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The economy – a tool for sustainable development? 

The current model of development has caused environmental problems, social inequality, and economic instability. It is suggested that a new, more sustainable and inclusive model of development should be adopted which takes into account the needs of the poor and the environment.

I think by now, most people have heard that we’re in a climate emergency. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that unless we take drastic action to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, we will face catastrophic and irreversible impacts, including more frequent and severe heatwaves, droughts, and storms, as well as rising sea levels and more frequent and severe flooding. Some say it is already too late. 

Human activities have contributed significantly to the current warming trend that the Earth is experiencing. The burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, releases large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which trap heat and cause the Earth’s surface temperature to rise. Deforestation and land use changes, such as the conversion of forests to agricultural land, also contribute to climate change by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide that is absorbed by vegetation and soils. 

Whilst natural causes cannot be ruled out entirely, today there are no doubts that economic activity is the main culprit of this emergency. It is the result of human activity which is gluttonous on resources and evermore greedy, and many times intrinsically linked to economic growth. Most of our economies are in fact dependent on this destruction for their thriving. This applies also to Malta, where the unprecedented economic growth, has also been accompanied by an equivalent growth in environmental destruction.  

Whilst it is important for governments, businesses, and individuals to take immediate action to address the climate emergency, not enough is being done. The COVID-19 pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine have both had negative impacts on international efforts to address the issue.  Some countries have reversed policies aimed at addressing these issues, and every year the Earth overshoot date is happening earlier. 

Pope Francis has been a vocal advocate for sustainable development and has made it a key focus of his papacy

Does this mean that economic development is bad? The answer is not that we shouldn’t be doing anything, but rather that we should aim for our development to be more sustainable. For this to happen, our policies need to change, and the way we see growth also needs to change. We cannot aim for infinite growth in a finite world, and we need to ensure that the earth’s resources are used for the benefit of all mankind, and not for the enrichment of a select few. 

Unfortunately, many politicians are hesitant to fully embrace sustainable development. Many politicians are focused on short-term goals, such as getting re-elected, and may be hesitant to pursue policies that may have long-term benefits but may not produce immediate results. Politicians also face pressure from special interest groups that stand to lose from the adoption of sustainable development policies.  

Adopting sustainable development policies may also be seen as politically risky, as it could potentially alienate certain segments of the population or lead to backlash from interest groups. Overall, it is important for politicians to consider the long-term consequences of their actions and to prioritize the well-being of future generations in their decision-making. 

On the other hand, Pope Francis has been a vocal advocate for sustainable development and has made it a key focus of his papacy. In his 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si,” Pope Francis called for a comprehensive approach to sustainability that addresses social, economic, and environmental issues. 

In the encyclical, Pope Francis argued that the current model of development is unsustainable and has led to widespread environmental degradation, social inequality, and economic instability. He called for a shift towards a more inclusive and sustainable model of development that considers the needs of the poor and the environment. 

Pope Francis has made it clear that sustainability is a moral issue that requires the collective efforts of individuals, communities, and governments around the world. Locally the Maltese Church has contributed to this discussion through its Justice and Peace Commission, launching the study ‘Beyond GDP’ together with other prominent stakeholders.  

GDP, or gross domestic product, is a measure of the economic output of a country. It is often used as a measure of a country’s prosperity and well-being. However, GDP is a narrow measure that does not consider a wide range of social and environmental factors that contribute to overall well-being. 

The concept of “beyond GDP” refers to the idea of using alternative measures to GDP to better capture the full range of factors that contribute to well-being. The focus here being on well-being rather than economic growth. The use of beyond GDP measures can help policymakers and other decision-makers to take a more holistic approach to policymaking and to consider the long-term consequences of their actions. It can also help to promote more sustainable and equitable economic growth. 

Some countries such as New Zealand, Finland and Iceland are at the forefront of trying to adopt this approach, and we hope that Malta could soon also join them.  

In conclusion, everything is inextricably linked, and for the world to continue to develop in a sustainable way we need to act urgently. We need to be aware of the structures in our society which are making the situation worse, and address them, but we also need to realise that for a positive change to truly happen, we need also to convert our hearts.  

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