The 22nd April is commemorated on an international level as Earth Day and, from that date up until 21st April 2017, more than 150 country representatives to the UN in New York will have signed the agreement reached at the COP 21 conference in Paris in November 2015. This is considered to be by far the most ambitious agreement in the context of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was agreed at the famous Rio Summit at the time.
The 28 EU Member States were amongst the first signatories of this agreement on 22nd April, and the signing ceremony opened the ratification process for this agreement, which is expected to come into force in 2020, subject to ratification by at least 55 countries which account for at least 55 per cent of global emissions.
Protecting the environment and making an effort to slow down Climate Change has always been perceived by emerging economies as a hindrance to their economic development. It has therefore been very difficult to implement commitments on reducing carbon emissions, particularly by those countries, mostly outside Europe, whose economies are heavily dependent on industries and manufacturing.
On 18th April, I attended a conference entitled ‘Implementing COP 21: A Business Threat or Opportunity?’, in which local business and financial sector representatives, as well as environment experts, discussed whether it was indeed still possible to increase economic growth whilst, at the same time, reducing the impact human activity has on the environment.
From a European perspective, the two elements are definitely compatible, and in February this year, the European Commission adopted an ambitious Circular Economy Package which includes revised legislative proposals on waste to stimulate Europe's transition towards a circular economy, which will boost global competitiveness, foster sustainable economic growth and generate new jobs. This is a concept aimed precisely as a response to the aspiration for sustainable growth in the context of the growing pressure of production and consumption on the world's resources and environment. The aim of the concept of Circular Economy is that there is a shift in focus to reuse, repair, refurbish and recycle existing materials and products so that what used to be regarded as waste can actually be turned into a resource.
Of course, turning a commitment towards limiting climate change and protecting the environment into an actual business opportunity is a big challenge and requires a change of mentality amongst consumers and end users, not to speak of the manufacturers. The key to the Circular Economy concept is innovation – we have to find and accept new ways of satisfying our consumer needs and be open to change. The European Commission's proposals include measures to promote re-use and stimulate industrial symbiosis – turning one industry's by-product into another industry's raw material as well as economic incentives for producers to put greener products on the market and support recovery and recycling schemes.
I sincerely hope that Malta's dynamic business sector can take advantage of the opportunities offered by this package and take up the challenge to create a favourable climate, both for the local economy as well as for the environment, to the benefit of our future generations.