Les Assises de l’environnement: A laudable initiative

By Seewon Seeruttun

A two-day workshop was held at the Caudan Arts Centre to assess the situation, the obstacles hindering implementation of existing instruments and the actions required to address climate change and other environmental issues. It brought together public and private sector professionals, NGO representatives, civil society, the press and other environment stakeholders. The national consultation was a laudable effort so soon after the new government has taken over, and more so because the Minister of Environment, fresh from the COP 25, attended the sessions to get a sense at firsthand of the pulse of society.

He has extended the possibility of the public to make proposals, suggestions and comments on the environment issue, which concerns all sectors and activities, to his ministry until the 15 January 2020 (addressed to menv@govmu.org) by those present as well as those not present there, as it was not possible to invite every citizen at the formal exercise.

The youth, including those with diverging opinions, were given the chance to speak up and contribute. One member of the AKNL proposed in a very patriotic tone that they want to help the Minister to make the country more resilient to climate change and other environment related issues. The representatives of ‘Fridays for Future Mauritius’, who are very conscious of the threats posed by climate change to their future and are full of ideas, also mentioned the lack of response from ministries to their correspondence.

We proposed that the outcome document of the workshop be published on the ministry’s website, to allow response, while avoiding issues already raised. An enormous range of ideas was exchanged, but as many know and a few mentioned it, including a consultant in environment matters, most of these issues (and many more not even raised here) have already been studied. For example, in the extensive consultations under the MID (Maurice Ile Durable) and other projects, solutions proposed and never implemented. He also mentioned that these issues are scientific and national, and should have been considered irrespective of governments.

We have listed below some of the major issues raised and proposals, and our opinions in some cases.

  1. Biodiversity is still a misunderstood concept, and even less how it is affected by climate change;
  2. It encompasses all the living and non-living entities because they are all inter-related and interact, sustaining life as we know it. Human intervention and abuse of resources are destroying fragile eco-systems but the planet will find a new equilibrium. It is human life as we know which will be totally upset or risk disappearing by our abuse of natural resources;
  3. Investments in protection of biodiversity/environment do not show returns in the short- or medium-term and therefore often require state intervention for implementation. Yet we can see elsewhere an increasing trend in private sector investment in eco and cultural tourism. (Locally: Vallée de Ferney, which is also financially viable as a leisure and environmental education destination and similar locations should gradually be opened up to avoid an already saturated beach tourism; this will also help to increase environmental awareness among citizens. There should be a ban on further development in terms of construction of buildings in the coastal zone (beach area) as the rate of occupancy of existing hotels is far from full.
  4. Bringing the ESA (Environmentally Sensitive Areas) Bill back, and enhancing wetland protection and restoration by even pulling down constructions. EIAs should never be waived where the situation and development so require.
  5. Massive loss of greenery (which absorbs carbon dioxide) and its replacement by concrete and asphalt for producing infrastructure for ever increasing populations, and aggravating the situation by activities emitting enormous increasing amounts of CO2. We should plant trees on all roadsides and as green belts and parks in all built-up areas including Ebène, and protect forests, trees, mountain slopes and river reserves and reservoir catchment area vegetation. The insignificant 2% compulsory green space in development areas was mentioned.
  6. Allocation of forest area including mountain slopes to chalets and other IRS projects should stop.
  7. The rise in sea level for Mauritius was supported by scientific evidence, as well as rise in temperature, decrease in rainfall and its patterns, with unpredictability of weather and higher incidence especially of rainfall as flash floods, higher emissions of GHGs (greenhouse gases especially CO2 causing global warming);
  8. The Ministry should stop using buildings which, while being surrounded with strong sunlight, were using numerous lamps because they did not have provision for natural light and ventilation. This led to heating and use of air-conditioning the latter being the most prominent CO2 emitter because of the high energy requirement.
  9. The Candos Hill was again proposed to become a Protected Natural Park, and managed as one, restoring its vegetation in a more scientific manner and creating safe tracks and sites for health activities.
  10. Similarly the Moka mountain range was suggested as a natural protected area/park under the National Parks and Conservation Service (NPCS). The issue of funding the NPCS from the Conservation Fund obtained as tax from monkey export should be reviewed as this does harm to our country’s image. Similarly for culling of bats. The solution exists in the plantation of trees which were normally used by bats for their fruits, which have disappeared because of invasive alien species. The funds for culling and subsidising nets could have been used for planting those trees.
  11. All strategies and policies should be climate proof. There is already a document for Mainstreaming Climate Change in all policies.
  12. Abandoned lands can be purchased by government to increase the amount of state lands and afforested by timber varieties – why not black ebony, or high energy potential species, instead of persisting with a highly uneconomical sugar cane industry as it needs so much of subsidy?
  13. A participant from Rodrigues mentioned the success of water catchment after a few years of massive re-afforestation programmes, highlighting the importance of not just trees in isolation but as a forest eco-system.
  14. Children and teenagers are already environment and climate change conscious, being so active and raising their voices to defend the environment and their future linked to that. Business sector and deciders should play their role in proper timely decisions. The public also should act responsibly (a litre of soft drink in a glass bottle was at Rs28 last week and same drink in plastic bottle at Rs34).
  15. Transport and change in mindset. Our vehicle density is ninth in the world. Electrifying transport does not reduce our CO2 emissions as our grid is highly polluting with massive use of coal and heavy oil. (Our note: abolishing customs duty on electric cars was a mistake for this reason. Hybrid vehicle makes more ecological sense. Such moves encourage big engine cars which emit more CO2 for same distance run. After the first oil crisis in the late seventies government had banned the import of cars with engines bigger than 1800c.c.). Air conditioning buses and trains/trams is not environment friendly. Air conditioning is known to significantly boost energy consumption in this country and it is a spiralling process – the more air-con the more energy use and more CO2, then higher temperature and more air-con, etc. The lack of trees and green belts has significantly contributed to higher prevailing temperatures.
  16. The introduction of congestion road charge was proposed but we believe that it increases rich-poor gap. The solution to get people to use public transport will be to ban entry of all private vehicles in the capital at a planned date in about two years while improving the public transport infrastructure and facilities. This should also go hand in hand with further massive decentralisation to avoid people moving into the capital). We should aim at moving around the least possible.
  17. The National Development Strategy is supposed to be the strategy taking into account all factors in spatial planning (aménagement du territoire). The update process of the 2004 report is starting and participants proposed full national consultation AND participation in the exercise.
  18. The issue of integrating all the sectoral and isolated strategies into coherent holistic national strategies balanced between different sectors and needs was raised and the need of an apex ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development to align all the strategies in line with the SDGs and other international instruments such as the CBD (Convention on Biological Diversity), gender and so many others that we have ratified and signed. It would avoid piecemeal policies while taking into account environment and climate change.
  19. Adopting new concept to replace GDP as yardstick for development.
  20. The higher costs of adaptation in the future instead of proper mitigation now.
  21. The importance of sustainable production and consumption.

The issues are many and frequently cross-cutting, all are not mentioned here nor even raised at the workshop. We shall take them up later.

* Published in print edition on 20 December 2019

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