Juan Verde, a former advisor to Barack Obama on sustainability, urged the public to think about who they vote into power when it comes to the environment.
He was speaking at Gibraltar’s first World Earth Day event, which was held last week at the university.
“The debate is over, climate change is real,” he said during the opening of his presentation.
Mr Verde, a climate change refugee himself having lost his home in Puerto Rico following hurricane Maria, told people they had the power to change the environment not just by their own personal actions, but by who they elected into parliament.
His message comes in a year where Gibraltarians will take to the polls for both local and European elections.
The present Minister for Environment, Dr John Cortes, was in the audience for Mr Verde’s presentation.
Mr Verde told the Chronicle: “Analyse and understand who you are voting for based on their environmental record, so be mindful and be active.”
He also told the audience that if they did not like their options when it came to politicians, then they should run for office.
And if that was not possible, then they should get involved and help anyone whose policies aligned with the environment.
“No matter what we do, if the laws aren’t there, the legislation isn’t there, the regulatory framework isn’t there, there is not much we can do,” he said.
He also urged people to keep the environment in mind when it came to spending their money.
“Companies will follow if you choose a different company because of a different [greener] product,” he said.
During his presentation, Mr Verde also noted that studies have shown that 92% of people would choose environmentally-friendly products if they were offered at the same or lower cost.
“Two equal products or two equal services – for example one naturally, locally-grown organic apple versus one that is grown over 2,000 miles away – and people will always choose the organic and eco-friendly,” he explained to the Chronicle.
It’s “a great missed opportunity for most companies.”
“Most companies are ‘of course but it is so much more expensive to give them that organic apple’.”
“My answer back is ‘no, that is the point, you have to find a way to give your clients what they need and what they want, you just have to do it economically.”
Mr Verde noted that the world is witnessing an unprecedented explosion in innovation and clean technologies that are creating business opportunities.
The survey also showed that 85% of people think companies and governments should have an active role in solving environmental issues and that 44% of consumers would punish companies who act irresponsibly towards the environment.
“There is a strong correlation between climate change and inequality because we here [in Western and industrially-developed societies] are responsible for most of the emissions and they [poorer societies] are suffering for it,” he said.
“They are suffering from our choices and our behaviour, [and] without a doubt the most vulnerable are the communities that are feeling the impact.”
And he added: “Climate change is now globally seen as the greatest threat to us.”
Also speaking at the event was Pancho Campo, CEO of Chrand, who gave an array of examples of the devastation climate change is causing across the world, including water shortages in South Africa.
He noted that greenhouse gases were not the problem but in fact people were and how people consume products was the problem.
“This planet will get to the point where we will not be able to renew resources,” he said.
Touching on how people can assist in combating climate change, he said: “We have to challenge our leaders, demand they lead and we need to support them.”
The event included a panel with four representatives from local businesses, including the Gibraltar Federation of Small Businesses and the Chamber of Commerce. The CEO and Chief Scientist at the Government, Dr Liesl Mesilio, moderated the session on Corporate Social Responsibility.
“CSR is how businesses are acting and embracing corporate responsibility,” she said, giving examples of large companies such as Starbucks.
But her choice of companies was met with concern from some audience members, who argued that they pollute more than protect the environment.
In reply, Dr Mesilio said that businesses have to get credit for the work they do.
“No one has it right at the moment, no business has,” she said.
Owen Smith, from the Gibraltar Federation of Small Businesses, said the climate emergency recently declared by Dr Cortes and the Gibraltar Government signalled “urgency.”
“But, what will that translate to? ……..Tell the truth about what this emergency means,” he said.
Addressing delegates, Dr Cortes referred to the climate change emergency and said: “We have no right to do what we are doing to the earth.”
He said that unless people come together, the children of the future will not be able to enjoy the planet as communities do at present.
The youth of Gibraltar also featured at the event and held a panel discussion, which was moderated by Stephen Warr from the Department of Environment.
The consensus from the young people taking part was that adults were not doing enough and that they wanted to be part of the decision-making process.
After the event Dr Cortes said in a statement: “I found the event stimulating. There was good discussion, as people heard a wide range of views expressed.”
“The more we discuss and debate the environmental problems affecting the planet, the more likely we will take action.”
“But talk must be converted into urgent action, and that is the message that must go out.”
Pics by Johnny Bugeja