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Mainstream political parties fail to analize ecological reality

06.11.2011


Below is the outline prepared in English by Emilie Wiehe for her talk given in Kreol at the LALIT open conference looking into the bankruptcy of mainstream political parties. Her talk was on the failure of the main political parties in Mauritius to confront the ecological problems. Here is the outline of it:


LALIT’s Open Conference
“Mainstream political parties fail to analize ecological reality properly”
“It is only through fundamental change at the center of the system,
from which the pressure on the planet principally emanates,
that there is any genuine possibility of avoiding ultimate ecological destruction.” (Foster, 2008)

The environment in Mauritius, in relation to its size and the resources available, has witnessed since the history of the early settlers a significant amount of change and destruction. In recent decades, the shift in focus from an agriculture-based economy to a largely tourism-based economy has further increased the sources of and amount of pressure on this small island. Riding on the international wave of environmentalism, Mauritius has ratified a string of international conventions since the 1972 international conference on the environment and most importantly the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, which resulted in the signing of the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Framework Convention on Climate Change. It is during and following this conference, that the term ‘Sustainable Development’ became part of mainstream development discourse. Almost thirty years later, after attempts to integrate environmental concerns in Mauritius policies through the creation of various ministries and enactment of laws, the country has embarked on the project “Maurice Ile Durable” (MID). Maurice Ile Durable – although initiated quite late in relation to the urgency of issues – holds important promises and contains analyses and approaches, which are worth examining. But betting on this policy framework as a fix-all for all environmental, social and economic problems may prevent a thorough critique of what the root causes of these problems are. An overview of some of the shortfalls of this policy framework, which blinds us of all the simultaneous but incompatible current development policy frameworks in place in the country, is therefore necessary. Further, inherent contradictions exist within the very concept of “sustainable development”. The choice of policy itself as a development blueprint must therefore be examined and put into question.
The Maurice Ile Durable policy framework contains certain positive aspects, which deserve to be noted. First, the MID policy formulation process provides a comprehensive analysis of the current situation, in a way that has been rarely done by any government before. This ‘état des lieux’ is a necessary one in order to develop long-term environmental policies, which transcend any specific government mandate. Further, this policy formulation is one of the most comprehensive ones of its kind, regrouping under the “three pillars of sustainable development” a number of environmental, social and economic issues, examining what has been done and what remains to be done. Such a comprehensive analysis can therefore potentially reach a much wider audience, rather than being dealt in a sectoral way by experts, in expert language. Second, the design of the policy formulation process was done in a very democratic way: the involvement of ministries across the board, civil society, non-governmental organizations, and trade unions allows a wider range of opinions and interests to be considered, hopefully reflecting more the needs of population than if it were only a government-led process (Elahee, 2009). As such and through extensive public consultation, a critique of the policy is possible within the framework itself.
Unfortunately, however, an internal critique and the MID attributes described above are not enough to overshadow a number of incompatible simultaneous policies. As outlined in the MID Green Paper, land in Mauritius is very scarce: 27% of our land is now made up of built-up areas and infrastructure with increasing numbers on the coast, 43% is dedicated to agriculture out of which 89% is sugar cane plantations (p.4). Despite scarce land resources and one of the highest population densities in the world, the government, in collaboration with the private sector, continues to focus its economic policies on tourism, integrated resorts schemes, the construction industry, property development; and aims to transform Mauritius into a shopping destination (Board of Investment, 2010). Such a policy focus implies continued environmental impacts from the construction industry itself: construction is responsible for a significant proportion of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, energy consumption, water usage, and use (hence depletion) of raw materials. Furthermore, long-term environmental effects after construction must be considered: such policies result in the depletion in the amount of green space, including at times critical areas in or next to indigenous forests, increase the heat island effect in urban areas and the urbanization of rural and coastal areas, increase long-term energy use and solid and liquid wastes. In addition to the environmental impacts of construction, an increase in property development and construction implies that more arable land, which could be used towards increasing food security locally, would be dedicated to buildings. There is therefore reason to doubt how sustainable a focus on construction is on the long term, inherently, and particularly given the amount of land resources available here. In addition, reliance on tourism, whether through the hotel and hospitality industry, IRS or as a shopping destination makes Mauritius places Mauritius in a vulnerable position if the countries of origin of tourists face economic difficulties. This heavy reliance on tourism is therefore also inherently unsustainable, and in contradiction with the concepts of “sustainable consumption and production” as advocated in MID.
While the current development and economic policies may be in contradiction with a Maurice Ile Durable framework, there is also reason to question the very choice of an MID approach itself. On paper, the concept of ‘sustainable development’ appears as a very comprehensive framework, regrouping social, environmental and economic issues under one aegis. In practice, however, a sustainable development approach within the current economic order has not led to greater equity or environmental protection and conservation. The very definition of sustainable development has often been criticized for its vagueness and lack of adequate indicators for sustainability, with existing indicators indicating at best what the problems are, but not their cause (Hecht, 2006). Instead, the notions of sustainable development have evolved against a backdrop of an ever-increasing ‘catastrophism’, of which capitalism has greatly profited: individuals are always called to consume new products, which have less environmental impact, replace household appliances, cars, clothing, and consume certified household and food products amongst others (Brunel, 2008). Yet the very increase in consumption raises questions of the sustainability of this ‘catastrophism’. In creating a constant state of ‘bad conscience’ amongst all, this new environmentalism calls for a very individualist approach to solving these problems, and shifts the focus away from the systemic roots of ecological degradation. Indeed, a large part of the sustainable development approach has focused on technological innovations in order to remedy to environmental impacts, while overlooking capitalist modes of production. As Liodakis notes: “resource-saving technological innovation cannot have, under capitalism, an environmentally protective impact insofar as it will, most likely, imply lower commodity prices and hence an increasing market demand, which will result in an increased (rather than decreased) extraction of the natural resource concerned” (p.2609, 2010). Furthermore, within the current framework, governments have responded to environmental degradation by extending private property and reducing the commons. This has led to further degradation: private property owners have no incentive to sustainably use their property if it is not in their interest, and on the contrary, conditions are most likely to lead to environmental degradation (Liodakis, 2010). These shortfalls of the very concept of sustainable development particularly within the current economic framework raise therefore important questions for the choice of MID as a major guiding development policy for Mauritius.
In sum, while being carried out democratically and providing a comprehensive analysis of the current environmental, social and economic situation in Mauritius, MID is being implemented at best with simultaneous contradictory national economic policies. At worse, the very elaboration of sustainable development within MID and within the current economic framework leads to a disregard of the root causes of environmental concerns and may lead on the contrary, on the long term, to increased ecological destruction. Without examining the roots and systemic causes of environmental degradation and social inequality, it seems impossible for MID to provide adequate long-term solutions for these very problems.
References

Brunel, S. (2008). À qui profite le développement durable? Larousse.
Elahee, K. (2009). Maurice Ile Durable Project: Analysis and Synthesis Report. : The University of Mauritius.
Hecht, J. E. (2006). Can Indicators and Accounts Really Measure Sustainability? Considerations for the US Environmental Protection Agency. Paper presented at the USEPA Workshop on Sustainability Retrieved 31.10.2011, from http://www.epa.gov/ sustainability/ Other_Resources. Htm."
Board of Investment (2010). Mauritius as a tax-free shopping and leisure island - "one year countdown" of the Bagatelle Mall of Mauritius. Investmauritius.com Newsletter. Retrieved 31.10.2011, 2011, from http://www.investmauritius.com/newsletter_oct10/Article2.html
Liodakis, G. (2010). Political Economy, Capitalism and Sustainable Development. Sustainability, 2(8), pp. 2601-2616.
The Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development (2011). Maurice Ile Durable Green Paper: Towards a National Policy for a Sustainable Mauritius.