SUNIL DOWARKASING

1.The transition – Human need before corporate greed

The myopic “Plan de Soutien aux Activités économiques” was not well received by a majority of the population. The reason being, it was perceived as tailor-made for the business sector. Rs 60 billion will be now emptied from the BOM coffers to support the government’s post COVID-19 recovery plans. It would be interesting to understand how the public spending of this sum is being organised. Intelligent Governments around the world, driven by the pandemic threat, are making financial decisions that will have enormous, long-lasting consequences on the economies and lives of people.

2.What are big powerhouses preaching?

It is an interesting fact to note how the pandemic has twisted the opinions of the big institutions like the IMF, the World Bank and others – The IMF Managing Director states that “Fiscal measures implemented by governments against the novel coronavirus need to be harmonized to combat climate change and ensure an environmentally sustainable recovery from the pandemic”. Meanwhile, the World Bank believes that the response to the pandemic also offers a significant opportunity to build a more resilient and sustainable future. The EU Commission President says that the “Green Deal is key to recovery efforts” and the U.N. Secretary-General urged the G20 to do more calling for “brave, visionary and collaborative leadership” to use COVID-19 relief money to accelerate the decarbonisation of the world economy.

3.Recovery plans – Opportunity to build a different country.

There is a consensual view that this crisis will lead to a new world, then the question that arises is – what will this new world look like? This new world will depend on how the recovery plans are being unrolled. There have been a lot of opinions these days and the most popular ones are: i) It is an opportunity to break with old habits and build a circular, sustainable and highly competitive economy, ii) Recovery money would be best spent on creating jobs and sustainable infrastructure that help meet the goal of net zero carbon emissions across sectors including energy, industrials, building and transport, iii) “Recovery plans that do not endorse change would expose investors and national economies to escalating financial, health and social risks in the coming years”. Some leading economies like Germany, China, South Korea and New Zealand amongst others have opted for planetary shifts and long-term recovery work. Merkel is linking COVID-19 recovery fund to climate protection, China is working on shifting its heavily polluted export-based manufacturing to high tech, service driven and infrastructure that will help the economy to operate efficiently and sustainably. New Zealand is planning to build 8000 new homes and create 11,000 jobs in environmental projects. South Korea has dedicated 69% of its stimulus on green investment.

We would make a plea to our leaders to display the same farsightedness in planning the recovery phase – a long-term potential and sustainability development pathway that can build prosperity and resilience for the island.

4.What type of economy is the Government bailing out? Any lessons retained from 2008 stimulus package?

In Mauritius there is a fog of uncertainty on how the future will unroll. Before stating why the country needs to move forward on a low carbon green transition/ recovery agenda, it would be appropriate to understand what needs to change and why. Pre COVID-19 – We had a slow linear economy where 75% of the energy came from coal. It was struggling to increase employment and it provided more opportunities to deplete the remaining natural terrestrial and marine assets. It was an economy that was generating tons of waste. It was an economy where we had a failed and fragile agricultural system that had to have recourse to bulk importation of vegetables at the slightest drought or cyclone affecting the country. It was this economy that has pushed Mauritius to be one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change in the world. It will be better to let the wheels come off this type of economy and move to create something more sustainable.

5.Move for a Green Deal –
Focus on People & Planet 

Policymakers with bandwidth to think green will see the pandemic as an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, unless they have potential reasons not to act in that direction. Yes, there is a need to reboot the economy and come out stronger through a regenerative one, ready to face the future crises like climate change before it becomes more challenging. The World Bank sustainability checklist is a good guide to follow and is clear on the benefits of the green transition. The focus should be on the planet and the people while the country rebuilds its economy that can make a down payment on the needs for the future generations.

A “Green Deal” is needed. But what is a green new deal, really? It’s a large-scale investment plan (in this case the recovery plan) that employs thousands of people to create important public goods like better infrastructure, enhance the mass public transportation, drives renewable energy, build resilience to climate chaos and environmental clean-up. It’s a project of systemic social, cultural, environmental and economic transformation that puts fighting inequality and stopping the climate crisis on equal footing.

Investing sustainably in infrastructure.

This will boost short-term job creation and long-term sustainability, which will certainly generate incomes and growth benefits. These investments should include i) investing in a decentralised grid system, moving away from a centralised one to create more room for renewable energy which should come together with a coal phase-out plan and the democratising of energy production (fossil fuel use must be cratered and we must radically change the economics of the energy sector), ii) Building sustainable transport infrastructure, ranging from bike lanes within the towns and villages to extending the mass transit to other corners of the island as a solution to drop cars off the road, and beat the growing pollution and congestion (congestion costs the country around 5 bn yearly), iii) Ensure that by 2030 all the coastal regions of Mauritius are connected to sewerage systems in order to prevent lagoon pollution, iv) launch an adaptation plan to preserve or restore the natural areas that do provide ecosystem services and resilience to floods, drought, and cyclones which should include the remedial of polluted lands.

Enhancing the power of the
small business 

20 million SMEs in Europe supply about 85% of the jobs. It is this sector that allows Europe to control the world trade – This is how powerful the European SME sector is. Italy has an industrial sector, which consists mostly of SMEs providing around 86% of Italians with jobs. This is the time to grab the momentum, to restructure our economy around the SME sector. It is true that big enterprises mostly geared towards export products outmatch the SMEs in productivity and quality of employment but these are not sufficient as reasons to why the SMEs should not drive the change. The SME sector has the potential to be the backbone of the domestic green economy transition focussing on customers’ behaviour, choice, preferences, and needs. More and more people today want green products. A green recovery plan for the SME sector is workable, affordable, possible and doable.

A new agricultural paradigm

The pandemic has magnified the impact of inequality while hitting the poorest the hardest. The heart-breaking issues have been, the inequalities in accessing food and the inequities in food purchase. Those who could afford consumed mostly the products of their localities, as the only available means to move was the foot-traffic for many. The shorter internal supply chain has been more effective. These are new elements that need to feed in the development of the food security plan. The global warming and agricultural stress in other countries will threaten our external supply chain, which I need to highlight, has been of no support during the pandemic. What are the challenges and lobbies that are preventing us from building our food security? Why did projects like the “vita rice” get killed? Why can’t we produce perishable and nutritious food quicker with less environmental impact? Something is really wrong somewhere. The Netherlands, the smallest country in Europe, where the land has to be protected from the seawaters is feeding the world today. Why can’t we feed our own people from our own production? All we need is the political will to come up with a plan, gather the expertise, local and external, get tuned to the latest technologies and get the ball rolling. There is only upside for food security if we plan properly.

6.Throwing the box away …

Albert Einstein stated – “ we cannot solve today’s problem with the same level of thinking at which they were created” – we need something more – It is no longer even thinking out of the box, it is about throwing the box all together and creating a new one.