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Climate change is the challenge of the 21st century. It plays a part in many worldwide crises - energy, water, agriculture, migration - that are all linked. Mauritius is no exception and is already suffering from its growing consequences. 

Nature is our wealth and it is imperative for us to reduce our ecological footprint to ensure that future generations can inherit that wealth in the best state possible. In 2008, the Maurice Ile Durable (MID) project put sustainable development at the forefront of the national agenda and relied on its five “E”s: Energy, Education, Employment, Equality, Environment. The MID, a strong moment in the national recognition of the issue, did not reach its potential since it has been officially abandoned. At the time when the MID was getting geared up, land development and the real estate sector were the privileged foundations of our post-sugar strategy that took priority when it came to land planning. Today, there is an urgent need to bring coherence into development policies so as to ensure sustainable development. 

Priority areas

Our island is small and our coastline is not expandable. Land and coastal planning is necessary to prevent development dynamics that would endanger the daily lives of thousands of Mauritians. The tools for this type of planning rely on modern principles of land planning that integrate decentralisation, zoning and habitat quality - both urban and rural. The tools only need to be applied. The problematic of land planning and transport constitutes one of the twenty that will be analyzed in the Societal Project as it is being built. 

The other vital priority is water. There is, on one side, all that is related to the quantity of available water. We need to recognize the ongoing initiatives for the capture and storage of water, meaning the construction of new reservoirs and dams, and the repairs to the distribution system to minimize losses (leaks, pilfering) which are estimated to add up to 50% of the volume of treated water. Meanwhile, we need to be wary of the risks related to the reduction of water capture from rainfall and encourage the development of improved recycling systems for waste water from the domestic, agricultural, and industrial sectors to take advantage of that vast potential. 

The energy question is raised in the context of energy transition towards renewable sources. The current goal is to derive 35% of our electricity consumption from renewable sources by 2025. In a transition where we need to find the right mix to both promote renewable energy and penalise non-renewable energy sources (or make the prices representative of their true cost). The current trajectory is fated to fail the deadline of 2025. What is tragically hampering our progress is the lack of a road map that integrates, in a global plan, linked items such as the the use of available space - including rooftops - and the improvement of the electricity grid to allow the integration of intermittent electricity (solar and wind to mention only two examples). 

If fossil fuels constitute a necessary evil in the transition, with transport and manufacturing depending on diesel, we should not increase our dependence in a substantial way with big projects that rely on those source of energy, such as Metro Express. 

The degradation of biodiversity of all ecosystems of the island (forests and other flora, rivers, streams, lagoons, seas, wetlands, coasts and reefs, etc) is worrying. The threats to biodiversity are well-known: loss/destruction/degradation of the habitat, pollution in various forms, invasion of exotic species, over-exploitation. In many cases, these are not threats any longer as the consequences are being already felt and are further worsened by climate change: recurring floods, coastal erosion (where it is predicted that 25% of beaches will disappear by 2050). There is an urgent need to break away from the piecemeal approaches of the past and commit to a holistic endeavor. 

There are some notable areas of progress when it comes to waste management for solid, liquid, and atmospheric waste. While the production of solid waste increases yearly, this increase is slower than what was predictated in 2005. Initiatives based on the 3 “R”s (Reduce, reuse, recycle) are multiplying and, globally, we are in the right direction. A national strategy is needed however to ensure the success to sustainable waste management systems. We should amplify and deepen multiple front-lines: control and “neutralization” of pollutants from factories and thermal plants, and emissions from vehicles that affect air quality and public health; placing a check on waste that finds its way to the sea, the phasing out of single-use or throw-away plastic. Starting from the idea that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, there is a real potential to develop small and medium businesses that create jobs as well as create some added value. 

The development of the agricultural sector that can ensure a degree of food security in an efficient manner is not reaching the established targets. An audit of policies implemented so far is mandatory to identify the causes of the shortcomings and propose a plan to mobilise the knowledge, competence, and resources necessary. The projects announced - reforestation, 50% bio agriculture - are good in themselves, but we need to be make sure that they do not rest of the laurels of their announcements and actually deliver. That said, there are a multitude of individual initiatives in diverse forms -- organic, permaculture, community gardens -- as well as the part played by national organisations like the FAREI and the Chamber of Agriculture that deserve to be acknowledged. In any agricultural strategy, the basis of producing and consuming differently animated by a solidarity-based local economy-sustaining philosophy is something that needs to be consolidated. And of course, for an ocean state, the need for good management of fishery resources is self-evident. 

The Transition

Transitioning is the cornerstone for success of sustainable development. In the end, it’s about a change that demands an effort and a commitment from all those involved. 

Let us rid ourselves of some preconceived notions that mistake embellishment for protection of the environment and with the idea that the integration of environmental factors makes projects automatically costlier. 

Assuring sustainable development is the business of all of society’s stakeholders. A good place to start is to take stock of current initiatives to see how to improve them and build new ones with the lessons we learn along the way. The state is involved in the institutional make up and the legal, juridic, and regulatory framework to better implement environmental policies. It has a central role in the implementation of that policy and has fiscal tools, among others, to penalize, dissuade, or incite. It needs to give due encouragement to sustainable development through a strategic placement of resources -- human, expertise, and logistic. There will be no meaningful progress if there is no effective state-level enforcement mechanism. 

Businesses are directly concerned by sustainable development. Many are those that have understood the stakes and begun to integrate the environmental dimension in their management. We find a mix of genuine commitment to conform to triple bottom-line reporting and still too often, pure lip-service so as to seem politically correct. There is still much to do so that all those businesses assure their duty as part of the country. 

Civil society, or more accurately NGOs, are engaging in some good initiatives. They should receive due recognition and support for their contribution on the national and regional levels. We note with interest the involvement of young people. One of the challenges is to imagine ways to be more impactful in the endeavors, approaches, and initiatives. It is up to the NGOs to be, with all needed responsibility, guard-dogs to call out, enlighten, raise awareness, and come up with concrete propositions. Let them be considered and treated as real partners. 

When it comes to survival and the state of the planet and the country that we will leave for future generations, being vigilant is crucial, and the mobilization of all in the long term is an absolute necessity. Wherein the strategic importance to invest on youth, to begin with a national civic education program comprising of practical activities to imagine and develop in the frame of a big picture plan. If the rising generation is to become the vector for change in a societal project founded on alternative methods of production and consumption, and on lifestyle changes, the front-line needs to be backed up by a cultural revolution. 

-Translated from Malenn Oodiah's "Assurer un Ecodéveloppement"


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