In-Natura m’għandhiex vot

Infrastruttura Malta hi insensittiva għal dak kollu li għandu x’jaqsam mal-ekoloġija. Ittrasformat trejqiet fil-widien u madwarhom f’toroq wisgħin bl-użu ta’ volumi kbar ta’ konkos kif għamlet fil-Wied Tal-Isqof u Wied is-Sewda. Dan ser ikollu impatt negattiv konsiderevoli fuq l-ambjent rurali, fuq il-komunitajiet rurali u fuq il-pajsaġġ.
Dawn it-trejqiet li ġew ittrasformati f’toroq, issa, inevitabilment ser ikunu użati minn iktar traffiku: il-problemi tat-traffiku ser ikunu trasferiti miż-żoni urbani għall-kampanja.

Il-widien huma parti integrali mill-eko-sistema tagħna, b’rikkezzi kbar ta’ bijodiversità. In-natura, li timla kull rokna tal-kampanja tagħna hi taħt theddida kontinwa. Mhux Infrastruttura Malta biss hi responsabbli għal dan.

L-eko-sistema taħdem f’sintonia kważi perfetta, b’rabta sħiħa bejn kull fjura u jew insett u l-bqija tal-madwar. L-ekoloġija ma żżidx biss mal-kuluri tal-pajsaġġ tagħna, imma hi l-bażi essenzjali tal-ħajja innifisha. Permezz ta’ diversi organiżmi li jistkennu fil-kampanja u l-widien in-natura tipprovdi servizzi essenzjali għall-agrikultura.

In-natura mhix dekorazzjoni tajba biss għar-ritratti, videos jew pitturi. Mhix qegħda hemm biex niggustawha.

Sfortunatament qed ngħixu f’dinja li ftit li xejn tagħti kaz ta’ dak kollu li m’għandux valur espress fi flus. Din hi r-raġuni ewlenija għan-nuqqas ta’ ħafna li jifhmu u japprezzaw l-importanza tal-ekoloġija fil-ħajja ta’ kuljum. Uħud ma għandhom l-ebda idea li aħna ma ngħixux f’ekonomija imma niffurmaw parti integrali minn eko-sistema!

Fil-passat saru diversi attentati biex tiġi kkoreġuta din l-attitudni permezz ta’ studji li ippruvaw jikkwantifika il-valur ekonomiku tal-bijodiversità. Dan sar kemm fuq livell Ewropew kif ukoll minn pajjiżi individwali. Dawn l-istudji jesploraw u jippruvaw jikkwantifikaw kemm jiswa’ biex ikunu sostitwiti s-servizzi li n-natura tipprovdilna b’xejn għal erbgħa u għoxrin siegħa kuljum. L-ammont jitkejjel bil-biljuni.

Hemm ħtieġa li nifhmu li l-bniedem huwa dipendenti fuq is-servizzi li n-natura tipprovdilna l-ħin kollu bla ebda ħlas. Dawn jinkludu l-ilma, l-ħamrija u l-arja nadifa li qed isofru attakk frontali kontinwu minn dak li nsejħulu żvilupp.

Is-siġar qed jitqaċċtu biex jagħmlu l-wisgħa għall-kostruzzjoni bla rażan li għaddejja bħalissa. Dan jinkludi l-proġetti mhux meħtieġa ta’ toroq li qed iseħħu f’dan il-ħin.

Is-siġar huma rigal li tagħtina n-natura. Jagħtuna l-ossiġnu li mingħajru ma nieħdux nifs. Dan l-ossignu jipproduċuh billi jassorbu id-dijossidju tal-carbonju mill-atmosfera, u jżommu l-karbonju depositat fiz-zokk u l-friegħi tas-siġra. B’dan il-mod is-siġar jagħtuna żewġ servizzi essenzjali bla ħlas: l-ossiġnu biex nieħdu n-nifs u depożitu naturali għall-karbonju. Dawn is-servizzi huma l-alternattivi naturali għat-teknoloġija magħrufa bħala “carbon capture technology” li tiswa’ l-miljuni. In-natura tipprovdilna alternattiva u aħna din ninjorawha. Huwa servizz bla ħlas u allura mhuwiex apprezzat. It-tibdil fil-klima huwa (in-parti) riżultat ta’ diforestazzjoni fuq skala kbira, akkumulata tul is-snin.

Aħna niddependu fuq in-natura ferm iktar milli niddependu fuq l-ekonomija. Imma fil-waqt li ninkwetaw meta pajjiżna jiffaċċja żbilanċ finanzjarju, ħafna jinjoraw l-iżbilanċ ambjentali li qiegħed isir dejjem iktar agħar milli qatt kien. Li nindirizzaw dan l-iżbilanċ ambjentali huwa essenzjali qabel ma jkun tard wisq. Mhux kulħadd hu konxju li ħadd ma hu ser jagħmlilna tajjeb għal dan l-iżbilanċ. Ma hemm l-ebda bale-out għal dan l-iżbilanċ!

Għandna Ministru tal-Kabinet li hu responsabbli mill-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli. Sfortunatament, kif ngħidu, lanqas jaf x’laqtu! Bħala riżultat ta’ dan hu ovvju li hawn nuqqas ta’ strateġija ta’ sostenibilità fis-settur pubbliku kollu.

L-impatt ta’ dan kollu jinħass fit-tul. Ma jidher li hemm l-ebda għaġla, għax in-natura m’għandiex vot. Imma dawk minna li għandhom vot għandna responsabbiltà etika li naġixxu f’isimha. Dak li tagħmel Alternattiva Demokratika.

ippubblikat fuq Illum Il-Ħadd 10 ta’ Marzu 2019

Nature has no vote

Infrastructure Malta is insensitive to all sorts of ecological issues. It has transformed country lanes in and around valleys into quasi-highways through the indiscriminate use of large volumes of concrete, which will have a considerable negative impact on the rural environment, the rural communities and on the rural landscape.

These former country lanes will inevitably now be used by more traffic, moving traffic- related problems from the urban areas into our countryside.

Valleys are an integral part of our eco-system: so rich in biodiversity. Wildlife, so abundant in our valleys and countryside, is continuously under threat as a result of this insensitivity. But Infrastructure Malta is not the only culprit.

There is an intricate inter-relationship between the different constituent parts forming our eco-system. Ecology does not just add colour to our landscapes but it is the very foundation of life itself. Nature is not just a desirable decoration to be captured on photographs, videos or paintings. Through a multitude of organisms sheltering in our valleys and the countryside, nature provides essential services to our agriculture through the provision of shelter to pollinators.

Unfortunately, we live in a world which tends to ignore non-monetary value. This is the underlying reason for the general failure to appreciate the importance of ecology in our daily lives. In fact, to some it is incomprehensible that we live in an eco-system and not in an economy! In the past, in an effort to try and remedy this myopic approach, there has been an attempt to quantify the economic value of biodiversity. Various studies have been undertaken to quantify this value on both a European level as well as an individual country basis. These studies explore and try to quantify what it would cost to replace the services that nature provides free on a 24/7 basis. This cost is measured in billions of euros.

We need to understand that humankind is dependent on the eco-system services that is freely provided by nature. These include water, fertile soil and clean air – all of which are being meticulously ruined as a result of so-called “development”.

Trees are being chopped down to make way for the current building spree, including the large scale road infrastructural overhaul currently in hand.

Trees are a gift of nature. They give us oxygen, without which we cannot breathe. They produce this oxygen by absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide, retaining the carbon in the process. By doing this, trees give us two essential services free: oxygen to breathe and a natural deposit for carbon – what we refer to as a “carbon sink”. Trees are the natural alternative to carbon capture technology. Carbon capture technology – used as part of the technological response to climate change – costs millions to produce and operate. Yet we have a natural alternative which we continuously discard. It is a free service and hence it is not appreciated. Climate change is partly the result of large-scale deforestation accumulated over the years.

We are significantly more dependent on nature than on the size of our country’s GDP and yet while we worry when our country is faced with a financial deficit, many ignore the ever-increasing environmental deficit. Addressing this deficit is essential before it is too late. Not everyone is aware that no one will bale-us out.

We have a Cabinet Minister responsible for Sustainable Development who, unfortunately, he has no idea of his brief. As a result, a focused sustainability driven strategy is very obviously missing right through the Maltese public sector.

The resulting impacts from all this are long-term. There seems to be no hurry to act, because nature has no vote. Yet those of us who do have a vote also have an ethical responsibility to act on its behalf. It is what we do at Alternattiva Demokratika-the Green Party.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 10 March 2019

L-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli

Environment

Illum il-ġurnata, diversi jitkellmu dwar “sostenibilitá” u dwar “l-iżvilupp sostenibbli”. Sfortunatament, bosta drabi ma jkunux jafu x’inhuma jgħidu. Bħala riżultat jispiċċaw iwasslu messaġġi żbaljati.

Mela, ejja nibdew minn hawn. Meta nitkellmu dwar sostenibilitá inkunu qed nirriferu lejn dak li nagħmlu. Dan ikun sostenibbli kemm-il darba, d-deċiżjonijiet tagħna ma jippreġudikawx lil ġenerazzjonijiet futuri milli huma ukoll ikunu jistgħu jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet tagħhom. Min-naħa l-oħra, l-iżvilupp sostenibbli hi t-triq li permezz tagħha nistgħu noqorbu u eventwalment naslu viċin li nkunu sostenibbli.

Fi ftit kliem is-sostenibilitá tħares fit-tul.

Dan kollu ma jikkonċernax biss l-ambjent. Imma jiġbor flimkien kemm il-politika ambjentali, kif ukoll dik ekonomika, il-politika soċjali kif ukoll il-politika kulturali. Ifisser li f’dak kollu li nagħmlu irridu nħarsu fit-tul u rridu nassiguraw li l-ħarsien ambjentali, l-iżvilupp ekonomiku u soċjali jimxu id f’id u b’rispett għall-kisbiet kulturali.

Dan iwassal għal numru ta’ konklużjonijiet loġiċi li jiffurmaw il-bażi tal-politika għall-iżvilupp sostenibbli. Kienet Gro Harlem Brundtland, soċjal demokratika Norveġiża li serviet kemm bħala Prim Ministru kif ukoll bħala Ministru għall-Ambjent ta’ pajjiżha li fasslet it-triq meta fl-1987 mexxiet il-ħidma tal-Kummissjoni Dinjija għall-Ambjent u l-Iżvilupp tal-Ġnus Magħquda u ippreżentat ir-rapport intitolat Our Common Future.

B’mod prattiku, l-iżvilupp sostenibbli għandu jwassal għal deċiżjonijiet konkreti li permezz tagħhom, l-iżvilupp li jseħħ ikun wieħed li jirrispetta lin-nies, lin-natura u l-kultura. Fi ftit kliem, il-profitti li tiġġenera l-ekonomija ikunu ibbażati fuq kriterji etiċi. Kien għal din ir-raġuni li sa mis-snin disgħin, meta l-iżvilupp sostenibbli issemma l-ewwel darba fil-liġijiet Maltin, dan kien responsabbiltá diretta tal-Prim Ministru. Ta’ l-inqas fuq il-karta.

Għax il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli tmiss l-oqsma kollha tal-ħajja pubblika u allura teħtieġ politiku ta’ esperjenza. Sfortunatament l-ebda wieħed mill-Prim Ministri li kellna s’issa ma mexxa hu f’dan il-qasam għax dejjem iddelegah lill-Ministru (jew lis-Segretarju Parlamentari) responsabbli għall-Ambjent. Dan hu żball għax il-Ministru responsabbli mill-Ambjent rari ħafna jkun f’posizzjoni li jagħti direzzjoni lill-Ministri l-oħra, li ngħiduha kif inhi, ftit li xejn ikollhom interess fl-iżvilupp sostenibbli.

B’eżempju forsi ninftehmu aħjar dwar kemm f’Malta, l-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli hi biss logħob bil-kliem.

Inħarsu ftit lejn l-infrastruttura tat-toroq tagħna, inkluż it-trasport pubbliku. B’mod mill-iktar ċar din mhiex sostenibbli u ilha hekk għal ħafna żmien.

Marbuta mal-infrastruttura tat-toroq hemm il-mobilitá u l-kwalitá tal-arja. Dan flimkien mal-konġestjoni tat-traffiku, l-impatti fuq is-saħħa prinċipalment minħabba l- kwalitá fqira tal-arja kif ukoll l-impatti fuq l-ekonomija tal-ħin moħli fi traffiku ma jispiċċa qatt.

F’Mejju 2014 l-Istitut għat-Tibdil fil-Klima u l-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli tal-Universitá ta’ Malta kien ikkummissjonat mill-uffiċċju rappresentattiv tal-Unjoni Ewropeja f’Malta biex iħejji studju dwar l-impatti tat-traffiku f’Malta. Minn dan l-istudju, intitolat The External Costs of Passenger and Commercial Vehicles Use in Malta , jirriżulta li l-impatt tal-konġestjoni tat-traffiku hu stmat li hu ekwivalenti għal 1.7% tal-Prodott Gross Nazzjonali. Din l-istima tieħu konsiderazzjoni kemm tal-petrol/diesel kif ukoll tal-ħin li jinħela bħala riżultat tal-konġestjoni tat-traffiku. Hu stmat li f’Malta kull sewwieq, kull sena, jaħli medja ta’ 52 siegħa  wieqaf fit-traffiku.

L-istudju iżid jgħid li din l-istima tiżdied u tilħaq l-4% tal-Prodott Gross Nazzjonali jekk jittieħed ukoll konsiderazzjoni tal-inċidenti tat-traffiku, l-impatt tat-tniġġiz tal-arja, l-effett tat-tniġġiż mill-ħoss kif ukoll il-gassijiet serra. Għall-paragun, tajjeb li nirrealizzaw li t-tkabbir ekonomiku għas-sena 2017 huwa stmat li ser ikun ta’ 3.5% tal-Prodott Gross Nazzjonali.

Dan hu biss eżempju wieħed. Bħalu hemm bosta oħra.

Il-loġika tal-iżvilupp sostenibbli kellha inevitabilment twassal għal servizz effiċjenti ta’ transport pubbliku snin ilu bil-konsegwenza ta’ tnaqqis sostanzjali ta’ karozzi mit-toroq tagħna. Huwa dak li għandna nippretendu f’pajjiż żgħir bħal tagħna fejn kważi kullimkien qiegħed biss tefa’ ta’ ġebla ‘l-bogħod. Imma, kollox bil-maqlub!

Darba l-Kabinett kien approva Strateġija Nazzjonali għall-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli  ………….. imma sadanittant il-politika tat-trasport f’Malta għadha tinkoraġixxi iktar karozzi fit-toroq tagħna.

 ippubblikat fl-Illum : il-Ħadd 8 ta’ Jannar 2017

The logic of sustainable development

four_pillar-sustainable development

 

Political discourse is nowadays peppered with the terms “sustainability” and “sustainable development” but often, unfortunately,  their use is out of context and thereby transmits the wrong message.

So, let us first be clear as to what the terms really mean. Being in a state of sustainability means that our actions, attitudes and behaviour are such that future generations are not precluded from taking their own decisions. On the other hand, sustainable development is the path to be followed to achieve sustainability.

This is not just a matter of environmental concern. It is an intertwining of environmental, economic, social and cultural policy. It means that our actions must take the long view and be compatible with the forces of nature, the economy, human development and a respect for culture.

All this leads to a number of logical conclusions which form the basis of the politics of sustainable development. This was first outlined by Gro Harlem Brundtland, a former Norwegian social democrat prime minister and minister for the environment in her seminal  1987 report Our Common Future,drawn up for the UN World Commission on Environment and Development. In her report, Brundtland, made ample use of the conclusions of an earlier debate in the World Council of Churches in 1974.

In practical terms, the politics of sustainable development should lead  to a number of concrete decisions, as a result of which modern-day living is simultaneously respectful of society, nature, the economy and the accumulated cultural heritage in its widest sense. Sustainable development is, in fact, a balanced approach to development. It is for this reason that, since the 1990s, when sustainable development first made it to Malta’s statute book, it was retained (on paper) as a direct political responsibility of the Prime Minister.

Sustainable development permeates all areas of policy and hence requires a senior politician in Cabinet to be in charge. Unfortunately, not even one of our prime ministers assumed direct political responsibility for the matter as, formally or informally, all of them delegated the matter to the Minister (or Parliamentary Secretary) responsible for the environment.

The Minister responsible for the environment cannot make much headway as he is dependent upon – and can in no way can he be expected to direct – his cabinet colleagues, most of whom are not really interested in sustainable development, anyway. A simple example will illustrate how all the talk on sustainable development by governments in Malta has been an exercise in managing hot air.

Consider the management of Malta’s road infrastructure, including public transport. This is clearly unsustainable and has been so for a long time. The public transport reform carried out under the direction of former Minister Austin Gatt was a public disservice as it made a bad situation even worse.

The management of Malta’s road infrastructure brings to the fore a number of issues, including mobility and air quality. Linked to these are traffic congestion, health impacts primarily due to poor air quality and the impact of the clogging of our roads on our economy through a substantial amount of time spent fuming at our steering wheels.

In May 2014, the Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development of the University of Malta was commissioned by the European Union representation in Malta to carry out a study on the external costs of traffic and congestion in Malta. Among other things, this study, entitled The External Costs of Passenger and Commercial Vehicles Use in Malta, estimated that 1.7 per cent of Malta’s GDP is wiped out annually as a result of traffic congestion. This conclusion took into consideration both fuel wasted and time lost: approximately 52 hours per annum per commuter.

The study further emphasises that this estimate would rise to four per cent of the GDP if it also took into consideration traffic accidents, the impacts of air and noise pollution as well as the impact of greenhouse gases emitted.  (For comparison purposes, it is pertinent to remember that the real Malta GDP growth for 2017 is projected at 3.5 per cent.)

This is just one example. There are many more.

The logic of sustainable development would have inevitably led to an efficient public transport system ages ago and a substantially reduced number of cars on our roads. It is what one would expect in a small country where practically everywhere is within a stone’s throw of everywhere else.  Yet we get the complete opposite.

Once upon a time, the Cabinet had approved a National Strategy for Sustainable Development – yet Malta’s transport policy is still one which encourages more cars on the road.

 published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 8 January 2017

Traffic and the budget

traffic.Marsa

The Budget acknowledges that traffic is a problem; unfortunately it fails to present a vision for the future, as Transport Malta has yet to carry out a consultation exercise.

Acknowledging that Malta’s roads are bursting at the seams is one small step in the right direction. Simultaneously, however, the Budget goes in to propose various measures, amongst which a couple which will definitely increase traffic. Providing more parking spaces, widening roads and improving junctions through the provision of flyovers will improve traffic flow, but it will also increase vehicular traffic.

It is not rocket science to conclude that a long-term plan to reduce car ownership is the only way forward. Currently, with around 341,000 cars on our roads, car ownership in Malta stands at 802 per thousand population. In contrast, the figure for the UK is 516, for Italy 682 and for the USA 786. If Malta’s car ownership profile were to be reduced to a reasonable 500 cars per 1000 population, this would signify that there are currently 130,000 more cars on our roads than is reasonable.

Given the short travelling distances in Malta, public transport should normally be sufficient for most of our needs. Car ownership has increased exponentially over the years as public transport was found lacking – even for such short distances and it  got worse over time.

The recently published White Paper by the Education Ministry pointed out how schools are affected by traffic congestion. They are not, in fact, a  cause of traffic congestion; rather, they are one of its many victims. Introducing a coordinated scheme providing school transport to serve both private and public schools could reducing traffic during rush hours.

The same could be stated in regarding the accessibility of industrial estates. If these were suitably serviced by public transport routes, a substantial reduction in traffic generation could be achieved.

The budget also refers to alternative means of transport. Reinforcing sea links across Grand Harbour between Valletta and the Three Cities as well as across Marsamxett Bay between Sliema and Valletta, could also contribute substantially to a reduction of traffic movements. Various attempts have been made over the years to restore such links but they were not as successful as had been hoped due to the fares having generally been considered as being on the high side.

Reintroducing these maritime links across the harbours on a sound footing would provide a long-term alternative public transport service that would substantially reduce travel time for all its users. However, it would not be reasonable to expect this to be completely self-financed, at least not until such time as it has attracted custom and established itself as a reliable and efficient public transport service.

The budget also encourages the use of small-capacity motorcycles by reducing their annual road licence fee to €10. This reduction would certainly be an encouragement, even though it could very easily been removed completely!  However, as was pointed out – even in the budget speech itself – such a measure can only be effective if it is reinforced by an improvement in the  behaviour of  road-users as well as through better maintenance of our roads.

Improving the use of the existing road infrastructure would be effective as a short-term measure. The proposal to introduce the “tidal lane” in a number of ours roads would  certainly reduce congestion through facilitating traffic flow. It will not, however, reduce vehicle movements.

The EU -funded study entitled The External Costs of Passenger and Commercial Vehicles Use in Malta carried out by the Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development at the University of Malta examined the economic impact of traffic in Malta. Such impact included not only time lost due to heavy traffic, but also excessive fuel consumed and the effect on health of the resulting air and noise pollution.  The estimated impact is substantial and add up to around four per cent of GDP. This would completely cancel out the projected 2016 increase of 3.6 per cent in Malta’s GDP.

The current extent of the traffic problem in Malta is due to the failure on the part of the state over a number of years. The mismanagement of public transport has created a vacuum, as a result of which cars have been permitted to take over our roads. Reversing the process is possible, but it will not be easy: it will require a coordinated approach and clear thinking. At the end of the day, all the measures taken must have one clear objective: replacing the private car as the preferred means of transport. It is the only way forward.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday, 18 October 2015

Transport planning : a long-term view required

new_road_traffictraffic congestion and GDP

 

The pre-budget document for 2016 published by the Finance Ministry projects a real GDP increase of 3.2 per cent the year 2016, yet at least half of this projected increase will be wiped out as a result of the impact of traffic congestion in the Maltese Islands.

In fact, earlier this year the University of Malta’s Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development published an EU funded study entitled The External Costs of Passenger and Commercial Vehicles Use in Malta. This study estimated that 1.7 per cent of our GDP is wasted annually as a result of traffic congestion, a conclusion reached after taking into account both the fuel wasted as well as the time lost.

It is in this context that one has to consider the Education Ministry’s White Paper entitled School Opening Hours and Traffic Congestion, published earlier this week. Unfortunately, the Education Ministry had to fill the void created by the Transport Ministry.

Traffic congestion is not caused by school transport alone – this is just one of many causes. The solution advocated by the Transport Ministry over the years has been to focus on the effects rather than the causes, with the result of even more space being ceded to cars. It has opened up more roads, widened existing ones and introduced flyovers. These “solutions” have encouraged more cars so that our roads are now bursting at the seams, with 340,981 licensed vehicles on the road at the end of the second quarter of this year.

This translates into 802 cars per thousand population, and most probably is the highest vehicle ownership profile in the world. It is even higher than the vehicle ownership profile of the USA (786). Comparing it to other EU countries, the figure for Italy is 682, the UK 516, Spain 592 and Switzerland 573. Even Luxembourg – at  741 per thousand is lower than Malta.

Such a large number of cars is not an indication of affluence. It is rather a clear indication of the failure of the state of Malta to realise that the smallness of these islands was an untapped benefit in developing policies that ensure sustainable access.

It is clear that, over the years, the state of public transport has been the single biggest incentive to private car ownership and use. Cars have been allowed to fill the void and take over our streets.

The cumulative impacts of this take-over has been a reduced access to public spaces in our towns and villages, a general deterioration of air quality and the associated respiratory diseases and accelerated urban decay in such areas as Pietà, Ħamrun, Msida, Paola, Fgura and Marsa.

This present state of affairs is the result of a lack of long-term planning. Transport planners in Malta preferred the easy way out: the construction of new roads, tunnels and flyovers engulfing more land as well as the creation of more parking spaces. The resulting impact compounded the problem: In the 25 years since 1990, the number of vehicles on the Maltese Islands roads increased by a staggering 145 per cent.

The situation was made worse by the removal of a number of bus termini in a number of localities, the decisions to build a number of schools in the middle of nowhere and having industrial zones not serviced by public transport.

In addition, the lack of enforcement of speed limits for vehicles making use of our roads served to squeeze out bicycles and small motorcycles as alternative means of transport.

This is the situation which has to be addressed.

The long term solution is an efficient public transport system and a corresponding decrease in the number of vehicles on the road.

The White Paper published by the Education Ministry is one such exercise, intended to reduce the number of vehicles on the road as a result of ferrying school children to and from schools in their parents’ private cars.

Better organisation of school transport, as well as more incentives to encourage its use, is a definite step forward. In addition, the  Education Ministry could try to ensure that the catchment areas of its secondary schools are not spread over a very wide area as this is one other contributory factor that has not yet been identified as an additional culprit.

The debate, however, has to be much wider than schools, because, at the end of the day, our schools are just victims of the accumulated lack of transport planning.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 6th September 2015

Its time to halt the process

 

The objective of a census is to collect data to accurately inform decision-makers. The 2005 census identified 53,136 vacant properties in the Maltese islands; 24,295 units (45.7 per cent) of these were flats and penthouses, 13,872 were terraced houses and 9,857 were maisonettes. Most were identified as being in either a good state of repair or else as requiring only minimum repairs in order to be habitable.

It also resulted that 5,724 units (10.8 per cent) of the vacant dwellings were in a shell state. Twenty per cent of the vacant dwellings were identified as summer residences, a substantial number in Gozo.

Comparing the 2005 census with that taken in 1995, one notes that the number of vacant dwellings in the 10-year period increased from 35,723 to 53,136, up 48.74 per cent. Faced with such an increase in vacant dwellings a responsible government would have applied the brakes to the construction of residential units. In particular, it would have either reduced the land available for development or, as a minimum, it would have retained the status quo.

Faced with this information the Nationalist government, a few months after the 2005 census, ignored the results and instead increased the land available for development. It did this through three specific measures.

Firstly, through the rationalisation exercise it extended the limits of development in most localities. Secondly, it increased the permissible heights for development in a number of localities. Thirdly, it changed the rules for the development of penthouses. Instead of being constructed over a four-storey high building they could now be constructed over a three-storey building.

This has resulted in a further increase in the number of vacant dwellings, which have now been estimated as being in excess of 70,000. The results of the latest census are awaited with trepidation.

The 2005 census had identified that there were a total of 192,314 residential units on the Maltese islands. This means that the 53,136 vacant dwellings then identified amounted to 27.63 per cent of the housing stock.

The number of vacant residential properties in Malta and Gozo in 2005 was equivalent to seven times the size of Birkirkara, which, then, had 7,613 residential units. The number of vacant residential properties in 2011 is estimated to be even larger: nine times the size of 2005 Birkirkara.

This means that today approximately one third of the existing dwellings in Malta are vacant. Additionally, it signifies that expenditure for the development and maintenance of part of the islands’ infrastructure (currently servicing vacant properties) could have been avoided and instead channelled to maintain the infrastructure that services utilised properties. This applies to roads, public sewers and the networks distributing/servicing electricity, water, street lighting and telecommunications.

Millions of euros have been thrown down the drain to keep the construction industry happy.

In view of the above, when the construction industry boasts of its contribution to the gross national product one is justified in being sceptical. When a contribution to the economic development of the country is manifested in such negative results (thousands of vacant dwellings) one starts to question whether the GNP is in reality an adequate means of measurement.

The present crisis facing the construction industry is a unique opportunity for the government to embark on its inevitable and long overdue restructuring. The large number of vacant dwellings is the proverbial writing on the wall that does not require any special deciphering skills. The construction industry should be cut down to size in order to avoid further environmental damage and to channel part of its labour force towards activity of tangible benefit to the economy.

Restructuring will lead to a migration of jobs, especially those that do not require any particular skill. Offering retraining now to the unskilled segment would be an appropriate policy initiative. This would ease the social impacts of restructuring and facilitate the migration from one sector o another.

Now is the time to halt the development of uncommitted land. In particular, the rationalisation exercise of 2006, the relaxation of permissible building heights and penthouse regulations require immediate reversal.

A positive signal was forthcoming from the 2012 Budget through the introduction of incentives for the rehabilitation of village cores and protected buildings.

These incentives were first mentioned when the Rent Reform White Paper was launched in the summer of 2008. Unfortunately, the gestation period of this initiative was of elephantine proportions.

The availability of incentives to encourage the rehabilitation of the historic heritage in towns and villages is not enough. It must be coupled with an increased commitment to train on a continuous basis the required tradesmen and women who need to be at the forefront of this effort. The industrialisation of the construction industry over the years has been the cause of the loss of much skilled labour. It is time to halt the process.

This is the way forward. The economy has been toxically dependent on the construction industry for far too long. I look forward to the time when all this would be history.

A Happy New Year to all.

 

originally published in The Times of Malta – December 31, 2011

A Green New Deal is required

published January 9, 2010

by Carmel Cacopardo

____________________________________________________________

 

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.