Reflections on an Environment Policy

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

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

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

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

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

 

Eco-taxation

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

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

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

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

 

Environmental nuisance 

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

Information

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

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

Transparency and accountability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 published in

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

Malta Freeport :Impacts on residents should be dealt with effectively

AD supports Birzebbuga Local Council in its actions to protect residents from the further deterioration of their quality of life.

Michael Briguglio AD Chairperson stated that the activities of the Freeport should not be further increased until such time that the present impacts on the residents are dealt with effectively. It is for this specific purpose that AD through its spokesperson for Sustainable Development  Carmel Cacopardo had proposed the need for an Environmental Management System to be adopted by the Freeport Terminal way back in February 2009 when MEPA was considering the development applications.

Carmel Cacopardo AD spokesperson on Sustainable Development and Local Government pointed out that MEPA has started meeting with the Freeport Terminal representatives in order to identify the environmental issues to be tackled. It is shameful, he added, that MEPA has not felt the need to involve the Birzebbuga Local Council in these crucial talks.

Carmel Cacopardo concluded by inviting Dr Gonzi as the Minister responsible for both the Environment and Local Councils to ensure that MEPA lives up to its obligations and involves the Birzebbuga Local Council in these meetings.

The Freeport : will MEPA backtrack ?

times_of_malta196x703

published on Saturday, March 21, 2009

by Carmel Cacopardo

___________________________________________________________

On February 26, during a public session, the Mepa board discussed development proposed at Malta Freeport. It decided that the approved development was to include a condition that an environmental permit relative to Freeport operations was henceforth to be a requirement and that this was to be underpinned by an environmental management system (EMS).

I was fortunate enough to participate in this discussion on behalf of AD and in support of the Birżebbuġa local council. I stressed the need to address and contain the impacts of Malta Freeport on the local residents through an EMS, which would be subject to environmental auditing.

This decision by the Mepa board is of the utmost importance. For the first time, Mepa has intervened in order that local industry adopts an EMS into its control mechanisms. In Malta, to date, this has only been carried out by companies operating as part of an international set-up, such as ST and the pharmaceutical companies that have set up shop recently.

The Freeport needs to understand that it has to behave as a good neighbour to the Birżebbuġa community. Economic activity on its own, generating profits and employment, though essential, is not sufficient. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) needs to be factored in. CSR is not about corporate sponsorships and donations: it is about the responsible behaviour of business and industry. Acting responsibly includes ensuring that the impacts of industrial activity are addressed.

This would undoubtedly entail costs. Currently, these costs are inexistent on the Freeport balance sheet: they are being borne directly by the Birżebbuġa community and paid for through an inferior quality of life. These hidden costs (externalities) include but are not limited to the contamination of the bay, the emissions to air from the various activities going on within the Freeport perimeter and noise at all times of the day, most notably during the silent hours.

Malta Freeport Terminal has been assigned to CMA-CGM, the third largest shipping container company in the world. They have commenced direction of the terminal for a period of 65 years pursuant to a decision of Parliament.

Given its size, CMA-CGM operates from a large number of ports around the globe in which they have built a solid reputation. Their website proudly and justifiably reveals that they have an environmental policy which aims at “protecting the marine environment, fighting climate change and developing eco-friendly services and solutions”. The CMA-CGM group also prides itself with the award received for the second year running from the Port of Long Beach, California as part of its Green Flag Programme. This award, according to the CMA-CGM website, reflects their commitment to environmental protection!

The Green Port Policy of the Port of Long Beach has five guiding principles, the first one of which is “the protection of the community from harmful environmental impacts of port operations”. The latest available annual report (2007) for the Port of Long Beach, entitled Reshaping A Vibrant Community, emphasises that the port takes a leadership role in the development of strategies to mitigate security risks in the port complex. Of particular interest is the section in the said report (page 17) which speaks of “Exporting Green policy to seaports worldwide”. Linking with such a vision on the part of CMA-CGM should put the minds of Birżebbuġa residents at rest! Will it?

So far, globalisation and its cousin competition policy have been the vehicle for privatisation, deregulation and economic fundamentalism. The global players imported within our shores to take charge of sections of the Maltese economy have yet to bring along their best environmental practices such that it be ensured that the communities in which they operate are not burdened with the hidden costs of their operations. To date, it has been a globalisation of opportunities for profit seekers, responsibilities lagging far behind! CSR is hardly in sight!

The Mepa board decision of February 26 paves the way for Malta Freeport to be compelled to manage its environmental externalities. It is indeed noteworthy to see that Mepa has, following public participation, taken a leaf out of the CMA-CGM environmental policy and included this as one of the conditions of the development permit.

On February 26, the Mepa board, in addition to underlining the fact that Malta Freeport needs to address its environmental impact, refused one of its applications: that dealing with an extension of the Terminal One West Quay. It is hoped that the Freeport will be capable of deciphering the writing on the wall. By determining that an EMS should underpin an environmental permit regulating the Freeport operations, the Mepa board has identified the way forward. Its neighbours hope that Malta Freeport will move along that path and that Mepa will not backtrack after the June MEP elections!

Kisba importanti wara suġġeriment ta’ AD – MEPA accepts AD proposal

 

Stqarrija ta’ AD

AD Press Release

 

birzebbuga

Alternattiva Demokratika hi sodisfatta illi fid-deliberazzjonijiet tiegħu
il-Bord tal-MEPA, iktar kmieni llum, huwa hu jiddeċiedi dwar waħda
mill-applikazzjonijiet konnessi mal-Port Ħieles aċċetta proposta li saret
mill-kelliemi ta’ AD dwar l-Izvilupp Sostenibbli u l-Gvern Lokali l-Perit
Carmel Cacopardo.
Arnold Cassola, Chairperson ta’ AD, qal illi l-Bord tal-MEPA rabat il-ħruġ
ta’ permess ambjentali għall-operazzjonijiet tal-Port Ħieles mal-ħtieġa illi
tkun introdotta EMS (Evironmental Management System). Kien ta’ sodisfazzjon
żied jgħid Arnold Cassola li d-Direttur għall-Ħarsien tal-Ambjent Martin
Seychell qabel mal-proposta li saret
minn Cacopardo u ppropona emenda
għall-permess liema emenda ġiet approvata mill-Bord.

Carmel Cacopardo kelliem tal-Partit għall-Iżvilupp Sostenibbli u l-Gvern Lokali
ikkonkluda billi qal li l-adozzjoni mill-Port Ħieles ta’ EMS ser tfisser li
fuq perjodu ta’ żmien ikunu introdotti l-mekkaniżmi ħalli l-Port Ħieles
jindirizza l-impatti ambjentali tiegħu u b’hekk titjieb il-kwalita’ tal-ħajja tar-residenti ta’  Birżebbuga.

Alternattiva Demokratika ser tibqa’ ssegwi dan il-każ u tagħti l-appoġġ sħiħ tagħha lill-Kunsill ta’ Birżebbuġa.

****
AD The Green Party in Malta is extremely satisfied that in its deliberations the
MEPA Board earlier today, when discussing one of the development applications
relative to the Freeport accepted a proposal made by AD’s spokesperson on
Sustainable Development and Local Government Architect Carmel Cacopardo.
Arnold Cassola AD Chairperson said that the MEPA Board linked the issuance of the environmental permit relative to the Freeport operations to a requirement of
introducing an
EMS (Environmental Management System). It was quite satisfying added Arnold Cassola that the Director for Protection of the Environment Martin Seychell agreed to Cacopardo’s proposal and subsequently he proposed an amendment to the permit which was approved by the Board.

Carmel Cacopardo party Spokesperson on Sustainable Development and Local
Government concluded by stating that the adoption by Freeport of an EMS will
signify that over a short time-frame the
Freeport
will introduce the necessary
controls such that it will be in a position to address its environmental impacts
and consequently improve the quality of life of Birzebbuġa residents. AD will
keep on monitoring this issue in full support of the Birzebbuġa Local Council.
Ralph Cassar
PRO