When caves collapse: people may be killed

On the 14 September the Planning Authority approved application PA3487/19 which proposed the   “stabilization of dangerous rock slope; repair to deteriorated concrete wall and construction of wave dissipation slope along the Qui Si Sana coastline”.

In simple language this involves a permit for remedial works after a cave along the Sliema Qui Si Sana coastline collapsed, thereby exposing the MIDI development works immediately behind the cave: the basement level of residential blocks T14 and T17.

We have been told that the cave collapsed as a result of erosion along the coastline. Some readers may tend to forget that way back in 2016, a Maltese geologist had sounded the alarm that a “high-rise had been constructed over a fractured and eroded sea cliff, which could collapse any time soon.” The collapse in fact occurred relatively quite soon, signifying that the geologist was pointing out the obvious which was being ignored or not given due consideration by the developer and his advisors.

The point to be made is why the Planning Authority permitted the development to take place so close to the coastline. As far as I am aware, the EIA relative to the Tigne Development by MIDI does not reveal any detailed studies on the condition of the coast as well as on the impacts of erosion on the Qui Si Sana coastline and its relevance to the development of the MIDI project. The issue is not just one of remedial works but on why the Planning Authority  ignored the state of the coast, as a result permitting development too close to the coastline for comfort. The collapse is adequate proof of all this. The Planning Authority has much to explain in this specific case. Its actions, or lack of them, should be investigated.

The issue is not one relative to the structural stability of the development but of the protection of the coastline.

Erosion as a result of natural elements occurs continuously. It is a natural ongoing phenomenon.

In this respect it may be pertinent to draw attention to a report, authored by a team of geologists, dated October 2007 and entitled : “Report on Coastal Sliema. Geology, geomorphology, sites of scientific interest and coastal protection considerations.” This report was commissioned by the Sliema Local Council.

The 50-page report, which makes interesting reading, emphasises that a number of sites along the Sliema coast “are undergoing rapid coastal erosion that will increase with climate change, resulting in instability or failure in coastal infrastructure.”

Of particular interest is that the report, authored in 2007, goes on to state that “The faulted coast along Għar id-Dud is retreating rapidly by dislodgement of boulders along joints and faults. Public structures that may be affected include Tower Road promenade. The Għar id-Dud cave may also partially or totally collapse, leading to the caving-in of the overlying pedestrian promenade. If collapse is sudden and during daytime/early night time, injury and loss of lives may result.”

I have personally drawn attention of the Transport Minister to the above some time ago, however to date I am not aware that any action has been taken.

The matter was already very worrying way back in 2007 and most probably it is even worse now, after thirteen years, given that no coastal protection works have been taken in hand in the area in the intervening period.

The Għar id-Dud cave is the result of natural erosion and collapse accelerated by wave action. This is a natural process that cannot be halted unless adequate coastal protection works are initiated. If nature is left on its own, the end result is quite predictable: a complete collapse of Għar id-Dud, a caving in of the overlying pedestrian promenade and a number of dead or injured pedestrians, depending on the time of day when a collapse possibly occurs.

Will Transport Malta and the other authorities wake up from their slumber and act immediately please?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 27 September 2020

We need a Carbon Budget

Searching for the word “climate” through the 2021 Pre-Budget document published earlier this week entitled Towards a Sustainable Economy one finds the word three times: twice referring to the United Nations Agenda which has to be addressed by Malta as a prospective UN Security Council member, while a third reference is to policy documents under preparation in Malta. The word climate in the pre-budget document is not associated with any climate change policy implementation or action and its impact on the Maltese economy.

It is already five years since the Paris Climate Summit and its conclusions are still being “studied” in Malta. If we keep on procrastinating, achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 will be very difficult to attain.

When Parliament approved the Climate Action Act in 2015 it identified that one of the tools to be used in the politics of climate change was the formulation of a Low Carbon Development Strategy. Consultation on a Vision to develop such a strategy was carried out in 2017, but three years down the line the final policy document is nowhere in sight, even though the Minister for Climate Change Aaron Farrugia has indicated that it may be concluded towards the end of this year. 

A Low Carbon Development Strategy will identify those sectors which are of considerable relevance in developing a low carbon strategy. Some of them are major carbon emission contributors to be addressed. Other sectors are part of the solution as they provide alternative tools which serve to decouple the economy from intensive energy use, in the process reducing carbon emissions.

The Vision which was subject to public consultation three years ago identifies a number of sectors as areas for climate action, namely: enterprise, energy, transport, waste, water, agriculture, tourism, information and communication technologies (ICT) and finance.

The Low Carbon Development Strategy, when published, should address these areas of action. It would also be expected that such a strategy would also identify the manner in which we will be in a position to achieve our target of carbon neutrality. Such a strategy would also, for completeness be expected to be coupled with a carbon budget which would break down the general target into specific manageable objectives which could be achieved over a specific and reasonable timeframe.

At the Paris Climate Summit, together with all other countries, Malta made pledges to take action in order to lay the foundations for reducing climate impacts. If all the pledges made at Paris are honoured, however, we will still be very far off from achieving the target of not exceeding a two-degree Celsius temperature rise. Much more is required.

Unfortunately, Malta’s climate related policies are double faced. On one hand the Malta government publicly pledges action to address climate change. Simultaneously, however, it proceeds with massive road infrastructural projects which encourage more cars on our roads. On the other hand, plans for the electrification of our roads are apparently subject to an elephantine gestation period. In the meantime, car emissions compete with power generation emissions as Malta’s major contributor to climate change.

It is unfortunate that the Low Carbon Development Strategy and the associated Carbon Budget are taking too long to be formulated. It will take much longer to implement them as special interest groups will undoubtedly seek to protect their specific areas to the detriment of attaining our carbon-neutral objective.  

Malta should be at the forefront of climate change action. Parliament’s declaration recognising the existence of a climate emergency is not enough. Words must give way to action. As an island, Malta should be aware that a primary climate change challenge in the years to come will be a rising sea level as a result of which the coastline may recede inwards at a rate so far unknown. The coast, we may remember, is home to most of our maritime and tourism infrastructural facilities, all of which are under threat. Even residential areas close to the sea level will be impacted. This would include all sandy beaches and the residential/commercial areas at l-Għadira, Xemxija, Salini, Gzira, Msida, Sliema, Ta’ Xbiex, Pietà, Marsa, Marsaxlokk, Marsaskala, Birzebbuga, Xlendi, and Marsalforn. Impacts could also move towards inland low-lying areas such as Qormi.

If we take too long to bring our own house in order, it may be too late.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 13 September 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

Contradictions

Taking government spokespersons at face value could lead to the mistaken conclusion that Labour in government is a defender of the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Earlier this week saw the end of a six-week consultation period relative to the Intent and Objectives of a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan leading to 2030. For some unknown reason the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA), for the past years has been concentrating its most important consultations during the summer months, in particular August, the least productive months as they coincide with the holiday period. The National Biodiversity Strategy and relative Action Plan will, when concluded, strive to actively protect our natural capital in its widest sense.

Yet earlier this week Clint Camilleri, Minister for Hunting and Trapping, announced another government attempt to try and sabotage the implementation of the EU Birds’ Directive through seeking potential additional loopholes.  Government advisors are trying to use the provisions of the Birds’ Directive relative to scientific studies, which permit the live capture of a small number of birds, to make a case for local trapping! They seem to not have yet understood that the EU Birds’ Directive is a biodiversity protection tool and not an instrument to justify hunting or trapping in whatever form or shape.

Prime Minister Robert Abela, when addressing the Chamber of Commerce last week, deemed it fit to announce a five-point vision. One of the points which he has at last adopted is the aim of attaining carbon neutrality. Very laudable indeed, if it were true!

This is another case of environmental lip service which we have become accustomed to for a number of years. Government has over the past years been squandering millions of euros in large scale transport infrastructural projects with the specific aim of reinforcing our dependence on the private car. Private cars are the source of large chunks of government income, ranging from taxes on fuel to car licences and registration taxes. Government has commissioned studies, strategies and National Plans which it then turns on their head. Robert Abela’s late conversion to a vision of a carbon neutral Malta is in direct contradiction to the spending spree on road transport infrastructure. His government, like that of his predecessors, red and blue, thinks that problems can be solved by being bombarded with euros, millions of them. Euros certainly help but they must be well spent, not squandered as they currently are.

I haven’t got space today to go through all the proposals which Greens have brought forward over the years, costing a fraction of the millions currently going down the drains. It would suffice to point out that the National Transport Master Plan had identified that 50 per cent of trips using private cars in the Maltese Islands are of a duration of less than fifteen minutes, clearly indicating primarily a mobility that it is local or regional in nature!  We don’t need flyovers, tunnels or underpasses to address this but an efficient local and regional transport network which we currently lack. It is such initiatives which encourage reduction of cars from our roads and help us climb the steep road to carbon neutrality!

It is now almost three years since Robert Abela’s predecessor took a leaf out of the Green Electoral manifesto on proposing a cut-off date on the sale of vehicles operating with internal combustion engines, and on other measures relating to the electrification of our roads. Yet the promised studies are nowhere in sight!

The constant contradictions in environmental positions taken by Labour follow the path entrenched by its predecessors, who, while emphasising the need to protect our water resources devised a project to throw away our storm water directly into the sea, using millions of euros of EU funds which ended up down the drain, with the water.

The environmental lip-service of Labour and the PN has never solved anything, nor will it ever do.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 23 August 2020

It-turiżmu wara l-pandemija

It-turiżmu kien wieħed mis-setturi li l-iktar intlaqat bħala riżultat tal-pandemija Covid-19. Tul is-snin in-numri tat-turisti li ġew iżuruna żdied kull meta tjiebet il-konnettività: min-naħa l-oħra hekk kif il-konnettività naqset u eventwalment waqfet kompletament, ġara bil-maqlub.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa bdew jaslu l-ewwel turisti fil-port u l-ajruport tagħna. Bil-mod qed terġa’ tiġi stabilita l-konnettività li twassal biex it-turiżmu jibda jirpilja bil-mod. Il-Ministru tat-Turiżmu Julia Farrugia-Portelli f’dawn il-ġranet ħabbret il-mira tal-Gvern: 700,000 turist sal-aħħar tas-sena. Iktar kmieni t-tmexxija tal-Ajruport Internazzjonali ta’ Malta kienet emfasizzat li jeħtieġ madwar sentejn biex il-wasla tal-passiġġiera tirkupra u naslu fejn konna qabel ma faqqgħet il-pandemija.

Jista’ t-turiżmu qatt jilħaq il-livelli ta’ qabel il-pandemija?

Jeżistu stimi diversi dwar il-kontribut tat-turiżmu lejn l-ekonomija. Stima minnhom tipponta lejn kontribut dirett ta’ 5 fil-mija tal-ekonomija. Imma, bħala riżultat tal-impatt fuq setturi oħra dan is-sehem jitla għal madwar 12 fil-mija. Barijiet, restoranti, ħwienet li jbiegħu bl-imnut, attivitajiet pubbliċi, l-industrija tad-divertiment u t-trasport (in partikolari l-kiri tal-karozzi) huma dipendenti fuq it-turiżmu. Setturi partikolari bħat-tagħlim tal-Ingliż u ċ-ċentri tal-għaddasa huma meqjusa bħala parti integrali mill-ekonomija turistika.

Intqal ħafna dwar l-impatt tal-pandemija fuq il-lukandi. Imma anke dawk li jipprovdu sodod turistiċi barra mil-lukandi ġarrew fuq spallejhom impatt sostanzjali avolja ftit li xejn issemmew fid-dibattitu konness mal-impatti tal-pandemija. Dan huwa settur li jinvolvi negozjanti żgħar u dawk li nirreferu għalihom bħala micro-businesses li kull wieħed minnhom jimpjega inqas minn għaxar persuni.

UNCTAD, l-Aġenzija tal-Ġnus Magħquda dwar il-Kummerċ u l-Iżvilupp, iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa ħabbret li l-iġġammjar tat-turiżmu minħabba l-pandemija ser jiswa’ lill-industrija globali tat-turiżmu madwar $1.2 triljun . Din l-istima tista’ tirdoppja skond kif tiżviluppa t-tieni mewġa tal-pandemija.

Il-Ġamajka tista’ titlef madwar 11 fil-mija tal-Prodott Gross Domestiku, t-Tajlandja 9 fil-mija, l-Italja 5 fil-mija. Fl-Unjoni Ewropeja l-agħar impatti huma mal-kosta Mediterranja fejn l-ekonomija hi dipendenti ħafna fuq it-turiżmu. Minbarra Malta hemm l-Italja, l-Kroazja, is-Slovenja, Cipru u l-Greċja li kollha ntlaqtu sew. It-Turkija u t-Tunesija, parteċipanti Mediterranji fl-industrija turistika ukoll iġġammjaw, wara li gawdew minn żidiet sostanzjali fin-numri ta’ turisti tul is-snin.

Jagħmel sens li l-Gvern, f’dan il-waqt, permezz tal-Awtorità Maltija tat-Turiżmu, qiegħed jiffoka fuq li jġib lill-industrija tat-turiżmu lura fuq saqajha. Dan imma, mhux biżżejjed. Jeħtieġ li nibdew naħsbu dwar il-futur tal-industrija u dan billi neżaminaw fid-dettall dak li l-industrja teħtieġ li tiffaċċja fit-tul.

Fi tmiem is-sena li għaddiet, l-2019, ilħaqna in-numru ta’ 2.8 miljun turista iżuruna. Il-punt hu jekk dawn in-numri humiex sostenibbli. Dan hu argument ta’ dejjem li ilu għaddej sa minnmeta n-numri kienu ferm iżgħar. Id-dibattitu kien, u għandu jibqa’ jkun dwar jekk għandniex niffukaw iktar fuq il-kwalità milli fuq il-kwantità.

Il-miġja fostna tal-linji tal-ajru low-cost bħala parti essenzjali mill-politika tat-turiżmu illum tpoġġi emfasi ikbar fuq in-numri. Din hi għażla politika li saret u li teħtieġ li tkun eżaminata u analizzata fil-fond. L-impatti ekonomiċi għandhom jitqiesu fl-istess ħin mal-impatti ambjentali. Irridu niftakru kontinwament li t-turiżmu jiġġenera bosta impatti ambjentali.

Wasal iż-żmien li nirrealizzaw li d-dibattitu meħtieġ dwar il-futur tat-turiżmu jeħtieġ li jsir fl-isfond tal-Patt l-Aħdar: The Green Deal.

L-emissjonijiet tal-ajruplani ser ikollhom ikunu indirizzati fil-futur qarib. Hu inevitabbli li jiddaħħlu taxxi dwar dawn l-emissjonijiet (carbon taxes) fi żmien mhux il-bogħod. Jekk mhux ser jittieħdu passi immedjati dwar dawn l-emissjonijiet ser ikun ħafna iktar diffiċli, biex ma ngħidx impossibli, biex ikunu ndirizzati l-konklużjonijiet tas-Summit Klimatiku ta’ Pariġi tal-2015. Summit li Malta ħarġet tiftaħar li kienet wieħed mill-ewwel pajjiżi li rratifikatu. F’dak il-mument (jekk nibqgħu ma nieħdux passi) mhux biss it-turiżmu jaqla’ daqqa kbira oħra imma tkun il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll li tieħu daqqa l-isfel.

Il-gżejjer Maltin, bħall-parti l-kbira tal-gżejjer imxerrda mal-ibħra, ikunu minn tal-ewwel biex jaqilgħu ġo fihom l-impatti tat-tibdil fil-klima. Il-kosta tkun effettwat bl-għoli tal-livell tal-baħar. Tajjeb li niftakru li l-infrastruttura tat-turiżmu qegħda kważi kollha mal-kosta! Iktar ma ninjoraw dan il-fatt bażiku ikbar tkun id-daqqa li naqilgħu.

S’issa naħseb li kulħadd irrealizza kemm l-industrija tat-turiżmu hi waħda fraġli. Kull xokk li l-industrija issofri jista’ jwassal għal tnaqqis kbir fl-impiegi f’din l-industrija. It-turiżmu għadu staġjonali wisq u dan minnu innifsu jwassal għal kundizzjonijiet tax-xogħol ta’ natura prekarja.

Jeħtieġ li nippjanaw iżjed billi nħarsu il-bogħod u fuq medda twila ta’ żmien: naħsbu u nippjanaw sewwa dwar l-impatti soċjali, ambjentali u ekonomiċi ta’ kull deċiżjoni. Dan wara kollox hu l-proċess li jwassal għal żvilupp sostenibbli. Hu l-unika mod kif nistgħu nassiguraw li l-impatti negattivi tal-industrija tat-turiżmu nistgħu nindirizzawhom illum qabel għada.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 5 ta’ Lulju 2020

Post-Covid Tourism

Tourism is understandably one of the hardest hit sectors as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the years, tourism numbers increased substantially as a result of an increased connectivity: the reverse happened the moment that connectivity was restricted or became practically inexistent.

Earlier this week saw the first arrivals at our air and seaports. Slowly, connectivity is being restored. It is expected that tourism will now start a slow recovery. Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia-Portelli is on record with a 700,000-tourist target for year end. Malta International Airport CEO had earlier opined that it will take at least two years to recover to pre-pandemic level airport movements.

Will tourism ever recover to the pre-pandemic levels?

There are various estimates of the contribution of tourism to the economy. One such estimate points at a direct contribution of around 5 percent of our economy. However, as a result of its impacts on other sectors the overall contribution rises to around 12 percent. Bars, restaurants, retail trade, events, entertainment and transport (in particular car hire), are heavily dependent on tourism. Specific sectors such as the English language school sector as well as diving are important sectors in the tourism economy.

Much has been stated on the impact of the pandemic on the hotel industry. The providers of non-hotel beds, however, have also been heavily impacted by the pandemic, but they have not featured much in the post-Covid-19 debate. This is a sector which involves a number of small-scale investors and micro-businesses each employing less than ten employees.

UNCTAD, the UN Trade and Development Agency, earlier this week stated that the four-month standstill of the tourism industry due to the pandemic Covid-19 could cost the industry around $1.2 trillion. This estimated cost could more than double, depending on the severity and spread of a second wave of the pandemic.

Jamaica could lose as much as 11 percent of its GDP, Thailand 9 percent, Italy 5 percent. In the EU, the worst impacts are along the Mediterranean coast where the economy is heavily dependent on tourism. In addition to Malta, Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, Cyprus and Greece are also heavily impacted. Turkey and Tunisia, Mediterranean players in the tourism industry have also been almost at a standstill, after experiencing a substantial expansion of their tourism industry throughout the years.

It is understandable that government through the Malta Tourism Authority is currently focused on getting tourism back on its feet. This is however not enough. We must start discussing a long-term view of the tourism industry.

At the end of 2019 the 2.8 million mark of tourists visiting the Maltese islands had been attained. The point at issue is whether this is sustainable in the long-term. This has been a perennial issue in tourism politics since the days when the numbers were much lower. The debate was and should be whether we should focus more on quality than on quantity.

The advent of low-cost carriers as an essential part of the tourism equation places more emphasis on numbers than on quality. It is a choice which may need to be analysed and revisited. Economic impacts have to be viewed concurrently with environmental impacts. We must remember that tourism has a considerable environmental impact. It is about time that the tourism debate is carried out within the parameters of the Green Deal.

Aeroplane emissions will at some point in time in the near future have to be addressed. Carbon taxes will sooner or later come into play. Unless they are addressed immediately it will be more difficult, if not practically impossible, to address the Paris Climate Change conclusions to which Malta has adhered. At that point it will not be just the tourism industry but our whole lifestyle which will be in for the chop.

The Maltese archipelago, like all islands, will bear the brunt of climate change impacts. The coastline will be severely hit by a sea level rise. It may be pertinent to remember that the coast houses practically all of the tourism infrastructure. The longer we ignore this basic fact, the more severe will the impacts be.

By now all of us are aware that Tourism is a very volatile industry: any shock will result in mass redundancies. Tourism is currently way too seasonal, and consequently it only serves to create precarious working conditions.

It is the time to plan ahead: thinking carefully of the social, environmental and economic impacts of all decisions. This is what sustainable development is, after all, about. It is the only way to ensure that the negative impacts of the tourism industry are addressed by us sooner rather than later.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 July 2020

Edward Scicluna u l-bajtar tax-xewk

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, l-President tal-Kummissjoni tal-Unjoni Ewropea, Ursula von der Leyen, ippreżentat lill-Parlament Ewropew pjan ta’ €750 biljun biex inqumu fuq saqajna. Pjan li jista’ jiġġenera investiment stmat €3.1 triljun fl-ekonomija Ewropea. Permezz ta’ għotjiet flimkien ma’ self, il-Kummissjoni Ewropea qed tfittex li tegħleb l-impatti ekonomiċi negattivi tal-Covid-19 kif ukoll li tagħti bidu għall-azzjoni meħtieġa biex ikun implimentat il-Ftehim l-Aħdar (the Green Deal).

It-triq biex nirkupraw mhiex faċli. Mhux il-każ li mmorru lura għal kif konna. Dak spiċċa. Irridu nimxu l-quddiem lejn normal ġdid. Li nintegraw flimkien il-ħidma biex nirkupraw mill-impatti tal-pandemija flimkien mal-azzjoni meħtieġa dwar it-tibdil fil-klima mhux ser tkun faċli imma hi essenzjali u mhux possibli li tkun posposta. Kif ġie emfasizzat fuq Euroactive nhar l-Erbgħa, it-triq biex nirkupraw tiddependi minn ħafna kundizzjonijiet konnessi mal-ambjent. 25 fil-mija tal-finanzjament propost mill-Kummissjoni Ewropeja hu fil-fatt marbut ma’ ħidma klimatika.

Edward Scicluna, il-Ministru tal-Finanzi, fl-ewwel reazzjoni tiegħu għall-pjan tal-Kummissjoni ikkummenta mħasseb dwar miżuri prattiċi konnessi mal-klima. Bħala gżira ser inweġġgħu ħafna qal, jekk jindirizzaw l-emissjonijiet tal-ajruplani u l-vapuri. Il-pjan, qal Edward Scicluna, jixbah lill-bajtar tax-xewk. Scicluna jippreferi li ma jsir xejn ħlief paroli. L-anqas m’hu jieħu pjaċir b’dak li qed jingħad dwar it-tassazzjoni tal-kumpaniji, avolja konxju li m’għadx baqa’ żmien biex fl-Unjoni Ewropea tħajjar kumpaniji jibqgħu jħarbu l-obbligi tagħhom tal-ħlas tat-taxxi.

Hu korrett li jingħad li ser nintlaqtu bil-miżuri dwar il-klima. Hekk għandu jkun, għax il-ħidma tagħna għandha impatt fuq il-klima. Nistgħu imma ninnegozjaw biex dawn l-impatti fuqna jonqsu mingħajr ma nnaqqsu l-impenn (reali) tagħna biex ikunu indirizzati l-impatti klimatiċi tal-industrija tal-avjazzjoni u tal-vapuri. Bla ebda dubju dan ser ikun ifisser impatti sostanzjali kemm fuq it-turiżmu kif ukoll fuq il-kummerċ.

Dan ma jistax ikun evitat għax dawn l-industriji għandhom l-obbligu li huma ukoll jġorru fuq spallejhom l-impatti li qed jikkawżaw. Dak hu li wegħdna bħala pajjiż fis-Summit ta’ Pariġi dwar il-klima. Wasal il-waqt li nwettqu dak li ġie imwiegħed. Biex niġu fuq saqajna irridu nfasslu l-futur mill-ġdid. Il-ħsara li teħtieg li tissewwa mhiex biss dik ekonomika u ambjentali. Jinħtieġ li tul l-Unjoni Ewropea kollha nibnu s-solidarjetà fuq pedamenti sodi. Dak li Edward Scicluna jqis bħala l-bajtar tax-xewk huma fil-fatt l-għodda bażiċi tas-solidarjetà.

Għax is-solidarjetà hi meħtieġa mhux biss meta aħna bir-raġun kollu nokorbu ma’ kull mewġa ta’ immigranti fl-ibħra Maltin. Is-solidarjetà hi dak li Malta tinjora meta tfittex li tkun attraenti għal min irid jevadi t-taxxi f’pajjiżu: dawk li jħallsu ftit lill-kaxxa ta’ Malta biex jevitaw milli jħallsu l-biljuni band’oħra. Il-politika dwar l-armonizzazzjoni tat-tassazzjoni fl-Unjoni Ewropea hi r-risposta bis-sens għall-politika li tinkoraġixxi l-evażjoni tat-taxxa f’Malta, l-Olanda, il-Lussimburgu u l-Irlanda.

L-Oxfam f’rapport ippubblikat fl-2019 u ntitolat “Off the Hook. How the EU is about to whitewash the world’s worst tax havens” temfasizza li “l-Irlanda, il-Lussimburgu, Malta u l-Olanda huma fost il-pajjiżi li l-iktar jinkoraġixxu l-evażjoni tat-taxxa fid-dinja, b’mod li jagħmluha possibli li kumpaniji kbar jirnexxielhom iħallsu ammont żgħir ta’ taxxa. Per eżempju, ir-regoli internazzjonali tat-taxxa jippermettu lill-Vodafone Group Plc biex jallokkaw kważi 40 fil-mija tal-profitti taxxabbli tagħhom f’Malta u l-Lussimburgu.”

Rajna ukoll rapporti dwar il-BASF, ġgant fl-industrija kimika fil-Ġermanja, li jispjegaw kif din tevadi t-taxxa. Fir-rapport tal-Ħodor Ewropej ippubblikat fl-2016, intitolat “Toxic Tax Deals. When BASF’s Tax Structure is more about style than substance” kien spjegat kif il-BASF irnexxiela tevadi madwar biljun euro f’taxxa, u minflok ħallset ammonti żgħar bil-kompliċità ta’ Gvernijiet Maltin: ħomor u blu.

Jeħtieġ li l-ewwel u qabel kollox nirkupraw l-imġieba etika tagħna, anke qabel ma nirkupraw ekonomikament u ambjentalment. Ir-riġenerazzjoni tal-valuri tagħna għandha tkun prijorità qabel ma nippruvaw insewwu l-kaxxa ta’ Malta li minnha, bħalissa ħerġin il-flus maħmuġin akkumulati mill-bejgħ tal-passaporti. Flejjes miġburin minn persuni bħall-biljunarju Russu Boris Mints, l-Eġizzjan Mustafa Abdel Wadood, il-biljunarju Ċiniż Liu Zhongtian, in-negozjant Russu Pavel Melenikov u l-Iżraeli Anatoly Hurgin, li irnexxielhom jiżgiċċaw minn eżami suppost rigoruż u ngħataw iċ-ċittadinanza Maltija: però xorta spiċċaw għaddejjin proċeduri kriminali f’diversi pajjiżi oħra primarjament dwar frodi u ħasil tal-flus!

F’dan iż-żmien ta’ ħtieġa l-Ministru tal-Finanzi Edward Scicluna spiċċa dipendenti fuq flejjes li oriġinaw minn dawn is-sorsi maħmuġin. Ma tkunx esaġerazzjoni li ngħid li spiċċa dipendenti minn flus li oriġinaw mill-kriminalità.

Fir-reazzjonijiet tagħha għall-proposti tal-Kummissjoni tal-Unjoni Ewropea Evelyne Huytebroech, waħda miż-żewġ mexxejja tal-Partit tal-Ħodor Ewropej, emfasizzat li din il-proposta flimkien ma dik tal-Parlament Ewropew u l-proposta Franco-Tedeska ilkoll qed jaraw proċess ta’ self komuni. Dan hu pass il-quddiem għas-solidarjetà Ewropea. Għax is-solidarjetà tinbena bil-mod u bit-tbatija. Imma għal Edward Scicluna dan kollu bajtar tax-xewk!

ippubblikat fuq Illum :il-Ħadd 31 ta’ Mejju 2020