As the world struggles with COVID-19, the challenges of climate change and wider environmental problems loom large. It is clear that the economic response to the impact of COVID-19 must benefit the environment while plans to address climate change and environmental issues must benefit the economy and society. The only way these twin imperatives can be met is through a green revolution that transcends our economy and society.
This was our task when we both chaired the first Intelligent Planning Consultative Forum that was established by Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia. The aim of the forum was to bring together all stakeholders involved in the planning and construction sectors to start coming up with ways in which we can transform and transition planning and construction which is smart, green and sustainable.
The result of this forum and the discussions we led is the green policy document on green walls and roofs together with the recently-launched scheme by the government to incentivise such improvements.
This incentive scheme should be seen as the first step towards having greener and more sustainable buildings. The benefits of such interventions are major given that they result in low energy consumption and decreased carbon emissions while mitigating the effects of roof flooding. This happens as the green infrastructure, walls or roofs, acts as a protective layer for buildings, absorbing heat and excess water.
Additionally, the utilisation of local fauna in such projects would create various pollination havens across the island, helping to restore natural biodiversity – a key aim of the EU’s 2030 biodiversity strategy. The utilisation of Maltese fauna could have the additional benefit of requiring minimal maintenance and reduce the consumption of water.
Such initiatives also have macro effects including the creation of additional value-adding activities and green jobs. Together with other initiatives and incentives, the demand for such products could even help kickstart a whole new industry focused on green construction.
One of Malta’s biggest opportunities in the Green Deal is greening the construction sector
In fact, one of Malta’s biggest opportunities in the Green Deal is greening the construction sector which remains a significant contributor to economic growth. The EU recently launched the New European Bauhaus and, in a statement, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said that “the New European Bauhaus is about how we live better together after the pandemic while respecting the planet and protecting our environment. It is about empowering those who have the solutions to the climate crisis, matching sustainability with style”.
This is something we believe can truly support the country in its next phase of design, planning and construction. Malta and Europe have a number of common challenges. Whereas the original Bauhaus was focused on new designs, the biggest challenge we face is of renovation, regeneration and retrofitting.
We are surrounded by buildings and infrastructures, home to both embodied carbon and embedded histories. A design and architecture for this problem requires a quite different sensibility. It implies a refining in place, understanding repair and retrofit cultures and developing new logics predicated on care and maintenance.
These approaches, in line with the EU Recovery Strategy, necessitate new ways of unleashing the societal value latent in people and place. Producing anew in this way is far more challenging than simply making new things –although new things will emerge.
Malta has a unique potential in this and, if leveraged properly, we can truly kick-start a green revolution in our planning and building industries. We are confident that the new phase of the Intelligent Planning Consultative Forum will look into this and, together with the environment minister, a new era of Malta’s planning and construction industry can commence, one that is smart, green and sustainable.
The green wall and roof initiative and support scheme is a step in the right direction.
Cyrus Engerer is a Labour MEP and Stephanie Fabri is an economist and a lecturer at the University of Malta.