The environmental deficit

The environmental deficit is still rising and  the long-winded Budget speech by Finance Minister Edward Scicluna last Monday did not address it.

Through the MDA, their association, property developers have expressed satisfaction at the Budget as, once more, it has taken up their proposals intended to further extend tax incentive schemes linked to the purchase of property. The budget presents these measures as being of a social nature when, in fact, that are anti-environmental measures because their direct impact is the take-up of more land as well as additional pressure on the intensification of the development of our urban areas.

Cruise liner tourism comes in for substantial praise in the Budget speech. Minister Scicluna was over-enthusiastic in announcing that there has been a 75 per cent  increase in the cruise liner industry in Malta over the last six years. He may not be sufficiently aware that the cruise liner industry is a substantial contributor to the degradation of air quality. Various studies have been carried out on the environmental impacts of cruise liners on the high seas and the subject has also been studied by a local environmental NGO with the support of their German counterparts.

Their studies revealed that air samples taken from the Grand Harbour area indicte the presence of a high level of microscopic particulate matter, which is ending in the respiratory systems of those living, working or passing through this area. Similar issues undoubtedly exist in Birżebbuġa as a result of the operations of the Freeport.

A possible solution to address this problem  is the introduction of a compulsory shore-to-ship electricity supply – in respect of which preliminary studies have already been carried out. The studies, however, are not enough. They require a commitment to act – a commitment is currently non-existent. The studies date back to 2014 in respect of the Grand Harbour and to 2018 in respect of Birżebbuġa.

The government has not yet announced the cut-off date for the importation of cars running on petrol and diesel. We were informed that it may be announced some time in 2020. The government strategy in this respect is taking too long too formulate – given that it was announced by the Prime Minister over two years ago.

There is alack of seriousness about the manner in which this issue is being addressed. It  does not just involve determining when no more vehicles running on petrol or diesel will be imported; it also involves the current acute interest in the development of new fuel service stations in various parts of the island. Why do we need such fuel service stations if electrification of private transport is around the corner? An immediate moratorium on the development of new fuel service stations would have been quite appropriate, given that it is accepted by one and all that there will be no use for them!

In addition, the budget praises the heavy investment in road infrastructure, in particular the construction fly-overs and tunnels, the construction of which are either already in hand or else at an advanced state of planning. The justification for this, as has been made through various statements over the months, is to address the ever-increasing traffic congestion.

Studies carried out all over the world have repeatedly revealed that such developments in the road infrastructure inevitably leads to more traffic. Minster Scicluna ignores this experience from other countries and keeps insisting in channelling millions of euros down the drain. He should consult the Transport Master-Plan, drawn up under the direction of his own government, which clearly lists the reduction of the number of vehicles on our roads as an essential objective. The Finance Minister should query why his government commissions experts for their advice which it then ignores.

The Government has, at last realised that it needs a ‘Green New Deal’ strategy – a strategy which addresses the impacts of climate change sustainably, economically, ecologically and socially. But for such a strategy to make sense, it should first dismantle its existing strategies which are in direct opposition to a ‘Green New Deal’.

It does not make sense, for example, for the Government to declare the need to protect the environment and then hands out all sorts of incentives to encourage the property market. Nor does it make sense to keep to its programme of intensive development of the road infrastructure, or to keep pushing for the development of a tunnel between Malta and Gozo, which will only serve the free movement of more cars between the islands.

Instead of grants for batteries to store electricity generated through solar panels, it would have been much better had the Government embarked on a massive investment to ensure a better distribution network of electricity, as this would – of itself – increase the potential for the generation of more renewable energy by households. The lack of effective measures to generate more energy from renewable sources clearly shows that Government is not really committed to drafting and implementing a real ‘Green New Deal’ strategy.

The Minister of Finance is taking everybody for a ride when, on the one hand he speaks of Gozo as an ecological island and then, on the other, keeps insisting on the ‘need’ for a tunnel between the islands, – which will only serve to accelerate the environmental degradation of Gozo.

The environmental deficit is clearly out of control.

 

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday 20 October 2019

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