Beyond GDP

“The GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.” This was stated by Robert Kennedy at the University of Kansas 52 years ago in what is known as his GDP speech!

In what was a highly charged US Presidential campaign, during which he was assassinated, Robert Kennedy had further explained that the GDP “does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.  It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country.”

We may use different language or emphasise different aspects to explain the problem, but not much has changed since: The GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile!

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

Economic growth is supposed to deliver prosperity. Instead it has delivered unbridled climate change, fuel insecurity, sky-high commodity prices, collapsing biodiversity, reduced access to depleted water resources or clean air, and an ever-increasing global inequality. Is this measured by the GDP? Definitely not.

The GDP is just concerned with material wealth, ignoring in the process our health, our education, the safety of our streets, the social tissue of society, the state of our families, the devastation caused by all forms of hatred …………… GDP 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.

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

This is the context in which Greens welcome the Justice and Peace Commission of the Church in Malta looking beyond the GDP. It is welcome not only because it is the correct approach but also because we have been at it for so long, mostly practically on our own.

The 54 page published Church Commission study entitled Beyond GDP – A framework to gauge Malta’s success through quality of life justifiably argues that limiting ourselves to gauging progress through the use of the GDP leads to a situation where other factors leading to a satisfactory quality of life can be easily disregarded.

The study, supported by EY, APS Bank and Seed Consultancy is a very valid contribution to a mature political debate which we lack so much.

The insistence that we should go beyond GDP in gauging our quality of life is not an exercise in diminishing the importance of the economy. Rather, it signifies the determination that the economy should not be seen in isolation but that it should be viewed within a realistic context. Social, environmental and cultural dimensions are extremely relevant, as much as economics, in the gauging of our wellness, or the lack of it.

A more just economy needs to look at the bigger picture and not limit itself to the GDP to get its bearings right. This is another way of emphasising the need for a sustainable development, a term which is much in use nowadays but unfortunately not sufficiently understood or catered for. Going beyond GDP in measuring our state of wellness would definitely yield more realistic indicators which we urgently require. 

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 29 November 2020

The debate on the National Environment Strategy

The human person forms an integral part of the eco-system.  We do not form part of “the economy”. The economy is the manner in which we organise ourselves, but the eco-system is our DNA.

This is what the ERA National Strategy for the Environment for 2050, currently in consultation phase, should be about.

The strategy is entitled “Wellbeing First”.  A strategy drafted only in the English language, once more ignoring Maltese. While our quality of life is of the utmost importance, an environmental strategy which is anthropocentric does not make sense. An anthropocentric environmental policy is short term in nature and does not lead to enhancing well-being. Environmental policy should be eco-centric: its subject matter should be the achievement of a healthy ecology, as free as possible from human toxicity. Ensuring a healthy ecology will definitely also enhance our quality of life too.

Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) Chairperson Victor Axiaq, in the forward to the consultation document, emphasises that we have yet to learn to live within our ecological limits. Obviously, as a result of his participation in the Planning Authority Board over the past seven years, he has first-hand experience of the manner in which these limits have been continuously stretched beyond any elastic limit. There is a need to reverse this trend the soonest.

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

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

The GDP is just concerned with material wealth ignoring in the process our health, education, the safety of our streets, the social tissue of society, the state of our families, the devastation caused by all forms of hatred…………… GDP 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. The earth’s resources are limited and, consequently, they cannot fuel infinite economic growth. There are practical limits to growth, which should lead our economic planners to consider decoupling prosperity and economic growth.

The consultation document seeks to guide the national debate towards identifying the long-term objectives of the National Environmental Strategy. Once this is done ERA should be in a position to develop action plans for the achievement of such objectives.

It should be undoubtedly clear to all that a sustainable future will only be achieved when we start respecting the eco-system without any exception. Our eco-system determines our permissible limits which we only ignore at our peril. This is our challenge which must be addressed by the National Environment Strategy.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 30 August 2020

It-turiżmu għarkuptejh

It-turiżmu hu ewlieni fost l-oqsma tas-setturi ekonomiċi milquta mill-pandemija Covid-19. Dan japplika iktar għat-turiżmu tal-massa li għadu s’issa settur importanti li fuqu hi dipendenti l-industrija turistika Maltija. Julia Farrugia-Portelli, Ministru għat-Turiżmu, (flimkien mal- Ministri għat-Turiżmu tal-Italja, Ċipru, Spanja, Franza, l-Portugall, il-Greċja, ir-Rumanija u l-Bulgarija) f’laqgħa virtwali iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa fittxet kunsens biex jinħolqu kurituri siguri għat-turiżmu fit-triq lura lejn in-normalità u f’żona ħielsa mill-Covid-19.

Sfortunatament, tal-inqas fl-immedjat, irridu ngħixu mal-virus Covid-19 u l-limitazzjonijiet li ħoloq fuq il-ħajja normali tagħna. It-triq lura lejn in-normalità hi waħda twila. Ir-restrizzjonijiet straordinarji fuq ħajjitna li huma fis-seħħ presentment ma jistgħux jibqgħu għaddejjin b’mod indefinit u dan minkejja li illum huma meħtieġa.

Ir-restrizzjonijiet kważi totali imposti fil-gżejjer Maltin tul il-ġimgħat li għaddew kienu effettivi biex ikunu indirizzati il-biżgħat dwar is-saħħa. Bħala riżultat ta’ dawn ir-restrizzjonijiet, f’Malta, l-mixja tal-virus kienet imrażżna, kif jixhdu l-aħbarijiet ta’ kuljum imxandra mis-Supretendent dwar is-Saħħa Pubblika.

It-turiżmu qiegħed għarkuptejh. Prattikament waqaf, kullimkien madwar id-dinja, anke jekk temporanjament.

Fl-Unjoni Ewropea mit-turiżmu jiddependu qrib is-27 miljun impieg li jiġġeneraw madwar għaxra fil-mija tal-prodott gross nazzjonali. F’Malta u fil-pajjiżi ġirien fin-nofsinnhar tal-Ewropa, aħna dipendenti iktar mit-turiżmu mill-medja Ewopeja. Ix-xibka tad-dipendenza tal-ekonomija tagħna fuq it-turiżmu hi ferm ikbar minn hekk. It-tbatija kkawżat illum hi għaldaqstant ikbar u r-ritorn għal xi forma ta’ normalità inevitabilment tieħu iktar fit-tul.

Meta ser nirritornaw lura għan-normal? Ċertament li mhux fl-immedjat. Hu ferm dubjuż jekk din ix-xewqa għar-ritorn lejn in-normal magħruf tistax tintlaħaq, anke jekk inħarsu ftit fit-tul. Li hu żgur hu li ma hu ser jinbidel xejn mil-lum għal għada.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa l-Ministri tat-Turiżmu tal-Unjoni Ewropea iddiskutew inizjattivi biex jinkuraġixxu t-turiżmu intern fl-unjoni nnifisha u dan permezz tal-ħolqien ta’ speċi ta’ passaporti tas-saħħa bejn żoni ħielsa mill-Covid-19. Sakemm tibqa’ fis-seħħ il-miżura dwar iż-żamma ta’ distanza soċjali, l-proposta mhiex waħda realistika, ta’ l-inqas għall-futur immedjat u probabbilment għal bosta xhur wara.

Sfortunatament l-ivvjaġġar b’mod ġenerali, u b’mod partikolari t-turiżmu, għandu l-potenzjal li jservi għat-tixrid tal-pandemija bl-istess mod kif fil-passat kien il-kummerċ li serva biex xtered mard ieħor f’kull rokna tad-dinja. Fid-dawl ta’ dan, hu probabbli li t-turiżmu tkun fost l-aħħar mill-attivitajiet ekonomiċi li jibdew t-triq lura għan-normal, u dan wara li l-Covid-19 tkun taħt kontroll effettiv fl-Ewropa b’mod ġenerali.

Kulħadd jifhem u japprezza l-ħeġġa tal-Ministeru tat-Turiżmu biex jonqsu r-restrizzjonijiet fuq l-ivvjaġġar u allura fuq dawk is-setturi li minnhom hi dipendenti l-industrija tat-turiżmu. Sfortunatament, iżda, fil-futur immedjat dan mhux realistiku li jintlaħaq. Hemm dubji kbar anke dwar x’jista’ jseħħ fuq tul ta’ żmien.

L-ekonomija tal-parti l-kbira tan-nofsinnhar tal-Ewropa, u in partikolari dik tal-pajjiżi Mediterranji, hi dipendenti fuq it-turiżmu u dan billi tipprovdi vaganzi bi prezzijiet raġjonevoli tul is-sena kollha għal dawk ġejjin mit-tramuntana u ċ-ċentru tal-Ewropa f’kuntest ta’ suq Ewropew wieħed. Il-miġja tal-vjaġġi b’irħis mifruxa mal-Ewropa kollha komplew kabbru l-firxa ta’ din ix-xibka ta’ dipendenza.

F’dan il-kuntest huwa ċar li ftit jista’ jsir ippjanar bil-quddiem. Hemm ħaġa waħda li hi ċara: il-futur huwa nċert u t-turiżmu għad ma nafux x’sura ser jieħu fix-xhur u fis-snin li ġejjin. It-tbatija mhux ser tintemm hekk kif nieqfu nistennew. Għax it-turiżmu qiegħed għarkuptejh.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 3 ta’ Mejju 2020

Tourism is on its knees

Tourism has been among the hardest hit sectors of the economy as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. This applies more so to mass tourism which still constitutes an important sector on which Malta’s tourism industry is dependent. Julia Farrugia-Portelli, Minister for Tourism, (together with Tourism Ministers from Italy, Cyprus, Spain, France, Portugal, Greece, Romania and Bulgaria) in an online meeting earlier this week advocated the creation of safe corridors, desperately seeking to create a return to normal in a Covid-19 free zone.

Unfortunately, at least in the short term, we have to live with a virus that has overturned ordinary life. The path back to normalcy will take a very long time even though it is clear that the extraordinary restrictions currently enforced cannot go on indefinitely, notwithstanding that today they are clearly a necessity.

The partial lockdown in operation in the Maltese islands for the past weeks has been effective in addressing public health concerns. As a result, in Malta, the spread of the virus has been contained and adequately managed as is evidenced by the daily briefings of the Superintendent of Public Health.

Tourism is however on its knees. It has been practically wiped out, temporarily, everywhere across the globe.

Within the European Union tourism accounts for close to 27 million jobs and around 10 per cent of GDP. In Malta, as well as in other neighbouring Southern European countries, tourism makes a larger contribution to the GDP. The web of dependence of the economy on tourism is larger. The pain is consequently larger and the expected time for recovery will be much longer.

Will we return to normal? Certainly not in the short term. It is even doubtful whether such a return to the “known normal” is achievable in the long term. Definitely any recovery will not occur overnight.

Earlier this week EU Tourism Ministers discussed whether initiatives should be taken to encourage internal tourism within the EU itself through some sort of health passports between areas within the EU which are Covid-19 free. As long as keeping a social distance rule remains in force this is not a realistic option, at least for the foreseeable future, certainly not for a number of months.

Unfortunately, travel in general and tourism in particular has the potential of being the perfect vehicle for the spreading of the pandemic just as trade, in the past, served to spread other pandemics across the globe. Keeping this in mind, most probably tourism would be the last economic activity to be reactivated once Covid-19 is sufficiently under control, at least on the European mainland.

It is understandable that the Ministry for Tourism seeks an early scaling down of the restrictions on travel and consequently on the sectors servicing the tourism industry. It has however to be underlined that this is not realistic to achieve in the short term. It is also dubious as to what lies in store in the long term.

The economy of the greater extent of Southern Europe, and in particular that of Mediterranean countries, is reliant on tourism primarily through providing reasonably priced holidays, not just during the summer months, for citizens of Northern and Central Europe within an EU single market. Low-cost flights throughout the European area further adds to this web of dependence.

Even though in this context it is difficult to plan ahead, one thing is certain: the future is as yet undefined and tourism will never be the same. Recovery will be as painful as the waiting time. Tourism is definitely on its knees.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 3 May 2020

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


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


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