To the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development.

We are delighted to provide feedback on the reports of the Working Groups for the MID policy development and indeed privileged to be part of the one on energy. Overall, we are happy with much of the work done so far and the comments below focus on exceptions to this. We also attempt to address some of the important issues we feel are missing from the reports and try to synthesise conflicting recommendations. After suggesting improvements to the MID process, we will turn to the security of the economy, nutrition, electricity and transport and then land use conflicts and nutrient recycling. Finally, we comment on individual recommendations that we consider notable.

The “Long View” and synergy

MID, our transition to an ecologically sustainable society, is a vital objective for our long term national well-being, perhaps even survival. However, setting a strategic horizon of only 10 years may be counter-productive to the goal of long term sustainability. This is particularly obvious for energy, where the decisions we make about new electricity generating capacity today will have to be lived with for the next 20-30 years. What may appear to be the best option for the next 5-10 years, may rule out other, more desirable opportunities later.

Indeed, even a multi-decadal time frame is short-sighted compared to the “Great Law” of the Iroquois, native Americans, who considered the consequences of their decisions up to seven generations into the future (200+ years). Such long term thinking, advocated by all sustainability specialists, is largely absent from the deliberations of the Working Groups.

Likewise, there has not been enough cross-fertilisation among the Working Groups. If this had occurred between their meetings then conflicting recommendations may have been resolved and perhaps “third way” solutions developed. Instead, we will be relying on external consultants to come up with compromises on our behalf which may satisfy nobody and not facilitate our transition to sustainability.

Towards a better process

In our opinion, we must have a well-defined, shared vision of what a truly sustainable Mauritius will be like, even if parts of it are only realistically achievable many decades from now. Then we must map out a pathway to realise this vision and continually assess our progress on it. This vision should be revised regularly, taking account of global events, new knowledge and technologies, and changes in our own aspirations. It will necessarily evolve. Hence, the pathway will change and we will have to alter direction accordingly.

Our current lifestyles are not sustainable. Therefore, the transition to MID must be personal as well as structural. To facilitate this internal change, everyone must “own” the vision, contribute to its realisation and hold others to account if they are failing to fulfil their responsibilities or indeed take the us off track. In other words, we need to create an evolving, self-correcting, “open-source” project that inspires and engages the whole nation.

Sustainability of current economic sectors

While it is a good thing that the working groups have focused on areas other than the economy, it appears that some critical issues have been overlooked. Mauritius is highly dependent on imports. Moreover, we have a significant trade deficit which we make up for by seeking Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and increasingly rely on foreign-owned debt. Neither of these are sustainable. Somewhat surprisingly, the Working Groups’ reports have little assessment of the long term sustainability of the current economic sectors that generate foreign currency. A brief analysis raises many concerns:

Sector Sustainability issues Responses
Tourism Either nations will de-carbonise their economies and severely curtail long haul travel or sea-level rise will erode our beaches

Manage decline to sustainable levels by advocating for reductions in GHG emissions, refocussing on “elite” tourists and targeting regional markets.

OR

Fully exploit the sector until it collapses.

Sugar Subsidised (irrigation), not globally competitive, small contribution to economy, low employment levels, high land use. Increase energy production from cane.

OR

Re-allocate land to sustainable production (domestic food and energy).

Financial services Global tax harmonisation, unacceptability of FDI channels (e.g. into India). Become a financial hub for Africa.

OR

Manage decline.

BPO Not competitive with new players (salaries, internet costs/bandwidth). Focus on niche sectors (such as law).

OR

Manage decline.

Manufacturing Not globally competitive (salaries, shipment costs), exploitation of workers (national and foreign). Refocus on high end technologies (e.g. nano-tech).

OR

Manage decline.

Seafood hub Over-fishing. Manage fish stocks via regional cooperation.

OR

Fully exploit the sector until it collapses.

FDI Limited marketable assets (land, businesses), repatriation of profits and capital, more attractive investment destinations (e.g. mainland Africa). Target investors offering knowledge transfer.

OR

Eliminate the need for FDI.

 

Clearly there is a need to reduce our imports. This means decreasing our consumption of foreign goods and services by learning to live without them or finding local substitutes. Perhaps two of the most urgent needs are food and energy, given both the recent volatility in international markets and certain long term price increases and probable interruptions to supplies. These will be addressed later.

Most of our major economic sectors are outward focused. One exception is construction, which is a net consumer of foreign currency due to the import of building materials. It has the potential to be sustainable and contribute to MID provided it refocuses on urban regeneration, retro-fitting existing buildings, recycling building materials and using locally available ones.

New and developing economic sectors

In order to satisfy our needs for products that we cannot produce locally, such as rapidly evolving ICT equipment, it will be necessary to develop additional economic sectors that generate foreign currency. Some suggestions are given below:

Sector Rationale
Ocean exploration Seeking international grants.
Bio-prospecting Benefiting from our unique biodiversity. 
Secondary education Providing boarding schools for the African market.
Tertiary education Developing world-class expertise in marine subjects, utilising redundant hotels as campuses.
Health Providing long term recuperation services, utilising redundant hotels.
Retirement care Housing rich, childless elderly folk in redundant hotels.
Data recovery centres Exploiting our remote location.
Distribution hub Aggregating and dispersing goods to/from the Far East and Africa.

Other potential sectors that can generate substitutes for foreign imports:

Sector Rationale
Energy Exploit local renewable potential.
Food Nutritional security.
Materials Locally produced timber and bio-polymers.

Sectors that contribute to national well-being:

Sector Rationale
Sport and leisure Improving health and quality of life.
Ecosystem restoration Increasing the ecosystem goods and services of soils, forests, lagoons and reefs
Recycling Recirculating nutrients and materials.

We feel it is vital to develop a local economy that is decoupled from international markets that consistently meets the needs of the people and offers fair rewards. Many countries and communities have implemented local currencies to achieve similar objectives. Studies need to be undertaken to design local currencies that meet our own needs.

Nutritional security

Food security is addressed by a couple of the reports, but a fundamental issue has been overlooked. The food products that we currently subsidise are the very ones that contribute to our epidemic levels of non-transmissible diseases: diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. Refined flour, white rice (which the middle classes use to feed their dogs) and cooking oils (that encourage deep fat frying) should be substituted for healthier equivalents, preferably ones that we can grow ourselves. We also need significant education and training in healthier food preparation, starting in schools, which could grow their own crops.

It is neither possible nor desirable to satisfy our current diets using local resources. However, it should be possible to meet everyone’s nutritional requirements. The old motto “Eat what we grow and grow what we eat” should be replaced with “Grow and eat what is healthy”. Research needs to be undertaken to establish which nutritious crops can be grown sustainably in our climate.

Seafood should play a major role in achieving nutritional security, therefore we are greatly concerned by the almost continually decreasing annual catch of fish from our coastal waters. Drastic action needs to be taken to ensure that stocks do not collapse. This essentially means catching less fish for several years so that numbers can recover, allowing larger, sustainable harvests in the longer term. The incomes of fishermen can be substituted in the meantime by paying them to bring the barachois back into operation.

Electricity security

Electricity is an essential component of our quality of life. However, scarcity of fossil fuels, on which Mauritius depends, is increasing costs and threatens to disrupt supplies. When fossil fuels are depleted we will have no choice but to rely on renewable energies. The Working Group chose 2040 as the date by which the transition to renewable energies would be complete, however, their recommendations will not achieve this. In any case, an electricity strategy needs to be presented as an integrated system rather than as a series of bullet points. What follows is a succinct narrative that helps tie together the various recommendations in the Working Group’s report and highlights those that are incompatible.

Our long term electricity future will almost certainly be one powered predominantly by solar photovoltaic (PV) cells. Mauritius’ sunlight resource has the potential to meet our needs many times over. Unfortunately, solar PV is currently uncompetitive without large subsidies and only produces significant amounts of electricity when the panels are in direct sunlight and absolutely none at night. This means that mass storage is required to “time-shift” the supply profile to match the one for demand. Storage adds to the generation costs which puts off our solar future even further, although the cost of both is continually decreasing.

Wind power, while not capable of meeting all our needs, could provide a large proportion of them, especially if the offshore potential of our wide lagoons (e.g. Grand Port) is exploited. It is more economically competitive than solar PV but suffers from similar short-comings of generating a variable supply of electricity. There is the potential for storage on a smaller scale using sea water-based pumped-hydro stations and building large tanks on mountains near the coast (e.g. Tourelle du Tamarin, Piton du Fouge, Le More Brabant and Lion Mountain). However, until cheap, mass storage becomes available, a transitional strategy will be required.

Fortunately, solar energy is naturally stored by plants, most efficiently in energy crops like the giant grasses. Unlike sugar cane, they can be harvested throughout the year and used to generate electricity on an as-needed basis without the challenge of long term storage. There are many ways to convert energy crops into electricity, but the most efficient ones (fuel cells and thermal gasification) are not yet commercially proven. Anaerobic digestion is a mature, cheap and natural alternative that converts any organic matter (including waste water and municipal waste) into biogas (methane and carbon dioxide – which can be removed if required) with fertilizer as a by-product.

Biogas (and methane) can be easily stored and used to generate electricity with reasonably high efficiencies, on demand. This flexibility is critical to make up for and make room for the variable supply from solar PV and wind. This is in contrast to the relatively inflexible “base-load” supply from the coal and coal/bagasse powered stations belonging to the “IPPs”. In all developed countries, flexible generation attracts a premium price and such practice should be applied in Mauritius.

Alternative routes for converting energy crops to electricity are through liquid fuels such as ethanol or diesel-like oils. If the sugar sector is to justify its survival, then it must find ways of increasing the amount of electricity it produces by improving efficiencies, increasing the fibre content of its cane and finding ways to store it for use throughout the year (for example by torrefaction). In the national interest, it must give up the “take-or-pay” contracts that favour inflexible operation.

The CEB operates a number of relatively flexible power stations using residual fuel oil and diesel. Unfortunately, their retirement plans for these power stations have not been made available and so it is difficult to estimate when replacements will be required. However, new capacity should certainly be at least as flexible and priority should be given to ones powered by locally produced fuels. Further “base-load” supply should be avoided at all costs. Likewise inflexible combined heat and power (CHP) systems should only be used on a small scale for clusters of users that have constant heating (and/or cooling via trigeneration) and electricity demands.

The costs of running the CEB’s power stations are not covered by the electricity tariffs, hence the CEB operates at a significant loss. This is a disincentive for the public and businesses to save electricity and invest in efficient appliances and small scale generation. Non-subsidised tariffs will encourage sustainability and full transparency in CEB operations will permit investors to develop competitive, informed proposals for new generating capacity. Subsidies may be used for the purchase of more efficient appliances, especially for low income families.

Another way to increase the flexibility of the electricity network and hence allow the integration of more variable elements like wind and solar PV, is to have controllable demand. Cold stores have large thermal inertia and can maintain operating temperatures for some time in the event of a supply interruption. Many countries use this to compensate for sudden increases in demand or reductions in supply. An even better solution is to control when electric vehicles are charged. In this way they can be powered by excess electricity from wind during the night or solar PV during the day.

Manual control of all these elements soon becomes too complex, hence the need for automatic controls known as a “smart grid”. Additional features of a smart grid increase the resilience and stability of the overall network. Investment in such technologies and more importantly in energy efficiency and renewable energies, including subsidies if necessary, could potentially avoid the need to build new fossil fuel powered stations. If the latter are chosen for political reasons then they must be fuel flexible, allowing fossil fuels to be displaced by renewable ones to permit a smooth transition and ensure energy security.

Clearly, it is imperative that scenarios be explored for charting the paths to fully renewable electricity so that the optimum choice may be selected. Technical considerations and the best long term interests of the nation should be the determining factors rather than lobbying from vested interests. Therefore, openness and transparency is vital.

Transport security

Some of the Working Group’s recommendations on transport are confusing and contradictory. While the amount of transportation required can be reduced by working locally and consuming local food, freedom to travel is a key factor in our quality of life. Mass transport, while more efficient than personal transport in the urban environment, is less so in rural areas, especially if frequent and extensive services are required. Hence, there is a limit to the energy savings that can be achieved by optimising modes of transport.

Energy crops can be used to produce electricity and transport fuels, however, Mauritius does not have sufficient land to comprehensively do both and so a choice must be made. Using electricity to power transport is the solution preferred by many countries for the following reasons:

  • Electric motors are far more efficient than internal combustion engines (around four times).
  • Electric vehicles produce no exhaust emissions.
  • Energy is recovered during braking.
  • Smart charging enables electric vehicles to use excess electricity from variable sources (wind and solar PV).
  • Over-head electric lines (or rails) delivering power to mass transport systems enable them to be lightweight and hence even more efficient.

Mauritius is sufficiently small that the range limitations of electric vehicles is hardly ever an issue, avoiding the need for extensive public charging stations. For applications where it is, range-extended electric vehicles can be used. Large vehicles, such as buses and heavy goods vehicles, may still require transport fuels. Only in these cases does the use of hybrid engines make any sense and even then the additional complexity (initial cost and maintenance) may outweigh the small gains in efficiency.

It would be counter-productive to encourage the continued use of transport fuels in private vehicles. Therefore, any ethanol produced by the sugar sector should be used to power public transport or even generate electricity rather than be wasted mildly diluting gasoline. The sale of internal combustion engine cars should be phased out through the use of increased tariffs which may be used to subsidise electric cars until mass production achieves economies of scale.

On the subject of tariffs, duty free facilities that encourage the purchase of large engined/less efficient vehicles and should therefore be revised. Likewise double cab trucks, whose weight both makes them inefficient and a threat to other road users, should not benefit from reduced tariffs except, perhaps, where there is a justifiable business need for them. In addition, company vehicles and company paid fuel should be taxed as a benefit. Finally, the government should set an example by purchasing electric vehicles instead of large-engined BMWs for transporting public officers and ministers or even encourage them to use public transport.

Land use conflicts

A superficial reading of the reports reveals that there are significant conflicts around the use of land, particularly for nutritional security, energy (electricity and transport) security and reforestation. However, considered analysis reveals this not to be the case.

Extensive global reforestation is necessary to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. However, in Mauritius we need not focus solely on indigenous species. Certainly critical mass should be achieved to support unique eco-systems, but unless our indigenous plants have other uses, exotics that produce fruit (nutritional security), timber (furniture and building materials) and recreate lost rain forests (micro-climates and rainfall) may be preferable in certain areas.

Abandoned sugar cane fields and marginal land may be reforested in the long term, but for now efforts should concentrate on land designated as forest but in fact has low forest cover. In the immediate term, abandoned fields and marginal land should be dedicated to growing energy crops for electricity production in order to avoid the need for building more fossil fuelled power stations.

While wind farms take up significant land area due to the spacing required between the turbines, the actual footprint of each turbine is actually quite small. Hence, the same land can be used to grow sugar cane, energy crops or food. Obviously this is not an issue for offshore wind farms. Wind turbines are generally not very efficient in urban environments due to turbulence, however, clever designs can accelerate wind towards turbines integrated into buildings.

Likewise, solar PV can be placed on buildings and above car parks, paths and roads. The semi-transparent, thin-film varieties can even be used on greenhouse roofs to screen plants from harsh, direct sunlight. Such greenhouses can be placed on the roofs of buildings, especially super-markets, using raised bed, simple hydroponic or computer-controlled aeroponic systems. This will enable high product yields near where it can be sold, create decent work and shade the buildings beneath, reducing their cooling requirements.

Further urban agriculture can take place on unoccupied residential plots. This will deter further land speculation and transform abandoned sites that are otherwise a security risk, used as dumps and are breeding sites for mosquitoes. People should be encouraged to establish kitchen gardens providing an ideal use for harvested rainwater and recycled grey water. Gardeners could be gainfully employed to tend several houses or apartment blocks, paid for by the reductions in the occupants’ food bills, who would benefit from fresh vegetables on their doorstep.

Soil fertility and nutrient recycling

It is incredible that we have managed to continue harvesting a mono-crop on our lands for 200-300 years, much of it without the traditional techniques of crop rotation and leaving land fallow. However, as a result, our agricultural soils are largely devoid of natural nutrients and require the regular application of fertilizers. Many of these are produced using fossil fuels and hence suffer from the same issues as energy. Moreover, the land has very low levels of organic matter. In order, to have sustainable agriculture both issues need to be addressed.

Waste water, especially the sludge component, is nutrient rich but the practice of using it to fertilize food crops, even after anaerobic digestion and composting, is unlikely to be socially acceptable. However, there will be little objection to applying it to energy crops. In turn, the nutrient rich waste from processed energy crops can be used to fertilize food crops The temptation to use it for building materials should be avoided. The organic matter in both types of fertilizer will retain moisture and nutrients and encourage the development of soil enhancing organisms.

While domestic organic waste can and should be used for home composting to fertilise kitchen gardens, excess municipal waste should be segregated at source and processed at the national composting facility. However, this should be modified, in line with European practices to permit energy extraction though dry anaerobic digestion prior to composting. The final product can be used as a supplemental fertiliser for food and energy crops or even reforestation projects as required.

Notable recommendations

Measuring success. Several Working Groups made suggestions for new Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). We are adamant that, while GDP has been traditionally used to indicate a nation’s standard of living, it is incompatible with sustainability. For example, reducing energy use and “doing more with less” contribute to sustainability but actually reduce GDP. Likewise unpaid social service can significantly improve the quality of life of the less fortunate and bring satisfaction to the volunteers but is not captured by GDP at all. KPIs must distinguish between sustainable and non-sustainable economic activity, measure the state of our ecosystems and more directly determine the happiness of the population.

Implementing sustainability. WG2 favoured creating a Ministry of Ecology and Sustainable Development, while WG4 favoured an independent MID commission. We would prefer to have a clear and detailed national vision and road map with objectives and targets for every ministry. Each would prepare an annual report analysing how every activity contributes to or detracts from MID that would be publicly available (along with its accounts) and assessed by an extended National Audit Office.

Unelected ministers. WG2 suggested that the Minister of Ecology and Sustainable Development should be a non-elected specialist. In fact this is the case for the Permanent Secretaries of every ministry. We feel that the Westminster system of government is not appropriate for Mauritius and that proper separation of powers is necessary. This would involve the election of an executive president who could appoint heads to various ministries based on competence rather than political considerations. The national assembly would then concentrate on legislative matters and regularly call the president and his staff to account.

Accountability of public officers. WG4 recommended increasing the powers of National Audit Office. We agree and suggest that the accountability of public officers be significantly enhanced in other ways. This will include promulgating the Freedom of Information Act. The Office of the Ombudsman, an important constitutional role, has been neglected and undermined in recent years. We favour restoring it and placing ICAC and the Human Rights Commission under its aegis. This will give them the same investigative powers as the Supreme Court, enhance their effectiveness and reduce opportunities for political interference.

Free all-round education. We concur with WG5 that, while it is free to attend school in Mauritius, decent education necessitates private tuition and this in turn limits children’s all round development. Either education should be restricted to class rooms or children from low income families should be given private tuition for free and more extra-curricular activities should be available during the school day.

Medium of instruction. WG5 did not address this but we feel that it needs further consideration. Perhaps the need for private tuition is driven in part by the fact that many students are not sufficiently fluent in English, which is now largely absent from their environment. In this case, the options of teaching in French or Creole should be explored. If the choice is made to stick with English then this important international language should play a more significant role in the nation and more attention should be given to teaching it, especially to those with learning challenges.

Regulation of political parties. WG 6 questioned the reporting of political parties’ funds. In fact political parties are not regulated at all in Mauritius. The only obligations they have is to register their existence just before each general election and furnish election expenses of candidates afterwards. This latter exercise is widely considered to be a joke and does not reflect their actual spending. Political parties must be regulated in line with European practice, providing audited annual accounts, details of major donors and weekly spending reports of the whole party and its branches during election periods. We would go further and suggest that political parties the world over have demonstrated themselves to be an impediment to the true principles of democracy and that political reform should make political parties redundant and return power to the people.

Concluding remarks

MID is a work in progress and the reports of the Working Groups are a good but only partial start. It is a shame that the key activity of synthesising the recommendations is being delivered into the hands of foreigners who do not have the intimate knowledge of our country gained from living here day to day. One would have preferred that this great national collaborative venture had continued rather than being the object of a competitive international tender. None-the-less we remain committed to the realisation of Maurice Iles Durables and will continue to contribute our ideas by any avenues that open up to us.