The war on nature is suicidal

If we are to register any significant progress in addressing our quality of life we must once and for all end the war on nature. This has been emphasised by Inger Anderson, the Executive Director of UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) when she was addressing the Conference of the Parties of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, currently in session at Montreal.

This has been also emphasised by a multitude of speakers within other fora, notably those related to climate, most recently in Sharm El Sheikh during the latest Climate Summit.

The Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity are just two of the many efforts and initiatives of the international community in order to end the continuous human war on nature.

Small steps forward have been made but they are nowhere near being enough in order to have any significant impact in halting the damage done to date as well as reversing its consequences.

It has been an uphill struggle for more than fifty years. It was in Stockholm fifty years ago, in June 1972, that the international community agreed for the first time ever, to recognise the environment as an important issue to be delt with by the global political agenda.

The UN Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972 laid the foundations for international environmental governance. The Stockholm Conference is in fact credited with introducing the environment in the contemporary political lexicon.

Opening the United Nations Montreal Biodiversity Conference, this week, Antonio Guterres-UN Secretary General, said that humans are treating nature “as a toilet”. Nature, said Guterres, is humanity’s best friend: without nature, we have nothing, without nature we are nothing!

We threaten nature in many ways: urbanisation, deforestation, agricultural intensification, all forms of pollution, climate change as well as the spread of invasive species. Possibly these are the primary vehicles used in the intensive war waged by humanity against nature.

It is about time that we seek ways to make peace. With nature, however, there is no room for negotiation! We must seek to make peace before nature strikes back with full force. It is already retaliating, and this will definitely get much worse.

There is no possibility to negotiate with nature, her demands are clear and simple: unconditional surrender. We need to change our ways and habits. Nature can be a reliable friend but if transformed into an enemy, it is ruthless, as climate change shows continuously and unequivocally.

Nature is what sustains everything on earth, yet it is declining on a global level. The rate of extinction of species is increasing exponentially.

Expanding protected areas is not enough to arrest nature’s decline. We need to change our behaviour through seriously addressing the various environmental threats. We must limit the spread of invasive species, and halt deforestation. We need to protect agricultural land. It is imperative that we drive some sense into land use planning. We also need to eliminate environmentally harmful subsidies. We need to protect what’s left of the natural resources which we have been provided with!

It is only when our actions match our nice words that we can start achieving the required results. Until then, we inch closer to a collective suicide.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 11 December 2022

Jgħadduna biż-żmien

L-Awtorità tal-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi (ERA) għadha kif ippubblikat abbozz ta’ Strateġija Nazzjonali dwar l-Ambjent għal konsultazzjoni pubblika. Dan l-abbozz ippubblikatu bl-Ingliż biss. Qiesu t-tmexxija tal-ERA ma tafx bil-Malti.

Minn awtorità pubblika nistennew ferm aħjar minn hekk. Kemm ser iddumu tinsulentawna? L-iskuża li l-Malti mhux addattat għal dokument tekniku mhiex waħda aċċettabbli. In-nuqqas ta’ dokument bil-Malti hi opportunutà mitlufa biex l-ERA tikkomunika iktar man-nies.

Iżda lil hinn mil-lingwa, l-istrateġija ambjentali li qed tkun proposta hi waħda ġenerika. Fiha tmien għanijiet li hu propost li jintlaħqu sal-2050. Il-lista tal-għanijiet li l-ERA trid tindirizza mhiex il-problema, għax il-problema hija li dawn l-għanijiet huma affarijiet li ilna niddiskutu żmien: ġew ippubblikati biżibilju rapporti, strateġiji u regoli jew policies li jkunu saru b’intenzjonijiet tajba tul is-snin!  Il-problemi jinqalgħu dejjem meta nfittxu li nimplimentaw il-miżuri meħtieġa biex jitwettqu dawn l-għanijiet. F’dak il-mument jinqagħu elf skuża, għax fir-realtà ma hemmx il-volontà politika li jittieħdu passi bis-serjetà.

Dan hu bil-bosta differenti milli jipprova jgħid ic-Chairman tal-ERA fid-daħla bl-Ingliż li kiteb għad-dokument konsultattiv! Din hi storja li għaddejna minnha diversi drabi!

Il-ħsara ambjentali li saret tul is-snin mhiex xi ħaġa li ser tkun irranġata mil-lum għall-għada.  Ħadd m’għandu jistenna riżultati malajr fil-mixja biex insewwu l-ħsara ambjentali li tħalliet takkumula tul is-snin.

Il-ħarsien tal-ambjent jinvolvi li jinbidlu deċiżjonijiet politiċi diversi li ittieħdu tul is-snin li kienu parti mill-kawża ta’ ħsara konsiderevoli. Ifisser ukoll li nibdlu attitudnijiet, drawwiet u l-mod kif inġibu ruħna.

Fid-daħla għad-dokument konsultattiv iċ-Chairman tal-ERA Chairman, Victor Axiak, jistqarr li jista’ jkun hemm ħtieġa ta’ sagrifiċċji żgħar fl-immedjat biex niksbu benefiċċji ambjentali fit-tul li jitgawdew minn ġenerazzjonijiet futuri. Din hi dikjarazzjoni li prattikament kulħadd jaqbel magħha. Imma dikjarazzjoni bħal din teħtieġ ukoll li tkun segwita minn lista ta’ miżuri meħtieġa biex tittieħed azzjoni dwarhom,  lista li tvarja minn miżuri li jistgħu jittieħdu immedjatament għal oħrajn li jħarsu iktar fit-tul.

Ma baqax iktar żmien biex noqgħodu niffilosifizzaw dwar l-ambjent.  Il-problemi nafu x’inhuma u  nafu ukoll min fejn ġejjin u min hu l-kawża tagħhom! Tħejjew kwantità ta’ rapporti, strateġiji, pjani t’azzjoni u x’naf jien tul is-snin. Kull Ministru ġdid ipprova jagħti l-impressjoni li hu jew hi sabet is-soluzzjoni b’nisġa ta’ kliem sabiħ li jipprova jimpressjona. Sfortunatament ir-rapporti tekniċi li saru kif ukoll dak li qalu in-nies waqt konsultazzjonijiet pubbliċi, bosta drabi ġie injorat.  Anzi xi drabi l-gvernijiet saħansitra aġixxew bil-maqlub ta’ dak propost jew maqbul!

L-istrateġija proposta illum, per eżempju,  tiffilosofizza dwar il-ħtieġa li innaqqsu id-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi u tinsisti li għandhom jonqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna.  Jekk wieħed imur lura u jerġa’ jaqra ftit l-istrateġija nazzjonali dwar it-trasport, li kienet iffinalizzat sitt snin ilu, jsib eżattament l-istess argumenti. Imma minflok ma ħa l-passi meħtieġa, l-Gvern – kemm direttament kif ukoll permezz tal-agenziji u l-awtoritajiet tiegħu – għamel bil-maqlub!

Kull studju li sar, kemm f’Malta kif ukoll barra minn xtutna, repetutament ikkonkluda li żvilupp massiċċ tal-infrastruttura tat-toroq twassal biex awtomatikament jiżdiedu l-karozzi fit-toroq. Kif mistenni, anke f’Malta, hekk ġara. Il-konġestjoni u l-problemi tat-traffiku żdiedu mhux naqsu riżultat tal-proġetti diversi tat-toroq. Dan seħħ għax kuntrarju tal-pariri li kellu, l-Gvern ma indirizzax il-kawza tal-problemi, imma indirizza l-effett.  Il-problema mhiex il-wisa’ jew it-tul tat-toroq, imma n-numru ta’ karozzi fit-toroq. Is-sitwazzjoni illum – f’ħafna każi  – hi agħar milli kienet qabel ma saru dawn il-proġetti.  

Minnbarra dan, daqslikieku mhux biżżejjed, l-awtoritajiet għamlu is-snin jinkoraġixxu l-iżvilupp ta’ petrol stations kbar, qieshom supermarkets. Dawn ħarbtu ammont mhux żgħir ta’ raba’. Biex issa jiġu jgħidulna kemm iridu jipproteġu l-agrikultura!

Kif nistgħu ntejbu l-kwalità tal-arja jekk nibqgħu nżidu l-karozzi fit-toroq tagħna?  Uħud forsi jargumentaw li s-soluzzjoni qegħda wara l-bieb bl-introduzzjoni tal-karozzi tal-elettriku inkella bl-użu tal-idroġenu jew xi fuel ieħor alternattiv. Dan ikun biss soluzzjoni parzjali għax fl-aħħar mill-aħħar irridu naraw kif ikun ġġenerat l-elettriku meħtieġ inkella kif ikun prodott l-idroġenu jew fuel alternattiv.

M’għandiex ammont suffiċjenti ta’ enerġija rinovabbli iġġenerata lokalment għax l-għorrief li ħadu id-deċiżjonijiet ftaħru fil-passat kemm kien irnexxielhom jinnegozjaw deroga tajba biex il-mira nazzjonali ta’ ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija rinovabbli ma tkunx 20% imma 10% tal-elettriku ikkunsmat. Ħtija ta’ hekk, illum m’għandniex ammont suffiċjenti ta’ enerġija rinovabbli.  Meta għandna l-ħtieġa ta’ enerġija elettrika bi prezz raġjonevoli  għandna nuqqas f’dan il-qasam li għalih qed inħallsu bizzalza.

Id-dipendenza li għandna bħala pajjiż fuq il-karozzi privati hi riżultat ta’ traskuraġni politika tat-trasport pubbliku tul is-snin. Li t-trasport pubbliku jkun b’xejn minn dan ix-xahar kienet deċiżjoni prematura. L-ewwel pass messu kien li tkun indirizzata l-effiċjenza u l-puntwalità tas-servizz. Il-prezz qatt ma kien problema.

Hu meħtieġ li l-effiċjenza u l-puntwalità tas-servizz ikunu indirizzati b’urġenza. Meta dan isir jagħmel ġid ambjentali ferm iktar mill-argumenti tekniċi kollha dwar kemm hemm ħtieġa li nħarsu l-ambjent. Trasport pubbliku effiċjenti flimkien ma investiment f’modi alternattivi ta’ transport hu ta’ benefiċċju ambjentali enormi.

Din hi uġiegħ ta’ ras kbira. Pariri ċari kien hemm. Iżda meta kien possibli li l-problema tkun indirizzata, l-Gvern, direttament kif ukoll permezz tal-awtoritajiet u aġenziji diversi tiegħu, ġie jaqa’ u jqum minn dan u għamel bil-maqlub!

Argumenti simili jistgħu jsiru dwar numru kbir ta’ materji ta’ importanza ambjentali: mill-ilma sal-pestiċidi, mill-użu tal-art sal-bijodiversità, mill-isforzi favur ekonomija ċirkulari għal taxxi ambjentali iddiżinjati sewwa.

Il-mod kif il-politika dwar it-trasport tħalliet għan-niżla hu biss eżempju wieħed żgħir minn fost bosta li jwassal għall-konklużjoni inevitabbli li ma teżistix rieda politika biex il-ħsara ambjentali tkun indirizzata bis-serjetà.

Il-konsultazzjoni pubblika tal-ERA sfortunatament hi fażi oħra fi proċess li permezz tiegħu qed jippruvaw jgħadduna biż-żmien.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Hadd 23 t’Ottubru 202https://www.illum.com.mt/opinjoni/politika/66843/carmel_cacopardo__jgadduna_bimien?fbclid=IwAR1CqEPhkXnPODQTe040-dkJEpxDoX2Z2ZxgMLB6K3UofHZ4qjdFXa8WY2Y#.Y1kATbZBzIV2

aqra ukoll dokument sottomessmill-ADPD lill-ERA hawn

A post-Covid future

It is too simplistic to state that the surge in Covid-19 new cases is the unique responsibility of more efficient strains of the virus. The efficient virus was without doubt, for quite some time, assisted by a practically inexistent enforcement. Until last week, substantial gatherings around a number of bar outlets were definitely not monitored with any strain of virus present having a practically free rein. The high Covid infection rate is also a consequence of all this.

The virus is thus not just more efficient, it has also encountered a lax enforcement which together with Covid-19 fatigue have made its proliferation much easier. Matters were also not made easier as a result of over-optimism and back-to-normal-soon messages. These messages together with the denigration of warnings on the potential impact of additional waves of virus infection has led us to the current state of play.

It is only thanks to the hard work of the medical personnel that matters are not much worse. One only hopes that lessons are learnt and that errors of judgement are not repeated. In the prevailing circumstances, the only permissible errors are those made on the side of caution.

The financial support which government has provided to a number of sectors, which support has been increased and extended, has certainly been helpful in the short term. While prioritising the health of all we can also use this down-time to plan for the future, a post-Covid future.

The vaccination programme is a reasonable source of optimism even though the light at the end of the tunnel is not visible yet.

Nobody contests that even as a result of Covid-19, the economy is in tatters, not just the Maltese economy, but possibly the world economy! The national debate should, at this point in time, be focused on how we ought to proceed into the future. Do we rebuild the past or do we take this unique opportunity to reshape the future?

The education of future generations has been dealt a severe blow as at the end of this Covid-phase at least two years of formal education will have been wiped out. Online education has certainly been of considerable help even though it is no substitute to the direct contact between our educators and students. This applies to all levels of education but more importantly at the primary and secondary school levels. It would be indeed unfortunate if anyone of the most vulnerable goes below the educational radar, as a result of Covid.  

Recovery will definitely not be easy.

A positive aspect of the tools utilised to cope with Covid was the increased reliance on digitalisation in general and tele-working in particular. We will definitely need to discuss the implications of this in considerable depth in the debate on the post-Covid future as both rights and duties in this area are not sufficiently clear yet.

Covid, like other major epidemics (AIDS, Ebola, SARS) is a direct result of the mistreatment of nature. It is specifically the consequence of the human assault on biodiversity.

Nature has a habit of calling the shots whenever it deems fit. Viruses follow natural paths and until brought in check by proper behaviour on our part, they will reign supreme.

Tinkering with nature and natural processes always backfires. There is then a price to pay and we ignore this at our peril.

None of us, most probably, has consumed infected meat from bats or chimpanzees. However, we tinker with nature in other ways, which, in the longer term are just as lethal as viruses which jump from bats to man.

Covid has shown that nature runs roughshod over an economy which is disrespectful to the ecology and eco-systems. Nature always has the final word. Can we possibly learn the lesson this time?

In the coming weeks when hopefully matters are clearer it would be opportune if we embark on planning the future, together. Our future requires a green plan which is both fair and sustainable: A Green New Deal. A future which does not repeat past errors but which instead seeks a healthy re-establishment of the links between man and nature. Too much damage has been caused over the years through the rupture of our links with nature in an effort to conquer and domesticate it. The future does not lie in man’s violent control of nature but rather through working in partnership with it.

After all this is what sustainability is all about.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 14 March 2021

Ħbieb tan-natura …… b’subgħajhom fuq il-grillu

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, l-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni Bernard Grech ħatar il-kelliema tal-Opposizzjoni (Shadow Cabinet), fosthom kelliemi għall-kaċċa u l-insib. Mexa fuq il-passi tal-Gvern u ssepara din ir-responsabbiltà minn dik ambjentali, fejn hu postha.

B’dan il-pass, il-Partit Nazzjonalista ukoll tana messaġġ ċar li anke hu jiġu jaqa’ u jqum mir-responsabbiltajiet ambjentali tal-pajjiż. Il-kaċċa u l-insib għandhom ikunu regolati skond id-Direttiva Ewropeja dwar l-Għasafar.

Il-Gvern qiegħed kontinwament attent li jbiegħed il-kaċċa u l-insib mill-istrutturi regolatorji ambjentali biex jasserixxi l-kontroll politiku. Il-Unit dwar l-Għasafar fl-2013 inqala’ mill-qafas regolatorju ambjentali. L-ewwel tqiegħed fil-Ministeru responsabbli mill-agrikultura u issa spiċċa fil-Ministeru għal Għawdex.

Il-Partiti fil-Parlament huma ċari fil-messaġġ tagħhom: il-kaċċa u l-insib, għalihom mhux meqjusa ambjent, imma jarawhom biss f’termini ta’ voti.  

Il-kaċċa u l-insib għandhom ikunu regolati f’qafas regolatorju ambjentali, speċifikament bħala parti minn strateġija realistika dwar il-biodiversità. Din hi raġuni ewlenija għalfejn nopponu bil-qawwa l-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa. Għax hu fir-rebbiegħa li n-natura jkollha l-possibilità li tistejqer u tirriġenera ruħha. Jekk mhux ser tieqaf il-kaċċa tal-għasafar fir-rebbiegħa tibqa’ tikber il-ħsara lill-biodiversità. Din hi verità ambjentali bażika li iktar ma tkun aċċettata minn kulħadd, aħjar.  

NET TV nhar l-Erbgħa irrapporta li Edwin Vassallo inħatar bħala l-kelliemi tal-PN fil-Parlament dwar il-ħarsien tad-delizzji tradizzjonali. Għax il-PN, bħall-Labour, iħarsu lejn il-kaċċa u l-insib tal-għasafar esklussivament f’termini ta’ voti. Għad m’għandhomx idea dwar l-impatti ambjentali li qed jinjoraw.

B’mod redikolu, meta Bernard Grech iltaqa’ ma’ rappresentanti tal-kaċċaturi, l-FKNK, huwa iddeskriva lill-kaċċaturi u lin-nassaba bħala ħbieb tan-natura. Il-ħbieb tan-natura ma jkunux armati!   

Minn meta ‘l hawn il-ħbieb tan-natura jisplodu l-għasafar fl-ajru jew jaqfluhom f’gaġeġ?  

Huwa ċar li Bernard Grech u l-PN li hu jmexxi, għadu mħawwad fejn jikkonċerna l-ambjent. Mhiex xi ħaġa ġdida din!  Tfisser biss li l-PN għadu ma tgħallem xejn minn dak li għadda minnu f’dawn l-aħħar snin. Billi jilgħaq lill-kaċċaturi u lin-nassaba m’hu ser jasal imkien.

F’qasam fejn diversi għadhom jippretendu li jagħmlu li jridu kont nistenna li Bernard Grech jappoġġa lil dawk li qed jinsistu għal regolamentazzjoni rigoruża tal-kaċċa. Kliemu, sfortunatament, jinkoraġixxi lil dawk li jabbużaw, inkluż lil dawk li jiġu jaqgħu u jqumu minn l-għasafar protetti. Għandu jifhem ukoll li l-perjodu ta’ transizzjoni dwar l-insib kif imfisser dettaljatament fit-trattat li bih Malta issieħbet fl-EU ilu li skada.  Dan ifisser li l-insib suppost li ilu li spiċċa minn Malta. Il-kummenti ta’ Bernard Grech, għaldaqstant jinkoraġixxu attività illegali. Is-saltna tad-dritt, Dr Grech, tapplika għall-kaċċa u l-insib ukoll!

F’Jannar 2017, predeċessur ta’ Bernard Grech ippubblika l-politika ambjentali tal-PN fi ktejjeb intitolat “Kwalità tal-Ħajja Aħjar”.  F’dan id-dokument ma ssibx referenza għall-kaċċa u għall-insib. Id-dokument jiddiskuti l-biodiversità f’termini ġenerali u jemfasizza li f’Malta l-ekosistemi mhux imħarsa u l-biodiversità qed tiddgħajjef kontinwament.  L-appoġġ tal-PN lill-kaċċa u l-insib (bħalma jagħmel il-Labour) hu attakk frontali kontra l-biodiversità. Hemm bżonn li jiġu f’sensihom.  

L-insib diġa hu illegali. Anke l-kaċċa jeħtieġ li tkun imrazzna u mhux tkun inkoraġġita.

Ambjentalment il-PN għadu lura ħafna.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 24 ta’ Jannar 2021

Nature lovers …………… with a gun

In his first Shadow Cabinet the Leader of the Opposition Bernard Grech has appointed a spokesperson for hunting and trapping. A responsibility which, parroting the Government, has not been included within the remit of the spokesperson for the environment.

In so doing, the PN too has given notice that it does not give a fig about Malta’s environmental responsibilities. Hunting and trapping are to be regulated in accordance to the environmental acquis, specifically in line with the provisions of the Birds Directive of the EU.

This government has consistently parked hunting and trapping far away from the environmental regulatory structures. The Wild Birds Study Unit was in 2013 divorced from the environmental setup and parked within the Ministry responsible for Agriculture, subsequently moving to the Ministry for Gozo.

The clear message delivered by both the PN and the Labour Party is that they do not consider hunting and trapping to be environmental issues. We have been aware of this for quite a long time.

Hunting and trapping should be regulated within a general environment framework, specifically as part of a realistic biodiversity strategy. This is the basic reason why greens object to spring hunting. It is during spring that nature has the possibility to regenerate. Not banning spring bird-hunting across the board is damaging to biodiversity. This is a basic environmental truth which needs to be accepted by all, and the sooner that this is done, the better.

NET TV reported on Wednesday that Edwin Vassallo was the PN’s spokesperson relative to “the defence of traditional hobbies” (Il-ħarsien tad-delizzji tradizzjonali). The PN, just like Labour, assess bird-hunting and trapping exclusively on their voting potential: they still do not have a clue of their serious environmental impact.

Meeting with the representatives of the hunters’ federation, FKNK, earlier this week, Bernard Grech ridiculously described hunters and trappers as nature lovers. Nature lovers with a gun. Bernard Grech wants to address the negative perception of hunters and trappers in the Maltese islands by green-washing them. 

Since when do nature lovers blast birds out of the sky or enclose them in cages?

Clearly Bernard Grech, and the PN which he leads, has got his environmental bearings mixed up. There is nothing new about it. It only signifies that the PN has not learnt anything from its experiences in the past years. Bootlicking hunters and trappers will not get it anywhere.

In an area of activity where laissez-faire is prevalent, one would have expected Bernard Grech to take up the case in favour of more rigorous regulation of hunting. His words, alas, encourage the abusive actions of those hunters who blast anything that flies, in particular protected birds. He should also be aware that the transition period relative to bird-trapping in the treaty regulating Malta’s EU accession has elapsed quite some time ago. This signifies that bird-trapping should have been abolished long ago on these islands. Bernard Grech’s comments are thus encouraging illegal activity. The rule of law is applicable to hunting and trapping too!

In January 2017, Bernard Grech’s predecessor had published an environmental policy for the PN entitled “A Better Quality of Life”.  The said document does not refer to hunting or trapping. It does however discuss biodiversity in general terms emphasising that in Malta, ecoystems and habitats are not adequately protected and their biodiversity is in decline. When the PN (like the PL) supports hunters and trappers it is reinforcing the frontal attack on biodiversity. Is it not about time that they come to their senses?

Bird trapping is already illegal. Hunting should be curtailed as much as possible and not further encouraged.

Environmentally the PN is as retrograde as ever.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 24 January 2021

Obliterating the future

Humanity is at war with nature. Isn’t it about time for peace?

This is the basic message of António Guterres, United Nations Secretary General, in an address delivered at Columbia University earlier this week.

António Guterres said: “Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal. Nature always strikes back – and it is already doing so with growing force and fury. Biodiversity is collapsing. One million species are at risk of extinction. Ecosystems are disappearing before our eyes.”

If humanity keeps the current pace there is the danger that we destroy the future before we have even understood the risks that we are continuously creating.

The past decade has been the hottest in human history. Some are still focusing on short term gains ignoring long term losses. Even if all the commitments made at the Paris Climate Summit in 2015 are honoured completely, we would still have some way to go in order to attain the agreed minimum objectives: limiting the global mean temperature increase to not more than 2 degrees Celsius, hopefully closer to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Beyond the 2-degree limit climate change will become catastrophic and irreversible.

Climate change is nature fighting back forcefully, without discriminating. The war is on at full speed all over the globe. In some parts it is drought. In others it is floods. Havoc is the result everywhere. The intensity and frequency of storms is on the increase as the cumulative impacts of our actions continuously increase.

There is no possibility to negotiate with nature, her demands are clear and simple: unconditional surrender. We need to change our ways and habits. Nature can be a reliable friend but if transformed into an enemy, it is ruthless as climate change shows unequivocally.

It has been a hectic 48 years since the first ministers for the environment were appointed as a direct result of the deliberations of the international community in the UN Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in June 1972. Some progress has definitely been achieved over the years but it is certainly nowhere close to enough.

It has been realised that there is only one earth which we need to care for. It has been 34 years since the Brundtland report placed sustainable development on the international agenda. Though officially accepted as an important policy objective, it is still subject to mental gymnastics in determining practical every day action to reduce impacts which threaten our future.

The spirit of the 2015 Paris summit is one which recognised the need for urgent action, yet five years down the line procrastination is still the order of the day. As we may have realised by now, half measures are not effective in addressing nature’s revenge.

We cannot keep postponing the decision to determine the cut-off date for the elimination of petrol and diesel run vehicles from our roads. The decision announced in September 2017 is taking too long to implement leading to the reasonable assumption that reluctance is having the upper hand.

The electrification of our roads is one important step which needs to be implemented rapidly if we are to start the path to carbon neutrality in a meaningful way. It must however also be accompanied by a reduction of the number of cars on our roads, an achievable objective, given the small distances which we travel in such a small country. 

It is to be underlined, once more, that the Transport Master Plan for the Maltese Islands has identified that around 50 per cent of our car journeys are for short distances in respect if which we can definitely use alternative means.  This signifies that the required changes, in our case, are less painful, even in the short term. We need however to address contradictory policy stances: the required reduction of cars from our roads will be more difficult to achieve if the development of large-scale road infrastructure is still the order of the day. Even the proposed Gozo Channel tunnel falls in this category as its feasibility is dependent on maximising car movements, a requirement which is in direct contradiction to the Paris Climate Summit conclusions!

The risk of obliterating the future is still present. Nature will not be fooled. It can distinguish between greenwash and meaningful action. Unfortunately, it is clear that it has not been impressed by our action to date. There is not much time left to change course.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 December 2020

Drittijiet Ambjentali bir-riforma kostituzzjonali

Il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali, meta tiġi, tkun opportunità unika biex ikunu ntrodotti drittijiet ambjentali fil-Kostituzzjoni. Dan jista’ u għandu jseħħ billi dawn id-drittijiet jinkitbu b’mod ċar u li ma jħallux lok għal miżinterpretazzjoni f’riforma li ilna nistennew żmien kbir.

Id-drittijiet ambjentali, għandhom ikunu ċari daqs id-drittijiet dwar il-propjetà. Għax il-Kostituzzjoni, b’mod pervers, filwaqt li tipproteġi drittijiet dwar il-propjetà, illum ma toffri l-ebda protezzjoni għal drittijiet ambjentali bħad-dritt għal arja nadifa inkella għal aċċess għal ilma nadif. L-anqas ma tipproteġi l-bijodiversità jew il-pajsaġġ jew kwalunkwe dritt ambjentali ieħor bħall-ħarsien tar-riżorsi naturali. Id-drittijiet tal-individwi huma b’xi mod protetti imma d-drittijiet tal-komunità l-anqas biss jissemmew.

Meta wieħed iqis li d-drittijiet tal-ġenerazzjonijiet preżenti huma kemm kemm protetti, xejn ma hemm biex niskantaw jekk il-liġi bażika tagħna tinjora lill-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri għal kollox.

Waqt li dan kollu kien għaddej, Malta, fuq livell internazzjonali nsistiet dwar il-ħarsien ta’ qiegħ il-baħar (1967), dwar il-klima (1988) u dwar il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri (1992). Imma minkejja dawn l-isforzi fuq livell internazzjonali, ma sar l-ebda sforz lokali biex dak li nippriedkaw barra minn xtutna nipprattikawh f’artna.  

Il-Kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta, fil-Kapitlu 2 tagħha, għanda sett ta’ linji gwida biex dawn ikunu ta’ għajnuna lill-Gvern billi b’mod ġenerali jindikaw it-triq li jeħtieġ li jimxi fuqha.  Wieħed minn dawn il-prinċipji gwida huwa dwar il-ħarsien ambjentali. Dan tfassal oriġinalment fl-1964 u ġie emendat riċentement.  

Wara din il-lista ta’ linji gwida, fl-aħħar tagħhom, il-Kostituzzjoni tgħidilna li ma tistax tmur il-Qorti biex tinfurzhom!

Dan il-kapitlu tal-Kostituzzjoni huwa mfassal fuq dak li hemm fil-Kostituzzjoni tal-Irlanda u tal-Indja. Kif jispjega Tonio Borg fil-kummentarju tiegħu dwar il-kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta, l-Qorti Suprema Indjana minkejja kollox, imma, interpretat il-linji gwida fil-Kostituzzjoni Indjana bħala l-kuxjenza tal-kostituzzjoni : linja gwida tabilħaqq.  Għax x’jiswa’ li toqgħod tipprietka u tħambaq dwar il-prinċipji bażiċi u l-linji gwida jekk imbagħad iżżomhom milli jkunu infurzati?

Sfortunatament, din l-istess attitudni kienet addottata meta tfasslet leġislazzjoni dwar l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art u dwar l-ambjent. Anke hawn wara ħafna dikjarazzjonijiet ta’ prinċipji nsibu li dwar dawn ukoll ma tistax tmur il-Qorti biex tinfurzhom.

Fis-sottomissjonijiet tagħha lill Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali, Alternattiva Demokratika,  ipproponiet li dan il-kapitlu fil-kostituzzjoni għandu jkun revedut b’mod li jkun assigurat li l-Gvern dejjem jimxi mal-linji gwida kostituzzjonali.   

F’pajjiżi oħra, s-soċjetà ċivili, meta meħtieġ, tieħu azzjoni legali kontra l-Gvern biex tassigura li dan jerfa’ r-responsabbiltajiet ambjentali tiegħu f’kull ħin.

Għandi f’moħħi żewġ eżempji partikolari.

L-ewwel wieħed hu dwar azzjoni legali fir-Renju Unit mill-għaqda ambjentali  Client Earth dwar il-mod kajman li bih il-Gvern Ingliż mexa fil-konfront ta’ strateġija nazzjonali dwar il-kwalità tal-arja. Il-materja spiċċat quddiem il-Qorti Suprema li f’deċiżjoni ta’ struzzjonijiet lill-Gvern dwar iż-żmien sa meta għandha tkun lesta din l-istrateġija.   

It-tieni eżempju qiegħed l-Olanda u jikkonċerna t-tibdil fil-klima u l-grupp ambjentali  Urgenda li mar il-Qorti biex iġiegħel lil Gvern jistabilixxi miri raġjonevoli dwar emissjonijiet li għandhom impatt fuq il-bidla fil-klima.

F’dawn l-eżempji, u probabbilment f’bosta oħrajn, l-azzjoni tal-Gvern kienet ferm inferjuri għall-aspettattivi tas-soċjetà ċivili. Ikun tajjeb li l-kostituzzjoni tipprovdina bl-għodda biex kull meta l-Gvern jonqos milli jimxi mal-miri kostituzzjonali ikun possibli li nippruvaw inġibuh f’sensieh.

Sal-lum niddependu mill-Kummissjoni Ewropeja bit-tama li meta jkun meħtieġ din tieħu passi. Nistqarr li f’materji ambjentali, bosta drabi tiddisappuntana u ma tagħmilx dak li nistennew minn għandha.

Il-konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali sal-lum, tista’ tkun l-unika forum fejn dan id-difett kostituzzjonali jkun possibli li nikkoreġuh. Għax hu l-waqt li d-drittijiet ambjentali jsiru parti integrali mill-kostituzzjoni.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 6 ta’ Settembru 2020

Green rights through Constitutional reform

The forthcoming Constitutional Convention, whenever it happens, is an opportunity to entrench green rights in the Constitution. This can be carried out through spelling out such rights unequivocally during the long overdue constitution reform process.

Environmental rights should be spelled out just as clearly as property rights. Our Constitution perversely protects property rights but then does not protect our right to clean air or the access to clean water. Nor does it protect our biodiversity or our landscape or any other environmental right. Individual rights are somehow protected but then the rights of the community are not even given a mention.

When one considers that the rights of the present generations are very poorly protected no one should be surprised that future generations are completely ignored in our basic law.

While this has been going on, Malta has on an international level been insisting on protecting the seabed (1967), the climate (1988) and future generations (1992). Notwithstanding the efforts made on an international level, however, there was no corresponding local effort to put in practice what we preached in international fora.

Malta’s Constitution contains a set of guiding principles in its Chapter 2 which are intended to guide government in its workings. One of these guiding principles relates to environmental protection. Originally enacted in 1964 it was amended recently.

Yet there is a catch. Towards the end of this list of guiding principles our Constitution announces that these principles cannot be enforced in a Court of Law.

This Chapter of our Constitution is modelled on similar provisions in the Irish and the Indian Constitutions. As explained in Tonio Borg’s A Commentary on the Constitution of Malta, however, the Indian Supreme Court has over the years interpreted similar constitutional provisions as the conscience of the Constitution, a real guiding light. It does not make sense to proclaim basic and guiding principles, declare that they should guide the state but then stop short of having them enforceable in a Court of Law.    

Unfortunately, the same attitude was adopted when drafting land use planning and environmental legislation. This legislation contains similar provisions: the announcement of basic guiding principles which are not enforceable in a Court of Law.

In its submissions to the Constitutional Convention, Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party has proposed revisiting this Chapter of the Constitution in order that it would be possible to ensure that government follows the guiding principles at all times instead of selectively.  

In other countries it is possible for civil society to take legal action to ensure that government carries out its environmental responsibilities adequately and at all times.

Two particular examples come to mind.

The first is legal action in the United Kingdom by environmental NGO Client Earth relative to the UK government’s lack of action on the formulation of an air quality masterplan. The matter ended up in a Supreme Court decision which instructed the UK government to act and established the parameters for such action including the relative timeframe.  

The second example comes from Holland and concerns climate change and the environmental action group Urgenda Foundation which went to Court to force government’s hand on the establishment of reasonable climate change emission targets.

In both the above examples, and probably in many others, government action was far below the expectations of civil society. It is right that the Constitution should provide us with the necessary tools such that whenever government fails to live up to the Constitutional benchmarks, (be these environmental or any other) then, civil society may call government to order.

To date we depend on the EU Commission as a fallback position, but the EU Commission, unfortunately, does not always live up to what we expect of it. It has let us down many times. The Constitutional Convention is the only forum possible, so far, through which this constitutional deficiency can be corrected. It is about time that our green rights are entrenched in the Constitution.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 6 September 2020

The debate on the National Environment Strategy

The human person forms an integral part of the eco-system.  We do not form part of “the economy”. The economy is the manner in which we organise ourselves, but the eco-system is our DNA.

This is what the ERA National Strategy for the Environment for 2050, currently in consultation phase, should be about.

The strategy is entitled “Wellbeing First”.  A strategy drafted only in the English language, once more ignoring Maltese. While our quality of life is of the utmost importance, an environmental strategy which is anthropocentric does not make sense. An anthropocentric environmental policy is short term in nature and does not lead to enhancing well-being. Environmental policy should be eco-centric: its subject matter should be the achievement of a healthy ecology, as free as possible from human toxicity. Ensuring a healthy ecology will definitely also enhance our quality of life too.

Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) Chairperson Victor Axiaq, in the forward to the consultation document, emphasises that we have yet to learn to live within our ecological limits. Obviously, as a result of his participation in the Planning Authority Board over the past seven years, he has first-hand experience of the manner in which these limits have been continuously stretched beyond any elastic limit. There is a need to reverse this trend the soonest.

The pursuit of economic growth as the single most important policy goal is in conflict with the earth’s limited resource base and the fragile ecosystem of which we are a part and on which we depend for our survival. While economic growth is supposed to deliver prosperity, it has instead delivered unbridled climate change, fuel insecurity, sky-high commodity prices, collapsing biodiversity, reduced access to depleted water resources and an ever-increasing global inequality. These are all issues the tackling of which cannot be postponed to the next generation.

Progress is measured through the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) yet the GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.

The GDP is just concerned with material wealth ignoring in the process our health, education, the safety of our streets, the social tissue of society, the state of our families, the devastation caused by all forms of hatred…………… GDP includes the production of armaments and the destruction of the environment carried out in the name of “progress” as well as the television programmes that glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. The earth’s resources are limited and, consequently, they cannot fuel infinite economic growth. There are practical limits to growth, which should lead our economic planners to consider decoupling prosperity and economic growth.

The consultation document seeks to guide the national debate towards identifying the long-term objectives of the National Environmental Strategy. Once this is done ERA should be in a position to develop action plans for the achievement of such objectives.

It should be undoubtedly clear to all that a sustainable future will only be achieved when we start respecting the eco-system without any exception. Our eco-system determines our permissible limits which we only ignore at our peril. This is our challenge which must be addressed by the National Environment Strategy.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 30 August 2020

Kontradizzjonijiet

Jekk wieħed joqgħod biss fuq dak li jgħidu dawk li jitkellmu f’isem il-Gvern, malajr jasal għal konklużjoni żbaljata li qatt ma kellna Gvern favur l-ambjent daqs dan tal-lum. Sfortunatament l-affarijiet huma ferm differenti minn hekk!

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa ġie fi tmiemu l-perjodu ta’ sitt ġimgħat konsultazzjoni dwar l-iskop tal-Istrateġija Nazzjonali tal-Biodiversità u l-Pjan t’Azzjoni dwarha li għandu jwassal sal-2030. Għal xi raġuni li s’issa għad mhiex magħrufa l-Awtorità dwar l-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi (ERA), għal dawn l-aħħar snin qed tikkonċentra l-konsultazzjonijiet importanti għax-xhur tas-sajf (b’mod partikolari tul Awwissu) meta hu magħrufa li n-nies tieħu l-vaganzi u allura tistrieħ!

L-Istrateġija Nazzjonali dwar il-Biodiversità u l-Pjan t’Azzjoni assoċjat magħha, bla dubju, meta jkun konkluż ser ifittex li jħares il-kapital naturali tal-pajjiż fit-totalità tiegħu.  

Imma iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, Clint Camilleri, l-Ministru għall-Kaċċa u l-Insib, ħabbar li l-Gvern, għal darb’oħra, ser jerġa’  jipprova jissabotaġġa l-implementazzjoni tal-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropea dwar l-Għasafar billi jipprova jisfrutta xi partijiet minnha!   Il-konsulenti tal-Gvern qed jippruvaw jagħmlu użu minn dik il-parti tad-Direttiva tal-Għasafar li tipprovdi dwar l-istudji xjentifiċi: din tippermetti  l-qbid ta’ numru żgħir ta’ għasafar ħajjin. Dan kollu, fil-fehma tal-Gvern u l-konsulenti tiegħu, jista’ jiġġustifika xi forma ta’ nsib!

Jidher li għadhom ma fehmu xejn: id-Direttiva tal-Għasafar tal-Unjoni Ewropea hi għodda Ewropeja dwar il-ħarsien tal-biodiversità u mhux strument biex jiġġustifika l-kaċċa jew l-insib!

Il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela, il-ġimgħa li għaddiet, waqt li kien qed jindirizza l-Kamra tal-Kummerċ ħabbar viżjoni msejsa fuq ħames punti. Wieħed minn dawn il-punti, li fl-aħħar induna bih, hu l-ħtieġa li naddottaw bħala mira li nilħqu n-newtralità fl-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju. Mira tajba, kieku dak li qed jgħid hu veru!

Dan hu każ ieħor fejn għal darb’ oħra, l-Gvern, ambjentalment qed juri wiċċ b’ieħor, kif wara kollox issa ilna li drajna!  Il-Gvern ilu s-snin iberbaq il-miljuni tal-euro fi żvilupp ta’ infrastruttura ta’ toroq li mhiex meħtieġa: l-iskop uniku hu li jirrinforza d-dipendenza fuq il-karozzi privati għax minnhom jiddipendi ammonti kbar tad-dħul tal-Gvern: minn taxxi fuq petrol u diesel sa taxxi u liċenzji assoċjati mal-karozzi.

Il-Gvern ikkummissjona studji, strateġiji u Pjani Nazzjonali u meta waslu għandu qalibhom ta’ taħt fuq.  Id-dikjarazzjoni ta’ Robert Abela favur viżjoni bil-mira ta’ newtralità fl-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju hija f’kontradizzjoni mal-infieq massiċċ tal-Gvern fuq infrastruttura tat-toroq li mhix meħtieġa.  Il-Gvern ta’ Abela, bħal dawk ta’ qablu (ħomor u blu), jaħseb li l-problemi jistgħu jissolvew billi jkunu  bbumbardjati bil-miljuni tal-euro. Il-flus ċertament dejjem ikunu ta’ għajnuna, imma jeħtieġ li jintużaw tajjeb u mhux jitberbqu kif qed iseħħ presentement.

L-ispazju li għandi hu limitat u allura ma nistax nispjega mill-ġdid il-proposti kollha li Alternattiva Demokratika għamlet dwar dan kollu tul is-snin: proposti Ii jiswew farka mill-miljuni li l-Gvern qiegħed iberbaq.  

Ikun biżżejjed li niftakru li l-Pjan Nazzjonali dwar it-Trasport jispjega illi 50 fil-mija tal-vjaġġi li nagħmlu bil-karozzi privati fil-gżejjer Maltin għandhom tul li ma jaqbizx il-ħmistax-il minuta. Dan juri b’mod mill-iktar ċar  mobilità primarjament ta’ natura lokali u reġjonali!  Għal dan la hemm bżonn ta’ flyovers u l-anqas ta’ mini imma qafas biex fih jitħaddem transport lokali u reġjonali.  Huma inizjattivi ta’ din ix-xorta li jnaqqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq li jgħinuna fit-triq diffiċli lejn n-newtralità fl-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju!

Għaddew madwar tlett snin minn meta l-predeċessur ta’ Robert Abela ħa proposta mill-Manifest Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika dwar il-ħtieġa li nistabilixxu data li minnha lil hemm ma jinbiegħux karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-diesel u dan flimkien ma proposti oħra dwar l-elettrifikazzjoni tat-trasport fit-toroq tagħna. Imma l-istudji mwegħda ma jidhrux b’nemes!

Il-kontradizzjonijiet fil-politika ambjentali tal-Partit Laburista jimxu fuq l-eżempju tal-predeċessuri tagħhom fil-Gvern li waqt li kienu jokorbu biex nipproteġu l-ilma fasslu proġett biex l-ilma tax-xita jispiċċa kważi kollu l-baħar. Proġett li spiċċa biex mal-ilma tax-xita, rema’ l-baħar, miljuni ta’ euro f’fondi Ewropej!

Il-paroli tal-Labour u tal-PN dwar l-ambjent qatt ma solva xejn. Għax dejjem jgħidu ħaġa u jagħmlu oħra.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 23 t’Awwissu 2020