With les ‘Assises de l’Environnement’, scheduled today and tomorrow, initiated by Kavy Ramano, we are witnessing a willpower regarding climate policy in Mauritius. This is really exciting stuff, as recommendations gathered will be transcribed into a 10-year strategic plan. So, we have the opportunity to influence environmental policy at the highest levels. It looks like we are (finally) graduating from traditional models of forceful governance to dimensions of inclusivity. Being the first time seeing this, we need to welcome this shift.

ZAHEER ALLAM

I am hopeful, and so were many other people I met earlier today; be it NGO, Business or Academia. As a moderator for the theme of ‘Environmental Stewardship’, I thought of welcoming this initiative by writing this piece, so as to further share the arguments raised during the panel – to reach a larger, wider audience. After all, aren’t the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) also about sharing? Talking about ‘Environmental Stewardship’, we have a natural tendency to turn towards the 3Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Education can be important in this regard and some of the ongoing programs by Government are doing quite well.

But, looking at the definition of the word ‘stewardship’, we note that it means ‘taking care’. However, it looks like there is a gross misunderstanding in regard as to what taking care of our environment entails. Does it mean keeping everything clean and tidy? Sure, we can argue that this is important. But is taking care of our environment only limited to cleaning roads and emptying garbage bins? When we speak of the environment, this encapsulates the natural world; the living and non-living organisms occurring naturally – the natural ecosystem. This is a complex issue, and so are the solutions. In fact, in 2014, the World Bank called Climate Change a ‘wicked problem’; meaning a social and cultural problem that is diffi cult or impossible to solve due to the interconnectedness of issues and its changing parameters. This leads us to the understanding that in order to protect our environment, to be stewards of our environment, we need not only climate policy but also perhaps, most importantly, the willpower to implement them. This willpower, however, has been lacking. We’ve been talking about the safeguarding of our natural ecosystem since long. In fact, we started seriously talking about it since 1988, the setting up of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), 31 years ago: 31 years of talking and going through major milestones, agreements, and policies. However, during the same 31 years, our global CO2 emissions kept rising.

In Mauritius, this is witnessed by occurrences of coastal erosion, disruptions in weather patterns leading to fl ash floods, stronger cyclones; all of which heavily impact all of us; in cities, coastal zones or rural areas. As we are on the frontline of such impacts, it is important for us to take action, to lead by example. For this, we need a big rethink; a rethink of our environmental laws, policies, processes and goals. Just like we are asking other countries to abide by their commitments, we need to do the same. In 2015, Mauritius adopted the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, leading to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but even if we face the impacts of climate change, our local policies and strategies are strangely not calibrated to include them. The National Environment Policy was drafted in 2007, the National Environment Strategy in 1999 and only reviewed later in 2008 – 11 years ago.

Our Planning Policy Guidelines dates back to nearly 10 years. The National Development Strategy dates 14 years. That’s an awfully long time; noting that our climate has rapidly deteriorated during this time. As we are dealing with a complex issue which will most certainly encroach in other domains, policies from other ministries, let’s commend this new cabinet for their drive on climate policy, and further call for a national environmental charter; leading to a re-calibration of our policies and agendas. Finally, climate action does not only necessarily mean sanctions and economic drawbacks. There are economic opportunities in this. Let’s be intelligent in our approach… We are seeing leadership on this after a long time. This is a breath of fresh air, so let’s give them a try. Let’s voice out our concern, but doing so constructively, so that we can build recommendations for a more prosperous fabric; be it societal, economic or environmental. We’re closing in on the point of no return, but we can somehow remediate. Let’s collectively work for this.