Dritt ta’ aċċess għax-xemx

Id-dritt li jkollna aċċess għax-xemx reġa’ għal darba oħra qed jissemma b’insistenza. Dawk fostna li huma konxji li l-użu tax-xemx għall-ħtiġijiet tagħna jagħmel kemm sens ambjentali kif ukoll sens ekonomiku qiegħed dejjem jiżdied. Sfortunatament huma ostakolati mill-politika dwar l-użu tal-art li hi interessata biss biex taqdi lir-rebgħa li, jippruvaw jgħidulna li hi żvilupp.

Li nagħmlu użu mill-enerġija li tiġġenera x-xemx jiddependi minn dak li jkun hemm jostakola l-wasla tar-raġġi tax-xemx meta jkollna ħtieġa tagħhom! Meta l-parti l-kbira tal-pjani lokali kienu approvati fis-sajf tal-2006, kien żdied bil-kbir l-għoli tal-bini permissibli f’diversi lokalitajiet. F’xi każi l-ammont ta’ sulari li jistgħu jinbnew żdiedu minn 2 għal 5, inkluż penthouse. Is-sitwazzjoni hi agħar fejn jista’ jkun hemm garaxxijiet li jkunu parzjalment taħt il-livell tal-triq (semi-basement). Din il-bidla f’dak li jista’ jinbena effettwat ħafna żoni fejn kien hemm bini b’żewġ sulari.

L-impatt ta’ din il-bidla fl-għoli permissibli tal-bini qiegħed jiżdied biż-żmien għax issa qed isir żvilupp mill-ġdid ta’ bosta propjetajiet li ilhom ftit ta’ żmien li nbnew. Dan qed joħloq ħafna dellijiet fuq bosta djar residenzjali fl-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan il-pannelli fotovoltajċi u l-istallazzjonijiet li jsaħħnu l-ilma bix-xemx (solar water heaters) stallati fuq il-bjut ta’ bosta residenzi issa qegħdin fid-dell għall-ħin twil u ġew ma jiswew xejn. Dawn huma investimenti li għamlu ħafna familji Maltin li ġew issagrifikati fuq l-altar tar-rebgħa tal-hekk imsejjaħ żvilupp. Sussidji użati bħala għajnuna biex niġġeneraw l-enerġija mix-xemx, inkluż dawk li oriġinaw minn fondi Ewropej, f’numru mhux żgħir ta’ każi spiċċaw moħlija.

Dan kollu hu riżultat ta’ politika dwar l-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art bla viżjoni fit-tul. Politika li falliet biex tqis u tindirizza impatti ovvji. B’mod speċifiku hi riżultat li teżamina l-proposta dwar l-għoli permissibli tal-bini fid-dawl tal-proċeduri stabiliti mid-direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropea dwar l-istima ta’ l-effetti ta’ ċerti pjanijiet u programmi fuq l-ambjent (Strategic Environment Assessment Directive). Din hi direttiva li tfittex li teżamina politika (policy), pjani u programmi biex ikun stabilit u eżaminat l-impatt ambjentali tagħhom.

Dawk minnha li huma familjari ma kif taħdem u ħadmet l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jafu li l-Pjani Lokali ġew approvati bl-għaġġla fis-sajf tal-2006. Dan sar l-għaliex iktar dewmien kien ikun ifisser illi dawn il-pjani kienu jkun soġġetti għal eżami dwar l-impatti ambjentali tagħhom skond kif tipprovdi d-direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropea dwar l-istima ta’ l-effetti ta’ ċerti pjanijiet u programmi fuq l-ambjent (Strategic Environment Assessment Directive). Inevitabilment kien jirriżulta minn dan l-eżami li ż-żieda fil-għoli tal-bini li seta jingħata l-permess kien ser ikollu impatt negattiv fuq il-ġenerazzjoni tal-elettriku mix-xemx, kif fil-fatt qed jiġri llum! Dan l-impatt kien ikollu jkun indirizzat u l-għoli tal-bini kien ikollu jonqos.

Kellna parti mill-Gvern taħdem favur il-ħtieġa li nagħmlu użu mix-xemx biex niġġeneraw enerġija nadifa. Imma kellna parti oħra mill-Gvern li kienet ostaġġ tal-lobby tal-iżviluppaturi li riedu iktar spazju fejn jistgħu jiżviluppaw. Il-bqija nafu x’ġara. Dak l-ispazju issa qed jiġi żviluppat u bħala riżultat spiċċajna bil-pannelli fid-dell fuq il-bjut!

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, fil-Parlament, Miriam Dalli, Ministru għall-Enerġija, l-Intrapriża u l-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli fi tweġiba għal mistoqsija parlamentari ta’ Ryan Callus kelliemi tal-Opposizzjoni dwar l-Enerġija qalet li l-Gvern għaddej b’konsultazzjonijiet interni dwar dan kollu.

Tant ilna niddiskutu dan kollu li mhux nifhem x’għandha f’moħħha l-Onorevoli Ministru. Fil-fatt ftit hemm possibilitajiet x’jiġu kkunsidrati.

L-iktar possibilità ovvja hi li fejn hu possibli jitreġġa’ lura l-għoli permissibli tal-bini għal dak li kien fl-2006. Dan imma, hu diffiċli biex isir, u kieku kellu jsir immedjatament tasal talba għal kumpens ta’ miljuni ta’ euro.

Hu possibli li jkunu introdotti drittijiet dwar l-aċċess għax-xemx f’bini ġdid. Dan għandu jsir immedjatament. Hu possiblili li jkunu emendati r-regoli tal-ippjanar b’mod li jkun assigurat illi fil-bini ġdid, b’mod partikolari fil-bini ta’ flats, ikun possibli li minn fuq il-bjut tagħhom tkun ġġenerata l-enerġija mix-xemx. Dan għandu jkun biżżejjed u jagħmel tajjeb għall-konsum tal-elettriku fil-blokk tal-flats kollu. Dan ikun ifisser li l-arja ma tinżammx mill-iżviluppatur iżda tkun parti mill-blokk f’idejn is-sidien tal-flats biex fuqha jistallaw pannelli foto-voltajiċi. Dan jassigura li kull blokk ġdid ta’ flats ikun carbon neutral, jiġifieri jiġġenera elettriku mix-xemx daqs kemm ikun ikkunsmat. Il-pannelli b’hekk jieħdu post il-penthouse.

B’hekk nistgħu nibdew bil-mod insewwu l-ħsara li saret.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 21 ta’ Frar 2021

Solar rights and planning wrongs

Solar rights are once more in the public debate. The number of those aware that utilising solar energy for our needs makes both environmental and economic sense is on the increase. Unfortunately, they are being obstructed by land use planning policy which is only interested in serving greed, camouflaged as development.

The utilisation of the sun’s energy is dependent on what gets in the way of the sun’s rays when we need them!  When most of the Local Plans were approved way back in summer of 2006, the permissible heights of building development in a multitude of areas were substantially increased. At times this increase was from 2 to 5 floors, including a penthouse level. It is worse where semi-basement garages are permissible. This change was in particular applied in respect of large areas with a previous predominance of two floored terraced houses. 

The impact of this change in the permissible height limitation is increasing in severity with time as the redevelopment of old properties is being gradually taken in hand. This is resulting in the shadowing of an ever-increasing number of residential units in a number of residential areas. As a result, solar water heaters and photo voltaic panels installed on a number of roofs in the past years, are now in the shade for a considerable amount of time and consequently are practically useless. Investments made by a number of our families have been sacrificed on the altar of development greed. Subsidies (including those originating from EU funds) which were utilised to assist the tapping of solar energy in a substantial number of cases have thus been thrown down the drain.

This is the result of myopic land use planning which failed to consider obvious impacts. Specifically, it is the result of the failure to subject the proposed height relaxation planning policies to the EU Strategic Environment Assessment Directive. The Strategic Environment Assessment Directive seeks to examine policies, plans and programmes in order to ensure that their environmental aspects are effectively considered.

Those of us familiar with the workings of the Planning Authority are aware that most of the Local Plans were rushed through to approval during the summer of 2006. This was done as any further delay would have made them subject to Strategic Environment Assessment procedures which would have inevitably highlighted the impact of height relaxation on the generation of solar energy. As a result, the conflict with the need to have solar energy generated would have been highlighted and most probably addressed.

While one section of government was encouraging one and all on the need to tap the sun’s rays to generate clean and renewable energy, another section, hostage to the development lobby was obstructing this and pushing forward their need for more space to develop! The rest is history. That space is currently being developed today, in the process obstructing the further generation of renewable energy on our rooftops.

In Parliament, earlier this week Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Sustainable Development Miriam Dalli in reply to a Parliamentary Question from Ryan Callus, spokesperson for Energy on behalf of the Opposition, stated that government was holding internal discussions on the matter.

The matter has been discussed many times to date so I cannot decipher exactly what Minister Miriam Dalli has in mind. There are in fact very few possible options which can be considered.

The most obvious option is to revise as much as possible the height relaxation carried out in 2006. This will be very difficult to carry out, and, if done, it will be immediately followed-up by a request for compensation running into many millions of euro.

Alternatively, one can seek to introduce solar rights on new buildings without further delay. It is possible that planning policy is amended to ensure that all new properties, in particular blocks of flats, should generate sufficient electricity to cater for the number of units in the new block, thus ensuring carbon neutrality. Such a measure would essentially require that the roof is owned together with the individual units in order that owners of the said units may install photo voltaic panels. Consequently, it would signify that the space which till now has been utilised for the development of penthouses would henceforth be reserved for the generation of renewable energy.

In so doing a history of planning wrongs would commence the long and difficult road of correction.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 21 February 2021

The airport and its neighbours

3D aerial view of scheme.MIA 2015

 

Earlier this week, the management of Malta’s International Airport announced a €78 million investment programme, aimed at enlarging the terminal buildings, improving and upgrading existing facilities for the handling of passengers and  further developing a business hub.

The airport terminal at Gudja is Malta’s only such facility and so, to a certain extent, the further development of the existing capacity to handle the arrival and departure of passengers is essential. And yet, due to the limitations of size, the proximity of Gudja’s airport to the surrounding villages of Luqa, Gudja, Kirkop and Safi has to be borne in mind. Size limitations signify that even essential works will have an impact on the surrounding communities and thus have to be thought out carefully.

Its been over five years since MEPA has received a planning application for the consideration of an updated master-plan for Malta International Airport. PA5548/10 was submitted in November 2010. A previous version of the master-plan was approved in 1997 (PA5681/96) while another version, submitted in 2003 (PA5306/03), was withdrawn.

The latest proposed master-plan currently under consideration by MEPA includes provision for the enlargement of the terminal building to include additional facilities to handle passenger traffic as well as the construction of five new buildings for a range of commercial and leisure activities.

The proposed masterplan and the environmental planning statement (EPS) published late in 2014 for public consultation focus on the proposed business hub and emphasise that the well-established trend for international airports is to expand to “include ancillary business and retail facilities.”

The masterplan was fed by two studies commissioned by the Malta International Airport. The first – carried out by Locum Consulting – studied the office market in Malta and apparently concluded that the “high quality office stock supply” is limited in comparison to the existing demand.  An audit of the proposed masterplan was also carried out by Eriksson + Partner GmbH.

The EPS contains selective quotes from these two reports, but the reports themselves have not been made public. Both MEPA and MIA have resisted requests to publish these reports as they consider that they are commercial reports and do not contain information on environmental impact.

Malta’s only airport has its requirements. In particular, it needs to cater for the increasing number of passengers it handles. This year, the number of passengers handled has recently surpassed the 4.5 million mark. It will undoubtedly continue to rise and it stands to reason that the passenger-handling facilties, currently bursting at the seams, need to be upgraded.

What number of passengers is being planned for? What are the forecasts ? This information is not available as part of the documentation which has been published to date.

The inevitable increase in the number of passengers to be handled by MIA will have an impact on the surrounding area. The traffic generated, and the  emissions associated with this, will further deteriorate the air quality in the main roads leading to Gudja. There will also be an increase in noise pollution.

The Environment Planning Statement identified the Ħal-Farruġ Road/Qormi Road roundabout at Luqa as requiring upgrading  as a result of long-term traffic projections made. It did not, however, identify any other major traffic impact on the villages surrounding the airport. In particular, the EPS did not consider it relevant to consider that already, at this point in time, the residential area of Gudja – less than 50 metres away from the boundary of the airport carpark –  is being used by airport employees and passengers as an additional carpark, thereby creating an unnecessary burden on Gudja itself.

The current burden for the airport’s core functions, and the first phase of the Skyparks project, are primarily being borne by the communities of Luqa, Gudja, Kirkop and Safi.

Additional impact due to an increase in the airport’s core functions is unavoidable. But making matters worse through further development of the airport as a business hub is verging on sadistic. Gudja’s airport should not be compared to major airports when determining long-term functions, but rather to regional airports.

Given Malta’s size, practically all facilities are available within a 15-minute drive from the airport. It would hence make sense for the airport’s management to realise that the airport’s corporate social responsibility should not be limited to funding some restoration projects. It is about time that it focused on the fact that human beings reside in the surrounding villages. The airport’s contribution to Malta’s economic performance is welcome but this should not be at the expense of the quality of life of the surrounding communities.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday, 27 December 2015

The recycled summit

leaders-of-the-european

 

The Valletta Migration Summit is over. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has described it as a ‘historic summit’. It seems to me that it would be more accurately described as the ‘recycled summit’.

In one of the last speeches at the Summit, on Thursday morning, Senegalese President Macky Sall encapsulated in a few words the sentiments of the African side when he stated that African nations would have no need of aid if multinationals corporations active on the African continent paid their fair share of taxes and a fair price for the natural (African) resources. Of course President Sall left out an important last sentence: he avoided any reference to corrupt politicians generally in sync with these multinational corporations.

Earlier in the week had seen the 20th anniversary of the judicial killing of environmental activist Ken Saro Wiwa and his colleagues, who were executed on the orders of a secret military tribunal on the basis of trumped-up charges in Nigeria on 10 November 1995. Ken Saro Wiwa and his colleagues had  stood up in defence of the Ogoni people against Anglo-Dutch multinational Shell, who ignored one and all in its intensive corporate greed.

The conclusions of the Valletta Summit are nothing but a re-cycling of measures that have been discussed for some time: EU leaders have continued to focus on returning migrants and outsourcing problems to frontline states. This is an approach that the EU had previously attempted with Libyan dictator Gaddafi who, way back in 2010, had demanded €5 billion as his price-tag to stem the flow of immigrants across the Mediterranean. In contrast, the initial carrot dangled before African heads of state was a mere €1.8 billion. Another €3 billion was simultaneously being offered to Turkey by Frans Timmermans Vice President of the EU Commission.

Bargaining with non-EU countries in the hope of trading EU funds in return for re-admission mechanisms is not the right approach. The original EU proposal of linking funds to a take-back of immigrants who did not qualify for asylum had to be withdrawn as the African side of the Summit refused the bait.

The causes of immigration into the EU are various. They range from repression and civil war to the accumulating impacts of climate change – primarily drought and the resulting collapse of domestic agriculture. Matters are made worse as a result of tribal rivalry, as well as the absence of the strong institutions of a democratic state. Consequently, the resulting vacuum is filled by corrupt politicians who, after taking their fill from accommodating multinational corporations seek to top up their spoils through additional contributions from Brussels.

The situation is tricky for the EU as there is no one else to talk to. It is for this reason that the Action Plan tied the proposed €1.8 billion assistance to specific projects subdivided into sixteen priority areas built around five priority domains.

Will this Action Plan solve anything? It is too early to tell, as it is a long-term issue which will be implemented within a number of timeframes specified in the plan itself. The main point of contention remains the immediate short term, during which the pressures on the EU borders will keep increasing to the point that, as Donald Tusk indicated, the whole Schengen process is under threat.

In this context it is pertinent to underline that Malta has recently been spared the troubles as the flow of immigrants ending in Malta has decreased to a trickle as a result of Italy taking up all immigrants that it has intercepted or rescued in Malta’s search and rescue area. The reasons why Italy is behaving in this manner are not yet officially known: the rumour mill has it that oil exploration rights are part of the equation. Originally, Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela had indicated that there was some informal agreement with Italy only for him to come back and state that he had been understood.

As stated by Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian Prime Minister and Liberal leader in the European Parliament : “The EU leaders have let us down.”

While the Valletta Summit has agreed to a reasonably detailed Action Plan which can form the basis of action in the long term, it has failed at containing the migration crisis in the short term.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 15 November 2015

EU elections: Business and the environment

Launch Business Manifesto.140214.09

I was present yesterday for the launch of a Business Manifesto addressed to MEP candidates. The Manifesto entitled “We’re in Business together. A Maltese Business Manifesto.”  lists the expectations of the business community. The launch was organized by the office of the European Parliament in Malta.

As expected the manifesto deals extensively on the role of business in job creation, its importance to the economy, the vulnerabilties of SMEs and the difficulties faced by Maltese Business, mostly micro-business, as a result of both its size as well as Malta’s peripherality and insularity.

The five business organisations did a good job with one exception. They were apprehensive about environmental and social issues. The business manifesto does not refer to environmental and social issues except in a negative manner. There is no valid reason for this position. The experience of Maltese business organisations (with very few exceptions) points elsewhere. It is generally a positive experience.

May I remind that the Federation of Industries, now forming part of a unified Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry had years back endorsed and adhered to the UN Global Compact. The Malta Business Bureau has embarked on a water awareness campaign, GRTU through  enterpreneur Noel Gauci (together with others) has been at the forefront of research on wave energy and its applicability to Malta to tap alternatve energy sources.

Similarly on socal issues most Maltese SMEs are good employers and it would be a misrepresentation if one were to focus on the negative comments on social issues in the Business Manifesto as being representative of Maltese Business.

Maltese Business and SMEs in particular have to view environmental and social issues not as obstacles but as challenges which can be transformed into new opportunities. Those who realise this and put it into practice will lead the way. The others will follow.

Snippets from AD’s electoral manifesto: (1) Corporate Social Responsibility

Environment

The following extract is taken verbatim from Chapter 14 of AD’s Electoral Manifesto

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)
In today’s world various organisations publish reports on a regular basis in which they list their impacts primarily on the community in which they operate.
In Malta only two companies do so, Bank of Valletta and Vodafone. To date they have published two editions of their reports. Each of these publications is of a positive nature but in every case there is room for improvement both in the policy direction as well as in content.
It is necessary that all companies listed on the Stock Exchange as well as parastatal organisations such as Enemalta and the Water Services Corporation together with all companies employing more than 1000 employees publish such information. It is important to underline that environmental reporting is as important as financial reporting and hence it should also be audited.

L-estratt segwenti hu mehud kelma b’kelma mill-Manifest Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika (Kaptlu 14)

Responsabbiltà Soċjali tal-Industrija u n-Negozju (CSR)
Fid-dinja tal-lum huma diversi l-organizzazzjonijiet li jippubblikaw fuq bażi regolari rapporti li fihom jelenkaw f’dettall l-impatti tagħhom prinċipalment (iżda mhux biss) fuq il-komunità fejn joperaw.
F’Malta huma żewg kumpaniji biss li jagħmlu dand: il-Bank of Valletta u Vodafone. S’issa ppubblikaw żewg edizzjonijiet tar-rapporti tagħhom. Kull wieħed minn dawn il-pubblikazzjonijiet hu ta’ kontribut pożittiv imma f’kull każ hemm lok għal titjib kemm fid-direzzjoni politika kif ukoll fil-kontenut tar-rapport.
Huwa neċessarju li dan ikun estiż għall-kumpaniji kollha elenkati fil-Borża kif ukoll għall-Korpi Parastatali bħall-Enemalta u l-Korporazzjoni għas-Servizzi tal-Ilma flimkien ma’ dawk il-kumpaniji fis-settur privat li jimpjegaw iktar minn 1,000 ruħ. Huwa importanti li jkun sottolineat li r-rappurtaġġ ambjentali huwa importanti daqs dak finanzjarju u għaldaqstant għandu jkun ukoll soġġett għal proċess tal-verifika.

Road Safety and Motor Sports project proposal

Road Safety and Motorsport Facility

I attended yesterday’s business breakfast organised by the Malta Motorsports Federation on its proposal to build a Road Safety and Motorsports Facility in Malta.  The proposal requires a land area of between 33 and 40 hectares and it appears that government has already identified the land which could serve for this purpose. Indications given so far are that it is in the vicinity of the airport, close to Safi and Kirkop.

During the Business Breakfast the Prime Minister expressed qualified support for the project. He referred to issues of noise and financial feasibility as being basic and which in his view require to be addressed in more detail before government considers the matter definitely to take a final decision.

I also heard veteran entrepeneur Maurice Mizzi air his views. He agreed with the road safety aspect of the project whilst disagreeing with the motor sports part on the basis of noise pollution.

The two aspects of the proposed project are complimentary. The Motor Sports aspect is considered to be the revenue generating part whilst the Road Safety aspect will contribute to an organised professional drive to have better trained drivers. The road safety aspect of the project was defined by one of the foreign speakers as being a CSR driven project, a means through which Motor Sports channels back into the community profits which are generated.

The issues to be examined are not only those relating to financial feasibility and noise impacts as emphasisied by the Prime Minister. Air quality and the emission of particulate matter resulting from the fuels which will be in use has to be studied in detail. One has also to consider the fact that the localities in the vicinity of the airport are already subject to excessive noise pollution resulting from the operations of Malta’s International Airport.

With this in mind whilst emphasising that the proposed project may serve as a much needed educational tool to improve driving skills much more needs to be examined before it can be given the go-ahead.

Our community may reap great benefits from this initiatve through improved road safety. As to the sports aspect one has undoubtedly to consider further. Eventually a decision will depend on the technical parameters of the project, the proposed mitigating measures and the precise location of the site. Any decision has to await such time as these issues are clear. It has to be clear that the communities close by are not shouldered with more burdens. They have shouldered more than enough to date.

published at di-ve.com on Friday 8 February 2013

Profits with principles

stakeholders

The business of business is not just business. It is much more.  It is much wider.

Business is responsible towards its shareholders but it is accountable towards its stakeholders: employees, customers, consumers, trade unions, environmental groups and also future generations. Business must develop a dialogue with this wider stakeholder group. Such a dialogue must be based on trust and, consequently, it must be both transparent and leading to genuine accountability.

 It is not just governments that need to be accountable! CSR reporting is a tool that can be of considerable assistance in achieving this purpose.

AD’s Electoral Manifesto proposes putting Corporate Social Responsibility on a sound footing in Malta.

“It is necessary that all companies listed on the Stock Exchange as well as parastatal organisations such as Enemalta and the Water Services Corporation together with all companies employing more than 1000 employees publish such information. It is important to underline that environmental reporting is as important as financial reporting and hence it should also be audited.”

Disclosure and stakeholder engagement are basic elements of CSR.  CSR reporting will define the duty of disclosure of the major business and industrial operators. Through this proposal AD in Parliament  will ensure that transparency is the order of the day not just in government but also in the private sector.

 As profits and priciples can co-exist.

published in di-ve.com on February 1, 2013

Increasing environmental awareness

 

 

 

The publication of the draft National Environment Policy (NEP) is a useful exercise irrespective of Government’s intentions, which, to put it mildly, are not always clear.

Government’s intense rhetoric coupled with action motivated primarily by the need to overcome threats of EU infringement proceedings is not the best way to move forward in environmental issues. Labour would certainly be no better. Past experience indicates that Labour are on the same wavelength as the PN even though their policies on a number of issues are not yet spelt out, in public at least.

In April 2010 Ernst & Young had concluded a Public Attitudes Survey on environmental issues commissioned by MEPA. The analysis of the results, available on the MEPA website makes interesting reading.

Of central importance are the conclusions relative to the inter-relationship between the environment and the economy: 69% of respondents held that the environment was as important as the economy, 23% held that the environment was more important than the economy whilst only 8% held that the economy is of over-riding importance.   

Air quality, waste management and land use top the list of the environmental concerns of the Maltese. In fact these are the most worrying issues, though certainly not the only ones.

The draft NEP collects in one document a detailed list of government’s environmental responsibilities, primarily resulting from the EU environmental acquis. There are also some areas covered by the draft NEP in respect of which the EU has no role. Government has erroneously described these as an indication of its determination to go beyond EU requirements.

A logical and down to earth reaction to the draft NEP is that we have been there before. A National Sustainable Development Strategy approved by Cabinet in late 2007 had approved practically a similar (although less detailed) document. It even had some specific targets all of which have been ignored by the Cabinet Minister who was responsible for their implementation: the Honourable Lawrence Gonzi whose portfolio of political responsibilities included and still includes Sustainable Development .

Is it ethical, I ask, for the Prime Minister to approve a strategy (through Cabinet)  with specific targets, ignore them, abolish the Commission which drew up the strategy and then re-present substantially the same strategy and proposals in a different form? Would you believe him if he now says that he is serious about implementation of strategies and proposals originally proposed in 2007 but ignored  by the government which he has led uninterruptedly since 2004?  Speaking for myself I don’t believe one word of what he says on the subject.       

The National Sustainable Development Strategy identified various targets. Most were undated, but some basic ones had a specific timeframe by which they had to be delivered.

Among the specific targets which Dr Gonzi as Prime Minister first approved but subsequently ignored are the following :

  1. By 2008 draw up a strategy to enhance the use of economic instruments (eco-taxation strategy),
  2. By 2008 put in place a permanent structure appropriately staffed and funded to monitor and review the implementation of the National Strategy for Sustainable Development,
  3. Within 18 months of the adoption of the National Strategy for Sustainable Development (that is by mid-2009) Ministries had to prepare their action plans on the implementation of the strategy in their portfolio of responsibilities,
  4. By 2010 draw up an integrated Spatial Development Plan to take forward the Sustainable Development Strategy, with the participation of major stakeholders.

None of the above targets have been met.

 Among the general targets approved in 2007 (4 years ago), before the re-election of Dr Gonzi as Prime Minister he had promised : 

  1. the drawing up and implementation of a policy addressing the issue of light pollution,
  2. the drawing up and implementation of a dust-control policy,
  3. a nationwide public footpath policy which delineates paths that the public can use,
  4. promotion of a culture of Corporate Social Responsibility by major firms,
  5. enhancing enforcement and monitoring to reduce the destabilising  effects on society of construction and quarrying activities.

  None of the above targets have been addressed.

 All the above nine proposals and many others originally forming part of the National Sustainable Development Strategy have re-surfaced in the draft NEP after being ignored for a number of years. Dr Gonzi’s proposals have a habit of hopping from one policy document to the other.

This is not a serious way of doing politics. Those who like Dr Gonzi proposed strategies and failed to implement them should have the decency of explaining why they failed in their mission. Instead of doing so Dr Gonzi organised a media circus at Xrobb l-Għaġin to explain to the media the “greening of his government”. Unfortunately no record is available of any of the journalists present taking him to task for trying to hide his failures.

 Notwithstanding the above some benefit will surely arise out of the debate on the draft NEP: even if we have been there before and discussed it not once, not twice but many times over without any tangible result to date. The public’s sensitivity to environmental issues is on the rise. Its environmental awareness is increasing rapidly.  Just 18 months before a general election I do not think that anyone can be deceived anymore on green issues.

Like the PL before it the PN in government has had its chance to deliver and failed.

 

 Published in the Independent n Sunday – Environment Supplement

October 2, 2011 

Reflections on an Environment Policy

The current debate on what should form part of a National Environment Policy is a healthy exercise. It is focusing not only on the different aspirations of each citizen but also on the role of each one of the towns and villages which together constitute this country.

The environmental issues we face are the result of the manner we organise our lives both individually and as a community. In fact it can be safely stated that the manner in which economic activity has been organised throughout time has created different environmental and social impacts.

The exercise at this point in time is hence the clear identification of these impacts and subsequently seeking the best manner in which they can be tackled. This is done on two fronts: firstly through the formulation of an environment policy and secondly by integrating this environment policy with economic and social policy within the National Strategy for Sustainable Development (NSSD).

The NSSD has already been formulated and approved by Cabinet almost three years ago after a long process of consultation. It established targets and objectives which have unfortunately been ignored by the same Government which has approved them. This necessarily leads to the conclusion that these exercises can be a waste of time as their only purpose seems to be an exercise to prove that the new hands on deck can do things in a better way than those they have replaced. 

The National Environment Policy Issues Paper identifies a number of areas which are to be tackled but excludes a number of important ones. What is in my view objectionable and bordering on the insulting is the ignoring by the Issues Paper of the NSSD. It also ignores matters which have been tackled by the NSSD as well as the specific targets identified. This the NSSD did after extensive consultation with civil society, which the Issues Paper promises to go through again.

 

Eco-taxation

One such case refers to the use of economic instruments to attain environmental objectives. The Issues Paper queries whether and to what extent there is agreement  with the use of such instruments to further environmental objectives. Simultaneously with the publication of the Issues Paper, Finance Minister Tonio Fenech through the pre-budget document was lauding the idea of introducing a carbon tax and the possible utilisation of the proceeds to affect a tax shift. This is in the spirit of the former EU Commission President  (French Socialist) Jacques Delors’ 1993 EU White Paper entitled “On growth, competitiveness and employment. The challenges and ways forward into the 21st century”.

So whilst the Environment Ministry is requesting our opinion on the use of eco-taxation (and other instruments) it seems that the Finance Ministry is dead-set to proceed.  Do these two Ministries form part of the same government? 

Both the Environment Ministry and the Finance Ministry would do well to go back in time to the debate on the introduction of the eco-contribution (2003-05) where they could identify a number of issues raised by civil society.

Should fiscal objectives be the purpose of environmental taxation or would it rather be environmental improvement? All over the globe governments declare that their aim in applying eco-taxation is environmental improvement. Yet they resist transferring political responsibility for environmental taxation from the Finance Ministry to the Environment Ministry. Such a move would lend credence to statements on the environmental objectives of eco-taxation and would ensure that the design of specific measures is more in line with encouraging changes in behaviour. Retaining political responsibility for environmental taxation at the Finance Ministry on the other hand signifies that the objective is to tax behaviour but not  to change it. This reluctance is generally reflected in the manner  in which eco-taxes are designed. Fiscal policy makers pay attention to the fact that changing behaviour would mean drying up a source of revenue. Hence eco-taxes designed for fiscal objectives are intended not to affect the elasticity of demand. This is done by selecting items in respect of which there are no alternatives and thus irrespective of tax added to the price there is no alternative to purchasing the product or service. The eco-contribution exercise clearly illustrates this argument.

 

Environmental nuisance 

The Issues Paper has failed to project an understanding that environmental issues can be most effectively tackled at a micro-level. In fact the Issues Paper adopts an exclusively macro approach and does not give any weight to the real life issues. Issues of environmental nuisance are the ones which the man in the street feels strongly about. These include primarily noise, air quality and odour nuisance caused by neighbours in residential areas. They could range from an air conditioner fixed below your bedroom window to a neighbour’s fireplace chimney spewing smoke right into your living room or a bakery belching black smoke onto your washing line. Or the newly opened restaurant or snack bar in a transformed ground floor flat whose operator wouldn’t care less about where the odours from his kitchen end up.    

Information

Access to environmental information is an important aspect of environment policy. Yet the drafters of the Issues Paper ignored it. The environmental information aspects of the Åarhus Convention have been incorporated into Maltese legislation as a direct result of Malta’s EU accession. This legislation provides a mechanism through which the citizen requests the release of information which up till then would be withheld by the authorities. This is a very primitive form of governance. The state should release information without having its hand forced to do it. This is the minimum required in an age of transparency and accountability. 

Policy proposals and other initiatives must be buttressed by studies which not only justify the proposal or initiative but which also identify the resulting impacts and the manner in which these can be addressed. Studies must be published at an early stage and not in the final stages of a discussion. Otherwise the public debate cannot be fruitful.

Transparency and accountability

Transparency and accountability are not only duties of the state. They are also a responsibility of private enterprise.  Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reporting is one way in which private enterprise informs the public on its activities. It is a function as important as financial reporting. Financial reporting having been accepted by society for quite a long time as a reporting requirement.

In Malta currently two companies publish a CSR report. Vodafone (Malta) and Bank of Valletta (BOV) have already published two editions of their CSR report. There has been considerable improvement in the information made available by Vodafone (Malta) in its second report, but BOV’s reporting  can be substantially improved.

The environment policy should identify the type of organisations that should have the duty to report publicly and on a regular basis on their environmental and other impacts. By organisations I understand not just industry and business but also public corporations, government departments and local authorities. A reasonable first step would be for companies quoted on the stock exchange to take the lead followed by public bodies such as Enemalta, Water Services Corporation, Heritage Malta and Air Malta.

CSR reporting should be guided by international standards such as the Global Reporting Initiative G3 guidelines and should be subject to auditing in order to verify that the statements made reflect what the organisation is really up to. 

Alternattiva Demokratika, AD, the Green Party in Malta has earlier this month published a document in reply to the National Environment Policy Issues Paper which lists and discusses the areas missed out by the said Issues Paper.  In addition to focusing on the urgent need to implement the NSSD, environment information, environmental nuisance and environment information it also points out the need to tackle the uptake of environmental management systems such as ISO 14001 and the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) Regulations of the European Union, light pollution, contaminated land, environmental and sustainability planning at a locality level better known as Local Agenda 21,  the role of civil society and environmental NGOs in environment policy and environment  research.  

We hope that when the environment policy is drafted it will include the widest possible list of issues and will tackle them in an holistic manner keeping in mind the parameters established in the National Sustainable Development Strategy.                 

Alternattiva Demokratika considers that environment policy is one of several instruments through which improvement in the quality of life can be attained. Protecting the environment signifies that we better our quality of life. It also signifies that each one of us acts in a responsible manner. However primarily it must be government which leading the way should act in an appropriate manner in order that it leads by example.

 published in

The Independent on Sunday, October 17, 2010, Environment Supplement