It can be difficult to think about the environment when we are worried about our health and economic security, but it remains a fact that life, and our economy and society, ultimately depend on the natural world. How we navigate this tension between the short term and the long-term in the next few years will determine the success or failure of our recovery from this crisis.
Europe’s major institutions, ministers from 17EU countriesand an alliance of major companies are calling for the economic stimulus to be environmentally sustainable. The message is clear: kickstart the economy and guarantee jobs, while at the same time heading towards carbon neutrality, getting rid of single use plastic, ensuring clean water, land and air, and restoring ecosystems, landscapes, habitats and species.
This will be the biggest economic stimulus that we will see in our lifetimes and therefore we cannot afford to fail. Public institutions have a massive responsibility, together with the private sector, which can use its influence to ensure the stimuli lever us in the right direction towards sustainability, rather than the opposite way, as it has often been happened in the past. Happily, we are talking about a private sector that in the years before the Covid crisis was starting to take sustainability more seriously and now it’s the time to prove it. However unfortunately, at the moment, necessary actions are not following the words.
The decree that the Balearic Government approved last week is more grey than green. It relaxes environmental standards and boosts the building sector in the hope that this will make-up for the fall in tourism. While it is unquestionable that the economy of the Balearic Islands depends on tourism and will continue to do so for many years to come, this is the time to improve the model and move it in a new direction.
The Balearic sea and coast are essential to the well-being of citizens and key economic sectors such as tourism, water sports and fishing. The adequate conservation of marine and coastal habitats, which are our marine capital, will guarantee more benefits and services in the future.
The direction of travel and the goals we want to achieve are clear: good jobs and high wellbeing in a healthy natural environment. What we often lack is the specific proposals that will help us get there.
From Marilles we propose five strategic actions to ensure that the economic recovery in the Balearics goes in the right direction:
- Clean the waters. Let’s upgrade once and for all the wastewater treatment infrastructure so that embarrassing episodes of beach closures in high season due faecal contamination become anecdotes of the distant past. We know what needs to be done, and there is a plan, but it has been delayed because of past disagreements between central and regional government. This is the time to accelerate it.
- Marine protected areas. Take the existing network of marine protected area to a new level. Investing in management, surveillance and monitoring would support new jobs while restoring fragile marine ecosystems and building a blue infrastructure to support fisheries and a more sustainable tourism.
- Transform Balearic fisheries. Let’s have the most sustainable fishing fleet of the Mediterranean. Replace old fishing gear with low-impact technology and support the sector to diversify and add value to their high-quality fresh products.
- Access to nature. Invest in green infrastructure, restoring landscapes, paths and parks in urban, rural and coastal areas. This will create job opportunities and deliver health benefits.
- Make buildings more efficient. It needs to be about the building sector then concentrate the effort on making buildings more energy efficient, improving insulation and installing water saving solutions.
These five steps will not solve all our problems, but they will certainly help us to put the economic recovery on a stronger footing. The Balearic Islands' prosperity depends on the sea and the environment being in good shape. Maintaining natural infrastructure should be at the centre of our economic recovery. Without it we can’t achieve the sustainable tourism model that we all want. Fortunately, we are not starting from zero. The Balearics can be in the vanguard of a green (and blue!) economic recovery, a light that illuminates the rest of the Mediterranean.