Aug 01

The ‘Global Sustainability Fellows-GSF’ positions La Palma as a potential world model of sustainable development

The Global Sustainability Fellows (GSF) programme in La Palma closed last Friday at the Benahoarita Archaeological Museum in Los Llanos de Aridane with the presentation of the results of the work carried out on the island, which give life to the master document that proposes the future leaders in sustainability for the development of the island, according to the organisation.

The closing ceremony was attended by Michael Ben-Eli, precursor of the Global Sustainability Fellows and founder of the Sustainability Lab in New York; Vanessa Armendáriz, director of the GSF Programme; María Inmaculada González Pérez, vice-rector of Internationalisation and Cooperation of the University of La Laguna. The event was attended by Carmelo León, Sergio Moreno Gil, Director of the University Institute of Tourism and Sustainable Economic Development of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (ULPGC); Raquel Rebollo, Councillor for Tourism of the La Palma Island Council, and Verónica González Acosta, Councillor for Local Development of the Los Llanos de Aridane Town Council.

The event was attended by the professor and director of the UNESCO Chair of Tourism and Sustainable Economic Development of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (ULPGC), Carmelo León.

The closing of the Global Sustainability Fellows-GSF La Palma was divided into two parts, the first one for the presentation of the vision and the main conclusions reached during the three weeks of work in La Palma and the second one for the institutional closing.

During the presentation of the results, in which professionals from different sectors of La Palma were also present, the agents participating in the programme presented their visions, challenges and guidelines to bring the island closer to the new paradigm of sustainable development sought, based on field work that has focused on the interaction with the social, economic, environmental and cultural reality of La Palma, through contact with relevant actors of the island and the region.

Paula Clemente, representing the young agents of global sustainability, gave an overview of the project carried out in La Palma, highlighting the diverse and multi-focal nature of the work programme, the approach to sustainability followed and the methodological tools used, and expressed the interest of the results obtained, given that it is an approach that is part of a training process and with time limitations. In his opinion, it will form a document of reflections on the conduct of the sustainability process on the island, but, in addition, through the sustainability agents and the participating Laboratory, it forms a framework of “useful tools for working in other countries”.

Clemente explained how the three-week working campus in La Palma went, in which the group began by learning and understanding “more theoretical concepts and methodology, to understand how the Global Sustainability Fellows works”, and then delved into local experiences and knowledge, focusing on five key dimensions: spiritual, social, life, material and economic, and integrating all the parts to offer the holistic vision that the programme seeks and that the Laboratory advocates as an approach to address global sustainability. “It is essential that all the elements are linked together – because they are all interrelated – if we are to meet the sustainability challenges facing the island,” Clemente stresses

In this approach to the environment and through contact with local actors to get to know the idiosyncrasy of the island, according to Clemente, the following general and common elements could be detected in the reality of La Palma: “the need for economic diversification; the demographic challenge: migration of young people and an ageing population, the challenge of territorial cohesion and access to affordable housing”.

These observations were responded to with a systematic analysis of each of the dimensions considered, which led to different strategic lines of action that were presented. The island was presented with the vision of becoming “a laboratory of a healthy island ecosystem, with high well-being and quality of life”, combined with good practices for social and economic development.

In his speech, Michael Ben-Eli, precursor of the Global Sustainability Fellows and founder of the Sustainability Lab, underlined the potential of La Palma to “go beyond traditional services, towards true sustainable development, establishing the concept of sustainability as the guiding principle of the island’s organisation”.

Ben-Eli proposes that “the community of La Palma, its citizens, businesses and authorities can work together to create the La Palma Pact, committed to a common vision and an agreed direction for the future development of the island”. With this, “La Palma could find its destiny and open up a different development and new socio-economic opportunities”. For Ben-Eli, “La Palma could be a special model for showcasing initiatives relevant to the sustainability of island ecosystems anywhere in the world, positioning itself at the forefront of sustainability agendas”.

Vanessa Armendáriz, director of the GSF Programme, pointed out that “we are called to return order, because of all the disorder that we generate with our current lifestyle and we are grateful to all the people of the island of La Palma, with whom we found this common vision and we deeply believe that La Palma, with its current conditions and the crossroads in which it finds itself, can be that great laboratory to inspire and to be able to learn sustainable living practices for any other system”. What has happened in La Palma, Armendáriz points out, “is not different from what we are going to face in other places due to Climate Change”, that is why “the people of La Palma, from their experience, can help us to understand what it means to be part of this fabric of life and develop high-level technology that helps us to be aware and start to organise new scenarios for life”. He also showed his interest in articulating a process of collaboration with the island that will continue over time.

For her part, María Inmaculada González Pérez, Vice-Rector for Internationalisation and Cooperation at the University of La Laguna, underlined the “enthusiasm” of this programme and the participation of the two public universities of the Canary Islands and its importance for “the courage to face the greatest challenge of humanity, to confront global problems in an interdisciplinary way, communication between different dimensions and articulation between theory and practice”.

The director of the University Institute of Tourism and Sustainable Economic Development of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Sergio Moreno, indicated that “more than a closing, this is an opening” because “a transforming event like this is an important step forward and a step forward, which demands continuity”. Moreno also took the opportunity to underline what it means to develop a programme like this in La Palma, that the universities of the Canary Islands are part of it, and to respond with unaddressed solutions to challenges that are suddenly beginning to be known.

The Councillor for Tourism, Raquel Rebollo, expressed her gratitude and pride that a programme such as this has been held on the island of La Palma, pointing out that this is “the beginning of a new path that all the people of La Palma and the administrations have to take towards a future for the island of La Palma”.

The programme has involved the presence on the island of 20 sustainability agents, a team of 12 teachers who have made up the faculty and the intervention of 60 specialists, experts in their fields, public and private agents and people affected by the recent volcanic eruption, and has been running since 9 July.

The programme has been made possible thanks to the support of the La Palma Island Council, through the Department of Tourism and the Department of the Environment, the La Palma World Biosphere Reserve Foundation, the Presidency of the Canary Islands Government, the Departments of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries and Ecological Transition of the Canary Islands Government, and the Chamber of Commerce of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the Association for the Rural Development of the Island of La Palma, the Isla Bonita Rural Tourism Association and the Canary Islands Astrophysics Institute.