A fair and just green transition

An unprecedented ecological and social crisis has emerged in our times, which will cause a 1.5°C increase in Earth’s temperature, less than a decade away. A green transition is needed, now more than ever. This calls for a rethinking of our resource-intensive lifestyles which is exhausting Earth’s finite resources.

During the Great Acceleration era (1945 till present-day), an increase in human activity due to a booming global population has led to freshwater use trebling, energy use increasing sevenfold, and fertilizer use booming tenfold. This is threatening the stable ‘Goldilocks’ geological epoch, the Holocene. Ecologists, now argue that we have drifted to uncharted territory – the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene is shaped by human activity, and thus the ball is in our court to act decisively.

The EU, under the Von der Leyen administration, has published its Green Deal, to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement and opt for sustainability. The Green Deal is an ambitious plan, which follows a series of damaging austerity politics – therefore the green transition needs to be just, sustainable and grassroot oriented, leaving no one behind. Currently, 92.4 million people in the EU-27, including 97 thousand people in Malta, live at risk-of-poverty. Globally, 1 in 9 do not have enough to eat and 1 in 4 live on approximately €2.50 daily. This comes during an era of prioritising GDP growth at all costs, though these socioeconomic issues remain. Thus, we need to change the goal of calculating economic activity success towards human wellbeing.

Currently, 92.4 million people in the EU-27, including 97 thousand people in Malta, live at risk-of-poverty.

Behaviourism and societal attitudes are catalyst for sustainable development. Edward Bernays, the nephew of well-known psychologist Sigmund Freud, known as the father of ‘public relations’ stated that our own minds are modelled, and our tastes are formed by people we never know or heard of – constituting a hegemonic culture dominating our lifestyle and choices, as we often believe that the choices pursued will provide us with power and freedom. This is often the case in Malta, associating products such as cars with these attributes.

It is therefore important for a green transition to be founded upon this, and going beyond imposing extra costs and prices, as often is the case with classical economists, altering behaviour through empowering fitting alternatives. In the case of the vehicle-centred mentality in Malta, a behavioural shift occurs through promoting public transport, making it more efficient and accompanied by encouraging cycling through more cycling infrastructure.

Furthermore, Malta needs to address this through better grassroot local planning, eventually extending to national planning, which prioritises pedestrians in village cores and alternative modes of transportations, to reduce toxic emissions in cities and villages.

Another aspect of a green transition is to adopt standards for zero-carbon households, especially with the current real estate boom. Presently, the ‘Green your Home’ scheme, provides monetary aid for green facades, walls, and green restoration. However, other potential policies include adequate standards for mandatory insulation to absorb the sun’s heat during the winter seasons, and minimize it in summer, leading to more energy efficiency within homes. Furthermore, spurring renewable energy investments in households is key.

From solar panels, which avail from governmental subsidies, to the possibility of home-scale wind turbines. These will reduce the carbon footprint of households further, if public transport, environmental-friendly cars, and cycling are utilized. These green measures must be adopted to social housing, through modification, or implemented in new projects, to adhere to a just transition and assuring everyone has a safe and warm home, without damaging future generations.

A fair transition is also crucial, ensuring that no one is left behind, combatting inequalities. Our task is to reorganise our societies, making them sustainable and just, providing a high-quality life for everyone. This can be done by creating new green jobs and incentivise industries’ green transition, and through redistributive mechanisms, not just through income redistribution, though wealth redistribution too. It is also important to have a regenerative economy, align with the EU’s proposal of a circular economy. This can be pursued with various polices, such as the concept of a universal basic income, job guarantees and bottom-up progressive approaches to combat societal issues.

We can find inspiration in our past generations who struggled for the emancipation of the working-classes and lower classes in Malta, from the ‘Old Age Pensions Act’ (1948), to free education for all, paving the way to the Welfare State we now enjoy. Now, it is up to us to convert the biggest threat of our times, into an opportunity for a sustainable, fair, and just future. The success of such a transition will be measured by the progress made by the weakest members of society, now and in the near future.

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