By Karim Jaufeerally

The Green Paper: Towards a National Policy for a Sustainable Mauritius has been published by Government after a year of public consultation. It makes interesting reading and begins well for the first point of the executive summary (P xii) states:

Never before has it been as necessary and as urgent for Mauritius to review the directions in which the country is moving. Profound and far-reaching changes are sweeping across the globe, some of them forerunners of future shocks that will dramatically impact on the quality of life…Resource depletion, climate change, overpopulation, diminishing conventional energy source, deforestation, pollution on land and sea, rising poverty world-wide, and political instability, are only some of the factors that we now need to confront, and hopefully can overcome.”

The writers of this paragraph display an amazingly clear understanding of the issues at hand now affecting nearly all of the countries of the globe and which are now confronting our modern society.

Indeed, as our modern civilisation and economic system have grown in extent, scope and sophistication since the industrial revolution, it has drawn increasingly on the resources of the planet and generated vast pollution, depleted many natural and energy resources, triggered climate change and destroyed large tracts of natural habitats. As our modern economic system unfolds and devours the planet, it generates and unleashes onto human societies terrible dynamics which have the potential of wreaking much in their wakes.

At the IELS we have been studying these planetary dynamics for over a decade. We have regrouped those dynamics under the acronym of CAFEE – meaning Climatic, Agro-alimentary, Financial, Environmental and Energy – Those dynamics generated by our civilisation are already underway and the ones having the most impacts now are the agro-alimentary and energy dynamics as correctly identified in the executive summary of the Green Paper. Thus it follows that the MID process MUST before all be an intelligent and thoughtful response to the CAFEE dynamics.

Alas, the rest of the document does not reflect what has been rightly expressed in the executive summary. Although energy and food security issues do turn up in the Green Paper, they are taken on par with waste, tourism and governance issues, which are important in their own right but they are NOT paramount issues capable of severely impacting our country.

This is a major problem. Indeed, as to underline the urgency of dealing with energy and the agro-alimentary planetary dynamics, the world has seen and is seeing very large and sustained increases in oil and food prices. These two issues, food and oil, are worldwide, major and capable of creating immense human suffering and wreaking societies. They CANNOT be taken on par with local issues such as waste, tourism and good governance.

In other words, no effort has been made to prioritise issues according to potential impacts. The momentum of the executive summary with its emphasis on “Profound and far-reaching changes sweeping across the globe” is lost amid a list of local issues of secondary importance. The lack of prioritisation of issues may turn out to be fatal to the MID process.

Is the MID about local issues only?

The Green Paper comes up with a list of 18 themes that arose during the consultative process. These themes range from Governance to waste management, tourism, energy, agriculture, education, research, transport, poverty and green industries amongst others. It does show that during the consultative process many very important and far ranging issues were raised. It was a worthwhile exercise.

However, these issues are mostly local concerns and there does not appear to be any sort of awareness of worldwide, planetary changes which are impacting and will impact even harder on our local and provincial concerns.

For instance, in the tourism theme (P xvii), we can read “concerns were raised regarding coastal areas becoming exclusive, and that democratisation of the economy should include making it possible for smaller players to enter the industry. Tourism needs to be diversified into cultural, heritage and ecotourism.” Although these concerns are legitimate and must be addressed at some point, there is no understanding that because of Peak Oil – the phenomenon that causes world oil production to stop growing and decline year after year due to resource depletion – tourism may become a dysfunctional industry due to its total reliance on oil for air transport. Hence the concerns demonstrated in the tourism theme will become largely irrelevant.

Virtually identical criticism can be made to the transport theme where we can read (P xiv) “Government was urged to find solutions to traffic congestion as a matter of urgency, as it affects the health and quality of life of people.” Peak oil and its obvious impacts on transportation are absent from any considerations.

These two examples are sufficient to show that the concerns raised in MID are disconnected from world dynamics and of a local and provincial nature. It is a fatal weakness of the MID process. This weakness must be addressed and redressed before the MID process becomes structurally deficient.

Sustainability and sustainable development: what’s the difference?

The words sustainability and sustainable development appear many times in the Green Paper. We even have (P 44) “the sustainability of sustainable development”. The term “sustainability” is given a few definitions, some of which are quite adequate for instance: (P 64) “Sustainability is the ability to continue an action without the risk of failure or collapse. It implies that an action can be continued indefinitely with little, and manageable, impact on the environment. This requires that human beings use resources at a rate that allows for their replenishment”. However, sustainable development does not appear to have been defined anywhere in the Green Paper.

Furthermore, the differences, if any, between the two terms are never clarified. They are even used interchangeably. It cannot do. The Green Paper must define both terms and make the difference between the two for the simple reason that sustainability implies continuity across time, whereas sustainable development implies a beginning, middle and an end to the process. After all, although we want to sustain human civilisation over the long term, does it imply that we must develop also over the long term?

Draft Combined National Vision & Vision from the National Youth Summit

Both proposed visions are interesting insofar that it is a long list of wishes that on the whole appear reasonable. Yet these visions collide with reality for they do not appreciate that we live within an economic paradigm that requires infinite growth. After all, is it not the avowed aim of Government to triple GDP by 2020, are we not induced, by Government, to embark in a 24/7 economic system, do we not want to transform the country into a duty free paradise? Are these Governmental aims compatible with the proposed national vision for MID? Is it not the case that we want our cake and eat it too?

From our perspective, the proposed national vision collides head on with our dominant economic paradigm that requires perpetual economic growth and with Government’s own vision of 24/7, tripling of GDP and duty free paradise. They are mutually exclusive visions and we do not believe that they can be reconciled by any stretch of the imagination. The contradictions these visions will generate will become more apparent to many as time goes by. This is another major failing of the MID process.

In conclusion: The MID process is both worthwhile and important for the future of the country and it has much to commend. However the lack of prioritisation of issues, the failure to address properly Peak Oil and the food crisis occurring worldwide and a national vision in direct contradiction with the avowed aim of continued economic growth severely weakens the MID process. It could even prove fatal to it. Yet, we still have time to address its weakness and make it a useful tool to shape our common destiny.