But here one can argue that growth can and should be sustainable and that there are other indicators that should be taken into consideration. For example, should welfare policy only look at unemployment rates and welfare dependency or should it also look at other factors, ranging from free time to precariousness and from stress levels to access to open spaces?
With regard to the latter example, I was recently very pleased to note that the newly-opened playground at the lower level of Salini Park is accessible to the public, free of commercialisation and free of wasteful and costly turf. This is an example of a win-win situation in various aspects, free from the pressures of those who stand to gain should commercial factors have been given priority over everything else.
Governmental policymaking will have to face challenges even if populist politicians decide to ignore them
Sustainable policymaking would therefore extend the debate and propose policies related to self-actualisation, lifestyle and non-material considerations. A more holistic approach will go beyond the territorialism and conservative entrenchment of individual entities and will instead aim for an intersection of State and non-government entities – from local councils to NGOs - involved in areas such as education, health, environment, transport and community, among others.
Such an approach would also aim to unite theory with practice. For example, the University of Malta has an abundance of courses, research and structures related to sustainable policymaking, yet, when it comes to its own operations, the same University is a poor player.
Its lack of a green waste management policy is a striking example in this regard. Students learn about the benefits of recycling, reusing and reducing waste, however, the only bring-in sites which exist are at the periphery of the University. Still, thousands make use of the premises every day, resulting in plentiful waste ranging from plastic food containers to paper.
Hopefully, Malta’s transition to a circular economy will ensure that all sectors of society are responsible for their waste.
Sooner or later, governmental policymaking will have to face challenges even if populist politicians decide to ignore them for the time being. For example, environmental taxation is likely to be increasingly required to discourage unsustainable practices.
Besides, governments may opt for a mix of other policies. These may include mandatory behaviour change, incentives and/or education. Once again, the circular economy process, which is undergoing public consultation, can serve as an interesting example in this regard.
Another challenge has to do with quality of jobs. The Minister of Tourism recently stated that he will be looking into the quality of jobs in the erstwhile booming tourism sector. Indeed, this is an example where the benefits of economic growth are not being shared equitably.
Yet another challenge – a most pressing issue of our times - is trying to match up the identity of citizens with responsibilities and rights with the increasingly influential identity of consumer.
And, finally, given that many sustainability challenges have a global dimension, a global response is required to confront them. More, and not less, Europe can be one important step in this direction.
Michael Briguglio is a sociologist.