Facing the inevitable

With temperatures on the increase all around us, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report published Monday, running into over 4000 pages, underlines that it may get much worse very soon.

The Climate Change 2015 summit in Paris agreed on the need to spare no effort in ensuring that the global temperature did not increase by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius over that recorded in the pre-industrial age. The voluntary targets which the different countries committed to post-Paris are nowhere enough to limit global temperature increases not to exceed the Paris targets. The latest IPCC report states that we are on target to exceed the 1.5 degree Celsius much earlier than expected.

We can feel the excessive heat.  We have seen the raging fires all around the world. We have seen the storms across various parts of Western Europe triggering havoc all around. We have not been spared in the past and await the first major storm of the season, hoping against hope that the resulting floods will not flush damage through our communities.

It will be much worse. We will not be spared

As an island state Malta should be at the forefront of the climate change debate. Unfortunately, our country is among the laggards, continuously seeking to avoid or minimise the action required at our end.

Maltese governments have ensured that we do not meet EU targets for renewable energy generation, reducing them by half from 20 per cent to 10 per cent of the energy generated. After a policy announcement in favour of transport electrification way back in 2017, four years down the line we are still without clear targets. The change will now have to be adopted at a quicker pace, and one which we are not yet prepared for.

The EU has recently unveiled a proposal intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55 per cent, compared to 1990 levels, by the year 2030, an intermediate target to carbon neutrality by 2050.

One of the measures proposed would require raising the share of the renewable energy generated to 40 per cent of the final energy consumption, meaning that Malta, within nine years, would be required to quadruple the renewable energy which it generates. This would be quite tough, in view of having repeatedly been successful in wriggling out of our commitments.

A de facto ban on the purchase of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035 would accelerate our path to the electrification of transport. That is a target to be achieved within 14 years. Locally, however, it will not solve much, unless it is coupled with a substantial decrease in private car usage.

If not coupled with a planned decrease of the number of cars on our roads, electrification of our roads will result in a substantial portion of the renewable energy generated being used for transport. This would further embed our dependence on fossil fuels when we should be moving in a diametrically opposite direction!  

The EU proposal to tax shipping and aviation fuel will have a considerable impact on islands and the peripheral states of Europe. It makes sense when applied to the European mainland which is more dependent on railways, a suitable alternative. In respect of islands and the peripheral states like Malta it will be certainly painful, even though it will, when applied, contribute substantially to achieving carbon emission reduction targets.

Tourism would be hit considerably but, so far, it seems the ministry for tourism is still considering a return to business as usual after COVID-19. Can we please smell the coffee?  

The aviation and maritime sector are significant contributors of greenhouse gas emissions which have, so far, avoided being addressed due to very effective lobbying over the years. The EU proposals would ensure that this will no longer be the state of affairs, dependent, that is, on the taming of the lobbies!

We have a duty to act the soonest to address this climate emergency. The small size of our country does not exempt us from our responsibilities towards the future.

published in The Times of Malta : Thursday 12 August 2021

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

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

The recovery plan and Edward Scicluna’s prickly pears

Earlier this week, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, presented for the consideration of the European Parliament a recovery plan worth €750 billion but which can unleash an investment estimated at €3.1 trillion in the EU economy. Through a combination of loans and grants the EU Commission seeks to integrate the reversal of the economic downturn resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic together with the action required to implement the Green Deal.

The road to recovery will be tough. It is not the case of going back to normal but of going forward to a new normal. Integrating the recovery from the pandemic impacts with climate change action will not be easy but it is essential and cannot be postponed. As emphasised by Euroactive on Wednesday, the road to recovery has plenty of green strings attached. 25 per cent of the funding proposed by the EU Commission is in fact earmarked for climate action.

Finance Minister Edward Scicluna, in his first reaction to the recovery plan, voiced concern on practical climate action measures. It hurts, he says, to address air traffic emissions or shipping pollution. As an island this would impact us substantially. The proposed recovery plan is comparable to prickly pears, he stated. He prefers the status quo: all talk and little walk. Edward Scicluna is not amused by rumblings heard on corporate taxation even though he is well aware that the days of attracting corporations seeking tax havens within the EU may well be numbered.

It is correct to state that we will be impacted substantially. We can however negotiate to reduce such impacts without diminishing our commitment to addressing climate change impacts of the airline and shipping industry. This would mean significant impacts on tourism and trade. These however cannot be avoided as climate change impacts have to be internalised: that is they have to be shouldered by the industries generating them. This is what we promised in the Paris Climate Summit. Promises that we must now honour.

Operation recovery must re-design the future. It must not be just an economic recovery or an environmental rebirth. It must also be a recovery of practical solidarity all over the Union. What Edward Scicluna views as prickly pears are in fact instruments of solidarity.

Solidarity is not just what we rightly cry for when immigrants crash through our borders. Solidarity is what we ignore when Malta insists on being attractive to tax evaders: those who pay peanuts to the Maltese exchequer in order to avoid paying billions elsewhere. The issue of tax harmonisation on an EU level is the sensible response to the tax haven fiscal policies of Malta, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Ireland.

Oxfam in its 2019 report entitled “Off the Hook. How the EU is about to whitewash the world’s worst tax havens” emphasises that “Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta and the Netherlands are among the most significant tax havens in the world, enabling some of the biggest corporations to pay minimal amounts of tax. For example, currently, international tax rules allow Vodafone Group Plc to allocate nearly 40% of its taxable profits to Malta and Luxembourg.” We have also seen reports on BASF clearly explaining how the German chemical giant avoids paying taxes due. The European Greens report “Toxic Tax Deals. When BASF’s Tax Structure is more about style than substance” published in 2016 had outlined how BASF had successfully avoided close to a billion euros in tax, paying just a small amount thanks to Maltese governments blue and red.

The recovery must be primarily ethical before being economic and environmental. Regenerating our values should be a priority higher on the list than the regeneration of our coffers, currently dishing out dirty money originating from the sale of citizenship schemes. Monies collected from the likes of Russian billionaire Boris Mints, Egyptian national Mustafa Abdel Wadood, Chinese billionaire Liu Zhongtian, Russian businessman Pavel Melenikov and Israeli Anatoly Hurgin, who slipped through what is described as a rigorous due diligence process and gain Maltese citizenship only to be prosecuted in different jurisdictions for various crimes primarily fraud and money laundering.

It is indeed telling that in time of need Finance Minister Edward Scicluna is dependent on monies originating from such dubious sources! It would not be an exaggeration to state that he is dependent on the proceeds of crime.

In her reaction to the EU Commission proposals Evelyne Huytebroech co-Chair of the European Greens emphasised that the EU Commission’s proposal together with the proposals of the EU Parliament and the Franco-German initiative all foresee a mutualised debt instrument: a major breakthrough for European solidarity. Solidarity is constructed slowly and painfully, while Edward Scicluna juggles with his prickly pears.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 31 May 2020

Il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex: lil hinn mill-ponta ta’ mneħirna

Il-mina taħt il-baħar bejn Malta u Għawdex ser tkun mina għall-karozzi u mhux mina għan-nies. Biex din tagħmel sens ekonomiku ser ikollha tiddependi minn żieda fit-traffiku bejn il-gżejjer u għaldaqstant tikkontradixxi l-ispirtu tal-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport sas-sena 2025.

Tajjeb li niftakru li l-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport imfassal fl-2016 mill-Gvern Laburista jenfasizza li l-linja politika dwar it-transport u l-ippjanar tiegħu f’Malta baqgħet qatt ma ħares fit-tul. Dan ikkaġuna “nuqqas ta’ direzzjoni strateġika u n-nuqqas ta’ kapaċità li jkunu ndirizzati materji diffiċli, bħar-restrizzjonijiet dwar karozzi privati.”

Minflok ma jippresenta politika maħsuba biex tindirizza t-tnaqqis tal-karozzi privati mit-toroq tagħna, l-Gvern u l-aġenziji tiegħu baqgħu għaddejin b’ħidma li tkompli ssaħħaħ id-dipendenza mill-karozzi privati. Dan qed isir permezz ta’ investiment eċċessiv fl-infrastruttura tat-trasport lokali. Dan l-investiment qed isir bil-għan li jżid iżjed karozzi minn kemm filfatt jesgħu t-toroq tal-pajjiż, u dan biex jissodisfa lin-negozjanti tal-karozzi. Importanti ukoll li nirrealizzaw li ladarba l-emmissjonijiet mit-trasport jirrappreżentaw l-ikbar kontribut tagħna għaż-żieda tal-karbonju fl-arja, dawn qegħdin ixekklu l-politika dwar it-tibdil fil-klima li kull Gvern sensibbli jenħtieg isegwi. Dan minkejja li l-Gvern jiftaħar li kien minn tal-ewwel li segwa u beda jimplimenta l-konklużjonijiet tas-summit ta’ Pariġi dwar il-klima.

Fil-konferenza stampa il-Ministri Ian Borg u Justyne Caruana saħqu li l-investituri li ser jinvestu fil-mina għandhom jimmiraw lejn mina li tkun kapaċi tiffaċilita l-moviment ta’ 9,000 karozza kuljum bejn il-gżejjer. Dan ifisser illi jiġi ġġenerat livell ta’ traffiku li jlaħħaq it-tripplu ta’ dak li għandna illum, b’mod konsistenti mal-projezzjonijiet tal-istudju li għamlet id-ditta E-cubed rigward il-vijabilità ekonomika tal-proġett. Dan l-istudju kien ġie kkummissjonat minn Transport Malta u l-Kamra Għawdxija tal-Kummerċ.

Il-ħlas li jkun meħtieġ li jsir għall-użu tal-mina, jiġifieri t-toll, jiddetermina kif jinġabru lura l-ispejjes biex tiġi żviluppata l-mina u biex din tibqa’ topera tul is-snin. Dan kollu jiddependi minn kemm il-mina tintuża mill-karozzi. L-esiġenza li mill-mina jgħaddi l-ikbar traffiku possibli hija l-bażi li ssejjes l-esistenza tal-mina, għax mingħajr dan it-traffiku ma jinġabrux il-flejjes li għandhom jagħmlu tajjeb għall-ispejjes u l-profitti ta’ min ser jidħol għal dan “l-investiment”. Imma dan min-naħa l-oħra jmur kontra objettiv bażiku tal-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport li bi kliem ċar jispjega li t-tnaqqis tal-karozzi mit-toroq hu essenzjali jekk tassew irridu nħarsu lil hinn mill-ponta ta’ mneħirna.

L-ammont ta’ ħlas li ser jinġabar mill-utenti tal-mina ser jiddependi mill-ispiża meħtieġa biex din tiġi żviluppata u mill-ħtieġijiet tal-operat tagħha. Ir-rapporti tal-konferenza stampa li saret iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa ma taw l-ebda indikazzjoni dwar l-istima ta’ din l-ispiża. F’dan l-istadju dan jinftiehem għax għadu ma ġie iffinalizzat l-ebda diżinn. Hemm ukoll raġuni partikolari oħra. L-informazzjoni dwar il-ġejoloġija tal-Fliegu inġabret biss dan l-aħħar u mhemm l-ebda dubju li ser ikun meħtieġ iżjed iżjed tagħrif speċifiku rigward iż-żoni problematiċi. L-istudji mistennija li jkollhom impatt kemm fuq id-disinn finali u kemm fuq l-ispiża li tirriżulta u allura fuq il-ħlas li jkun meħtieg li jintalab mill-utenti tal-mina.

Rari ħafna li proġetti bħal dawn isegwu l-istima tal-ispejjes. Pereżempju, rigward il-każ tal-mina bejn il-power station tal-Marsa u dik ta’ Delimara nafu li l-ispiża finali kienet viċin id-doppju tal-istima iniżjali u dan minħabba in-nuqqas ta’ informazzjoni ġeoloġika. Minħabba dan sfrondaw partijiet mill-mina waqt li kien għaddej ix-xogħol u kellhom isiru ħafna iżjed xogħolijiet, fosthom ċerti bidliet f’partijiet mir-rotta tal-mina nifsha!

Min-naħa l-oħra l-ispiża fuq iċ-Channel Tunnel bejn Folkestone f’Kent u Coquelles ħdejn Calais qabżet l-istima b’madwar 80 fil-mija u dan minkejja li kienu saru studji ġeoloġiċi dettaljati.

Fl-aħħar l-ispiża reali ser tkun bejn is-600 miljun u biljun euro, u din ser tiddependi mid-disinn finali u mid-diffikultajiet ġeoloġiċi li ser jaffaċċja t-tħaffir tal-mina taħt il-Fliegu.

Dejjem jekk isir, dan il-proġett ser iħalli impatti ambjentali sinifikanti, kemm f’Malta kif ukoll f’Għawdex, fosthom li qerda tal-villaġġ trogloditiku fl-Għerien, fil-limiti tal-Mellieħa.

Hemm soluzzjonijiet oħra li jistgħu jindirizzaw b’mod adegwat il-mobilità bejn il-gżejjer Maltin. Irridu nkunu kapaċi naħsbu b’mod kreattiv sabiex insibu soluzzjoni għall-problema reali tal-mobilità tan-nies, iżjed minn dik tal-karozzi. Dan jista’ jseħħ biss jekk nieħdu inizjattivi li bihom naslu ninfatmu mid-dipendenza tagħna mill-karozzi. Dment li ma naslux sa dan il-punt m’aħniex ser inkunu nistgħu nsibu soluzzjoni sostenibbli.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 12 ta’ Jannar 2020


Gozo tunnel depends on maximising car movements

The Gozo-Malta undersea tunnel is a tunnel for cars, not for people. It is, in fact, the antithesis of the underlying theme of the National Transport Master Plan for 2025.

It is pertinent to remember that the Transport Master Plan, drawn up in 2016 by the present government, emphasises that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has, to date, generally been short-term in nature. This “has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint.”

Instead of presenting a rigorous policy addressing private vehicle restraint, the government and its agencies are continuously seeking to reinforce car-dependency through the encouragement of excessive investments in the local transport infrastructure. This investment aims at increasing the capacity of our roads and consequently dances to the tune of the car lobby. Also, knowing that emissions originating from transport are currently the major contributor to carbon emissions in Malta, encouraging car-dependency is directly opposite to the climate change policy which any sensible government should follow at this point in time.

The Gozo-Malta undersea tunnel is no exception. This week’s press conference by Ministers Ian Borg and Justyne Caruana emphasised the fact that the brief for would-be investors is a tunnel that should have a capacity of 9,000 vehicle movements on a daily basis. This is three times the current movement of vehicles between the islands and is in line with the projections of the 2015 E-cubed study commissioned by Transport Malta and the Gozo Business Chamber dealing with an economic cost benefit analysis of the available strategic options.

The toll to be charged – and, consequently, the tunnel’s economic performance – is dependent on generating the maximum traffic possible. Maximising traffic underpins the very existence of the tunnel. This runs counter to the basic objective of the National Transport Master Plan 2025 which – in crystal clear language – spells out the reduction of cars from our roads as the long-term objective of Malta’s National Transport Policy.

The toll which will eventually have to be paid is also dependent on the costs to be incurred in the development and the operation of the tunnel. Reports on this week’s press conference do not indicate any estimated cost which is, at this stage,  understandable in view of the fact that the design of the tunnel is not yet cast in stone. There is, however, a specific reason for this: geological information of relevance has been compiled very recently and it will undoubtedly require additional studies focusing on problem areas, which studies will have a significant bearing on both the actual design as well as the eventual cost and consequently the toll expected.

This type of projects very rarely follow estimated costs; the tunnel linking the Marsa and Delimara powers stations in Malta, for example, overshot its projected costs by around 100 per cent due to the absence of adequate geological information. As a result, parts of the tunnel caved its construction, necessitating a substantial amount of additional work, including redirecting parts of it.

On the other hand, expenditure on the Channel Tunnel linking Folkestone in Kent to Coquelles near Calais exceeded the projected estimates by around 80 per cent, notwithstanding the availability of detailed geological studies.

At the end of the day, the actual costs of the tunnel will be anything between 600 million and one billion euros, depending on the actual design as well as the geological issues encountered below the Gozo Channel.

If the tunnel materialises, it will result in significant environmental damage in both Malta and Gozo, including the obliteration of the troglodytic village at l-Għerien in the limits of Mellieħa.

There are other solutions which can adequately address the mobility between Malta and Gozo. It does however require thinking outside the box and focusing on the real issue: people mobility. This would require a bold initiative of addressing head-on car-dependency in both Malta and Gozo. Until we take the decision to start shedding our car- dependency, however, no solution can be achieved.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 12 January 2020

Patt Ġdid Aħdar

Patt Ġdid Aħdar (Green New Deal) hi tweġiba għall-kriżijiet li qed tiffaċċja s-soċjetà tagħna. Għandu jkollu l-mira li jirrikonċila l-istil ta’ ħajjitna – kif ngħixu, kif nipproduċu u x’nikkunsmaw – mal-limiti prattiċi u fiżiċi tad-dinja madwarna.

Hu vjaġġ li jista’ jittrasforma l-ħajja f’kull settur b’riformi radikali li jorbtu katina flimkien. Bħala riżultat nistgħu ngħixu f’iktar armonija man-natura.

Matul is-sena d-dieħla għandna nisimgħu dwar in-nisġa ta’ strateġija għal Patt Ġdid Aħdar fl-Unjoni Ewropea. Ursula von der Leyen, għandha mira ambizzjuża: trid li jkollha pjan dwar dan il-Patt Ġdid Aħdar lest għad-diskussjoni fi żmien mitt jum minn meta l-Kummissjoni Ewropea l-Ġdida tibda tiffunzjona. Dan bla dubju jkollu effett fuq kull pajjiż membru tal-Unjoni. Nistennew għaldaqstant li matul is-sena jkollna l-proposti tal-Gvern Malti ukoll f’dan is-sens.

Din hi triq li l-Ħodor Ewropej ilhom imexxu l-quddiem għal bosta snin u mhix koinċidenza li din il-viżjoni tal-Kummissjoni Ewropea l-Ġdida qed tieħu sura hekk kif il-Grupp tal-Ħodor fil-Parlament Ewropew kiber sostanzjalment fid-daqs.

Il-Patt Ġdid Aħdar hu dwar ferm iktar mit-tibdil fil-klima. Huwa ukoll dwar il-mudell ekonomiku li hu l-kawża tad-degradazzjoni ambjentali madwarna.

Fil-kummenti tiegħu huwa u jagħlaq id-diskussjoni dwar il-Baġit, il-Prim Ministru, pereżempju, spjega li l-qalba għal karozzi tal-elettriku tfisser ferm iktar milli sempliċiment nimpurtaw il-karozzi u li niżviluppaw l-infrastruttura meħtieġa għalihom.

Tfisser ukoll t-tmiem tat-taxxi tar-reġistrazzjoni tal-karozzi kif ukoll it-taxxi li jinġabru mill-bejgħ tal-petrol u d-diżil li dwarhom l-istima għas-sena 2020 hi ta’ €157 miljun, skont l-estimi tal-Baġit li l-Ministru tal-Finanzi ppreżenta reċentement fil-Parlament. Ma’ din is-somma wieħed irid jikkunsidra ukoll it-taxxa li tinġabar mar-reġistrazzjoni tal-karozzi li għas-sena 2020 hi stmata li tlaħħaq €55 miljun kif ukoll il-liċenzji tat-triq li jitħallsu kull sena, huma stmati li jlaħħqu €85 miljun oħra fis-sena finanzjarja 2020. Dan ifisser li fis-sena 2020 €297 miljun mid-dħul tal-Gvern ser ikunu dipendenti fuq il-karozzi, prinċipalment fuq karozzi privati. Sa mill-2018 bħala inċentiv favur l-introduzzjoni ta’ karozzi bl-elettriku kienet introdotta eżenzjoni mit-taxxa tar-registrazzjoni. Dakinnhar ukoll kienet tħabbret esenzjoni ta’ ħames snin fuq il-liċenzja tat-triq għal dawn il-karozzi. L-impatt tal-elettrifikazzjoni, għaldaqstant imur lil hinn mill-klima. Hemm impatt ukoll fuq il-finanzi pubbliċi għax ikun meħtieġ identifikazzjoni ta’ sostitut għal dan in-nuqqas ta’ dħul.

Hu ċar li l-inkarigu li Frans Timmermans ingħata dwar il-Patt Ġdid Aħdar prinċipalment ser ikun iffukat dwar il-politika tal-klima u kif l-Unjoni Ewropea għandha tilħaq il-mira ta’ status carbon neutral sal-2050.

Imma hemm iktar minn hekk ukoll. Ursula von der Leyen fl-ittra tagħha tal-10 Settembru 2019 fejn tfisser l-oġġettivi li jridu jintlaħqu minn Timmermans tgħid li “għandna nħarsu b’mod iktar wiesa’, mill-enerġija li nipproduċu u nużaw, b’inkoraġġiment għal investiment mis-settur privat u appoġġ għat-teknoloġija nadifa, inkluż għat-trasport li nużaw, l-ikel li nikkunsmaw u l-ippakkeġġar li narmu.” Dan ser jinkudi ukoll responsabbiltà kemm għall-ekonomija ċirkulari kif ukoll għal dik assoċjat mal-qasam marittimu, magħrufa ukoll bħala l-ekonomija l-blu.

Ursula von der Leyen temfasizza ukoll il-mira dwar it-tnaqqis tal-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju li tinsisti illi għandhom jiżdiedu ta’ l-inqas sa’ tnaqqis ta’ 50% sas-sena 2030.

Tagħmel emfasi partikolari wkoll fuq l-impatti soċjali ta’ din il-bidla billi tiffoka fuq il-ħtieġa ta’ transizzjoni ġusta prinċipalment f’dawk ir-reġjuni li huma dipendenti fuq l-industrija, fuq il-faħam, inkella fuq l-industrija tal-enerġija. Ma’ dan huwa ppjanat kemm attenzjoni dwar il-ħarsien tal-bijodiversità kif ukoll il-mira li jitrazzan kull xorta ta’ tniġġis.

Punt interessanti fl-inkarigu ta’ von der Leyen lil Timmermans huwa emfasi li l-politika ta’ tassazzjoni hi meqjusa bħala għodda essenzjali li għandha tintuża biex jintlaħqu l-miri tal-politika dwar il-klima. Dan ifisser li ser ikun hemm pressjoni sostanzjali fuq il-Gvern Malti biex jikkura l-allerġija li għandu għat-tassazzjoni, b’mod partikolari t-tassazzjoni ambjentali, għodda effettiva u importanti ħafna fl-implimentazzjoni tal-politika ambjentali.

Bla dubju ser nistennew il-proposti ta’ Timmermans u d-dibattitu imqanqal li ser isegwi!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 27 ta’ Ottubru 2019


A Green New Deal

The Green New Deal is a comprehensive response to the crises we face. It aims to reconcile our lifestyles – the way we live, produce and consume – with the physical limits of our planet.

It is a transformational journey consisting of sweeping, interlinked reforms at all levels and all sectors, the end result being a more harmonious relationship with nature.

During the next year we should be hearing about the formulation of a strategy for an EU Green New Deal. Ursula von der Leyen, has an ambitious target: her aim is to have an EU blueprint for a Green New Deal ready for discussion within the first hundred days of the new EU Commission being in office. Without a shadow of doubt this will have an impact on all member states of the EU, so as a result we should expect that, during the year, the Maltese Government will also publish its own proposals on the matter.

The European Greens have been advocating such a roadmap for years, and it is certainly no coincidence that the new EU Commission’s vision comes so soon after the Green Group in the European Parliament increased substantially in size.

A Green New Deal is much more than dealing with climate change – it also signifies a focus on the economic model underpinning the accumulating environmental degradation.

In his concluding remarks in the budget debate, for example, the Prime Minister explained that the electrification of private transport signifies much more than importing electricity-driven cars, and the development of an infrastructure for charging points.

It also implies doing away with car registration taxes as well as forgoing taxation collected from the sale of fuel which, for the year 2020, is estimated at €157 million, according to the budgetary estimates which the Finance Minister recently tabled in Parliament. To this substantial sum one must add the projected vehicle registration tax, which is estimated at €55 million and the circulation licence taxes estimated at €85 million for the financial year 2020. This signifies that €297 million of government income projected for 2020 is dependent on cars, mostly private cars and indicates the potential financial impact of the electrification of private transport, which will undoubtedly be spread over a number of years.

In order to incentivise the take-up of electric cars, an exemption from registration taxes on electric cars has been in effect since 2018. Similarly, an exemption on the payment of circulation taxes for the first five years is currently applicable – hence the argument that the issue is much more than climate politics. Consequently, it is also about economics and finance as the government will need to find a substitute for these taxes

Clearly, Frans Timmermans’ brief indicates that his Green New Deal proposals will be focused towards climate change politics and the EU’s attainment of a carbon neutral status by 2050. It is, however substantially more than that. In fact, Ursula von der Leyen states in Timmermans’ mission letter dated 10 September 2019 that “ we must look at everything from how we use and produce energy, unlock private investment and support new clean technologies, all the way through to the transport we use, the food we eat and the packaging we throw away.” This will include responsibility for both the blue economy and the circular economy.

Subsequently, von der Leyen emphasises carbon emission reduction targets must be increased to at least 50 percent by 2030. She furthermore underlines the need for focusing on cushioning against social impacts through ensuring a just transition – in particular in the industrial, coal and energy intensive regions to which will be added a focus on protecting our biodiversity and a zero pollution ambition.

An interesting twist is von der Leyen’s instruction to Timmermans to ensure “that our tax policies enable us to deliver on our climate ambitions.” This signifying that there will be considerable pressure on the Maltese government to seek a cure for its allergy to taxation, particularly environmental taxation, which is an important and effective tool in the implementation of environmental policy.

We await Timmermans’ proposals and the interesting debate that will undoubtedly follow.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 27 October 2019

Il-kosta: fi stat ta’ emerġenza

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, l-International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tal-Ġnus Magħquda, ippubblika rapport dwar l-ibħra u t-tibdil fil-klima. Ġejna avżati għal darb’ oħra bil-konsegwenzi tat-tibdil fil-klima u l-impatti li ser jirriżultaw bħaż-żieda fil-livell tal-baħar.

Ir-rapport ifakkarna ukoll fil-ħtieġa urġenti li jkunu indirizzati b’mod adegwat l-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju sa mhux iktar tard mis-sena 2050.

Il-Kummissarji Ewropej Miguel Arias Cañete (Azzjoni Klimatika u Enerġija), Karmenu Vella (Ambjent, Affarijiet Marittimi u Sajd) u Carlos Moedas (Riċerka, Xjenza u Innovazzjoni) kienu sodisfatti bir-rapport, għax jikkunsidraw li dan hu tfakkira lill-komunità globali biex din taġixxi u tindirizza t-tibdil fil-klima u l-impatti tagħha fuq l-ibħra malajr kemm jista’ jkun. Fi stqarrija tal-Kummissjoni Ewropeja li t-tlett Kummissarji ħarġu nhar l-Erbgħa emfasizzaw li l-konklużjonijiet tar-rapport huma ċari: “iż-żieda fit-temperatura globali ikkawżata mill-bniedem qed tkun il-kawża ta’ tibdil drastiku fl-ibħra. Mhux biss qed togħla t-temperatura, imma l-ibħra qed isiru iktar aċidużi u fihom inqas ossiġnu. Il-livell tal-baħar qed jogħla ħafna iktar milli kien antiċipat.”

Il-Kapitlu numru 4 tar-rapport għandu jkun ta’ interess partikolari għal Malta. Huwa intitolat “Sea Level Rise and Implications for Low Lying Islands, Coasts and Communities”.

Il-medja globali taż-żieda fil-livell tal-baħar qed tiżdied b’rata li qed taċċellera. Mill-osservazzjonijiet li saru jirriżulta li din żdiedet minn 1.4 millimetri fis-sena fuq il-perjodu 1901-90 għal 3.6 millimetri fis-sena tul il-perjodu 2005-15. Ir-rapport jirreferi għal diversi studji li saru biex ikun imkejjel kemm tista’ tkun din iż-żieda fil-livell tal-ibħra fil-futur. Lil hinn mill-2050 hu diffiċli li jsiru projezzjonijiet u dan minħabba li x-xenarju dwar l-emmissjonijiet u t-tibdil fil-klima assoċjat mhux magħruf biżżejjed. L-anqas mhu magħruf kif ser tkun ir-reazzjoni tas-silġ akkumulat fl-Antartiku f’dinja b’temperatura għola. Bl-informazzjoni li hawn il-projezzjonijiet li saru jindikaw li l-livell tal-ibħra jista’ jiżdied b’madwar 110 ċentimetri sa tmiem dan is-seklu. Mhux eskluż li meta jitlestew studji addizzjonali li għadhom għaddejjin din iż-żieda tista’ titla’ sa 200 ċentimetru.

Dawn il-projezzjonijiet huma ibbażati fuq osservazzjonijiet xjentifiċi flimkien mat-tagħrif akkumulat minn studji dwar l-impatti tal-klima fuq l-ibħra, iż-żieda fit-temperaturi globali flimkien mar-ritmu li bih qed idub is-silġ akkumulat. Minkejja din l-inċertezza dwar dak li ser jiġri kif jidher mill-varjazzjoni mhux żgħira fil-projezzjonijiet dwar kemm u meta jista’ jogħla l-livell tal-ibħra, id-deċiżjonijiet ta’ ippjanar konnessi ma dak li hu meħtieġ biex tkun protetta l-kosta huma meħtieġa li jittieħdu illum.

Dan jinkludi d-deċiżjonijiet meħtieġa dwar infrastruttura ta’ importanza kritika kif ukoll xogħolijiet għall-ħarsien tal-kosta li hu meħtieġ li jkunu tlestew qabel ma jibda jseħħ ix-xenarju li l-baħar jogħla fil-livell b’mod sostanzjali.

L-għoli fil-livell tal-baħar hu ta’ theddida għall-komunitajiet residenzjali mal-kosta kif ukoll għall-parti l-kbira tal-infrastruttura turistika u marittima.

Iż-żoni kostali tagħna huma żviluppati b’mod esaġerat u fihom hemm jgħixu numru mhux żgħir ta’ nies, b’densità esaġerata.

Il-faċilitajiet u l-infrastruttura turistika huma ikkonċentrati tul il-parti tal-kosta li hi kważi fil-livell tal-baħar b’mod li l-inqas żieda fil-livell tal-baħar jista’ jkollu effett diżastruż. Għal stat gżira bħal Malta l-infrastruttura marittima hi kruċjali: anke din qegħda fil-livell tal-baħar. Bħala konsegwenza ta’ dan l-iċken ċaqlieq fil-livell tal-baħar jista’ jkollu effett diżastruz fuq il-gżejjer Maltin jekk ma nippreparawx ruħna sewwa mhux biss għall-iktar possibiltajiet realistiċi imma anke għall-agħar possibilitajiet.

X’ser nagħmlu? Qegħdin nippreparaw ruħna għal din l-emerġenza li qed tiżviluppa wara biebna?

It-tweġiba ovvja hi le: ma jidher xejn li jindika li qed nippreparaw ruħna. Il-problema ewlenija għalina hi li anke b’zieda żgħira fil-livell tal-baħar il-faċilitajiet mal-kosta jistgħu jisparixxu. Neħtieġu viżjoni ċara fuq kif ser naffrontaw it-tibdil fil-klima.

Il-Ministeru tat-Turiżmu iktar hu interessat biex joqgħod jilgħab bir-ramliet artifiċjali li malajr jitkaxkru mill-mewġ mal-ewwel maltempata qalila kif ġara fil-Bajja tal-Balluta riċentement. Man-natura ma tilgħabx! L-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, min-naħa l-oħra iktar hi interessata li taqdi lil dawk li jridu jistagħnew mil-koxxa u fl-ebda ħin ma bdiet tagħti kas tat-tibdil fil-klima fid-deċiżjonijiet tagħha.

Neħtieġu kosta ħajja u vibranti. Nistgħu nipproteġu ‘l kosta billi nħejju ruħna għal din l-emerġenza tal-klima li qed tiżviluppa quddiem għajnejna. Jekk ser nibqgħu ma niċċaqilqux it-tort ikun tal-ġenerazzjoni tagħna u ta’ ħadd iktar.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 29 ta’ Settembru 2019

Our coastline: in a state of emergency

Earlier this week the UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its report on the oceans and climate change. We are once more warned of the consequences of climate change and the impacts of rising sea levels, as well as of the urgent need to have decarbonisation in place by not later than the year 2050.

EU Commissioners Miguel Arias Cañete for Climate Action and Energy, Karmenu Vella for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries and Carlos Moedas for Research, Science and Innovation have welcomed the report, considering it a wake-up call for the global community to tackle climate change and its impacts on oceans as soon as possible. In an EU Commission press statement issued on Wednesday, they emphasised the fact that the conclusions of the new report are clear: “human-induced global warming is drastically changing our oceans. They are heating up, becoming more acidic, contain less oxygen. Sea levels are rising much faster than anticipated.”

Chapter 4 of the report should be of particular interest to Malta. It is entitled “Sea Level Rise and Implications for Low Lying Islands, Coasts and Communities”.

Global Mean Sea Level is rising at an accelerating rate. From observations made it results that this has increased from 1.4 mm per year over the period 1901-90 to 3.6 mm per year over the period 2005-15. The report refers to various studies regarding the projected sea-level rise. Beyond 2050 is unchartered territory due to the uncertainties in emission scenarios and the associated climate changes and the response of the Antarctic ice sheet in a warmer world. The relevant projections, however, still point towards a possible sea-level rise of 1.10 metres towards the end of the century. It is not excluded that this projection may be increased upwards to as much as 2 metres, once additional studies are concluded.

These projections are based on scientific observations and the accumulated knowledge from studies on the impacts of climate change on the oceans, notably the increase in global temperatures as well as the resulting melting of glaciers and ice sheets.

Despite this uncertainty associated with such a wide range of the projections made, decisions on coastal adaptation planning are required to be made today. This would include decisions on critical infrastructure and coastal protection work which need to be put in place in anticipation of the most likely scenarios.

Rising sea levels are a threat to coastal residential areas as well as to most of our tourism and maritime infrastructure.

Our coastal areas are over-developed and densely populated. Tourism facilities and infrastructure is concentrated along the low-lying areas of the coast. For an island state the maritime infrastructure is crucial. As a consequence, sea-level rise may, even in the medium term, have a devastating impact on the Maltese islands unless we are adequately prepared – not just for the likely scenarios but also for the worst case scenario.

Where do we go from here? Are we prepared for this developing emergency which is unfolding before us?

The answer is an obvious “no”. We are not prepared. There are no signs that any sort of preparation is in hand. The basic problem we have to face is that even in the medium term our coast may be wiped out together with all its infrastructure. We lack a clear vision of how to deal with climate change.

The Tourism Ministry is only interested in playing around with artificial sandy beaches which will be quickly vacuumed up and reclaimed by the sea during the first storm – as was clearly demonstrated in Balluta Bay during the last stormy season. The Planning Authority is bent on facilitating “making hay while the sun shines” and has at no point factored climate change in its policies and decisions.

A healthy and vibrant coastline is essential and we can only protect it by being prepared for the developing climate emergency. If we do not we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 29 September 2019