Planning for the foreseeable future

Human nature has always been preoccupied with the future. However, at times we tend not to realise that we mould a substantial part of the future through our actions today. Unfortunately, sometimes our actions today and the future we want, point towards completely different directions.

Our future is necessarily a common one, as explained in the 1987 report of the UN Commission on Environment and Development -, the Brundtland report – aptly entitled Our Common Future. Drafted by an international commission led by former Norwegian Socialist Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, this report placed sustainable development on the global discussion platform, emphasising that we are responsible not only for each other’s welfare today but also for that of future generations. We need to consider carefully that our actions today have a considerable impact and can possibly limit the choices that future generations would have to make.

The impact of our behaviour on the climate is one such example. The impact of climate change is causing havoc in weather patterns and consequently also impacting on all areas of human activity. The patterns and intensity of rainfall is unpredictable. Our road infrastructure never coped, and now it is getting worse.

Earlier this week The Guardian reported that the planet has just a five per cent chance of reaching the Paris climate goals. Rather than avoiding warming up by more than 2oC by the end of the century, it is more likely that Mother Earth will heat up to around 5oC beyond the pre-industrial era.

The predicted consequences are catastrophic. Another report published in April this year had informed us that there are worrying signs for Greenland ice sheet which covers 80 percent of its 1.7 million square kilometres surface area: it has been observed melting faster than ever before. On its own, this factor could potentially cause a rise of many meters in sea level – as many as seven metres.

This is certainly not the future we want. Any rise in sea level rise, even if minimal, would threaten the functionability of all coastal areas and facilities. It would also wipe out entire coastal communities and islands worldwide would disappear. It would be a future of climate- change refugees pushed to higher ground by a rising sea-level. This will not only have an impact low-lying islands in the Pacific Ocean: it will also hit closer to home.
Take a look at and consider the places along the Maltese coast: Msida, Ta’ Xbiex, Pietá, Sliema, Marsaskala, Marsaxlokk, San Pawl il-Baħar, Burmarrad, Birżebbuġa, Marsalforn, Xlendi and many more.
Readers will remember the occasional rise in sea-level at Msida. In one such instant – on 11 May last year – the change in sea level was of more than a metre as a resulting flooding the roads along the coast. This phenomenon is known as seiche (locally referred to as “Il-Milgħuba”) and reported in this newspaper under the heading “Phenomenon: sea-water level rises in Msida, traffic hampered.” It also occurs at St George’s Bay in Birżebbuġa – on a small scale but on a regular basis, causing quite a nuisance to car users.

Now this phenomenon only occurs temporarily, yet it still substantially affects traffic movements when it does. Imagine if the rise in sea level rise is of a permanent nature?

Large parts of our coast are intensively developed – with roads and residential properties, as well as substantial sections of the tourism infrastructure and facilities. In addition, there is also the infrastructure of our ports which we have developed as a maritime nation over the centuries. All this points to the need for adequate planning to implement urgent adaptation measures in order to reinforce Malta’s coastal infrastructure. If we wait too long it may be too late.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 August 2017

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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

Wara r-Referendum fir-Renju Unit

Johnson Boris + Cameron David

 

It-tmexxija tal-Unjoni Ewropeja ddikjarat li wara r-riżultat tar-referendum ikun jaqbel għal kulħadd li r-Renju Unit idabbar rasu malajr kemm jista’ jkun. Għaldaqstant qed issir insistenza biex jibda minnufih il-proċess tat-tluq skond il-proċeduri kif stabilit fl-artiklu 50 tat-trattati tal-Unjoni.

Imma r-Renju Unit m’jidhirx li għandu għaġġla. Anke għax hemm min qed jirrealizza li l-ħsara li ser isseħħ hi kbira wisq u allura qed jerġa’ jibdielu. Ironikament, il-maġġoranza tal-Membri Parlamentari ma jaqblux li r-Renju Unit ma jibqax membru tal-Unjoni Ewropeja!

Meta David Cameron nhar il-Ġimgħa fil-għodu ħabbar ir-riżenja tiegħu minn Prim Ministru tar-Renju Unit, huwa qal li l-proċess tan-negożjati għat-tluq mill-Unjoni Ewropeja ser iħallih għas-suċċessur tiegħu. Dan jista’ jkun Boris Johnson, sa ftit ilu Sindku ta’ Londra, imma jista’ jkun ħaddieħor ukoll bħal Theresa May presentment Segretarju tal-Istat għall-Intern fil-Kabinett immexxi minn David Cameron. Dan ifissser li tal-inqas baqa’ tlett xhur, imma ma hemm l-ebda garanzija li f’għeluq dawn it-tlett xhur dan il-proċess ser jibda. Dan minħabba li l-politika u l-istrateġija tat-tmexxija l-ġdida għad mhiex magħrufa, dejjem jekk din teżisti.

Fil-fatt, Boris Johnson diġa iddikjara li m’hemmx għaġġla biex ir-Renju Unit jitlaq mill-Unjoni Ewropeja. X’għandu f’moħħu mhux magħruf imma minn dak li ntqal waqt il-kampanja referendarja ma jidhirx li s’issa hemm xi pjan dwar kif jista’ jseħħ it-tluq tar-Renju Unit mill-Unjoni Ewropeja. Minn dak li nkiteb fil-gazzetti Ingliżi jidher li għandu mnejn issir emfasi fuq negozjati informali u dan biex ikun evitat li jibda jgħodd il-limitu ta’ sentejn li jistabilixxu t-trattati Ewropej, liema limitu jibda jgħodd minn meta tingħata n-notifika skond l-artiklu 50. Imma fl-Unjoni Ewropeja ma hemmx qbil ma dan. Sadanittant hemm petizzjoni għaddejja online li sal-ħin li qiegħed nikteb kisbet l-appoġġ ta’ madwar tlett miljun persuna. Din il-petizzjoni qed titlob li r-referendum isir mill-ġdid. Il-Parlament ser jiddiskuti din il-petizzjoni.

Fl-istess ħin hemm reazzjonijiet qawwija mill-Iskozja, l-Irlanda ta’ Fuq u minn Ġibiltà għar-riżultat referendarju. Fit-tlett każi dawn huma favur il-kontinwazzjoni tas-sħubija. Fil-kaz ta’ Ġibiltà hemm ukoll il-kumplikazzjoni tal-possibilità tal-egħluq tal-fruntiera minn Spanja (kif ġieli ġara fil-passat) liema egħluq teffettwa lil madwar 12,000 resident li kuljum imorru Spanja għax xogħol. Il-possibilità ta’ kontrolli mal-fruntiera bejn l-Irlanda ta’ Fuq u r-Repubblika Irlandiża l-anqas ma hu ta’ awgurju tajjeb.

Id-dewmien biex jibdew it-trattattivi għat-tluq ifisser iktar inċertezza għas-swieq finanzjarji, li minnha jbati kulħadd. Inkluż l-ekonomija globali.

Jekk inħarsu lejn kif żviluppaw ir-relazzjonijiet bejn pajjiżi bħall-Isvizzera u n-Norveġja mal-Unjoni Ewropeja insibu li dawn japplikaw partijiet sostanzjali mill-leġislazzjoni tal-Unjoni Ewropeja, inkluż il-moviment ħieles tal-persuni u r-regoli tas-suq wieħed. Dan apparti kontribuzzjoni finanzjarja sostanzjali lill-Unjoni bħala ħlas għall-aċċess għas-suq Ewropew. Dawn kollha affarijiet li Boris Johnson u l-kampanja favur it-tluq tar-Renju Unit mill-Unjoni tkellmu kontra tagħhom waqt il-kampanja referendarja.

X’ser jagħmlu issa? Kollox hu possibli. Imma jekk il-mudell Svizzeru u Norveġiż ikun skartat huwa diffiċli ħafna biex wieħed jifhem x’ser jiġri. Tajjeb li niftakru li meta riċentement l-Isvizzera approvat referendum kontra l-prinċipju tal-moviment ħieles tal-persuni qamu l-irwiefen kollha. Għax il-prinċipju tal-moviment ħieles tal-persuni huwa bażiku għall-Unjoni.

Jidher ċar li quddiemna għandna ġimgħat ta’ spekulazzjoni li ma huma ser jagħmlu ġid lil ħadd. La lir-Renju Unit u l-anqas lill-Unjoni Ewropeja. L-anqas m’hu ser tagħmel ġid il-gwerra ċivili fil-partiti ewlenin Ingliżi. Il-battalja għat-tmexxija tal-Partit Konservattiv ser tkun qalila. Imma issa reġgħet tfaċċat il-gwerra ċivili fil-Partit Laburista Ingliż ukoll bir-riżenji mix-Shadow Cabinet u mozzjoni ta’ sfiduċja fit-tmexxija.

Ser ikunu ġimgħat ta’ tibdil kbir.

The politics of Sustainable Development

four_pillar-sustainable  development

 

Sustainable Development is about how we satisfy our needs today in a responsible manner. We normally refer to the World Commission on Environment and Development headed by Gro Harlem Brundtland who, in her final report in 1987 entitled Our Common Future defined sustainable development as “the development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

The politics of sustainable development is hence about politics with a responsible long-term view: it is about the future that we desire to bequeath to future generations. It is a future that we can mould today as a result of the careful consideration of the impacts of each and every one of our present actions.

Sustainable Development is about living in harmony with all that surrounds us, at all times. It is about being in harmony with Mother Earth, with nature and with our fellow human beings. It is treating our surroundings as part of our family: it is the Brother Sun Sister Moon philosophy espoused by Francis of Assisi. It is the path to dignity aiming simultaneously at the eradication of poverty and the protection of the planet. Sustainable development requires the synchronisation of cultural, social, environmental and economic policy. Shielding human dignity, appreciating our culture and environmental protection are as essential as economic development.

There is a visible gap between the political declarations made and the implementation of sustainable development policies. The international community is analysing the achievements made through the Millennium Development Goals agreed to during the Johannesburg 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development. As a result, it is discussing the adoption of Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations General Assembly next September. Yet in Malta we still lack an appropriate  sustainable development infrastructure.

So far, the Maltese political class has failed in integrating Sustainable Development policymaking and its implementation. Malta is not unique in this respect. In fact, even prior to the Rio+20 Summit in 2012, in his report entitled Objectives and Themes Of The United Nations Conference On Sustainable Development, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon discusses institution building at all levels ranging from the local to the international.

Ban Ki Moon had emphasised that on a national level the integration challenge has been responded to by the creation of new institutions (such as national councils), in many cases with disappointing results. Malta is one such case. The institutional framework for sustainable development in Malta has not been able to deliver so far.

The National Commission for Sustainable Development was disbanded years ago and the provisions of the National Strategy for Sustainable Development have been largely ignored. This strategy, which was the result of extensive consultations with civil society, laid down not only the objectives to be achieved but also the structures to be set up in each ministry in order to proceed with the strategy’s implementation.

All the deadlines laid down in the National Sustainable Development Strategy have been ignored by the government. This was primarily the responsibility of the previous government led by Lawrence Gonzi. The present government is apparently still in a trance about the whole matter.

The only positive development in the past years has been the adoption of a proposal of Alternattiva Demokratika -The Green Party in Malta, leading to the appointment of a Guardian for Future Generations. However, deprived of the substantial resources required to be effective, all the good intentions of the Guardian will not suffice to kick-start the implementation process. Even the minister responsible for sustainable development has some bark but no bite. He too has been deprived of the essential resources to carry out his mission. He has not inherited any functioning sustainable development infrastructure. In addition, he has been given political responsibility for the environment without in any way being directly involved in the environmental functions of MEPA. This is not an indictment of Minister Leo Brincat but rather an indictment of his boss, the Prime Minister, who is quite evidently not interested in beefing up the regulatory infrastructure. Waiting two years for some form of indication of goodwill is more than enough.

The National Sustainable Development Strategy has a whole section dealing with the implementation process. When approved by Cabinet on the eve of the 2008 general elections, it had laid down the need for “a permanent structure, appropriately staffed and funded (which) should be established to coordinate, monitor, revise and promote the National Strategy for Sustainable Development among all stakeholders. Such a structure should be placed under the direction of the National Commission for Sustainable Development” (section 4.1 of the National Strategy for Sustainable Development).

Seven years later this permanent structure is still inexistent. Is there need of any further proof of the lack of political will to act on sustainable development?

 

published on 8 March 2015 in The Malta Independent on Sunday

Santiago and maritime affairs

Aerial View_Grand Harbour

Ernest Hemingway’s Santiago in “The Old Man and the Sea” was unlucky. It took him 85 days to catch his big fish. But when he did, being on his own out at sea without any help, he had to tow it back to port, only to discover then that the sharks had reduced his catch to a mere skeleton.  It is the same with maritime policy. We need to coordinate with our Mediterranean neighbours to have meaningful and lasting results. On our own we can achieve very little.

A national integrated maritime strategy is an essential policy tool. Yet, as was pointed out by Parliamentary Secretary Edward Zammit Lewis, it is still unavailable. On May 19, European Maritime Day,  it was emphasised by Zammit Lewis that such a strategy would identify Malta’s maritime policy priorities required to support the Blue Economy.

The economic opportunities presented by the sea which surrounds Malta are substantial. We do however have to make use of such opportunities carefully, knowing that various impacts may result. Through the sea surrounding us we are subject to impacts as a result of the actions of others. Similarly Malta’s maritime activities necessarily will impact other countries, for better or for worse.

The excellent quality of seawater around the Maltese islands resulting from Malta’s recent adherence to the Urban Wastewater Directive of the EU is one positive contribution to a better Mediterranean Sea even though the sewage treatment system is badly designed as it ignores the resource value of the discharged treated water.

Through Arvid Pardo in the 1960s Malta made a lasting contribution to global maritime thought by emphasising that the seabed forms part of the common heritage of mankind.

The sea and its resources have always had a central importance in Malta’s development. Tourism, fisheries and water management easily come to mind. Maritime trade and services as well as the sustainable utilisation of resources on the seabed are also essential for this island state.

Whilst a national maritime strategy will inevitably seek the further utilisation of the coastline and its contiguous areas it is hoped that environmental responsibilities will be adequately addressed in the proposals considered.

A national integrated maritime policy, though essential, cannot however be effective if it  does not take into consideration the activities of our neighbours: both their maritime  as well as their coastal activities.

This is an issue which is given considerable importance within the European Union which seeks to assist member states in coordinating their maritime policies for the specific reason that the impacts of such policies are by their very nature transboundary.  In fact one of the EU Commissioners, Maria Damanaki,  is tasked with Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.  Her work is underpinned by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive which seeks to protect the sea in order that it could be utilised sustainably thereby contributing to attaining the objectives of EU2020, the ten year growth strategy of the European Union.

Within its maritime competencies the EU has also developed effective instruments of transboundary cooperation foremost amongst which are the Baltic Strategy and the Danube Strategy.  These macro-strategies of the European Union, as their name implies, focus on the Baltic Sea and the river Danube respectively. They bring together the European regions bordering the Baltic Sea and the Danube to cooperate in various policy areas such that the resulting coordination addresses challenges which no single country can address on its own.

Such strategies also serve as an instrument of cooperation with non-EU countries. Through the Baltic Strategy it is cooperation with Russia, Iceland and Norway whilst through the Danube Strategy eight EU member states cooperate with six European non-EU member states.  The EU has also more recently launched an Atlantic Ocean Strategy.

A national maritime strategy will  seek to identify those areas which can absorb strategic investments in order to develop the blue economy.  An important point worth emphasising is that a sustainable development of the blue economy will ensure that no negative impacts are borne by our communities residing along and adjacent to the coastal areas. Unfortunately not enough attention has been paid to this aspect in the past. Such negative impacts can be avoided not only through careful planning but also through proper consultation with both civil society as well as directly with residents.

Impacts which have to be avoided include air and sea pollution. In addition potential noise and light pollution need careful attention in particular if the operating times of the newly identified activities span into the silent hours.

Malta’s Maritime strategy needs a double focus: a national and a regional one.  Both are essential elements neither of which can be ignored. It is in Malta’s interest to take part in initiatives addressing transboundary impacts and simultaneously to integrate these initiatives within a national maritime policy strategy. Otherwise we will face Santiago’s fate. The result of our good work will be taken up by the sharks!

Originally published in The Times of Malta, Saturday June 8, 2013

The future we want

During the current Parliamentary debate on the Sustainable Development Bill various government spokesmen have emphasised that they consider it essential to ensure that there is a balance between protecting the environment  and economic policy. In so doing they are stating that measures that may be required to protect the environment  are to be embraced only if there is little or no economic impact.

Sustainable development is no longer a matter of choice. It is rather an issue of survival. Balancing acts do not form part of the equation!

A former Minister of the Environment during the Parliamentary debate stated that a defininiton of sustainable development is required as an integral part of the Bill. If this Hononourable gentleman is not capable of embracing Bruntland’s definiton in the report she penned as Chairperson of the World Commission on Environment and Development then it is about time that someone explains what his tenure as Minister for the Environment has achieved except the widespread environmental destruction which has been amply documented throughout the years.

Gro Harlem Brundtland had stated that “Humanity has the ability to make development sustainable – to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Brundland’s definition is the mildest possible and has been drafted in that form specifically to ensure the widest adoption possible. Taking decisions in such a manner as not to prejudice future generations is the least we can say about the politics of sustainable development.

It signifies first and foremost that policy decisions  are not postponed in order to avoid or minimise loss of votes. It also means calling a spade by its proper name and getting on with the business of proper management of  resources without delay.

The adoption of sustainable development as a basic building block of government policy should lead to the logical conclusion that the economy should not be viewed as an objective but rather as a tool: the economy should be the servant rather than the master! The point of departure should be the alignment of policies with the ecosystem of which we form part.

Policy needs to be approached in a holistic manner, focusing simultaneously on social, environmental and economic considerations. It is not a question of an artificial balance between the three but of acting correctly each and every time. A policy, which is economically sound but socially and/or environmentally wobbly, is of no use. The reverse side is already common practice as socially and environmentally sound policies are rarely applied if they do not pass the test of economic viability.

The politics of sustainable development is concerned with redirecting economic activity such that this is compatible with ecological and social requirements. The environment, the economy and social needs are thus all factored in when decisions are taken. Throughout the years economic decisions have generally taken into consideration their social impacts. As a result, various measures have been introduced to mitigate and/or prevent negative social effects. The politics of social solidarity as developed has assisted in the transition from a free market economy to a social market economy.

The politics of sustainable development is the means leading to the next transition: to an economy which respects the ecology. The environmental impacts of social and economic policy require attention at the drawing board rather than mitigation after they have occurred. In order for this to occur, it is required that instead of facing the effects we direct our energies to tackle the causes.

It was for this purpose that the Environment Protection Act of 2001 provided in Section 8 for the setting up of a National Commission for Sustainable Development entrusted with the drafting of a National Strategy for Sustainable Development for the Maltese Islands. The Commission laboured between 2002 and 2006 to produce a draft, which was concluded and presented to Cabinet for approval in December 2006. Cabinet approved it late in 2007.

The National Commission for Sustainable Development was representative of society in that it was made up of representatives of Ministries and civil society. The Sustainable Development Bill is proposing the dismantling of the Commission and replacing it with a network, a smaller team in the interests of efficiency! The two frameworks are not incompatible. In fact when the Commission was functioning (even though its Chairman Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi never found time to participate in its workings) it had in fact selected a small group to coordinate its work.

While I understand that the government’s objective in creating the network is to facilitate implementation I submit that the existence of this newly proposed network is not incompatible with retaining the National Commission, which, through its wide-ranging composition was and can still be an effective sounding board for formulating the nuts and bolts of the politics of sustainable development.

It has to be borne in mind that sustainable development is also an exercise through which wide-ranging policy is formed through capillarity, rising from the roots of society, and not through filtration by dripping from the top downwards. It is hence essential to embrace structures which are representative of society. This is not sufficient but it is an essential element to be complemented by reaching out to those sectors of society which are vulnerable yet are still unorganised.

The UN Secretariat of the  Rio + 20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development due to be held next June has produced a draft document for discussion aptly referred to as the zero draft. It is entitled “The Future We Want”.

For sustainable development to take root, the strategy leading to sustainability must be owned by civil society, which must be in the driving seat of the process. This is “the Future we Want”. It has primarily to be a future which we can shape. A future which all of us can influence as it will impact not just those at the top of the pyramid but more so those at the very bottom.

Sustainable Development is not just an issue of environment but also one of justice, of dealing with issues of poverty and the distribution of wealth.

The future we want cannot exist without fulfilling the need of a fundamental change in  relationships. A change in the relationship between man and the earth. A change in the relationship between man and his/her fellow human beings.

This need for change can be fulfilled if we focus on the need to respect nature and fellow human beings. This is the balance to be achieved. This is the basis of sustainable development.

This article was published in The Independent on Sunday – Environment Supplement 25 March 2012

Just lip service and cold feet

                                             published Saturday August 13, 2011

The year 2012 marks the 20th anniversary of the Rio Earth Summit held in June 1992. The Rio Earth Summit itself was held on the 20th anniversary of the 1972 UN Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment, which is credited with introducing the environment in the contemporary political lexicon.

In fact, it was as a result of the Stockholm conference that various countries started appointing an environment minister. In 1976, in Malta, Dom Mintoff appointed Vincent Moran as Minister for Health and the Environment. The emphasis at that stage was environmental health. His primary environmental responsibilities being street cleaning, refuse collection and the management of landfills in addition to minor responsibilities on air quality. The serious stuff came later when Daniel Micallef was appointed Minister for Education and the Environment in 1986.

In 1992, the international community met in Rio de Janeiro to discuss the conflicts between development and the environment. This was brought to the fore by the 1987 UN report of the World Commission on Environment and Development, headed by former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland. The report, entitled Our Common Future, referred to as the Brundtland report, is generally remembered for its definition of sustainable development. Development was defined as sustainable if, in ensuring that the needs of present generations are met, it did not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The 1992 Rio Earth Summit produced the Rio Declaration on the Environment, the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Framework Convention on Biodiversity, the Statement of Forest Principles and Agenda 21. Each one of these assumed a life of its own, addressing various issues.

I think it is essential to focus on the relevance of Agenda 21, which was, way back in 1992, drafted to serve as a global action plan for the 21st century.

Agenda 21 emphasises that sustainable development is not spearheaded by economics. It does not seek to balance profits with other considerations. Based on respect for people and the planet in the carrying out of our activities, it links the environment with social and economic policy.

It is indeed regrettable that some countries, Malta included, loudly proclaim adherence to the objectives of Rio 1992 yet fail miserably in translating them into the requirements of everyday life.

It is necessary to reiterate that Malta, through its present government, has paid lip service to issues of sustainable development. The Environment Protection Act of 2001, now in the process of being superseded, had established a National Commission for Sustainable Development headed by the Prime Minister. This was tasked with the preparation of a National Strategy for Sustainable Development, which was finalised and approved by the commission in December 2006. It was presented to Cabinet, which approved it in the weeks prior to the March 2008 election.

Soon after the 2008 election, during Parliament’s first session on May 10, 2008, Malta’s President proclaimed on behalf of the government that its policies will be underpinned by adherence to the principles of sustainable development. We were then told that when formulating decisions today serious consideration would be given to their impact on the generations of tomorrow.

I doubt whether there was ever any intention to implement such a declaration. I am informed that the National Commission for Sustainable Development, which, in terms of the Environment Protection Act, is still entrusted with the implementation of the National Sustainable Development Strategy, has not met since December 2006. Consequently, the procedures laid down in section 5 of the strategy as a result of which the different ministries had 18 months to prepare and commence the implementation of an action plan based on the strategy in their areas of competence were transformed into a dead letter.

The government has now gone one step further. It is formulating a National Environment Policy. This initiative has been undertaken by the same ministry responsible for issues of sustainable development – the Office of the Prime Minister.

From what is known on the contents of this policy it substantially duplicates the areas addressed by the National Sustainability Strategy. Consequently, it is discharging down the drains four years of discussions with civil society that had given the strategy its shape and content. It is clear that on the issue of sustainable development this government is very rich in rhetoric but when it comes to implementation it gets cold feet. It’s all talk, meetings, documents and consultations. And when a document is finally produced it is back to the drawing board to start the process for another one! This is lip service at its worst.

While the international community meeting in Rio in 2012 will take stock of its modest achievements in implementing the conclusions of Rio 1992 and its follow-up meetings, including those of Johannesburg in 2002, in Malta we are still awaiting a lethargic government to take the first steps.

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Other posts on sustainable development during the past 12 months

2011, July 23                Living on Ecological Credit.

2011, June 5                 Government’s Environment Policy is Beyond Repair.

2011, March 5              Small is Beautiful in Water Policy.

2011, January 22        Beyond the  Rhetorical declarations.

2010, October 23        Time to realign actions with words.

2010, October 17        Reflections on an Environment Policy.

2010, October 3          AD on Government’s Environment policy.

2010, September 17  Lejn Politika tal-Ambjent.

2010, September 4     Environment Policy and the Budget.

2010, August 14          Thoughts for an Environmet Policy.

2010, August 2            Bis-serjeta ? Il-Politika Nazzjonali dwar l-Ambjent.

Norway considers floating windmills

Reuters

UTSIRA, Norway — Giant turbines the size of jumbo jets bobbing on the North Sea may soon become as common off Norway as oil and gas platforms.
At least that is the ambition of Norwegian authorities and industry, eager to splash some green on their oily image and use their offshore expertise to corner a potentially lucrative new market – floating wind farms in deep sea waters.
Norway’s government is contemplating licensing “blocks” for offshore wind generation, and Norwegian oil company StatoilHydro aims to start work next year on a floating turbine project near the site of the first North Sea oil discovery 40 years ago.
“We are the best place in Norway if you love wind,” Mayor Jarle Nilsen said of Utsira, a North Sea island of just six square kilometres and home to 210 people who already get most of their power from two onshore turbines.

With Europe’s second-longest coastline after Greece, Norway is hard hit by winds blowing off the Atlantic and, along with Britain, well placed for wind=energy projects.
Offshore turbines can be twice as powerful as land-based units because of stronger, more sustained winds at sea.
Out of sight from the coast, such wind farms could use modified, more efficient turbines that do not limit noise, a key concern for land-based wind farms.
The technology is not tested and costly offshore repairs could quickly drive up costs, analysts say.
The price of wind electricity produced will also probably stay above that of conventional fossil fuel-based power for years to come, meaning that state subsidies play a major role.
“We have been very clear in saying that there are exciting prospects in offshore wind and indeed floating wind,” Deputy Energy and Petroleum Minister Liv Monica Stubholt said.
“But we also acknowledge that experts advise us to ‘hurry slowly’ because there are still considerable technological hurdles that need to be hopped.”
Further, deeper
The use of the wind is growing around the world – it is set to top 100 gigawatts in installed capacity in 2008 in a push for alternatives to coal- or gas-powered plants, which emit heat-trapping gasses. Still, wind accounts for only 1 per cent of the global power mix.
About 98 per cent of that capacity is at land-based turbines, but new technology and the benefits of pushing wind farms away from populated areas are strengthening the offshore market – currently led by Britain and Denmark.
The Brussels-based Global Wind Energy Council has forecast that the world’s wind market will reach 240 gigawatts by 2012, with a growing share coming from offshore.
Britain has an ambitious goal for 35 GW in installed offshore wind capacity by 2020.
The floating turbine concept allows wind farms to wade farther out to sea. Anchored to the seabed, they can be built in deeper waters where the sea floor would be too soft for standing turbines.
StatoilHydro’s project, expected to get an official go-ahead soon, will be a 2.3 megawatt turbine, with a diameter of 107 metres and jutting nearly 80 metres above the water. A further 120 metres of the floating concrete hull will be submerged.
The “Hywind” project, which includes German Siemens AG’s wind-power unit, will test the technology and look for ways to cut operating and maintenance costs for the giant turbines to be located in water depths of up to 700 metres.
 
If the demonstration project succeeds, more may come early next decade to provide supplemental electricity for places such as some North Sea platforms or coastal Norwegian towns.
“It also has global potential in places with the proper sea and wind conditions, a suitable market size and the right price incentives,” said Jan-Fredrik Stadaas, head of wind energy project development at StatoilHydro.
Such markets could include the United States, Canada, Spain and Portugal, France, Japan and Britain, Mr. Stadaas said.
Tilting into the wind
Another project, led by Norwegian utilities Statkraft and Lyse and including StatoilHydro and Shell, seeks to build wind turbine towers that tilt against the wind to withstand severe North Sea conditions. A full-scale 5 MW prototype of the “Sway” turbine is planned in 2010.
The Norwegian government is providing cash to both projects but the real test of its resolve will come in its offshore wind regulations, which may mimic the country’s oil and gas rules.
Ms. Stubholt, the deputy minister, said Norway may offer offshore wind power licences in specific blocks, along with incentives.
She said Norway was slow to embrace wind energy because most of its electricity already comes from clean hydropower, limiting demand for more renewable energy.
Industry officials hope the state aid plans include investment-based subsidies or feed-in tariffs, where offshore generators would be given a steady price for their electricity, as well as link-ups to existing grids.
“Given concerns about reliability of untested technology and a virtually non-existent market for offshore wind installation and maintenance, these projects require an active role by the state to lower some of the risks,” one industry official said.