In the first 48 hours of the election campaign we saw the Labour Party come out in full force explaining very ambitious proposals on the environment. One can say that now we are used to the fact that what is announced in the first hours or days of an election campaign will probably be the biggest ambition of that party for the next five years.
One can therefore conclude that the environment will be a key pillar of another Labour legislature.
The response of the people to these proposals was varied; many people enthusiastically accepted these proposals while others have been sceptical of how feasible they are, or whether a new Labour government truly implement this plan.
I will not hesitate to tell you that I understand this feeling of scepticism, because we have been saying for decades that the environment must be a priority but we have often seen the opposite being done.
So now on the eve of the election why should we believe that the Labour Party will deliver on what it is promising?
The first clear signs in this environmentally-conscious direction could be observed from at least mid-last year. I remember a strong speech by the Prime Minister in Għajnsielem where he said that the challenges of climate change will be at least tenfold as difficult when compared to the challenges we have faced during to the pandemic.
One can conclude that the environment will be a key pillar of another Labour legislature.
I remember the Prime Minister saying that the challenges of climate change will be dealt with the same courage and determination that the pandemic is being dealt with.
At the same time that the Prime Minister was giving this speech, the policy team at Fondazzjoni Ideat, the political think tank within the Labour Party, was working on a Policy Document with a number of environmental proposals that were studied in detail and discussed with a number of stakeholders.
Among these proposals were the need to create green urban spaces, the need to create underground communal car parks on the outskirts of our villages and hence the need to convert our village cores into pedestrian areas where communities thrive and interact. These proposals were very well received, so much so that they were even discussed more than once in different party structures. Today these proposals are an important part of what the party is presenting to the electorate.
Why am I saying this? Definitely not to take credit for these proposals because I am convinced that the large team of people who worked on the electoral manifesto went into more detail about these proposals than we did.
What is now certain is that nowadays the Labour Party welcomes a large number of people for whom the environment is a priority, these people not only have space to talk but what they propose is taken seriously.
Nowadays the Labour Party welcomes a large number of people for whom the environment is a priority.
It is also certain that various consultative exercises within the party have been undertaken in recent years, including the 100 Idea initiative, all of which you can say came up with similar proposals, even if it was ensured that different people participate in the various exercises.
Therefore, one can easily see how within today’s Labour Party one finds many people who share consistent ideologies, even more so when it comes to the environment.
The last budget presented by the government is another clear proof of the environmental direction that this Party has taken. We all want overdevelopment to be controlled. Many have spoken out about how this should be done. We have even heard restrictive proposals such as moratoria on new permits.
In the same document I mentioned earlier, Fondazzjoni Ideat had presented proposals to incentivise the purchase and restoration of vacant properties and properties in village cores. Such proposals are intended to calibrate the demand vs supply formula by diversifying market demand. It is only natural that the market will react and the supply of new buildings will decline. We all know that these proposals were an important part of the last budget presented and a lot more people are now interested in purchasing and restoring vacant and dilapidated buildings.
I cannot help but mention how projects on undisturbed spaces, such as the one at the American University in Żonqor, the Marina Project in Marsaskala and the Marsaxlokk Civic Centre Local Council project have been stopped or revised to mitigate the environmental impact. I was one to speak openly about against these projects from day one.
If I take the Marsaxlokk project as an example, I remember speaking to the Prime Minister in an event in San Ġwann last December. This was a project being proposed by the Local Council rather than the government, so he could have easily said he is powerless. What struck me is how he made his position against this development clear immediately without mincing his words, that this project contrasts what this party wants to do in the next five years and a solution must be found.
As you can see, this party’s commitment to the environment was clearly evident in the last months of the recently ended legislature, even if it was not bound by an electoral manifesto, let alone now that this party is committing itself black on white with a number of ambitious and definite proposals.
Therefore, because of the fact that I am convinced of the consistency of thought within the leadership of this party, I do believe that a new Labour government has all the necessary credentials to finally bring about much needed positive environmental change.
Brian Scicluna is Digital Transformation Consultant by profession and Vice Chairperson of Fondazzjoni IDEAT