Oħtna n-natura tieħu ħsiebna

countryside11.mt

 

L-enċiklika Laudato Sì tal-Papa Franġisku tpoġġi quddiemna numru ta’ riflessjonijiet dwar il-ħarsien tal-ambjent liema riflessjonijiet huma apprezzati minn kulħadd, inkluż minn min ma jemminx.

Riflessjoni ewlenija hi dwar kif Franġisku l-ieħor, Franġisku ta’ Assisi, tmien mitt sena ilu, kien iqies lin-natura bħal parti mill-familja. Bla dubju ġejna mfakkra  fil-kliem immortalizzat minn Franco Zeffirelli fil-film Fratello Sole, Sorella Luna dwar ħuna x-xemx u oħtna l-qamar.

Din hi stedina biex aħna ukoll inqiesu lin-natura bħala parti integrali mill-familja tagħna. Dan nistgħu nagħmluh jekk napprezzaw iktar ir-rwol importanti li n-natura għandha f’kull waqt ta’ ħajjitna.

Din mhix biss parti mill-filosofija franġiskana. Insibuha ukoll fil-kultura indiġena ta’ diversi popli. Per eżempju, fit-tribujiet Indjani fl-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika kif ukoll fit-tribujiet fid-diversi partijiet tal-Amerika Latina. Hi attitutdni magħġuna ukoll fil-biedja tradizzjonali li żviluppat f’rispett  u sintonija sħiħa man-natura.

Aħna parti mill-istess familja għax niffurmaw parti minn eko-sistema waħda. Kull azzjoni tagħna għanda impatt fuq dak kollu li jseħħ madwarna, bl-istess mod li dak li jseħħ madwarna għandu impatt fuqna. Jekk inniġġsu l-arja qed inniġġsuha għal kulħadd. Dan iwassal mhux biss għal mard respiratorju imma ukoll għall-iżbilanċ fil-klima, tant li l-istaġuni bdew jitħawwdu. La taf iktar meta jispiċċa s-sajf u l-anqas meta tibda ix-xitwa jew ir-rebbiegħa. Dan qed  jeffettwa kemm lill-uċuħ tar-raba’ kif ukoll lis-siġar li donnhom bdew jitgħażżnu. Qed jeffettwa is-sistemi naturali kollha li fuqhom tiddependi l-ħajja.

In-natura taħdem bħall-katina : kull ħolqa marbuta ma’ u msaħħa (jew imdgħajfa) mill-ħolqa ta’ ħdejha.

Ftit iktar minn ħamsin sena ilu, ż-żooloġista Amerikana Rachel Carson ippubblikat il-ktieb tagħha bl-isem Silent Spring (Ir-Rebbiegħa Siekta). Tosserva kif l-użu bikri tal-pestiċidi ma kienx qed jeffettwa biss l-insetti li kienu qed inaqqru l-uċuħ tar-raba’. Imma kien qed ikollu effett drastiku fuq ħlejjaq oħra, bħall-għasafar, insetti u pjanti li huma ta’ għajnuna kbira għalina. Għax l-għasafar li kienu jfittxu lil dawn l-istess insetti kienu qed jiġu b’mod indirett avvelenati minn l-istess pestiċdi. B’dan il-mod kien hemm nuqqas notevoli ta’ għasafar u bħala konsegwenza n-nuqqas tagħhom kien qed jinħass f’rebbiegħa li kienet qed isir dejjem iżjed siekta. Għalhekk Silent Spring. Carson kienet qed temfasizza li l-pestiċidi kien qed ikollhom effetti li jmorru lil hinn minn dak intenzjonat: kienu qed jagħmlu ħsara konsiderevoli lill-eko-sistema.

Ħamsin sena ilu, Rachel Carson kebbset l-ewwel xrara għal attiviżmu ambjentali fl-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika, li wara infirex mal-erbat irjieh tad-dinja. Għax bħala riżultat tal-osservazzjonijiet xjentifiċi tagħha,  iżjed nies indunaw kemm in-natura hi katina waħda : aħna l-bnedmin niddependu ukoll mid-dudu tal-art jew mill-insetti. Din hi l-katina tal-eko-sistema li torbot flimkien lill-bniedem mal-ħamrija u mal-ajru, mal-ilma tax-xita u mal-klima, mal-insetti u mal-annimali li jħokku żaqqhom mal-art.

Għandna ħafna x’nitgħallmu min-natura.

Ħarsu ħarsa madwarkom. Ħarsu lejn is-sigar meta dawn jinżgħu mill-weraq tagħhom. Osservaw kif anke dak il-weraq midbiel, li għalina jidher li ma’ għandu l-ebda użu jew valur, jitmermru w jgħinu lill-ħamrija li terġa’ titma’ lill-istess siġar. In-natura hi bieżla u ma taħlix.

Dawn il-lezzjonijiet sempliċi nsibuhom kontinwament madwarna kieku aħna kapaċi li b’umiltà nħarsu u nosservaw biżżejjed. Għax fi ħsieb Franġisku l-ieħor, in-natura hi bħal oħtna l-kbira li dejjem tieħu ħsiebna.  Anke għalhekk jixirqilha r-rispett. Għax dinja waħda għandna u hi d-dar tagħna lkoll.

kummentarju imxandar fuq RTK : it-Tnejn 28 ta’ Diċembru 2015

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Nature provides solution

circular economy

 

 

The economy is a linear one. We extract the earth’s resources, make use of them and, subsequently, when they are beyond their useful life, we throw them away.

Clearly, the linear economy and its exponents assume that this pattern of behaviour can go on and on. However, in distinct contrast to this philosophy, the earth’s resources are limited and not infinite and consequently, a linear economy is unsustainable.

In contrast to the linear economy, the politics of sustainable development puts forward the circular economy alternative. This signifies that a product , instead of being thrown away and ending in its “grave” at the end of its useful life, gives birth to another product. This is the cradle-to-cradle philosophy, which Mother Earth has been using successfully for ages.

Nature in fact works in this manner. Take a look at any tree. At the appropriate time, it sheds its leaves, which disintegrate in the soil below. Nature does not waste the leaves shed by the tree, as they are reused and reabsorbed through the roots of the same tree as nutrients.

The circular economy is, hence, basically an imitation of nature. In environmental-speak we call this biomimicry.

Through the office of DG Environment, the European Commission, in August 2014, published a scoping study “to identify potential circular economy actions, priority sectors, material flows & value chains”.

The circular economy deals with much more than waste prevention and waste reduction. Eco-design is one particular area of action. Through eco-design the circular economy seeks to eliminate waste at the drawing board. When product ideas are still in the conceptual stage, eco-design is the tool through which such products can be planned in such a manner that they create less and less waste. This is done through subjecting the constitutive elements of the product being designed to a lifecycle assessment: that is from extraction up to end of life.

This assessment leads to the identification of all the environmental impacts of a product. Consequently the options that result in the least environmental impacts can be selected. In addition, a lifecycle assessment will also point to the best materials to be used, such that, at the end of its useful life, a product could be easily recycled.

 

In their book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the way we make things William McDonough and Michael Braungart focus specifically on this aspect. They identify specific industrial and commercial initiatives which seek to dematerialise the economy as a result of which we end up doing more with less. The same level of service is achieved but, in the process, has substantially fewer material inputs: practical resource efficiency.

In addition to saving on material costs as well as energy, the transition from a linear to a circular economy presents numerous potential benefits. In particular, it attracts additional investment and can create thousands of jobs that realistically contribute to making the world a better place to live in.

Since last May and ending next month, the European Commission is carrying out a public consultation to be in a position to present a circular economy strategy that would be more ambitious than the that put forward by the Barroso Commission.

In the EU Roadmap for a Circular Economy strategy, the clear focus is on innovation and job creation placed within the wider EU commitment to sustainable development. The EU wants to decouple the strategy from waste management and, as a result, to factor in other policies such as competitiveness, research and innovation, environment protection, job creation and economic growth as the practical objectives of a revised circular economy strategy.

Addressing the 2015 European Circular Economy Conference last March, European Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella emphasised that, in a circular economy, sustainability is inbuilt into the fabric of society.

I will go one further : the circular economy, if allowed to operate, will decrease the incompatibilities between the economy and nature. It will bring us closer to reality: that we live in an ecosystem which must be respected at all times and at all costs.

published in the Times of Malta : Thursday 13 July 2015

L-Iżvilupp sostenibbli

350px-sustainable_development_svg

Meta nitkellmu dwar żvilupp sostenibbli nkunu qed ngħidu li dan l-iżvilupp m’huwiex biss tajjeb fih innifsu, imma li hu tajjeb ukoll meta tqies l-impatti kollha tiegħu: l-impatti soċjali, l-impatti ekonomiċi u l-impatti ambjentali. L-iżvilupp sostenibbli hu wieħed li l-ħarsa tiegħu twassal fit-tul, lil hinn mil-lum.

Aħna l-bnedmin ukoll niffurmaw parti minn eko-sistema. Jiġifieri sistema ekoloġika bbilanċjata, fejn kull element li jifforma parti minnha għandu rwol importanti. L-insett, id-dudu, l-fjura, l-għasfur, il-ġurdien, il-ħmar u l-bniedem ilkoll kemm huma jiffurmaw parti mill-istess eko-sistema li darba kienet ibbilanċjata. Jagħmlu użu ukoll mill-istess serviżżi u riżorsi li tipprovdi n-natura: bħat-temp, l-ilma, l-baħar u l-arja.

Il-bniedem hu parti min-natura, mhux kmand tan-natura.

L-iżvilupp sostenibbli jirrispetta dan kollu. Jirispetta l-fatt li n-natura mhiex tal-bniedem biex jilgħab biha kif irid u kif jogħġbu. L-iżvilupp sostenibbli hu żvilupp responsabbli li jqis sewwa l-impatti tiegħu minn qabel u dejjem.

B’mod partikolari l-iżvilupp sostenibbli iqis l-impatti fuq il-ġenerazzjonijiet li għadhom ma twieldux. Fil-waqt li hemm min jirraġuna “għada min rah?” u jaħdem u jmexxi daqslikieku għada mhux ġej, l-iżvilupp sostenibbli jfisser imġieba kompletament differenti.

Biex l-iżvilupp ikun sostenibbli jeħtieġ li jagħti każ tal-piż li dan jitfa mhux biss fuq il-ġenerazzjonijiet tal-lum li jistgħu jiftħu ħalqhom u jitkellmu, imma ukoll fuq il-ġenerazzjonijiet ta’ għada li m’għandhomx leħen. Huwa meħtieġ għaldaqstant, li fid-deċiżjonijiet li nieħdu llum nagħtu każ ta’ kif jistgħu jintlaqtu mhux biss il-ġenerazzjonijiet tal-lum, imma ukoll dawk ta’ għada. Fi ftit kliem irridu nippjanaw fit-tul u nqiesu sewwa l-effetti tad-deċiżjonijiet kollha li nieħdu illum fuq il-ġenerazzjonijiet li għad iridu jiġu  warajna.

Dan hu l-mod responsabbli kif jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet. Dan hu l-bażi tal-iżvilupp sostenibbli.

ippubblikat fuq iNews : it-Tnejn 6 ta’ Jannar 2014

L-ekonomija l-ħadra

green new deal

Qed nirreferi għal dik il-ħidma ekonomika li titfassal jew titwettaq b’mod li tagħti każ tal-impatti ambjentali. Il-karatteristiċi ewlenin li jiddistingwu attivita’ meqjusa bħala li tappartjeni lill-ekonomija l-ħadra minn attivita oħra huma: tnaqqis fl-emmissjonijiet, tnaqqis fit-tniġġis, effiċjenza fl-użu tal-enerġija w ir-riżorsi, li tkun evitata t-telfa tal-bodiversita’ u l-ħarsien tas-servizzi li kontinwament tagħtina (b’xejn) l-ekosistema.

L-ekonomija l-ħadra taħdem flimkien man-natura, mhux kontra tagħha. Allura tfittex li tnaqqas l-impatti ambjentali tal-ħidma ekonomika f’kull qasam. Hi u tagħmel hekk toħloq ix-xogħol.

Toħloq ix-xogħol fil-ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija nadifa u alternattiva kif ukoll fil-ħidma biex tiżdied l-effiċjenza fl-użu tal-enerġija.

Ix-xogħol jinħoloq ukoll fil-proċess li jrid iwassalna sal-punt li ma niġġenerawx iktar skart. Dan ifisser li mhux biss irridu narmu inqas imma bħala pajjiż hu meħtieġ li nkunu kapaċi nirriċiklaw iktar dak li ma jkollniex iktar użu għalih. Ir-rimi tal-iskart hu rimi ta’ riżorsi prezzjużi li fil-parti l-kbira tal-każi nistgħu nsibu użu ieħor għalhom.

L-ekonomija l-ħadra toħloq ix-xogħol ukoll fil-qasam tat-trasport pubbliku. Nafu li trasport pubbliku effiċjenti (meta xi darba jkollna) jnaqqas b’mod sostanzjali t-tniġġis tal-arja fl-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna. Jnaqqas ukoll l-istorbju iġġenerat minn traffiku kontinwu. Dan iseħħ billi (meta jkun effiċjenti) t-trasport pubbliku jħajjar iktar persuni minna biex nagħmlu użu minnu flok ma nagħmlu użu mill-karozzi privati tagħna. Fuq perjodu ta’ żmien trasport pubbliku effiċjenti jista’ jikkonvinċina li wara kollox nistgħu ngħaddu mingħajr karozza privat. Ta’ l-inqas nitħajjru nnaqsu l-karozzi fil-familji. Dan nistgħu nagħmluh meta nkunu konvinti li jkun jaqbel li nagħmlu dan.

Din tkun sitwazzjoni li minnha jirbaħ kulħadd. Jirbaħ il-pajjiż kollu għax ikollna kwalita’ ta’ arja aħjar. Nirbħu aħna lkoll mhux biss għax ninqdew aħjar imma ukoll għax innaqqsu l-ispejjes biex ikollna l-karozzi privati.

Tirbaħ ukoll l-ekonomija tal-pajjiż għax bil-ħidma tal-ekonomija l–ħadra jkunu ġġenerati l-impiegi. Impiegi b’differenza. Impiegi ħodor (green jobs) li permezz tagħhom jinħoloq il-ġid mingħajr ma issir ħsara ambjentali.

ippubblikata fuq iNews it-Tnejn 16 ta’ Diċembru 2013

Tackling the green skills gap

green skills 3

Launching the public consultation on the Green Economy last month, Ministers Leo Brincat and Evarist Bartolo emphasised the need to address the green skills gap in the process leading to a Green Economy strategy and action plan.

It is estimated that 20 million jobs will be created in the Green Economy between now and 2020 within the European Union. Capacity building is the greatest challenge: ensuring that more working men and women are adequately equipped with green skills.

The Green Economy includes activities in different sectors. It is possible to go about activity in these sectors in a manner which reduces their environmental impacts, is socially inclusive and economically rewarding.

Various sectors have been identified as being of key importance in the transition to a Green Economy. The basic characteristics which distinguish the Green Economy are a reduction of carbon emissions, the reduction of all forms of pollution, energy and resource efficiency, prevention of biodiversity loss  and the protection of eco-system services.

The United Nations Environment Programme  has repeatedly emphasised that the transition to a Green Economy enables economic growth and investment while increasing environmental quality and social inclusiveness. A Green Economy is one which respects the eco-system and recognises that there are natural limits  which, if exceeded, endanger the earth’s ecological balance. In effect it means that the transition to a Green Economy signifies addressing all of our environmental impacts in all areas of activity. Addressing impacts in one area would still signify progress although this would be of limited benefit.

An agriculture which forms part of the Green Economy is one which works with nature, not against it. It uses water sustainably and does not contaminate it. Green agriculture does not seek to genetically modify any form of life nor to patent it.

Energy efficient buildings, clean and renewable energy together with the sustainable use of land are also basic building blocks of the Green Economy. We cannot speak of the Green Economy whilst simultaneously tolerating  large scale building construction. Having a stock of 72,000 vacant dwellings, (irrespective of the reasons for their being vacant) signifies that as a nation we have not yet understood that the limited size of the Maltese islands ought to lead to a different attitude. The green skills of politicians and their political appointees on MEPA is what’s lacking in this regard.

Maritime issues are of paramount economic importance to Malta’s economy. The depleted fish stock and the quality of sea water are obvious issues. But the impacts of organised crime through the dumping of toxic, hazardous and nuclear waste in the Mediterranean Sea is not to be underestimated as has been evidenced time and again in the exploits of the eco-mafia reign to our north.

Heavy industry is fortunately absent in Malta. New industries like the pharmaceutical industry are more eco-conscious. However we still require more inputs on resource efficiency and eco-design.

Greening tourism is essential in order to ensure that more of tourism’s environmental impacts are addressed.  The consumption of tourism is 50% more per capita than that registered for a resident, indicating that there is room for considerable improvements.

Public transport is still in shambles. The effects of this state of affairs is evident in the ever increasing number of passenger cars on our roads which have a major impact on air and noise pollution in our communities. Greening transport policies signifies that the mobility of all is ensured with the least possible impacts.  Still a long way to go.

Waste management has made substantial improvement over the years even though it is still way  behind EU targets. It is positive that the draft waste management strategy has established the attaining of a Zero Waste target by 2050. However we still await the specifics of how this is to be achieved. It is achievable but the commitment of all is essential.

Our water resources have been mismanaged, year in, year our. Discharging millions of litres of treated sewage effluent into the sea is just the cherry on the cake. The contaminated and depleted water table which still contributes around 40% to Malta’s potable water supply is in danger of being  completely lost for future generations if we do not act fast.

All the above have been dealt with in various policy documents. One such document is the National Sustainable Development Strategy which establishes the parameters for the action required. Implementing the National Sustainable Development Strategy is the obvious first step in establishing a Green Economy.  It is here where the real green skill gap exists. Decision makers lack green skills. This skill gap exists at the level of Cabinet, Parliament, the top echelons of the civil service and in the ranks of the political appointees to Boards and Authorities where decisions are taken and strategies implemented.

When this skill gap is addressed, the rest will follow and we will be on the way to establishing  a green economy.

published in The Times of Malta, Saturday 14 December 2013

Towards a Circular Economy

circular economy

In a recent interview EU Environment Commissioner Januz Potočnik stated that the European Union is en route to the circular economy. A step which he described as being essential in ensuring the EU’s competitiveness.

The circular economy, in contrast to the linear economy is one which respects nature and seeks to utilise the earth’s resources in a sustainable manner.

The linear economy is based on a take-make-waste model, extracting raw materials from the earth and dumping the resulting waste after use.  This is a cradle to grave path for raw materials. The EU’s waste management strategy in conjunction with its Roadmap to a Resources Efficient Europe seeks to decouple the generation of waste from economic growth thus nudging the EU towards a new path: one of green growth.

This is also the basic philosophy of the Waste Management Strategy proposed by the Environment Ministry in Malta and currently subject to public consultation.

Malta’s proposed Waste Management Strategy advocates a policy of waste minimisation, that is, we must make an effort to avoid use of resources whenever possible. In addition it then advocates recycling the waste which is generated. This is done by tackling different waste streams in a manner most appropriate to the materials used in that specific stream. 2050 is the Malta target for achieving a Zero Waste society. An achievable target only if we get down to business immediately.

Waste separation is  an essential prerequisite in order to ensure that effective recycling takes place.   As a result of recycling, the waste from a specific product or process feeds a separate process. This is the manner in which nature functions. Have you ever noted how a tree sheds its leaves? How these leaves slowly decompose and nourish the soil, micro-organisms, insects and plants and actually feed the surrounding eco-system?

We have a lot to learn from nature. Biomimicry, imitating nature, is in fact a branch of study which seeks to apply nature’s lessons to solve many modern day problems. Discarding our throwaway attitudes is one such basic lesson.

Modern manufacturing is characterised by a cradle to grave design. It is the result of a society accustomed to throw away products once their useful life ends.

Applying nature’s lessons hence signifies manufacturing products whose life cycle is no longer one which leads from the cradle (production) to their grave (disposal). Instead of being discarded at the end of its useful life a product gives birth to something else through recycling. Just like nature does when dealing with the tree’s leaves. The cradle to grave cycle needs to be transformed into a cradle to cradle cycle.

This obviously has an impact on the manner in which products are designed.  In their  book  Cradle to Cradle, remaking the way we make things, American Architect William McDonough and German Chemist Michael Braungart explain that life cycle thinking, instead of filtering out the undesirable substances and toxins in a product at the end of the manufacturing process filter them out at the beginning, that is on the drawing board.

A waste management strategy which is based on a resource management approach is linked to these long term aims. It is a long process but one which is finally rewarding.

By separating our waste we facilitate its recycling. When recycling takes place we reduce the take-up of the earth’s resources and consequently avoid using the energy required to extract more resources from the earth.

All this shifts the focus from economic growth linked to activities which harm our surroundings to economic activity which enhances them. This leads to the creation of  green jobs.  It shifts our thinking to one which links prosperity with environment protection.

Resource efficiency is at the core of Europe’s 2020 strategy. It does not only mean doing more with less, that is, being eco-efficient. It requires also being eco-effective, that is ensuring that the consideration of long term impacts features in all our decisions. That means designing the present with the future in mind.

A waste management policy based on resource efficiency is an essential tool in this respect. This is just one example. Plenty of other examples can be found in appropriate policies to manage our water resources, our land use, our heritage.

All this leads back to the circular economy which is not just a green way of organising our economy.  It is a different way of life. A way of life which is not antagonistic to our surroundings but one which is in harmony with them.

This is what sustainable development is all about. It seeks to redimension the manner we think.. Having just one Earth we must realise that we cannot have another try if we succeed in ruining the present one.  There is no Plan B.

The circular economy is an adequate tool which can set us back on track.

published in The Times, Saturday November 2, 2013

X’toffri AD

Silta mill-intervista li Andrew Azzopardi ghamel lil Carmel Cacopardo.

Jekk trid tara l-intervista kollha :

aghfas hawn ghall-ewwel parti

aghfas hawn ghat-tieni parti

Mistoqsija : X’ tista’ toffri l-AD ghal-landscape politiku lokali?

Tweġiba : F’ Malta qabel ma twaqqfet Alternattiva Demokratika kien ilna snin twal ma jkollna it-tielet partit politiku attiv fuq skala nazzjonali. Imma iktar minn hekk meta kien hemm multiplikazzjoni tal-partiti politiċi fis-snin 50 u 60, bl-eċċezzjoni tal-Partit Kostituzzjonali Progressiv (il-partit ta’ Mabel Strickland) dawn  kienu splinter groups:  il-Partit Demokratiku Nazzjonalista (il-partit ta’ Herbert Ganado) kien splinter group tal-PN u l-Partit tal-Ħaddiema Nsara (il-partit ta’ Toni Pellegrini) kien splinter group tal-Partit Laburista.  Il-ħolqien ta’ AD fl-1989 bdiet bħala refuġju għal Wenzu Mintoff u Toni Abela meta dawn tkeċċew mill-Partit Laburista. Imma minn dak in-nhar żviluppat f’Partit bi ħsieb politiku distint mill-PN u l-PL. L-assoċjazzjoni ta’ AD mal-Ħodor Ewropej (EGP – European Green Party) għin biex AD issaħħaħ din l-identita’ distinta tagħha.

Il-filosofija politika ħadra hi kristallizzata b’mod ġenerali fid-dikjarazzjoni ta’ Canberra tal-Global Greens liema dikjarazzjoni kienet approvata fl-2001 u tiġbor il-ħsieb politiku aħdar f’sitt oqsma u ċjoe:  ir-rispett lejn l-eko-sistema li niffurmaw parti minnha, l-integrazzjoni tal-ġustizzja soċjali u l-ġustizzja ambjentali, demokrazija parteċipattiva, in-non-vjolenza u kultura ta’ paċi bejn il-ġnus, is-sostenibilita w ir-rispett għad-diversita’ .

Il-politika ta’ AD li hi l-implimentazzjoni ta’ dan f’kuntest lokali tikkuntrasta ma dik offruta mill-PN u l-PL. Hi politika li tagħti sens ta’ valur lill-komunita’ u lill-kwalita tal-ħajja bħala oġġettiv primarju tal-politika ambjentali. Politika li żżewweġ flimkien il-politika ambjentali u dik soċjali fi sforz biex hi u tnaqqas il-konsum żejjed tassigura li r-riżorsi limitati jistgħu  jintużaw ukoll mill-fqir li għandu dritt għal għixien diċenti.

Nuclear myth and Malta’s neighbours

 

 

 

published on Saturday March 26, 2011

 

April 26 marks the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuc­lear disaster, which affected 40 per cent of European territory.

Sicilians (but not the Maltese) were then advised on precautions to be observed in order to avoid the effects of airborne radioactive contamination on agricultural produce. In the UK, until very recently, a number of farms were still under observation after having been contaminated through airborne radioactive caesium in 1986. Wild boar hunted in Germany’s forests cannot be consumed. Its food-chain is still contaminated with radioactive caesium, which was dispersed all over Europe as a result of the Chernobyl disaster.

The Fukushima disaster has occurred in efficient and safety-conscious Japan.

Nature has taken over, confirming its supremacy over the risk society; confirming that even the smallest risk is unacceptable in nuclear projects as this exposes nations, ecosystems, economies and whole regions to large-scale disasters.

The myth that nuclear technology is safe has been shattered once more at Fukushima.

In addition to the disasters at Three Mile Island (1979) and Chernobyl (1986), there were also a number of near misses such as that on June 4, 2008 in Krško on the Slovenia/Croatia border. In Krško, leaking coolant water was minutes away from causing a meltdown of the nuclear installation. The leakages of coolant water from nuclear plants in the Tricastin region in France in July 2008 are also of particular significance.

Malta is faced with plans by Italy, Libya, Tunisia and others to generate nuclear energy.

Libya has agreed with France to be provided with a nuclear plant along its coast to carry out seawater desalination. Fortunately, this agreement has so far not materialised. One shudders just thinking on the possibilities which access to nuclear technology in the civil war on Libyan soil could lead to.

The Berlusconi government, ignoring the result of a 1987 Italian referendum, has embarked on a nuclear programme that could lead to the construction and operation of a number of nuclear installations on Italian soil. One of these will be sited in Sicily.

The locality of Palma di Montechiaro has been mentioned as the preferred site although an area near Ragusa is also under consideration. Both Palma di Montechiaro and Ragusa are situated along Sicily’s southern coast and are too close to Malta for comfort. A serious accident there could have an immediate effect on Malta. Moreover, this is the area which was most affected by a 1693 earthquake that caused considerable damage in both Ragusa and Malta.

This contrasts with the declaration last week by Abdelkater Zitouni, leader of Tunisie Verte, the Tunisian Green party, who has called on Tunisia’s transitional government to abandon the 2020 project of a nuclear plant in Tunisia.

What is the Maltese government doing on the matter?

There is no information in the public domain except an article published in Il Sole 24 Ore on July 26, 2008 authored by Federico Rendina and entitled Il Governo Rilancia Sull’Atomo. In a kite-flying exercise during an official visit to Rome by a Maltese delegation, Mr Rendina speculated on the possibilities of placing nuclear reactors for Italy’s use on territories just outside Italian jurisdiction. Malta, Montenegro and Albania were mentioned in this respect. It was unfortunate that the Maltese government only spoke up after being prodded by the Greens in Malta. It had then stated that no discussions on the matter had taken place with the Italian government.

On behalf of the Greens in Malta, since 2008 I have repeatedly insisted on the need to make use of the provisions of the Espoo Convention, which deals with consultation procedures to be followed between countries in Europe whenever issues of transboundary impacts arise. On March 3, 2010 Parliament in Malta approved a resolution to ratify this convention.

The Espoo Convention, the EU Directive on Environmental Impact Assessment and the EU Strategic Environment Assessment Directive establish the right of the Maltese public to be consulted by Italy in the procedures leading to the construction of a nuclear power station, both on the Italian mainland as well as in Sicily. This is definitely not enough.

Various countries are reconsidering their position on nuclear energy as a result of the Fukushima disaster. Italy’s government has started to feel the pressure ahead of a June anti-nuclear referendum championed by Antonio di Pietro and earlier this week temporarily suspended its nuclear programme.

Italy is a region which is seismically active. The devastation caused by the 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila is still imprinted in our memories. The 1908 earthquake at Messina/Reggio Calabria was much worse, the worst ever in Europe. It produced an estimated 13-metre tsunami wave in the central Mediterranean. In Messina alone, over 120,000 lost their lives.

Faced with government silence, I think the matter should be taken up by Maltese environmental NGOs in partnership with their Italian counterparts. Public opinion needs to be sensitised on the dangers that lie ahead as Fukushima is a warning we cannot afford to ignore. 

other posts on Nuclear Issues on this blog

Mental Gymnastics at MEPA

Over the past two years, three special areas of conservation were in the news: Mistra (Spin Valley disco), Baħrija Valley and, now, Dwejra. Next in the news will be the White Rocks sports development, bordering Pembroke.

The Director for Environment Protection at the Malta Environment and Planning Authority is on record as saying that an SAC should not be “a keep-out zone”. To my knowledge, no one has made such an assertion. It is, however, to be underlined that permissible activities in and around SACs are limited in terms of the EU Habitats Directive.

Decisions of the Environment Protection Directorate relative to SACs need to be adequately motivated. This is unfortunately not always apparent. What is also very clear at this stage is that the Environment Protection Directorate seems to have been kept out of the process leading to the original decision on the use of the Dwejra site, only to be pushed onto the frontline at the eleventh hour when a damage limitation exercise was embarked upon.

The Habitats Directive is very clear. As a rule, it permits activities on and in the vicinity of SACs only if these activities are required for the purpose of managing the site. Other activities may also be permitted but when this is the case they are subject to stringent procedures and conditions.

The Habitats Directive (transposed into Maltese legislation by Legal Notice 311 of 2006) may permit an activity in or in the vicinity of an SAC provided the Environment Protection Directorate determines it is not detrimental to the site either on its own or cumulatively with other activities.

However, in so determining, the Environment Protection Directorate has to carefully consider the proposed activity and correlate it to all the characteristics of the SAC. In particular, it should also consider what is known as the “corridor effect”. That is, whether an activity in or outside an SAC is likely to have an impact on any area of the SAC or another protected area in the vicinity, say a marine conservation area as is the case in Dwejra.

An SAC should be considered as a whole and should not be parcelled into areas where activity is permissible and others where it is not, as Mepa seems to be suggesting. Malta cannot go on with declaring areas to be SACs only to subsequently commence mental gymnastics in order to invent exceptions whenever the need to justify something crops up.

Analysing statements made after the Dwejra saga, it is clear Mepa failed to do the above. By stating the site was “bare rock”, worse still, by stating there is no eco-system to protect (even if this absurd statement was later retracted), Mepa in my view abdicated its responsibilities as the competent authority entrusted by the EU to act on its behalf to manage SACs, which are today part of an EU Natura 2000 network.

At least two parallel investigations are under way. One by the Mepa audit officer, the other by independent experts to scientifically examine and report on any impacts on the site as a result of the permit issued by Mepa.

So far, the applicant (Fire and Blood Productions) and the sub-contractor have been censured for not observing the permit conditions imposed by Mepa. However, no official comment as to whether Mepa overstepped its brief in issuing the Dwejra permit has yet been made. This I submit is the primary pending matter as, in my view, Mepa should never have authorised the placing of sand at Dwejra.

Earlier this year, in an article entitled Land Speculation At White Rocks (July 7) I had written about another SAC, that at Pembroke. The proposal there does not involve the temporary placing of sand but the development of a sports complex in an area which is very close to the Pembroke SAC. In view of conflicting information it is not yet clear how and to what extent this proposal impacts the Pembroke SAC.

After considering the manner in which SACs have been mismanaged by Mepa in Mistra, Baħrija, Dwejra and, now, possibly Pembroke it is legitimate to ask why the government has bothered to declare them as areas worthy of protection.

It is clear so far the government is only interested in paying lip service to such issues and, subsequently, to engage in mental gymnastics to justify anything.

As stated by Parliamentary Secretary Mario de Marco (The Cost Of Decisions That Count, The Times, November 27) one should not use this serious incident to discount the validity of a number of environmental initiatives. However, if the government wants to be taken seriously on environmental issues it must put its house in order. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be a priority.

 

Published in The Times of Malta, Saturday December 4, 2010

A Green New Deal is required

published January 9, 2010

by Carmel Cacopardo

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In the aftermath of the Copenhagen Climate Summit, fingers have been pointed at China and the US as the perceived culprits for the summit’s failure. The real fault lies elsewhere as the culprit is subservience to competition policy. Economic efficiency on its own does not lead to the right choices as the choices required are not just of an economic nature. They are in addition and simultaneously of a social, environmental and ethical nature.

Human beings are an integral part of an ecological system. This basic fact has to be the constant point of reference in all decisions taken. Unfortunately, it is however continuously ignored.

Subjecting nature to the economy is not possible in the long- term. Nature reacts whenever it considers that this is necessary in order to restore its ecological balance.

In the process, it wipes out of existence all that lies in its path. This has been going on for ages. Climate change is just the latest manifestation of this basic rule: nature always reigns supreme.

The earth’s resources are limited and, consequently, they cannot fuel infinite economic growth. There are limits to growth, which should lead developed countries to consider decoupling prosperity and economic growth.

This is a policy issue the United Kingdom Sustainable Development Commission is discussing. It is addressed in a study authored by Tim Jackson from the University of Surrey and is entitled Prosperity Without Growth: The Transition To A Sustainable Economy.

The pursuit of economic growth as the single most important policy goal is in conflict with the earth’s limited resource base and the fragile ecosystem of which we are a part and on which we depend for survival.

While economic growth is supposed to deliver prosperity, it has instead delivered climate change, fuel insecurity, sky-high commodity prices, collapsing biodiversity, reduced access to water and an ever-increasing global inequality. These are all issues whose tackling cannot be postponed to the next generation.

Progress is measured through the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.

It is just concerned with material wealth ignoring in the process our health, education, the safety of our streets, the social tissue of society… It includes the production of armaments and the destruction of the environment carried out in the name of progress as well as the television programmes that glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

In an EU-sponsored conference in 2007, entitled Beyond GDP: Measuring Progress, True Wealth And The Economic Well-Being Of Nations, a common thread running through the proceedings was that decision-making requires a vision based on the role of the human person within an ecological setting. If all humankind lived as the developed world, the resources of three earths would not suffice. This is the challenge of the emerging economies: they want their fair share of the earth’s resources.

The insistence of China, India, Brazil and South Africa reflected in the Copenhagen Accord (subsequently adopted by the US too) that the principle of common and differentiated responsibility should be the basis of a post-Kyoto agreement signifies that equity not competition should rule the roost.

The Copenhagen accord, though noted by the international community, is non-binding and will not be easily accepted by Parliaments in the developed world as an equitable tool to tackle climate change.

The principle of common and differentiated responsibility was successfully applied in the Montreal Protocol of 1987 relative to the elimination of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and the protection of the ozone layer.

When this principle is applied to climate change, as proposed by the Copenhagen Accord, it signifies that the international community recognises that each and every state is contributing to the accumulating disaster but that the responsibility to act differs.

The differentiation depends on the manner in which countries have contributed to the problem.

Those countries that have been emitting greenhouse gases since the industrial revolution should shoulder a larger share of the global cost of mitigation measures.

They also have the duty to assist other states in adapting not just by financing the changes required but also through facilitating the transfer of know-how and technology.

Commitment of billions of euros in aid has been made by both the EU and the US. Throwing monies at problems has never solved them! What is required is a green new deal, an integrated policy approach to the multiple crises the earth is facing. It is an approach proposed by the European Green Party during the 2009 elections for the European Parliament calling for the ecological transformation of the European economy.

Addressing the impacts of climate change cannot be divorced from the need to restructure the economy to one which is not dependent on carbon: an economy that considers its ecological impacts on the drawing board and not as an afterthought.

This is the only way forward.