Nature provides solution

circular economy

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

published in the Times of Malta : Thursday 13 July 2015

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Malta’s EU story : the environment

JOINT SEMINAR BY THE OFFICE OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT IN MALTA AND THE TODAY PUBLIC POLICY INSTITUTE

Friday 3 October 2014

address by Carmel Cacopardo

eu-flag

 

Since Malta’s EU accession there has been a marked contrast of interest in issues related to environmental governance.

EU accession has generally had a positive influence on Maltese environmental governance.  A flow of EU funds has been applied to various areas which Maltese governments throughout the years did not consider worthy of investing in.  On the one hand we had governments “occasionally” applying the brakes, seeking loopholes, real or imaginary,  in order to ensure that lip service  is not accidentally translated into meaningful action. On the other hand civil society has, in contrast, and  as a result of EU accession identified a new source of empowerment, at times ready to listen, however slow to react and at times ineffective.

Land use planning and abusive hunting/trapping have for many years been the main items on the local environment agenda. Water, air quality, climate change, alternative energy, biodiversity, noise, light pollution, organic agriculture, waste management and sustainable development have rightfully claimed a place in the agenda during the past 10 years. Some more frequently, others occasionally.

Land use planning has been on the forefront of civil society’s environmental agenda for many years. Abusive land use planning in the 80s fuelled and was fuelled by corruption. It led to various public manifestations in favour of the environment then equated almost  exclusively with the impacts of land development. Many such manifestations ended up in violence. Whilst this may be correctly described as history, it is occasionally resurrected  as in the recent public manifestation of hunters protesting against the temporary closure of the autumn hunting season.

Whilst hunting and land use planning may still be the main items on Malta’ environmental agenda the ecological deficit which we face is substantially deeper and wider.  It is generally the result of myopic policies.

For example it is well known that public transport has been practically ignored for the past 50 years, including the half-baked reform of 2010. This is the real cause of Malta’s very high car ownership (around 750 vehicles per 1000 population). As the Minister of Finance rightly exclaimed during a pre-budget public consultation exercise earlier this week traffic congestion is a major issue of concern, not just environmental but also economic. Impacting air quality, requiring additional land uptake to construct new roads or substantial funds to improve existing junctions traffic congestion is a drain on our resources. May I suggest that using EU funds to improve our road network  will delay by several years the shifting of custom to public transport, when we will have one which is worthy of such a description.

The mismanagement of water resources over the years is another important issue. May I suggest that millions of euros in EU funds have been misused  to institutionalise the mismanagement of water resources. This has been done through the construction of a network of underground tunnels to channel stormwater to the sea.  The approval of such projects is only possible when one  has no inkling of what sustainable management of water resources entails. Our ancestors had very practical and sustainable solutions: they practised water harvesting through the construction of water cisterns beneath each and every residence, without exception. If we had followed in their footsteps the incidence of stormwater in our streets, sometimes having the smell of raw sewage due to an overflowing public sewer, would be substantially less. And in addition we would also avoid overloading our sewage purification plants.

Our mismanagement of water resources also includes the over-extraction of ground water and the failure to introduce an adequate system of controls throughout the years such that  most probably there will be no more useable water in our water table very shortly. In this respect the various deadlines established in the Water Framework Directive would be of little use.

Whilst our Cabinet politicians have developed a skill of trying to identify loopholes in the EU’s acquis (SEA and Birds Directive) they also follow bad practices in environmental governance.

It is known that fragmentation of environmental responsibilities enables politicians to pay lip service to environmental governance but then creating real and practical obstacles in practice.

Jean Claude Juncker, the President elect of the EU Commission has not only diluted environmental governance by assigning responsibility for the environment together with that for fisheries and maritime policy as well as assigning energy with climate change. He has moreover hived off a number of responsibilities from the DG Environment to other DGs namely Health and Enterprise.

In Malta our bright sparks have anticipated his actions. First on the eve of EU accession they linked land use planning with the Environment in an Authority called MEPA with the specific aim of suffocating the environment function in an authority dominated by development. Deprived of human resources including the non-appointment of a Director for the Environment for long stretches of time, adequate environmental governance could never really get off the ground.

Now we will shortly be presented with the next phase: another fragmentation by the demerger of the environment and planning authority.

In the short time available I have tried to fill in the gaps in the environment section of the document produced by The Today Public Policy Institute. The said document rightly emphasises various achievements. It does however state that prior to EU accession the environment was not given its due importance by local policy makers. Allow me to submit that much still needs to be done and that the progress made to date is insufficient.

Abolish spring hunting

time is running out2

Spring hunting has been a contentious issue for many years in the Maltese Islands. Throughout the years both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party have sought to deal with spring hunting through backroom deals with organisations representing the hunting community. Time and again promises to uphold hunters’ privileges have been made by both the Labour Party and the Nationalist Party.

Only one political party in Malta, Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party, expressed itself clearly and unequivocally against spring hunting. The others boot-licked their way through imaginary exceptions and ineffective enforcement measures.

The current state of affairs is the direct result of government policies which have repeatedly ignored Malta’s obligations. Unfortunately even the Environment Directorate General of the European Union has proven itself to be ineffective in enforcing the provisions of the Birds’ Directive in Malta. Hence the only practical solution to tackle spring hunting is for the Maltese electorate to decide the matter itself as is provided for in the Referenda Act.

The Coalition for the Abolition of Spring Hunting is composed of Ramblers Association of Malta, Nature Trust (Malta), Movement of Organic Agriculture in Malta (MOAM), Moviment Graffiti , International Animal Rescue Malta, Greenhouse Malta, Gaia Foundation,Friends of the Earth Malta, Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA), Din l-Art Ħelwa,Coalition for Animal Rights, Birdlife Malta and Alternattiva Demokratika. It was formed some eight months ago for one specific purpose: the abolition of spring hunting at the earliest possible date.

Last week, the Coalition submitted a petition to the Electoral Commission calling for an abrogative referendum to end spring hunting on the Maltese islands. The signatures to the petition had to exceed 10% of the registered voters in the latest electoral register, that is 33,418 signatures were required as a minimum.

44,376 persons signed the referendum petition making it the first ever submitted petition requesting an abrogative referendum in the Maltese islands since the Referenda Act was amended in 1996 to introduce the right to call an abrogative referendum.  Those who signed the petition have considered it their duty to respond to the Coalition’s invitation because they care. They care about the birds and they care about Malta. They deserve everybody’s appreciation as their commitment is sending one clear message: that voters can decide on spring hunting and in so doing they will clear the mess created by the parliamentary political parties.

This is an historic moment, very important for the protection of biodiversity but also of paramount significance in the development of democracy in the Maltese islands. It was not easy to achieve and cannot be underestimated.

There are various reasons which have motivated voters to sign the petition calling for a referendum to abolish spring hunting.

Spring is breeding time for birds which fly over the Maltese islands on their way back to mainland Europe. Signatories to the referendum petition believe that birds should be able to fly safely over Malta on the way to their breeding grounds.

During the spring hunting season, when nature is at its best, people do not feel at ease in the Maltese countryside as they consider themselves to be under the constant threat of hunters, few in number but convinced just the same that they have a free hand. Access to the countryside during spring is further hampered by public footpaths which are closed to the public so as to facilitate the free access of hunters. The aggressiveness of some hunters has given all their colleagues a bad name.

Spring is a very special time of year when the Maltese countryside invites all to appreciate its abundance of life and colour. Those who have signed the petition feel that they are being impeded from enjoying nature’s gifts. Furthermore, hunting in spring definitely has a negative impact on birds which breed or can breed in the Maltese islands.

A large number of the signatories of the petition believe that the deals (both secret and the not so secret) that the hunting lobby has signed with successive governments to gain more privileges is not how a modern democracy should function. They believe that governments should work in the common interest. This has not been the case so far and the only solution is the utilisation of the referendum as a decision tool. It is only the referendum which will settle matters once and for all.

These birds flying through our airspace in spring do not belong to us. Other countries dedicate a lot of time and resources to ensure that these birds are adequately protected, only to be blasted when they fly through Malta.

We now await the Electoral Commission to verify the petition signatures and hand over the process to the Constitutional Court. This will enable all of the Maltese voters to finally have their voice heard on spring hunting so it can be stopped on these islands once and for all.

 

published in The Times of Malta, Saturday April 5, 2014