Planning for the foreseeable future

Human nature has always been preoccupied with the future. However, at times we tend not to realise that we mould a substantial part of the future through our actions today. Unfortunately, sometimes our actions today and the future we want, point towards completely different directions.

Our future is necessarily a common one, as explained in the 1987 report of the UN Commission on Environment and Development -, the Brundtland report – aptly entitled Our Common Future. Drafted by an international commission led by former Norwegian Socialist Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, this report placed sustainable development on the global discussion platform, emphasising that we are responsible not only for each other’s welfare today but also for that of future generations. We need to consider carefully that our actions today have a considerable impact and can possibly limit the choices that future generations would have to make.

The impact of our behaviour on the climate is one such example. The impact of climate change is causing havoc in weather patterns and consequently also impacting on all areas of human activity. The patterns and intensity of rainfall is unpredictable. Our road infrastructure never coped, and now it is getting worse.

Earlier this week The Guardian reported that the planet has just a five per cent chance of reaching the Paris climate goals. Rather than avoiding warming up by more than 2oC by the end of the century, it is more likely that Mother Earth will heat up to around 5oC beyond the pre-industrial era.

The predicted consequences are catastrophic. Another report published in April this year had informed us that there are worrying signs for Greenland ice sheet which covers 80 percent of its 1.7 million square kilometres surface area: it has been observed melting faster than ever before. On its own, this factor could potentially cause a rise of many meters in sea level – as many as seven metres.

This is certainly not the future we want. Any rise in sea level rise, even if minimal, would threaten the functionability of all coastal areas and facilities. It would also wipe out entire coastal communities and islands worldwide would disappear. It would be a future of climate- change refugees pushed to higher ground by a rising sea-level. This will not only have an impact low-lying islands in the Pacific Ocean: it will also hit closer to home.
Take a look at and consider the places along the Maltese coast: Msida, Ta’ Xbiex, Pietá, Sliema, Marsaskala, Marsaxlokk, San Pawl il-Baħar, Burmarrad, Birżebbuġa, Marsalforn, Xlendi and many more.
Readers will remember the occasional rise in sea-level at Msida. In one such instant – on 11 May last year – the change in sea level was of more than a metre as a resulting flooding the roads along the coast. This phenomenon is known as seiche (locally referred to as “Il-Milgħuba”) and reported in this newspaper under the heading “Phenomenon: sea-water level rises in Msida, traffic hampered.” It also occurs at St George’s Bay in Birżebbuġa – on a small scale but on a regular basis, causing quite a nuisance to car users.

Now this phenomenon only occurs temporarily, yet it still substantially affects traffic movements when it does. Imagine if the rise in sea level rise is of a permanent nature?

Large parts of our coast are intensively developed – with roads and residential properties, as well as substantial sections of the tourism infrastructure and facilities. In addition, there is also the infrastructure of our ports which we have developed as a maritime nation over the centuries. All this points to the need for adequate planning to implement urgent adaptation measures in order to reinforce Malta’s coastal infrastructure. If we wait too long it may be too late.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 August 2017

Jafu x’inhuma jagħmlu?

left and right

 

Dal-għodu l-Kunsill Lokali ta’ Birżebbuġa f’Konferenza Stampa spjega kif l-Awtorità tat-Trasport iddeċidiet illi fil-Bajja s-Sabiħa (Pretty Bay) jinbeda proġett għall-irmiġġi tad-dgħajjes. Ħafna movement ta’ dgħajjes ma jgħinx biex titjieb il-kwalita’ tal-ilma baħar b’mod li jkun tajjeb għall-għawm.

Fl-istess ħin l-Awtorità tat-Turiżmu kienet qed tikkoordina mal-Kunsill biex is-servizzi fil-Bajja jitjiebu u b’hekk ikun iktar possibli illi tingħata l-bandiera l-Blú (Blue Flag Status).

Verament każ tal-id ix-xellugija ma tafx x’inhi tagħmel l-id il-leminija!

 

Santiago and maritime affairs

Aerial View_Grand Harbour

Ernest Hemingway’s Santiago in “The Old Man and the Sea” was unlucky. It took him 85 days to catch his big fish. But when he did, being on his own out at sea without any help, he had to tow it back to port, only to discover then that the sharks had reduced his catch to a mere skeleton.  It is the same with maritime policy. We need to coordinate with our Mediterranean neighbours to have meaningful and lasting results. On our own we can achieve very little.

A national integrated maritime strategy is an essential policy tool. Yet, as was pointed out by Parliamentary Secretary Edward Zammit Lewis, it is still unavailable. On May 19, European Maritime Day,  it was emphasised by Zammit Lewis that such a strategy would identify Malta’s maritime policy priorities required to support the Blue Economy.

The economic opportunities presented by the sea which surrounds Malta are substantial. We do however have to make use of such opportunities carefully, knowing that various impacts may result. Through the sea surrounding us we are subject to impacts as a result of the actions of others. Similarly Malta’s maritime activities necessarily will impact other countries, for better or for worse.

The excellent quality of seawater around the Maltese islands resulting from Malta’s recent adherence to the Urban Wastewater Directive of the EU is one positive contribution to a better Mediterranean Sea even though the sewage treatment system is badly designed as it ignores the resource value of the discharged treated water.

Through Arvid Pardo in the 1960s Malta made a lasting contribution to global maritime thought by emphasising that the seabed forms part of the common heritage of mankind.

The sea and its resources have always had a central importance in Malta’s development. Tourism, fisheries and water management easily come to mind. Maritime trade and services as well as the sustainable utilisation of resources on the seabed are also essential for this island state.

Whilst a national maritime strategy will inevitably seek the further utilisation of the coastline and its contiguous areas it is hoped that environmental responsibilities will be adequately addressed in the proposals considered.

A national integrated maritime policy, though essential, cannot however be effective if it  does not take into consideration the activities of our neighbours: both their maritime  as well as their coastal activities.

This is an issue which is given considerable importance within the European Union which seeks to assist member states in coordinating their maritime policies for the specific reason that the impacts of such policies are by their very nature transboundary.  In fact one of the EU Commissioners, Maria Damanaki,  is tasked with Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.  Her work is underpinned by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive which seeks to protect the sea in order that it could be utilised sustainably thereby contributing to attaining the objectives of EU2020, the ten year growth strategy of the European Union.

Within its maritime competencies the EU has also developed effective instruments of transboundary cooperation foremost amongst which are the Baltic Strategy and the Danube Strategy.  These macro-strategies of the European Union, as their name implies, focus on the Baltic Sea and the river Danube respectively. They bring together the European regions bordering the Baltic Sea and the Danube to cooperate in various policy areas such that the resulting coordination addresses challenges which no single country can address on its own.

Such strategies also serve as an instrument of cooperation with non-EU countries. Through the Baltic Strategy it is cooperation with Russia, Iceland and Norway whilst through the Danube Strategy eight EU member states cooperate with six European non-EU member states.  The EU has also more recently launched an Atlantic Ocean Strategy.

A national maritime strategy will  seek to identify those areas which can absorb strategic investments in order to develop the blue economy.  An important point worth emphasising is that a sustainable development of the blue economy will ensure that no negative impacts are borne by our communities residing along and adjacent to the coastal areas. Unfortunately not enough attention has been paid to this aspect in the past. Such negative impacts can be avoided not only through careful planning but also through proper consultation with both civil society as well as directly with residents.

Impacts which have to be avoided include air and sea pollution. In addition potential noise and light pollution need careful attention in particular if the operating times of the newly identified activities span into the silent hours.

Malta’s Maritime strategy needs a double focus: a national and a regional one.  Both are essential elements neither of which can be ignored. It is in Malta’s interest to take part in initiatives addressing transboundary impacts and simultaneously to integrate these initiatives within a national maritime policy strategy. Otherwise we will face Santiago’s fate. The result of our good work will be taken up by the sharks!

Originally published in The Times of Malta, Saturday June 8, 2013

Malta’s Nine Ghost Towns

The 2005 Census had revealed that 53,136 residential units in Malta were vacant. This was an increase of 17,413 units over the 35,723 vacant residential units identified during the 1995 Census. Faced with an increase of over 48 per cent in 10 years, a responsible government would have contained the development boundaries as existing supply can satisfy the demand for residential accommodation for many years to come.

In 2006, just nine months after the 2005 Census, the Nationalist Party-led Government defied common sense and, instead of applying the brakes, it further increased the possibilities for building development through three specific decisions. Through the rationalisation process, the PN-led Government extended the boundaries of development in all localities. Then it facilitated the construction of penthouses by relaxing the applicable conditions. If this were not enough, it increased the height limitations in various localities, intensifying development in existing built-up areas.

As a result of increasing the permissible heights, sunlight was blocked off low-lying residential buildings in the affected areas.

These residences were using sunlight to heat water through solar water heaters or to generate electricity through photovoltaic panels installed on their rooftops.

They can now discard their investments in alternative energy thanks to the PN-led Government’s land use policies!

The result of these myopic land use planning policies further increased the number of vacant properties, which is estimated as being in excess of 70,000 vacant residential units. (Mepa chairman Austin Walker, in an interview in June 2010, had referred to an estimated 76,000 vacant residential properties.)

The estimated total of vacant residential properties is equivalent to nine times the size of the residential area of Birkirkara, the largest locality in Malta, which, in 2005, had 7,613 residential units.

These ghost towns over the years have gobbled up resources to develop or upgrade an infrastructure that is underutilised. Spread all over the Maltese islands, these ghost towns have required new roads, extending the drainage system, extending the utility networks and street lighting as well as various other services provided by local councils.

The funds channelled to service ghost towns could have been better utilised to upgrade the infrastructure in the existing localities over the years.

The above justifies calls for an urgent revision of development boundaries through a reversal of the 2006 rationalisation exercise where land included for development in 2006 is still uncommitted.

Similarly, the relaxation of height limitations and the facilitated possibility to construct penthouses should be reversed forthwith.

All this is clearly in conflict with the efforts being made by the Government itself, assisted with EU funds, to increase the uptake of solar water heaters and photovoltaic panels.

I am aware of specific cases where decisions to install photovoltaic panels have had to be reversed as a result of the development permitted on adjacent property subsequent to the 2006 height relaxation decisions.

In its electoral manifesto for the forthcoming election, AD, the Green party, will be proposing a moratorium on large-scale development in addition to the reversal of the above policies as it is unacceptable that the construction industry keeps gobbling up land and, as a result, adding to the stock of vacant property.

The market has been unable to deal with the situation and, consequently, the matter has to be dealt by a government that is capable of taking tough decisions in the national interest.

Neither the PN nor the Labour Party are capable of taking such decisions as it has been proven time and again that both of them are hostages to the construction industry.

The slowdown of the activities of the construction industry is the appropriate time to consider the parameters of its required restructuring. It is clear that the construction industry has to be aided by the State to retrain its employees in those areas of operation where lack of skills exist.

There are three such areas: traditional building trades, road construction and maintenance as well as marine engineering.

Traditional building skills are required primarily to facilitate rehabilitation works of our village cores and to properly maintain our historical heritage. Our roads require more properly-trained personnel so that standards of road construction and maintenance are improved and works carried out in time. Our ports and coastal defences require a well-planned maintenance programme and various other adaptation works as a result of the anticipated sea-level variations caused by climate change.

The construction industry employs about 11,000 persons. It is imperative that its restructuring is taken in hand immediately.

In addition to halting more environmental damage, a long overdue restructuring will also serve to mitigate the social impacts of the slowdown on the families of its employees through retraining for alternative jobs both in the construction industry itself and elsewhere.

The so-called ‘social policy’ of the PN and the PL have neglected these families for years on end.

 

published in The Times on 29 September 2012

TEN-T : The Għadira Nodes

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published Saturday 27 December 2008

by Carmel Cacopardo

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Two important points have to be borne in mind while searching for a solution to upgrade the Ten-T (Trans-European Transport Network) road link at Ghadira Bay, Mellieha.

Firstly, all identified solutions will have an environmental impact. Secondly, in order that the public discussion be fruitful all information must be freely available.

The stakeholders are not just NGOs and specific economic operators. The whole community is the stakeholder. Stakeholders require information not just from the perceived interested parties but more so from the public authorities that are vested with authority to defend the community’s interests.

A number of reports have been made public. Some have been quoted selectively. Others are still under wraps.

BCEOM (French engineering consultants), in its 2004 report entitled Feasibility And Environmental Impact Studies For Transport Infrastructure Projects In Malta – Final Feasibility Study Report and AIS Environmental Limited, in its 2005 report entitled Proposed Review Of Ghadira Road Options, identify the upgrading of the existing road along the beach as the preferred option.[vide also 1 and 2]

Since then a number of proposals have been publicised. These revolve around two possibilities: the retention of the existing road with modifications or the construction of an alternative road to the south of the Nature Reserve and the Danish Village.

Preliminary appraisal of environmental impacts has been drawn up and on its basis the authorities have issued opinions that have not yet been made public. These indicate the detailed studies that have yet to be carried out in order to arrive at a definite decision.

In particular, it is to be noted that the AIS report dated November 2005 states (pages 2 and 3) that BCEOM had rejected the tunnel design beyond the Danish Village, which would have reclassified the beach front route as a local road.

These proposals were rejected by BCEOM on the basis of “excessive and unpredictable costs”. In addition, the AIS report emphasises that “Mepa had rejected the tunnel options on environmental grounds because the area in question is classified as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC)”.

The AIS report further states that subsequent to the above-indicated Mepa rejection, ADT reassessed the situation and proposed three options, two focusing on the existing road and the third being a new road incorporating a tunnel and bridge through the garigue (an SAC) south of the Danish Village, which, like the SAC-protected Nature Reserve, has been officially approved by the EU and forms part of Natura 2000.

It is within this context that Mepa has requested a “holistic preliminary assessment of the impacts arising from the various options that ADT is now considering”. Mepa has requested a number of studies related to beach dynamics, ecology, agriculture, geology, geomorphology and hydrology, archaeology and others. These studies were requested way back in 2005 and none has to date seen the light of day, notwithstanding that everyone seems to be in a hurry! These studies, if properly carried out, are of fundamental importance in determining the manner in which the Ghadira Ten-T link is to proceed, if at all!

Various statements have been made in the past weeks. The most conspicuous were those related to the sandy beach. It is by now clear that these have originated (without scientific justification) from a consultant commissioned by one of the economic operators in Ghadira Bay and were intended to reinforce his proposal for a beach concession as a result of a possible re-routing of the Ghadira road.

Within this context it was highly unethical for the Ministry of Transport to invite the said consultant to sit alongside the ministry’s officials in a recent meeting with NGOs and the press. The ministry’s subsequent declaration that it would oppose proposals for beach concessions in the area can only be interpreted as an attempt to correct its ethical short-sightedness!

A further important statement was made last week by nature itself. The sea level temporarily rose to the road level, thereby reinforcing arguments already brought forward that the existing road during the winter months is doubling up as a coastal defence to the Nature Reserve, which, being sited on former salt pans is partly below sea-level.

At this point in the debate, matters are slightly less nebulous than they were in the beginning. The declaration by the Minister for the Environment that all the required studies will be carried out is welcome.

However, such a declaration risks being viewed as a cheap attempt at damage control unless an explanation is forthcoming as to why these studies have not yet been finalised notwithstanding that they were requested by Mepa way back in 2005!

It is clear that, until recently, some thought that these studies could be dispensed with only to realise at the 11th hour that the environmental lobby is vigilant and will keep insisting that the government, through its various agencies, should shoulder its responsibilities!

Norway considers floating windmills

Reuters

UTSIRA, Norway — Giant turbines the size of jumbo jets bobbing on the North Sea may soon become as common off Norway as oil and gas platforms.
At least that is the ambition of Norwegian authorities and industry, eager to splash some green on their oily image and use their offshore expertise to corner a potentially lucrative new market – floating wind farms in deep sea waters.
Norway’s government is contemplating licensing “blocks” for offshore wind generation, and Norwegian oil company StatoilHydro aims to start work next year on a floating turbine project near the site of the first North Sea oil discovery 40 years ago.
“We are the best place in Norway if you love wind,” Mayor Jarle Nilsen said of Utsira, a North Sea island of just six square kilometres and home to 210 people who already get most of their power from two onshore turbines.

With Europe’s second-longest coastline after Greece, Norway is hard hit by winds blowing off the Atlantic and, along with Britain, well placed for wind=energy projects.
Offshore turbines can be twice as powerful as land-based units because of stronger, more sustained winds at sea.
Out of sight from the coast, such wind farms could use modified, more efficient turbines that do not limit noise, a key concern for land-based wind farms.
The technology is not tested and costly offshore repairs could quickly drive up costs, analysts say.
The price of wind electricity produced will also probably stay above that of conventional fossil fuel-based power for years to come, meaning that state subsidies play a major role.
“We have been very clear in saying that there are exciting prospects in offshore wind and indeed floating wind,” Deputy Energy and Petroleum Minister Liv Monica Stubholt said.
“But we also acknowledge that experts advise us to ‘hurry slowly’ because there are still considerable technological hurdles that need to be hopped.”
Further, deeper
The use of the wind is growing around the world – it is set to top 100 gigawatts in installed capacity in 2008 in a push for alternatives to coal- or gas-powered plants, which emit heat-trapping gasses. Still, wind accounts for only 1 per cent of the global power mix.
About 98 per cent of that capacity is at land-based turbines, but new technology and the benefits of pushing wind farms away from populated areas are strengthening the offshore market – currently led by Britain and Denmark.
The Brussels-based Global Wind Energy Council has forecast that the world’s wind market will reach 240 gigawatts by 2012, with a growing share coming from offshore.
Britain has an ambitious goal for 35 GW in installed offshore wind capacity by 2020.
The floating turbine concept allows wind farms to wade farther out to sea. Anchored to the seabed, they can be built in deeper waters where the sea floor would be too soft for standing turbines.
StatoilHydro’s project, expected to get an official go-ahead soon, will be a 2.3 megawatt turbine, with a diameter of 107 metres and jutting nearly 80 metres above the water. A further 120 metres of the floating concrete hull will be submerged.
The “Hywind” project, which includes German Siemens AG’s wind-power unit, will test the technology and look for ways to cut operating and maintenance costs for the giant turbines to be located in water depths of up to 700 metres.
 
If the demonstration project succeeds, more may come early next decade to provide supplemental electricity for places such as some North Sea platforms or coastal Norwegian towns.
“It also has global potential in places with the proper sea and wind conditions, a suitable market size and the right price incentives,” said Jan-Fredrik Stadaas, head of wind energy project development at StatoilHydro.
Such markets could include the United States, Canada, Spain and Portugal, France, Japan and Britain, Mr. Stadaas said.
Tilting into the wind
Another project, led by Norwegian utilities Statkraft and Lyse and including StatoilHydro and Shell, seeks to build wind turbine towers that tilt against the wind to withstand severe North Sea conditions. A full-scale 5 MW prototype of the “Sway” turbine is planned in 2010.
The Norwegian government is providing cash to both projects but the real test of its resolve will come in its offshore wind regulations, which may mimic the country’s oil and gas rules.
Ms. Stubholt, the deputy minister, said Norway may offer offshore wind power licences in specific blocks, along with incentives.
She said Norway was slow to embrace wind energy because most of its electricity already comes from clean hydropower, limiting demand for more renewable energy.
Industry officials hope the state aid plans include investment-based subsidies or feed-in tariffs, where offshore generators would be given a steady price for their electricity, as well as link-ups to existing grids.
“Given concerns about reliability of untested technology and a virtually non-existent market for offshore wind installation and maintenance, these projects require an active role by the state to lower some of the risks,” one industry official said.

Dawl li jniġġes

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mill-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa bil-lejl dan tara

Il-Birdlife għadha kif ippubblikat rapport dwar it-tniġġis ikkawżat mid-dawl u kif dan jeffettwa għasafar li jbejtu f’Malta. Ir-rapport huwa intitolat Light Pollution and its effect on Yelkouan Shearwaters in Malta; causes and solutions. Dan ir-rapport huwa parti minn proġett iffinanzjat mill-EU biex tkun imħarsa l-Garnija u fejn din tbejjet, magħruf bħala l-Rdum tal-Madonna fl-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa.

It-tniġġis kawżat mid-dawl huwa problema fiż-żoni madwar il-kosta u jeffettwa lill-għasafar li jtiru l-iktar bil-lejl. Dan it-tnġġis mid-dawl ma jeffettwax biss lill-għasafar. Minbarra ħlejjaq oħra jeffettwa ukoll lilna.

Fid-dwal mixgħula bil-lejl għandna ħafna ħela. Ir-rapport jirrakkomanda x’miżuri jistgħu jittieħdu biex dan it-tniġġis mid-dawl ikun ikkontrolat u possibilment eliminat.

It-tip ta’ fittings għad-dwal użati fit-toroq jista’ jnaqqas ħafna din il-problema ta’ tniġġis u dan billi jidderiġi d-dawl lejn fejn hu meħtieġ. F’ċerti toroq hemm dawl żejjed.

L-istudju jiffoka fuq il-kolonja tal-garnija fl-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa u jikkonkudi li l-garnija li tbejjet hawn hi efettwata mit-tniġġis tad-dawl li qed joriġina minn Buġibba, l-Mellieħa, il-Campsite fl-Aħrax stess, iċ-Ċirkewwa u l-Għadira.

Ir-rapport fih lista ta’ rakkomandazzjonijiet li jinkludu mod kif jitnaqqas it-tniġġis mid-dawl kkawżata mid-dwal fit-toroq, mal-bajjiet, mal-lukandi u anke dak madwar bini pubbliku, bħas-swar u l-knejjes.

Il-proposti ghall-koalizzjoni fil-qosor (1) L-Ambjent

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Illum ser niffoka fuq il-proposti li l-Manifest ghall-Koalizzjoni jaghmel dwar l-ambjent.

Il-Manifest jidentifika dawn il-prijoritajiet :

1. Riforma tal-MEPA billi d-Direttorat ghall-Harsien tal-Ambjent jinfired mid-Direttorat tal-Ippjanar.

2. Id-decizjoni finali dwar il-hatra tal-membri tal-Bordijiet li jmexxu lill-MEPA u eventwalment lis-successuri taghha ma tkunx tal-Ministru izda ta’ Kumitat Parlamentari u dan wara smiegh pubblika. B’hekk tonqos il-possibilita li jinhatru persuni inkompetenti jew inkella persuni li l-unika kwalifika taghhom tkun it-tessera tal-Partit. Il-lealta tal-persuni mahtura tkun lejn il-Parlament u mhux lejn il-Ministru.

3. Jigi demokratizzat il-process tal-Ippjanar tal-Uzu tal-Art. Dan billi fost ohrajn progetti soggetti ghal EIA (studju dwar l-impatt ambjentali) ikun jista’ jsir referendum lokali dwarhom. Dwar dan ir-referendum ikunu jistghu jiehdu l-inizzjattiva 10% tar-residenti jew inkella l-Kunsill Lokali. Id-decizjoni tar-referendum lokali tkun torbot!  Il-process tad-demokratizzazzjoni jehtieg ukoll access  shih u komplet ghall-informazzjoni.

4. L-AD tassigura li jitharsu d-direttivi u r-regolamenti ambjentali kollha tal-EU. Dan jinkludi l-abolizzjoni darba ghall-dejjem tal-kacca w l-insib fir-rebbiegha.

5. Malta, bl-AD fil-Parlament, ma tibqax tinblokka kull proposta ghal titjib ambjentali fl-EU u tibda tiehu rwol proattiv dwar dan.

6. L-AD tiehu l-inizzjattiva biex il-Parlament ihassar ir-rizoluzzjoni li estendiet iz-zoni tal-izvilupp bla htiega u minghajr konsultzzjoni xierqa.

7. Jigi assigurat access hieles ghal art pubblika fil-kampanja kif ukoll ghax-xtut. Jigi assigurat li hadd ma jokkupa art pubblika illegalment.

8. Titfassal u wara li tkun approvata tigi implimentata ligi iktar wiesa’ dwar id-drittijiet tal-annimali.