Open spaces and the 15-minute city

Having a substantially increased area of open spaces and ensuring that these spaces are accessible for all is good policy. The fact that currently we lack accessible open spaces is a failure of land use planning as practised in Malta, which is unfortunately speculation oriented instead of being focused on optimisation of land use as a contribution towards an improvement in the quality of life for all.

Government is embarking on a €700 million project in order to enhance existing open spaces as well as to create or to encourage the creation of new ones. No one would object to that provided that it is not an excuse for a different and undeclared objective.

In order for such a project to be successful it must be part of a long-term view of enhancing our surroundings such that we bridge the substantial and ever-widening gap which separates us from nature. However, what is really needed is a change in attitude towards the availability of public space as an essential element in the basic infrastructure required for an enhanced healthy quality of life.

While it is definitely an acceptable objective to create new open spaces, we could do much better if, as an essential first step we strive to retain existent open spaces and save them from destruction. Private gardens, some of them of a substantial size, forming an integral part of our urban areas and village cores have for quite some time been making way for the development of blocks of flats. These should be the first obvious open spaces which we should seek to protect if we are serious about the importance of open spaces. Such gardens have served as the lungs of our local communities for ages. They are in private ownership but they still contribute substantially to the wellbeing of our communities. This does not entail any expense. All it requires is a dose of consistency and plenty of goodwill.

Next on the protection list would be agricultural land which is being lost at an ever-accelerating rate. When agricultural land is not being engulfed by road-building or building development it is being taken up by those who want to transform it into BBQ or picnic land, as their private recreational hideout.  In the process they squeeze out farmers who have tilled the land for ages and contributed continuously to the national food production effort. Even this does not entail any expense. All it requires is properly functioning authorities, which we lack!

The urge for more open spaces is a longing to re-establish contacts with our roots, that is with nature. Nature has a role in every aspect of our life. We can only keep ignoring it at our peril. This would primarily signify that open spaces need to reintroduce nature into our localities and not introduce a number of token planters in concrete pots. Open spaces are about nature and not about the increased domination of our localities by concrete in whatever shape or form! Nor should they be used as parking spaces.

It has been emphasised that the current project of investing in open spaces aims to ensure that each and every one of us will have access to a public open space not more than ten minutes away from where he or she resides. This objective ties in with a current initiative in various European towns of developing a 15-minute city: that is a local community which is almost self-sufficient, all needs, or most of them being available not more than 15 minutes away. It is not just public open spaces which ought to be close by: all our basic needs should be within easy reach.

This would necessitate that we examine closely our urban fabric to realise that the small commercial outlets which have served our local communities for ages are heading towards extinction. They are being squeezed out of the market through the ever-increasing number of supermarkets and large commercial establishments.

The idea of ‘the 15-minute city’ initially put forward by Carlos Moreno, an architect advising the Paris mayor, but adopted by an ever-increasing number of cities entails turning current urban planning on its head to ensure that all our needs are available not more than 15 minutes away.

Carlos Moreno speaks of a social circularity for living in our urban spaces based on six essential functions: to live in good housing, to work close by, to reach supplies and services easily, to access education, healthcare and cultural entitlement locally by low-carbon means.

Can we reassess the nature and quality of our urban lifestyles within these parameters?

Small commercial outlets in our towns and villages require support as they are an essential help to make our communities vibrant: being of service and creating local employment in the process. Encouraging the local commercial outlets also reduces traffic at all times of the day as there will be less need to travel. It would also directly help in achieving that other objective of reducing cars from our roads.

Land use planning is for people. It is about time that this is put into practice. It is only within this context that the funding of community greening projects makes any sense.

published in The Independent on Sunday 29 January 2023

Impjant nuklejari fi Sqallija?

Matul il-kampanja elettorali riċenti tal-2022, fl-Italja, fid-dibattitu politiku, reġgħet infetħet id-diskussjoni dwar il-ġenerazzjoni tal-enerġija nuklejari.

Matteo Salvini, presentement Ministru għall-Infrastruttura u t-Transport, apparti li hu ukoll Deputat Prim Ministru fil-Gvern ta’ koalizzjoni Taljan, emfasizza, li, fl-isfond tal-kriżi enerġetika kurrenti l-Italja għandha tikkunsidra mill-ġdid il-politika tagħha dwar l-impjanti nuklejari.

Il-votanti Taljani darbtejn esprimew ruħhom b’mod ċar dwar ir-rejatturi nuklejari fuq art Taljana. L-aħħar darba li għamlu dan kien f’referendum li sar f’Ġunju 2011, ftit wara d-diżastru nuklejari li seħħ f’Fukushima l-Ġappun f’Marzu 2011. Dakinnhar, 94 fil-mija ta’ dawk li vvutaw għażlu projibizzjoni totali ta’ kostruzzjoni ta’ impjanti nuklejari fl-Italja.

Il-kriżi kurrenti tal-enerġija qed isservi ta’ pressjoni fuq kulħadd biex jinstabu sorsi alternattivi ta’ enerġija bi prezz li nifilħuħ. L-enerġija nuklejari hemm marbuta magħha spejjes moħbija li rari ħafna jittieħdu in konsiderazzjoni kull meta l-materja tkun soġġett ta’ dibattitu politiku: l-iskart nuklejari ġġenerat kif ukoll ir-riskji inerenti, marbuta ma’ ħsara jew funzjonament ħażin  tal-impjanti nuklejari.  L-impatt tal-inċidenti nuklejari fi Three Mile Island (Pennsylvania Stati Uniti – 28 ta’ Marzu 1979), Chernobyl (Ukrajina – 26 t’April 1986) u Fukushima (Ġappun – 11 ta’ Marzu 2011) huma xhieda biżżejjed tal-konsegwenzi li jista’ jkollna niffaċċjaw meta tkun ikkunsidrata l-għażla ta’ enerġija nuklejari.

Il-mod kif niddisponu mill-iskart nuklejari hu suġġett għal dibattitu kontinwu fuq livell globali. L-ispiża biex dan isir hi waħda sostanzjali, u dan b’referenza kemm għall-ispiża ambjentali kif ukoll għal dik finanzjarja.  Fil-passat riċenti, viċin tagħna, l- eko-mafja irmiet kull xorta ta’ skart, inkluż skart nuklejari, fil-Baħar Mediterranean. Dan għamlitu fi 42 vapur differenti, kollha mgħarrqa f’partijiet differenti tal-Mediterran. Il-kaz speċifiku tal-vapur Kunsky mgħarraq ftit il-barra mill-kosta tal-Kalabrija, kien ġie żvelat mill-pentiti tal- ‘Ndrangheta/Camorra, Francesco Fonti u Carmine Schiavone, snin ilu fix-xhieda tagħhom lill-awtoritajiet Taljani.

Bosta mir-riskji tekniċi tal-impjanti nuklejari illum il-ġurnata kważi nstab tarf tagħhom u dan minħabba l-avvanżi kontinwi fit-teknoloġija. Hemm iżda eċċezzjoni waħda! Kif ġie żvelat bħala riżultat tad-diżastru ta’ Fukushima, il-forzi naturali jibqgħu kontinwament bit-tmun f’idejhom!  F’Fukushima, għal darba oħra ġie ikkonfermat li r-riskji marbuta mat-terrimoti mhux la kemm insibu tarf tagħhom! Dan kollu  għandu relevanza kbira għad-dibattitu dwar il-kostruzzjoni ta’ impjanti nuklejari wara biebna, f’teritorju Taljan.

Fl-2011 l-awtoritajiet Taljani kienu indikaw li s-sit fi Sqallija li probabbilment jintuża biex fuqu jinbena impjant nuklejari qiegħed mal-kosta tan-nofsinnhar ħdejn il-lokalità ta’ Palma di Montechiaro. Dan ikun madwar 100 kilometru fil-Majjistral ta’ Għawdex.

Kif nafu, Sqallija hi zona fejn it-terrimoti huma frekwenti. Apparti t-terrimoti frekwenti “żgħar” li  nisimgħu dwarhom u li xi kultant nindunaw bihom matul is-sena, fi Sqallija seħħew tnejn mill-agħar terrimoti li qatt laqgħtu lill-Ewropa. Fl-1693 terrimot fix-Xlokk ta’ Sqallija kellu qawwa ta’ 7.4 filwaqt li f’Messina fl-1908 terrimot ieħor laħaq qawwa ta’ 7.1 fuq l-iskala Mercalli. Dawn iż-żewġ terrimoti ħolqu ħerba u wasslu għat-telfien ta’ bosta ħajjiet. L-infrastruttura ukoll sofriet danni kbar!

Id-deċiżjoni dwar jekk il-Gvern Taljan jerġax jipprova jmur lejn in-nuklejari biex jiġġenera l-elettriku fl-Italja mhux ser tittieħed f’data fil-qrib. Imma, meta jibdew jinġabru l-firem għal referendum fuq is-suġġett ma tantx ikun baqa’ żmien biex għal darba’oħra nqiesu sewwa x’nistgħu nagħmlu.

F’Malta, l-interess tagħna hu dwar l-impatt  fuqna ta’ impjant nuklejari mal-kosta ta’ Sqallija viċin ta’ Palma di Montechiaro f’kaz li dan l-impjant jiżviluppa l-ħsara jew għal xi raġuni jibda jaħdem b’mod erratiku.  

Tajjeb li nżommu f’moħħna li minħabba l-emissjonijiet radjuattivi riżultat tad-diżastru ta’ Fukushima kellha sseħħ evakwazzjoni sħiħa f’distanza ta’ 200 kilometru mill-impjant nuklejari. Għawdex, kif tafu, hu inqas minn 100 kilometru mill-kosta ta’ Sqallija. Daqshekk huma ċari l-konsegwenzi għalina ta’ impjant nuklejari mal-kosta ta’ Sqallija!

ippubblikat fuq Illum: 15 ta’ Jannar 2023

A nuclear reactor in Sicily?

During the recent 2022 electoral campaign, the issue of nuclear energy in neighbouring Italy has resurfaced in the political debate.

Matteo Salvini, currently Minister for the Infrastructure and Transport, in addition to being Deputy Prime Minister of the ruling Italian coalition government, is on record as emphasising that, given the current energy crisis, he considers that it would be expedient to resurrect the nuclear proposal.

Italian voters have expressed themselves clearly on the matter twice. The last time was in a referendum in June 2011 in the aftermath of the Fukushima March 2011 nuclear disaster. Then, 94 per cent of those voting, opted in favour of a total ban on the construction of nuclear reactors on Italian soil.

The current energy crisis is pressuring all to find alternative energy supplies at affordable cost. Nuclear energy, however, comes with two hidden costs which are rarely ever factored into the costings presented for public debate: the disposal of nuclear waste and the inherent risks linked to the failure of the nuclear plants. The impacts of the nuclear accidents at Three Mile Island (Pennsylvania USA – 28 March 1979), Chernobyl (Ukraine – 26 April 1986) and Fukushima (Japan – 11 March 2011) are clear enough testimony of what is at stake, when considering the option of nuclear energy.

The disposal of nuclear waste is the subject of an ongoing debate all over the world. It is costly both environmentally as well as financially. In the recent past, closer to home, the eco-mafia dumped various types of waste including nuclear waste in the Mediterranean Sea in 42 different ships sunk in different parts of the Mediterranean. The specific case of the sunken ship Kunsky off the Calabrian coast was revealed by ‘Ndrangheta/Camorra turncoats Francesco Fonti and Carmine Schiavone many years ago in their testimony to the Italian authorities.

Most of the technical risks of nuclear plants have become more manageable with the technical developments over the years. There is however one exception! As revealed by the Fukushima disaster, natural forces are not always predictable. In Fukushima the risks resulting from earthquakes in the end proved once more to be unmanageable. This is of extreme relevance to the debate on the possible eventual siting of nuclear reactors on the Italian mainland.

The site which in 2011 was indicated by the Italian authorities as the most probable candidate to host a nuclear reactor in Sicily was along the southern coastline in the vicinity of Palma de Montechiaro. That would be less than 100 kilometres to the North West of Gozo.

As we are aware Sicily is an earthquake prone zone. In addition to the multitude of small earthquakes we hear about and occasionally are aware of throughout the year, the Sicilian mainland was exposed to the two most intensive earthquakes ever to hit the European mainland. The 1693 earthquake centred in South East Sicily had a magnitude of 7.4 while the Messina 1908 earthquake had a magnitude of 7.1 on the Mercalli scale. Both created havoc and had a high cost in human life! In addition, the physical infrastructure was in shambles.

A decision on whether the Italian government will once more attempt to consider the generation of nuclear energy on Italian soil is not due anytime soon. However, once the collection of signatures for a referendum on the matter gathers steam it will only be a question of time when we will have to consider facing the music one more time.

Our interest in Malta is in the transboundary impacts generated from a nuclear reactor sited along the southern Sicilian coast close to Palma di Montechiaro, should the proposed nuclear reactor malfunction.

It would be pertinent to keep in mind that the radioactivity emitted as a result of the Fukushima disaster led to a complete evacuation within a 200 km radius of the nuclear plant. Gozo being less than 100 km away from the Sicilian mainland should trigger the alarm bells of one and all as to what is ultimately at stake.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 15 January 2023

Il-qerda aċċelerata tar-raba’

Aħna ngħixu f’eko-sistema li qed tinqered ftit ftit. Dan hu rikonoxxut minn kulħadd.  

Ħarsu ftit, per eżempju, lejn l-ewwel sentenzi tal-White Paper intitolata Riforma fil-qasam tar-Raba’, White Paper ippubblikata għall-konsultazzjoni mill-Ministeru għall-Agrikultura f’Ottubru li għadda.

Dakinnhar kien intqal li: Il-ħarsien tar-raba’ huwa fundamentali biex niggarantixxu s-sostenibbiltà tal-biedja, il-produzzjoni tal-ikel, u l-ħarsien tal-ambjent rurali. Huwa għalhekk li meta jkun hemm problemi f’dan il-qasam, dawn ma jolqtux biss lill-bdiewa, iżda għandhom impatt qawwi fuq il-provista u s-sigurtà tal-ikel, u l-kwalità tal-ambjent li jista’ jitgawda mis-soċjetà.

L-art agrikola għandha valur: valur imma li mhux biss wieħed ekonomiku. Għandha valur ambjentali u soċjali. Dan hu rikonoxxut anke mill-Ministeru għall-Agrikultura. Għalfejn, mela, nistaqsu, dan il-Ministeru ma jieħux posizzjoni iebsa kullmeta Ministeri oħra jagħtihom l-estru għall-qerda ta’ art agrikola?

B’mod kontinwu, l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar tirċievi u tipproċessa applikazzjonijiet għal żvilupp li jeqred art li tinħadem jew li kienet tinħadem. Dan isir għar-raġuni sempliċi li l-pjani lokali huma msejsa fuq filosofija tal-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art li tonqos milli tħares il-valur intrinsiku tal-biedja.  Tqis li l-biedja hi xi ħaġa ta’ bla siwi u li nistgħu ngħaddu mingħajrha. F’din is-sitwazzjoni l-Ministeru tal-Agrikultura jibqa’ sieket, kontinwament!

Sfortunatament, l-uniku valur li l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar tifhem u tapprezza hu dak li jiffaċilità l-ħolqien tal-opportunitajiet għal min irid idawwar lira ta’ malajr. Kontinwament, l-Awtorità  tal-Ippjanar hi kompliċi fil-qerda gradwali ta’ kull ma hawn madwarna.

Xogħol mhux meħtieġ fuq l-infrastruttura tat-toroq, tul dawn l-aħħar snin, qered meded kbar ta’ raba’. Is-settur privat ilu għaddej jittrasforma ammont mhux żgħir ta’ raba’ f’art għar-rikrejazzjoni privata, għal xi barbeque jew għal xi picnic. Bħala konsegwenza ta’ dan qed jeqred komunitajiet ta’ bdiewa. L-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, minkejja li għandha is-saħħa legali li dan kollu twaqqfu, ma għamlet xejn.   Hu biss dan l-aħħar, wara l-għagħa li rriżulta minn numru ta’ deċiżjonijiet tal-Qorti dwar il-qbiela li l-Ministeru għall-Agrikultura qam minn raqda twila u ma baqax sieket!

Jiġu f’moħħi żewġ applikazzjonijiet għal żvilupp, applikazzjonijiet li għadhom pendenti: waħda f’Ħal-Qormi biex jinbena u jkun operat supermarket fuq art agrikola barra miż-żona tal-iżvilupp (ODZ). L-oħra dwar il-bini ta’ skola f’Ħal-Għaxaq, anke din fuq art agrikola.

Għaddejna minn dawn l-argumenti diversi drabi, b’mod partikolari fid-dibattitu nazzjonali dwar l-eżerċizzju biex tintgħażel l-art għall-Università Amerikana f’Marsaskala xi snin ilu! L-argumenti ta’ dakinnhar għadhom jgħoddu anke illum. Ma nistgħux nibqgħu nissagrifikaw ir-raba’. Għandna ftit wisq raba’ u jeħtieġ li nibżgħu għall-ftit li għandna.

Il-formola tal-applikazzjoni biex tinbena l-iskola f’Ħal-Għaxaq tgħid ċar u tond, bl-iswed fuq l-abjad, li l-użu tal-lum tal-art hu wieħed agrikolu. Dan jgħodd għal kull wieħed mill-35,970 metru kwadru li hu propost li jinbnew. Il-formola tal-applikazzjoni l-oħra dwar is-sit f’Ħal-Qormi, min-naħa l-oħra, tgħid li l-art f’dan il-kaz b’qies ta’ 4708 metru kwadru u li hi pproġettata li tkun żviluppata f’supermarket, bħalissa mhux użata!

Dawn l-applikazzjonijiet tal-ippjanar għadhom fi stadju bikri avolja dwar l-iżvilupp propost f’Ħal-Għaxaq għadu kif ġie ippubblikat studju dwar l-impatti ambjentali (EIA) reċentement.

F’dan l-istadju l-mistoqsija toħroġ waħedha: hemm ħtieġa għall-iżvilupp propost? It-tweġiba, fil-fehma tiegħi, hi ċara: le ma hemmx ħtieġa. M’għandniex bżonn iktar supermarkets. Pjuttost li diġa għandna iżżejjed minnhom!  

Dwar l-iskola proposta f’Ħal-Għaxaq l-istorja hi ftit iktar kumplessa. Imma xorta mhux iġġustifikat li tkun issagrifikata art agrikola. Għandhom ikunu esplorati soluzzjonijiet oħra, avolja naf li ilu żmien mhux ħażin isir (bla suċċess) tiftix għal sit alternattiv.  Is-soluzzjoni tista’ tinstab fl-iżvilupp mill-ġdid ta’ bini mitluq u dilapidat, li minnu għandna bosta, mxerred mal-gżejjer tagħna.

Neħtieġu fuq kollox politika koerenti dwar il-ħarsien tar-raba’. Flok ma jorqod, u kultant jistenbaħ, il-Ministeru għall-Agrikultura għandu jkun fuq quddiem nett f’din il-ħidma. Jista’ jibda billi jassigura li l-proġetti pubbliċi u l-politika tal-Gvern jagħrfu l-valur intrinsiku tal-biedja. Minn hemm irridu nibdew għax jekk is-settur pubbliku ma jkunx ta’ eżempju xejn mhu ser jinbidel: nibqgħu għan-niżla!

ippubblikat fuq Illum: 8 ta’ Jannar 2023

The accelerated destruction of agricultural land

We live in an eco-system which is being slowly destroyed. This is recognised by one and all.

Consider, for example the introductory sentences in the White Paper entitled Acquisition and ownership of agricultural land published for public consultation by the Ministry for Agriculture last October. We were then told that: Controlling the acquisition and ownership of land is fundamental to guaranteeing the sustainability of agriculture and food production, as well as the protection of the rural environment. For this reason, whenever there are issues in this area, these not only affect farmers but also have a strong impact on the supply and security of food and the quality of the environment that can be enjoyed by society.

Agricultural land has value. Its value is not just economic. It has an environmental and social value. This is recognised as a fact even by the Ministry for Agriculture. Why then, may we ask, does the Ministry not take a robust stand whenever other Ministries embark on a spree of accelerated destruction of agriculture land?

On a continuous basis the Planning Authority receives and processes applications for development which seek to obliterate agricultural land. This is done for the simple reason that the local plans are buttressed by a land use planning philosophy which fails to protect the intrinsic value of agriculture. It is deemed to be expendable. The Ministry for Agriculture, in this situation, is conspicuously silent, continuously!

Unfortunately, the only value which the Planning Authority understands and appreciates is that which facilitates “making hay while the sun shines”. It has been continuously an accomplice in the gradual destruction of all that surrounds us.

Unnecessary road infrastructure has gobbled up considerable swathes of agricultural land over the past years. The private sector has been transforming considerable agricultural tracts into barbeque or picnic areas squeezing out the farming community in the process. The Planning Authority has the legal remit to stop this but it has continuously failed to act. Until the recent public outcry in response to a number of Court decisions relative to agricultural leases, the Ministry for Agriculture has been silent on this matter too!

Two specific planning development applications (currently still pending) come to mind: one in Qormi to construct and operate a supermarket on agricultural land Outside the Development Zone (ODZ). The other relative to the construction of a school on agricultural land at Għaxaq.

We have been through the relative arguments many a time, in particular when debating the site selection exercise for the American University at Marsaskala some years back! The arguments made then are still valid today. We cannot keep sacrificing agricultural land. We have too little of it and we have to take care of the little we have.

The application form for the Għaxaq school declares black on white that the current use of the site is agricultural: each and every one of the 35,970 square metres of the site. The application form for the Qormi site, on the other hand states that the site measuring 4708 square metres which it is proposed to develop into a supermarket is currently “un-used”.

These planning applications are still in their early stages, even though an EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) has been produced for the proposed Għaxaq development.

At this point we need to query: do we need the development proposed? The answer, in my opinion is a clear no. We definitely do not need more supermarkets. There are already too many of them.

As to the proposed school at Għaxaq the issue is much more complex. It does not however justify sacrificing more agricultural land. Other solutions should be explored, even though a search for an alternative has been going on unsuccessfully for quite some time. The solution lies in the redevelopment of existing dilapidated buildings of which we have quite a number.

We do however need policy coherence in respect of the protection of agricultural land. The Ministry of Agriculture should be at the forefront in such an exercise. It could definitely start by ensuring that public projects as well as policies factor in agriculture’s intrinsic value. This is the required starting point. The public sector sets the benchmark. If it fails to turn the page, matters will definitely change from bad to worse!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 8 January 2023

Il-ħiliet ħodor li neħtieġu

Il-ħiliet il-ħodor ma jiġux waħedhom. Għandna ħtieġa kbira tagħhom biex insibu tarf tat-trasizzjoni ekoloġika. Jeħtieġilna li b’mod urġenti nirrisolvu l-kunflitt tal-bniedem man-natura. Neħtieġu li nibdew nirrimedjaw il-ħsara ambjentali akkumulata li l-bniedem ikkawża fuq id-dinja.

Biex nimxu f’din it-triq hemm ħtieġa ta’ bidliet sostanzjali fl-imġieba tagħna. Din mhiex għażla li nistgħu naqblu magħha inkella le. Hi ħtieġa li llum jew għada irridu niffaċċjaw.

L-istrateġija dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli, li preżentement hi soġġetta għal konsultazzjoni pubblika,  titkellem, fost oħrajn, dwar l-oġġettiv ta’ edukazzjoni ta’ kwalità li tkun kapaċi tirrispondi għall-ħtiġijiet tas-suq tax-xogħol. Dan tagħmlu hi u tiddiskuti l-oġġettiv strateġiku numru 4.  L-istrateġija tinfurmana li dawn il-ħtiġijiet tas-suq tax-xogħol jinkludu l-ħiliet ħodor.

Ma għandi l-ebda diffikulta dwar oġġettiv bħal dan li jipprova joħloq kredenzjali ħodor għall-ekonomija. Imma, naħseb li jkun għaqli li flok nimmiraw ħafna il-fuq nidentifikaw mod prattiku kif nassiguraw li l-parti l-kbira tal-popolazzjoni tikseb il-ħiliet bażiċi ħodor. Fl-aħħar minn l-aħħar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli mhux ser nilħquh mill-uffiċini, billi noħloqu pjani dettaljati minn wara l-iskrivanija. Nilħquh bl-imġieba tagħna, ġod-djar tagħna, fejn ngħixu l-ħajja normali tagħna. Din hi l-isfida tagħna. Hi sfida li tmur lil hinn mill-ekonomija.

L-għaqda ambjentali Nature Trust, flimkien ma numru ta’ skejjel, fuq dan qegħda fit-triq it-tajba, ferm qabel ma tfasslu strateġiji. Iċ-ċavetta qegħda fl-aċċess għall-imħuħ. Tul is-snin l-implimentazzjoni tal-proġett eko-skola min-Nature Trust wassal numru sostanzjali ta’ tfal u żgħażagħ f’kuntatt ma’ rejaltajiet ambjentali li niffaċċjaw ta’ kuljum.

Tul is-snin kelli diversi opportunitajiet fejn iltqajt ma’ parteċipanti fl-eko-skola kif ukoll mal-għalliema tagħhom. L-għarfien ambjentali li kisbu kien wieħed impressjonanti. Applikaw l-għarfien li kisbu għad-dinja ċkejkna tagħhom, l-iskola. Uħud minnhom irnexxielhom ukoll iwasslu dak li tgħallmu sad-dar u influwenzaw kemm lill-ħuthom kif ukoll lill-ġenituri tagħhom biex huma wkoll jaġixxu b’mod li ma jkunux ta’ ħsara ambjentali.

Dan hu pass kbir il-quddiem. Imma mhux biżżejjed.  

L-eko-skejjel jeħtieġ li jinfettaw lill-komunitajiet lokali tagħna biex huma ukoll jimxu fuq l-istess passi. Dan jista’ jwassal għat-tibdil meħtieġ fl-imġieba tagħna lkoll. Dan hu proċess twil. Bil-mod il-mod nistgħu nibnu komunitajiet sostenibbli. Dan nagħmluh billi nassiguraw ruħna li kull eko-skola tgħin lill-ġenerazzjonijiet differenti fil-komunitajiet lokali  tagħna biex huma jagħrfu u jakkwistaw il-ħiliet il-ħodor. Ħiliet li lkoll kemm aħna neħtieġu biex inkunu nistgħu ngħixu f’armonija  fl-ambjenti rispettivi tagħna. Ħilijiet li dawk li ġew qabilna kellhom, imma li tul is-snin intilfu minħabba dak li kultant jissejjaħ “progress” li biddel il-mod kif ngħixu!

Jeħtieġ li nqiesu l-kisba u l-għarfien ta’ ħiliet ħodor bħala ħiliet soċjali essenzjali. Dan ftit nagħtu kaz tiegħu minkejja l-biżibilju konsultazzjonijiet pubbliċi li jsiru mid-diversi awtoritajiet pubbliċi tul is-snin. Dan ifisser ukoll li flimkien mal-istrateġija “nazzjonali” dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli neħtieġu ukoll strateġija fuq livell lokali biex din tkun implimentata fl-għeruq tas-soċjetà, fil-komunitajiet lokali tagħna.

Tul is-snin sar ħafna xogħol, imma dan, ħafna drabi, sar bla koordinazzjoni ta’ xejn. Il-koordinazzjoni meħtieġa, meta issir sewwa, jirnexxielha tagħti riżultati tajbin billi tifrex il-ħiliet ħodor fil-komunitajiet lokali tagħna. Dan hu mod prattiku kif il-proċess ta’ twettieq tal-istrateġija għall-iżvilupp sostenibbli jitmexxa minn min hu effettwat mill-ħsara ambjentali akkumulata li irridu niffaċċjaw ta’ kuljum.

Huwa biss billi niddemokratizzaw il-bidla meħtieġa fl-imġieba fuq livell lokali li nistgħu nibdew il-mixja lejn żvilupp sostenibbli bis-serjetà. Il-Kunsilli Lokali, jekk iridu, għandhom rwol ċentrali f’dan kollu. Hi opportunità unika ta’ kif jistgħu jagħtu sura lill-ħajja ta’ madwarna.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: 1 ta’ Jannar 2023

The green skills which we require

Green skills do not grow on trees. Yet we need them in abundance in order to be able to navigate the ecological transition. We need to urgently come to terms with nature. It is required that we start the healing process, slowly repairing the accumulated environmental damage which humankind has to date inflicted on Mother Earth.

In order to walk along this path substantial behavioural change is essential. This is not an option. It is a basic requirement which all of us must address, sooner rather than later.

The Sustainable Development Strategy, currently subject to public consultation, advocates the achievement of high-quality education responsive to labour market needs when discussing its strategic objective number 4. These labour market needs, we are informed, include green skills.

I have no issue with such an objective which seeks to align the markets to green pathways. I would however point out that before aiming for the stars it would be appropriate if we seek practical ways of ensuring that basic green skills are acquired by as large a section of the population as possible. At the end of the day sustainable development will not be achieved if adequately planned in our offices: it requires proper implementation in our homes, in our routine behaviour. This is our challenge. A challenge which goes far beyond the economy.

The environmental NGO Nature Trust in conjunction with a number of schools, is, in this respect, on the right track, before the drafting of written strategies. Access to our thinking faculties is fundamental. Over the years the implementation by Nature Trust of the eco-school project has brought a substantial number of children and youngsters in touch with the eco-realities which we have to face day-in day-out.

Over the years I have had various opportunities of meeting with eco-school participants together with their teachers. The eco-knowledge which they have acquired is impressive. They have applied this knowledge in their micro-world, their school. Some of the eco-school participants have also exported this knowledge to their homes nudging their siblings and their parents into acting in an eco-friendly manner.

This is a gigantic step forward. It is however not enough.

Our eco-schools need to infect our local communities into following similar paths, consequently leading to the required behavioural change. This is a slow and laborious process. Slowly we can build sustainable communities by ensuring that our eco-schools serve as catalysts, mentoring the different generations in our localities into acquiring the green skills which we all require in order to be able to live in harmony with our surroundings. Skills similar to those which our forefathers had, but which have been discarded as a result of the so-called progress which we have been subject to throughout the years!

We need to consider the development of green skills as essential social skills, a matter which is not considered in any depth by the multitude of public consultations carried out over the years by the different authorities. This signifies that in parallel to the “national” sustainable development strategy we urgently require a local strategy for sustainable development to be implemented at the roots of our society, in our local communities.

A lot of uncoordinated efforts have been taken in hand over the years. Coordinating the work done as well as that currently in hand could, if done properly yield significant results in disseminating green skills amongst our local communities. This is the practical manner in which the sustainable development strategy process can be owned by those impacted by the accumulated environmental damage which we have to face day-in day-out.

Only by democratising the behavioural change required at a local level can we start moving along the path of sustainable development. Local Councils have a pivotal role in this whole process. It is their’ s for the taking. It is a unique opportunity through which they can realistically shape their surroundings.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 1 January 2023

The war on nature is suicidal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 11 December 2022

Emerġenza Klimatika: l-impatt tal-karozzi u l-avjazzjoni

Temperaturi rekord, li f’ħafna każi jaqbżu l-40 grad Celsius, nirien qerrieda u nixfa f’diversi pajjiżi. Din hi l-aħbar ewlenija mal-Ewropa kollha f’dawn il-ġranet. Din il-mewġa ta’ sħana mhiex xi sorpriża.  

Rapport mill- Joint Research Station tal-Unjoni Ewropeja li kien ippubblikat iktar kmieni din il-ġimgha, intitolat  Drought in Europe July 2022, jemfasizza li parti sostanzjali mit-teritorju tal-Unjoni Ewropeja hu soġġett għal nixfa li f’numru ta’ każi ilha tinġemgħa. Din hi in-normalità l-ġdida!

Il-klima ta’ bħalissa għandha impatt negattiv fuq l-agrikultura fl-Ewropa kollha. L-uċuħ tar-raba’ ser jirrendu ferm inqas. Fl-Italja, ġara tagħna, fuq it-TV rajna  il-livell tal-ilma tax-xmara Po li hu ferm iktar baxx mis-soltu: hemm metri inqas. L-esperti qed jgħidu li l-volum preżenti tal-ilma tax-xmara hu madwar 80 fil-mija inqas mis-soltu. Nofs l-irziezet Taljani għandhom problemi kbar ikkawżati min-nixfa u t-temperaturi għoljin li qed jiffaċċaw.

Dan m’hu xejn ġdid għall-biedja f’Malta. Ilna niffaċċjaw dawn il-kundizzjonijiet. In-nuqqas tal-ilma hi xi ħaġa normali f’Malta, in-nixfa, imma, qed issir ukoll iktar spissa. Imbagħad jiġu mumenti fejn jinfetħu s-smewwiet Ii jgħarrqu kull m’hawn b’għargħar li jkaxkar kollox.

Il-klima ilha żmien tinbidel ftit ftit u dan riżultat tal-istil ta’ ħajja li qed ngħixu. In-natura ilha żmien tagħtina s-sinjali li ma nistgħux nibqgħu għaddejjin kif aħna. Imma kontinwament ninjorawha. Riżultat ta’ hekk issa għandna din l-emerġenza klimatika, li, ġibniha b’idejna.

L-emerġenza klimatika issa hi rejaltà u hi parti integrali mill-ħajja tagħna. Biex nindirizzawha irridu nibdew nagħtu kaz dak li qed tgħidilna n-natura. Hu meħtieġ  li dan kollu jkun rifless fil-politika li tħares fit-tul. Speċifikament nistennew li l-politika li ma mhiex kompatibbli ma dak meħtieġ biex nindirizzaw it-tibdil fil-klima tkun indirizzata b’mod immedjat.  

Malta m’għandiex industrija li tagħti xi kontribut kbir għat-tibdil fil-klima. Il-problemi ewlenin fil-kaz tagħna ġejjin mit-trasport: mill-karozzi u mill-ajruplani.

In-numru ta’ karozzi fit-toroq għadu qed jiżdied kontinwament. Ix-xogħolijiet konnessi mat-titjib fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq qed isiru bl-iskop uniku li t-toroq ikunu jifilħu għal iktar karozzi. Dan ikompli jżid mal-problema. Il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku tonqos naħa u tiżdied band’oħra! Minkejja l-ħafna kliem sabiħ ma hemmx ir-rieda politika li l-kontribut  tal-karozzi għat-tibdil fil-klima jkun indirizzat.

Il-qalba tal-karozzi għall-elettriku, waħedha, mhux ser issolvi l-problema. L-emissjonijiet jibdew jonqsu fit-toroq u jiċċaqalqu għas-sors tal-elettriku li nużaw biex niċċarġjaw il-batteriji. L-enerġija rinovabbli li qed niġġeneraw hi ta’ kwantità insinifikanti!

Parti mill-problema nesportawha lejn Sqallija billi nużaw l-interconnector, li flok wieħed issa hu ippjanat li jkollna tnejn. B’hekk inkomplu inżidu  d-dipendenza tagħna għall-ħtiġijiet enerġetiċi.

Flimkien mal-qalba tal-karozzi għall-elettriku irid isir sforz ġenwin biex jonqsu sostanzjalment il-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna. Iċ-ċokon tal-gżejjer Maltin jagħmilha iktar possibli li nindirizzaw id-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozza u li din tkun sostitwita bi transport pubbliku effiċjenti. Kważi kullimkien jista’ jintlaħaq b’faċilità.

F’ Ottubru t-trasport pubbliku ser ikun b’xejn. Dan waħdu mhux biżżejjed: jinħtieġ trasport pubbliku li jkun effiċjenti.  Hu biss meta t-trasport pubbliku jkun alternattiva tajba li jkun jagħmel sens għall-gvernijiet li jibdew il-proċess biex jonqsu b’mod sostanzjali l-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna.

Biex nindirizzaw l-impatti tal-avjazzjoni l-istorja hi iktar ikkumplikata.  Id-dibattitu kurrenti dwar taxxa fuq il-fuel tal-avjazzjoni, kif diġa ġie emfasizzat, ser ikollu impatt sproporzjonat fuq il-gżejjer periferali fl-Unjoni Ewropeja. Imma l-problema hi waħda reali u teħtieġ li tkun indirizzata bla iktar dewmien.

Il-qalba tal-argument fid-diskussjoni li għaddejja hi dwar l-impatt ta’ taxxa fuq il-fuel tal-avjazzjoni fuq it-turiżmu. Mhux biss it-turiżmu lejn il-gżejjer Maltin, imma dak lejn kull rokna tal-Unjoni Ewropeja. Ilkoll kemm aħna naċċettaw il-prinċipju ambjentali bażiku li min iħammeġ jeħtieġ li jħallas (polluter pays principle) li illum il-ġurnata jifforma parti kemm mill-liġi Ewropeja kif ukoll minn dik Maltija.  Anke it-turiżmu għandu jerfa’ l-piż tal-impatti li jiġġenera, in partikolari l-impatti ambjentali tiegħu. Dak hu l-iskop tat-taxxa proposta fuq il-fuel tal-avjazzjoni.

Wasal iż-żmien li t-turiżmu ukoll jibda jirristrittura ruħu u jibda jagħti każ tal-impatti ambjentali tiegħu. Bl-emerġenza klimatika wara l-bieb ma jagħmilx sens li nibqgħu għaddejjin bit-tkaxkir tas-saqajn.

Żommu quddiem għajnejkom li l-gżejjer u l-komunitajiet mal-kosta jaqilgħu l-ikbar daqqa meta jibdew jiżdiedu l-impatti tat-tibdil fil-klima, billi jibda jgħola l-livell tal-baħar.  Xi gżejjer u uħud mill-komunitajiet mal-kosta l-anqas biss jibqgħu jeżistu.

Man-natura ma tistax tinnegozja, trid tbaxxi rasek!

ippubblikat fuq Illum: 24 ta’ Lulju 2022

Climate Emergency: addressing car and aviation impacts

Record breaking temperatures, in many cases exceeding 40 degrees Celsius, fires raging across a multitude of countries and drought, is the current news all over Europe. The current heatwave was not unexpected.

The European Union’s Joint Research Station in a report published earlier this week, entitled Drought in Europe July 2022, reports that a substantial portion of EU territory is exposed to warning levels of drought, or even worse. This will soon be the new normal!

The current climate will severely impact agriculture all over Europe. The impact on crop yields will be substantial. In neighbouring Italy, we have witnessed on TV the level of the waters of the river Po being several metres lower than usual: its current capacity is 80 per cent down on what’s normal at this time of the year. Fifty per cent of Italian farms are at risk, devastated by drought and high temperatures.

All this is nothing new for Maltese agriculture. We have been there before, at times due to prolonged drought, at others as a result of havoc creating floods which are increasing in frequency.

The climate has been slowly changing over the years, reacting to the changing human behaviour. Nature has been reacting slowly, signalling time and again that it will not be subdued.  Nature’s signals have been repeatedly ignored: as a result, we are now faced with a climate emergency.

The Climate Emergency is now a reality which is an integral part of our daily life. Addressing it would signify that we start taking note of nature’s signals and act accordingly. It stands to reason that this should be reflected in our country’s long-term policies. Specifically, one would expect that policies which are incompatible with responsible action to address climate change, are immediately addressed.

Malta has no heavy industry which contributes to climate change.  Our major contributor to climate change is transport, specifically road transport and aviation.

The number of cars on the roads is continuously increasing. Road infrastructure improvements taken in hand are intended to increase the capacity of Maltese roads and consequently are and will continue to add to the problem. Traffic congestion is being shifted from one area to another. Notwithstanding the political rhetoric, there is clearly no political will to act and address the contribution of road transport towards climate change.

Electrification, on its own, will not solve the problem. It will rather shift emissions from our roads to the source of electricity used in charging our cars. The renewable energy we generate is not sufficient to cater for our needs, in particular if we have to also cater for a complete electrification of our car fleet.

Part of the problem will be exported to the Sicilian mainland through the submarine energy cables and will be serve to increase our energy dependency.

Electrification of our roads must be coupled with a drive to substantially reduce cars from our roads. The relative smallness of the Maltese islands makes it much easier than elsewhere to substitute our car dependency with an efficient public transport. Almost everywhere is within easy reach.

Come October public transport will be free of charge. This must be coupled with an effort to increase its efficiency and reliability. It is only when public transport is a suitable alternative that it makes sense for governments to start a campaign to substantially reduce cars from our roads.  

Addressing the impacts of aviation is more complicated. The current debate on an aviation fuel tax, as pointed out by various political observers, will impact the peripheral islands within the EU in a disproportionate manner. At the end of the day some solution will have to be found to this aspect of the problem, without further delay.

The crux of the issue, however, is the impact of such an aviation fuel tax on tourism, not just tourism directed towards Malta but that directed to all areas within the EU. All of us accept the basic “polluter pays principle” which is enshrined not only in EU legislation but also in local laws and regulations. Even tourism should internalise its environmental costs. That is the purpose of the proposed aviation fuel tax.

It is time that the tourism industry starts its much-delayed restructuring. With the climate emergency on our doorstep there is no purpose in delaying any further.

Kindly keep in mind that islands and coastal communities will be the worst hit when the impacts of climate change increase substantially through a sea-level rise. Some islands, as well as a number of coastal communities, as a result, will simply cease to exist.

One cannot bargain with nature; you have to follow its instructions!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 24 July 2022