Kontradizzjonijiet

Jekk wieħed joqgħod biss fuq dak li jgħidu dawk li jitkellmu f’isem il-Gvern, malajr jasal għal konklużjoni żbaljata li qatt ma kellna Gvern favur l-ambjent daqs dan tal-lum. Sfortunatament l-affarijiet huma ferm differenti minn hekk!

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa ġie fi tmiemu l-perjodu ta’ sitt ġimgħat konsultazzjoni dwar l-iskop tal-Istrateġija Nazzjonali tal-Biodiversità u l-Pjan t’Azzjoni dwarha li għandu jwassal sal-2030. Għal xi raġuni li s’issa għad mhiex magħrufa l-Awtorità dwar l-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi (ERA), għal dawn l-aħħar snin qed tikkonċentra l-konsultazzjonijiet importanti għax-xhur tas-sajf (b’mod partikolari tul Awwissu) meta hu magħrufa li n-nies tieħu l-vaganzi u allura tistrieħ!

L-Istrateġija Nazzjonali dwar il-Biodiversità u l-Pjan t’Azzjoni assoċjat magħha, bla dubju, meta jkun konkluż ser ifittex li jħares il-kapital naturali tal-pajjiż fit-totalità tiegħu.  

Imma iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, Clint Camilleri, l-Ministru għall-Kaċċa u l-Insib, ħabbar li l-Gvern, għal darb’oħra, ser jerġa’  jipprova jissabotaġġa l-implementazzjoni tal-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropea dwar l-Għasafar billi jipprova jisfrutta xi partijiet minnha!   Il-konsulenti tal-Gvern qed jippruvaw jagħmlu użu minn dik il-parti tad-Direttiva tal-Għasafar li tipprovdi dwar l-istudji xjentifiċi: din tippermetti  l-qbid ta’ numru żgħir ta’ għasafar ħajjin. Dan kollu, fil-fehma tal-Gvern u l-konsulenti tiegħu, jista’ jiġġustifika xi forma ta’ nsib!

Jidher li għadhom ma fehmu xejn: id-Direttiva tal-Għasafar tal-Unjoni Ewropea hi għodda Ewropeja dwar il-ħarsien tal-biodiversità u mhux strument biex jiġġustifika l-kaċċa jew l-insib!

Il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela, il-ġimgħa li għaddiet, waqt li kien qed jindirizza l-Kamra tal-Kummerċ ħabbar viżjoni msejsa fuq ħames punti. Wieħed minn dawn il-punti, li fl-aħħar induna bih, hu l-ħtieġa li naddottaw bħala mira li nilħqu n-newtralità fl-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju. Mira tajba, kieku dak li qed jgħid hu veru!

Dan hu każ ieħor fejn għal darb’ oħra, l-Gvern, ambjentalment qed juri wiċċ b’ieħor, kif wara kollox issa ilna li drajna!  Il-Gvern ilu s-snin iberbaq il-miljuni tal-euro fi żvilupp ta’ infrastruttura ta’ toroq li mhiex meħtieġa: l-iskop uniku hu li jirrinforza d-dipendenza fuq il-karozzi privati għax minnhom jiddipendi ammonti kbar tad-dħul tal-Gvern: minn taxxi fuq petrol u diesel sa taxxi u liċenzji assoċjati mal-karozzi.

Il-Gvern ikkummissjona studji, strateġiji u Pjani Nazzjonali u meta waslu għandu qalibhom ta’ taħt fuq.  Id-dikjarazzjoni ta’ Robert Abela favur viżjoni bil-mira ta’ newtralità fl-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju hija f’kontradizzjoni mal-infieq massiċċ tal-Gvern fuq infrastruttura tat-toroq li mhix meħtieġa.  Il-Gvern ta’ Abela, bħal dawk ta’ qablu (ħomor u blu), jaħseb li l-problemi jistgħu jissolvew billi jkunu  bbumbardjati bil-miljuni tal-euro. Il-flus ċertament dejjem ikunu ta’ għajnuna, imma jeħtieġ li jintużaw tajjeb u mhux jitberbqu kif qed iseħħ presentement.

L-ispazju li għandi hu limitat u allura ma nistax nispjega mill-ġdid il-proposti kollha li Alternattiva Demokratika għamlet dwar dan kollu tul is-snin: proposti Ii jiswew farka mill-miljuni li l-Gvern qiegħed iberbaq.  

Ikun biżżejjed li niftakru li l-Pjan Nazzjonali dwar it-Trasport jispjega illi 50 fil-mija tal-vjaġġi li nagħmlu bil-karozzi privati fil-gżejjer Maltin għandhom tul li ma jaqbizx il-ħmistax-il minuta. Dan juri b’mod mill-iktar ċar  mobilità primarjament ta’ natura lokali u reġjonali!  Għal dan la hemm bżonn ta’ flyovers u l-anqas ta’ mini imma qafas biex fih jitħaddem transport lokali u reġjonali.  Huma inizjattivi ta’ din ix-xorta li jnaqqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq li jgħinuna fit-triq diffiċli lejn n-newtralità fl-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju!

Għaddew madwar tlett snin minn meta l-predeċessur ta’ Robert Abela ħa proposta mill-Manifest Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika dwar il-ħtieġa li nistabilixxu data li minnha lil hemm ma jinbiegħux karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-diesel u dan flimkien ma proposti oħra dwar l-elettrifikazzjoni tat-trasport fit-toroq tagħna. Imma l-istudji mwegħda ma jidhrux b’nemes!

Il-kontradizzjonijiet fil-politika ambjentali tal-Partit Laburista jimxu fuq l-eżempju tal-predeċessuri tagħhom fil-Gvern li waqt li kienu jokorbu biex nipproteġu l-ilma fasslu proġett biex l-ilma tax-xita jispiċċa kważi kollu l-baħar. Proġett li spiċċa biex mal-ilma tax-xita, rema’ l-baħar, miljuni ta’ euro f’fondi Ewropej!

Il-paroli tal-Labour u tal-PN dwar l-ambjent qatt ma solva xejn. Għax dejjem jgħidu ħaġa u jagħmlu oħra.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 23 t’Awwissu 2020

Contradictions

Taking government spokespersons at face value could lead to the mistaken conclusion that Labour in government is a defender of the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Earlier this week saw the end of a six-week consultation period relative to the Intent and Objectives of a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan leading to 2030. For some unknown reason the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA), for the past years has been concentrating its most important consultations during the summer months, in particular August, the least productive months as they coincide with the holiday period. The National Biodiversity Strategy and relative Action Plan will, when concluded, strive to actively protect our natural capital in its widest sense.

Yet earlier this week Clint Camilleri, Minister for Hunting and Trapping, announced another government attempt to try and sabotage the implementation of the EU Birds’ Directive through seeking potential additional loopholes.  Government advisors are trying to use the provisions of the Birds’ Directive relative to scientific studies, which permit the live capture of a small number of birds, to make a case for local trapping! They seem to not have yet understood that the EU Birds’ Directive is a biodiversity protection tool and not an instrument to justify hunting or trapping in whatever form or shape.

Prime Minister Robert Abela, when addressing the Chamber of Commerce last week, deemed it fit to announce a five-point vision. One of the points which he has at last adopted is the aim of attaining carbon neutrality. Very laudable indeed, if it were true!

This is another case of environmental lip service which we have become accustomed to for a number of years. Government has over the past years been squandering millions of euros in large scale transport infrastructural projects with the specific aim of reinforcing our dependence on the private car. Private cars are the source of large chunks of government income, ranging from taxes on fuel to car licences and registration taxes. Government has commissioned studies, strategies and National Plans which it then turns on their head. Robert Abela’s late conversion to a vision of a carbon neutral Malta is in direct contradiction to the spending spree on road transport infrastructure. His government, like that of his predecessors, red and blue, thinks that problems can be solved by being bombarded with euros, millions of them. Euros certainly help but they must be well spent, not squandered as they currently are.

I haven’t got space today to go through all the proposals which Greens have brought forward over the years, costing a fraction of the millions currently going down the drains. It would suffice to point out that the National Transport Master Plan had identified that 50 per cent of trips using private cars in the Maltese Islands are of a duration of less than fifteen minutes, clearly indicating primarily a mobility that it is local or regional in nature!  We don’t need flyovers, tunnels or underpasses to address this but an efficient local and regional transport network which we currently lack. It is such initiatives which encourage reduction of cars from our roads and help us climb the steep road to carbon neutrality!

It is now almost three years since Robert Abela’s predecessor took a leaf out of the Green Electoral manifesto on proposing a cut-off date on the sale of vehicles operating with internal combustion engines, and on other measures relating to the electrification of our roads. Yet the promised studies are nowhere in sight!

The constant contradictions in environmental positions taken by Labour follow the path entrenched by its predecessors, who, while emphasising the need to protect our water resources devised a project to throw away our storm water directly into the sea, using millions of euros of EU funds which ended up down the drain, with the water.

The environmental lip-service of Labour and the PN has never solved anything, nor will it ever do.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 23 August 2020

Is-solidarjetà mhiex qegħda fuq kwarantina

Il-kriżi tal-Covid19 tatna affarijiet ġodda biex ninkwetaw dwarhom. Il-problemi l-qodma għadhom magħna, imma issa tilfu l-importanza u l-urġenza tagħhom fid-dawl tal-kriżi kurrenti. Saħħitna, kemm individwalment kif ukoll b’mod kollettiv hi taħt theddida. L-ekonomija wieqfa u xi setturi ambjentali bdew jirpiljaw bil-mod.

Waqt li setturi differenti tal-ħidma tal-pajjiż qed jieqfu jew jiġu mwaqqfa bħala miżura ta’ prewkazzjioni, hu tajjeb li nassiguraw li s-solidarjetà ma tiġix imqegħda fi kwarantina.

Is-solidarjetà bejnietna hi essenzjali mhux biss biex inwieżnu lil xulxin illum, waqt il-kriżi, imma ukoll fi trieqitna biex il-pajjiż jirkupra u jerġa’ jibda jaħdem mill-ġdid. Irridu nifhmu li kulħadd hu importanti: dan jgħodd għal kull persuna mingħajr l-ebda eċċezzjoni. Ħadd ma għandu jkun injorat inkella jitħalla jaqa’ lura. Meta l-kriżi toqrob lejn tmiemha b’dan il-mod inkunu iktar b’saħħitna u fil-mixja tagħna nkunu għarafna napprezzaw aktar u aħjar lil xuxlin.

L-awtorijiajiet tas-saħħa f’Malta aġixxew b’kawtela raġjonevoli meta bdew jippjanaw minn kmieni għall-imxija tal-Covid19. It-tnaqqis gradwali ta’ attività mhux essenzjali, kienet, b’mod ġenerali, ippjanata tajjeb, b’eċċezzjoni waħda. Il-ftuħ tal-istaġun tal-kaċċa fir-rebbiegħa ukoll hu waħda mill-attivitajiet mhux essenzjali li ma kienx hemm ħtieġa li jiftaħ. Il-kumitat Ornis kien irresponsabbli li ta parir biex l-istaġun jinfetaħ. Il-Gvern qatt ma messu aċċetta li dan jiftaħ.

Il-komunità tal-kaċċa tilfet opportunità li tippreżenta ruħha f’dawl differenti. Sfortunatament, għal darba oħra ikkonfermat li mhiex kapaċi taġixxi b’mod responsabbli.

Inkunu b’saħħitna jekk ilkoll kemm aħna naġixxu b’mod responsabbli. Għandna nsegwu l-parir li ngħatajna biex preferibilment nibqgħu ġewwa. Mhux il-waqt la għal picnic, la għall-camping u wisq inqas għal mixjiet fil-kampanja inkella għall-kaċċa.

Hu ukoll opportun li nirrealizzaw li r-razziżmu jagħmel ħsara iktar mill-Covid19.

Matul il-ġimgħa ċ-Ċentru Miftuħ ta’ Ħal-Far tqiegħed taħt kwarantina u dan wara li madwar tmien residenti tiegħu kienu identifikati bħala posittivi għall-Covid19. Kienet opportunità oħra li r-razzisti fostna ippruvaw jisfruttaw biex ikesksu. Ftit huma konxji li l-komunità ta’ Ħal-Far hi fost dawk li huma mill-iktar vulnerabbli b’mod partikolari minħabba l-ispazju ffullat li tqegħdu fih. Kif spjegajt fil-blog tiegħi nhar it-Tlieta, tkun deċiżjoni għaqlija kieku din il-komunità ta’ Ħal-Far, waqt li għaddejja l-kriżi kurrenti, tkun tista’ tagħmel użu mill-lukandi li presentement huma vojta u li m’humiex jintużaw. Dan mhux biss ikun fl-interess tagħhom u ta’ saħħithom. Huwa ukoll fl-interess tagħna lkoll li jittieħdu l-passi kollha neċessarji biex tkun ikkontrollata iktar l-imxija tal-Covid19. Il-Gvern għandu l-awtorità kollha biex jieħu deċiżjoni ta’ din ix-xorta għax il-liġi tipprovdi għaliha. Iktar ma issir malajr iktar aħjar għax b’hekk ikun indirizzat wieħed mir-riskji l-kbar li jista’ jwassal għat-tixrid aċċellerat tal-Covid19.

Fuq livell ta’ Unjoni Ewropea id-dibattitu dwar il-ħidma li trid issir wara li tintemm il-kriżi Covid19 għaddej.

Hu fatt li b’mod ġenerali l-Unjoni Ewropeja ma kienitx imħejjija għall-wasla taI-Covid19 u l-emerġenza li rriżultat. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, fl-ewwel ġimgħat la l-Italja u l-anqas Spanja ma sabu l-appoġġ li tant kienu jeħtieġu. Dan wassal biex is-servizzi tas-saħħa f’dawn il-pajjiżi ma setgħux ilaħħqu biex jindirizzaw l-impatti tal-mixja tal-virus u kienu f’xifer il-kollass.

It-telf ta’ kull ħajja hi dejjem okkazjoni ta’ dieqa kbira. Imma meta din tkun frott ta’ nuqqas ta’ preparazzjoni adegwata tkun ukoll riżultat ta’ inkompetenza.

Id-dibattitu illum huwa ukoll dwar liema hi l-aħjar triq il-quddiem. Pajjiżi min-nofsinnhar tal-Ewropa, ewlenin fosthom l-Italja u Spanja, b’appoġġ tal-Ħodor u s-soċjal demokratiċi fil-grupp S & D, qed jargumentaw favur il-ħruġ ta’ coronabonds mill-Unjoni Ewropeja. Bonds li hu propost li jimmaturaw fit-tul u dan kemm biex jitnaqqsu l-ispejjes biex dawn ikunu amministrati kif ukoll biex ikun assigurat li l-piż jintrefa minn kulħadd.

Qed nikteb l-Erbgħa fil-ghaxija meta jidher li għad ma hemm l-ebda konklużjoni dwar dan kollu. Hi triq, iżda, li għandha twassal għal solidarjetà u mhux għal karità.

Is-solidarjetà mhiex taħt kwarantina. Hi t-triq il-quddiem kemm f’Malta kif ukoll fl-Ewropa. Wara kollox hi parti integrali mid-DNA tagħna.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 12 t’April 2020

Solidarity is not on quarantine

The COVID-19 outbreak has changed what we are worrying about. Old problems are still around but their relative importance has been overshadowed by the current crisis. Our health, both individual and collective, is endangered. The economy is at a standstill and specific sectors of the environment are slowly recovering.

As more sections of society grind to a halt on a voluntary or compulsory lockdown, as a precautionary measure, it is important to ensure that solidarity is not placed on quarantine.

Solidarity is essential to support each other, primarily the most vulnerable amongst us. It is also essential both for our survival and for the eventual recovery of the country. In the process we must emphasise that everyone is important and no one is to be left behind or on his/her own. We must ensure that when this crisis is over, we come out of it stronger and wiser.

The health authorities in Malta acted with reasonable caution when they acted early to plan for the COVID-19 outbreak. The gradual reduction of non-essential activity was also generally planned responsibly, with one exception. The opening of the spring hunting season planned for this weekend is uncalled for. The Ornis Committee was irresponsible when it recommended its opening and government should not have accepted its advice.

The hunting community missed an opportunity which could have depicted them in a different light. They confirmed once more that in the hunting leadership’s dictionary the term “responsibility” has no significance.

We will be stronger if all of us act responsibly. We are being advised to preferably remain indoors. It is not the time for picnics, camping, walks in the countryside or hunting.

It is also time to realise that racism is more damaging than COVID-19.

During the week the open centre at Ħal-Far was placed on quarantine after some eight of its residents tested positive for COVID-19. It was a ranting opportunity for the racists among us. Little do they realise that the Ħal-Far community is among the most vulnerable due to the over-crowded space they have been provided with. As I explained on my blog last Tuesday, it would be reasonable at this point to shift the Ħal-Far community to vacant hotels for the duration of the crisis. It is not only in the interest of the Ħal-Far community but also in our own interest so as to ensure that the spread of COVID-19 is further contained. Government has the full authority to proceed in this direction through existing legislation. The sooner this is done the better as this would be a very effective measure to contain a high risk area which could get out of hand and accelerate the spread of COVID-19.

On a European Union level the debate on the post-COVID-19 era is in full swing.
The COVID-19 outbreak found the EU inadequately prepared for the resulting emergency. As a result, in the initial weeks, Italy and Spain were not sufficiently supported and consequently their health services were overwhelmed and could not cope with the spread of the virus.

Loss of life is always regrettable. However, when this results from a lack of adequate preparation it is more a case of incompetence.

The current debate is on the best way forward. Southern European countries, primarily Italy and Spain, buttressed by the European Greens and the S & D, are arguing in favour of so-called coronabonds. The issuance would take the form of bonds with a long maturity, thereby alleviating debt servicing costs and burden-sharing among EU Member States. I am writing on Wednesday, when conclusions seem to be still far away. This should however follow a path of solidarity not one of charity.

Solidarity is not on quarantine. Solidarity is the way forward both on a national level as well as on an EU level. It is, after all, an essential element of our DNA.

 

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 12 April 2020

From the Farm to the Fork

 

 

The local vegetable and fruit supply chain was under the spotlight last month. On 12 October, environmental NGO Friends of the Earth Malta organised a round-table at Vincent’s Eco-Farm at Żebbiegħ and published Agro-Katina, the result of its research tracking the food we consume, from apricots to zucchini. The report can be downloaded at https://foemalta.org/wp-content/uploads/AgroKatina-Report.pdf .

Maltese agriculture is characterised by small farm holdings, with three quarters of registered farmers working an area less than one hectare. With a hectare covering ten thousand square metres, this means that most local agricultural holdings are slightly less than nine tumoli in size.

Agriculture contributes a miniscule amount to the GDP – less than two per cent – but it is, however, essential to ensure the preservation of the rural characteristics of the Maltese islands.

Even though we are far from self-sufficient, agriculture can increase our self-reliance, thereby reducing our vulnerability to outside shocks.

It has been observed in the report that specific localities are linked to specific products: Rabat and Dingli are linked with onions, pumpkin with the northern agricultural region – primarily Mosta, Mġarr and Mellieħa – with cauliflowers being linked to Siġġiewi and Żebbuġ.

The report refers to the introduction in the local market of long, dark-skinned zucchini contrasting with the local round (or long) varieties of a lighter shade. As consumers overcame their hesitancy to a new product introduced to the market, local farmers started experimenting with growing it locally and, to their surprise, discovered that this variety (commonly found in Sicily and Southern Italy) had the advantage of being well adapted to the local climate.

Seasonality is still an important factor in agricultural planning, even though this is gradually on the decline primarily as a result of the competition from imported products which are available throughout the year. This seasonality is rightfully observed in the various village celebrations focusing on the availability of specific products: Manikata (pumpkins) and Mgarr (strawberries) readily come to mind. They educate consumers and contribute to a better understanding and appreciation of agriculture’s contribution to the country.

The report briefly refers to the “local vs imported produce” issue. It is emphasised that it only takes around 24 hours for locally grown fruit and vegetables to travel from the farm to the fork, hence ensuring that they are fresh, ripe and in season. This is not only reflected in a fresh appearance but also in an unmistakable advantage in terms of natural flavour and nutritional value, compared to imported produce.

Agriculture is the main user of water in Malta. It is also the major polluter of our water table. A study carried out in 2008 by the British Geological Survey on the nitrate contamination in Malta’s groundwater, commissioned by the then Malta Resources Authority, concluded that groundwater nitrate had been stable for the last 30-40 years. Notwithstanding, this has resulted in the contraction of the agricultural sector in the same timeframe.

The challenges facing agriculture in the immediate future are various. Climate change and the water crisis top the list. The changes in weather patterns will undoubtedly be a major headache. This will necessarily impact the viability of some crops, maybe bringing about changes to the season/s during which these crops are available. It will also possibly create the conditions for new crops.

The average age of the farmer is now around 55 – and this is not just in Malta, but across the EU. There is a growing awareness that we may be close to losing our farming community, in fact the impact of this loss is already being felt as it is fairly obvious that there are substantially fewer people protecting our countryside on a day to day basis.

The distance between the farm and the fork is increasing.

This is not good news.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 12 November 2017

Comino: beyond sun-block and deckchairs

comino-mp-op-objective

During the past weeks, the island of Comino has been in the news. The controversy surrounding the deckchair/umbrella hawkers free-for-all at the Blue Lagoon focused on overcharging, breaching of permit conditions and the resulting lack of space for the public making use of public facilities at the beach.

Fines were imposed by the Malta Tourism Authority. This is fine (pun intended) in the short term. However, we need to plan for the long term, keeping in mind  that the island of Comino, is first and foremost a Natura 2000 site and a touristic destination second. Sites forming part of the Natura 2000 network are designated as Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protection Areas (SPA) according to the Habitats and Birds Directives of the European Union, where habitats and species are listed. The Directives are designated to provide protection to the most vulnerable of the species listed.

It has been stated that every day, at the peak of the summer season, as many as 5,000 visitors land on Comino, most of whom remain in the Blue Lagoon and its environs .

The Natura 2000 Management Plan for Comino published recently, considers that tourism at the Blue Lagoon needs to be controlled efficiently in order to ensure that it is “in harmony with the site’s conservation needs”. One of the measures which the Comino Management Plan establishes as an operational objective is “to plan and implement a tourism carrying capacity assessment of the Blue Lagoon”.

The Management Plan believes that the tourism carrying capacity assessment should be carried out within the first year of the plan’s implementation, which means pretty soon! The issue is of fundamental importance in ensuring that the activity permitted on the island of Comino is compatible with its ecological requirements.

It is not known whether this carrying capacity assessment has been carried out yet. If not it should be done at the earliest.

This is not the first time that Maltese authorities have been asked to consider a proposal to study the possibility of limiting access to a specific site for protection purposes. Around 12 years ago, after rehabilitation work carried out at the Hypogeum in Ħal-Salfieni was concluded, it was decided that there was an urgent need to control its microclimate in order to better protect this archeological jewel so a maximum limit of 80 visitors per day was established.

Various other countries place limits on tourism in order to better control its environmental impacts. There are various examples, but permit me to point to the Brazilian archipelago of Fernando de Noronha, 545 kilometres off the coastal city of Recife. The archipelago is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the number of visitors is restricted in order  to adequately protect its environmental patrimony. The environmental protection rules of the Brazilian archipelago of Fernando de Noronha go into such detail as to even forbid the use of sunprotection lotions/creams or even the use of footwear on the beach, as well as curtailing various other activities incompatible with the archipelago’s ecological characteristics!

It is a path we should consider following for Comino, if we are serious about protecting the little that we still have.

It is welcome news earlier this week as three of Malta’s environmental NGOs, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Friends of the Earth and Nature Trust, have endorsed the proposal for carrying out the capacity assessment of the Blue Lagoon at Comino. Comino deserves our protection. Implementing the Natura 2000 Management Plan for Comino would be a suitable first step.

And the sooner, the better.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 11 September 2016

Malta’s finch-trapping at the European Court of Justice

goldfinches and linnets

 

On May 1, 2013, Roderick Galdes, Parliamentary Secretary responsible for Hunting and Trapping announced that a technical loophole had been found “that would allow the Government to present proposals to the European Union to allow bird-trapping in autumn.” The European Commission has not been impressed and the loophole referred to by Roderick Galdes will shortly be examined by the European Court of Justice.

During the negotiations leading to Malta’s accession to the European Union, bird-trapping had been one of the areas referred to in the treaty itself. In fact, the Treaty of Adhesion provided for a transition period at the end of which bird- trapping in Malta was to cease permanently. The cut-off date was 31 December 2008.

This limited concession was subject to a number of conditions relative to the setting-up of a captive bird  breeding programme which was to be introduced by 30 June 2005 as well as to carry out various studies intended to establish the numbers and types of species held and bred in aviaries as well as their mortality rate and their replenishment to sustain the genetic diversity of the captive species.

All this was ignored, notwithstanding the fact that, way back in 2004, the authorities had  detailed advice as to how this was to be implemented.

This is the current state of play: the interpretation of the rules as accepted on the date of Malta’s EU adhesion.

 

Earlier this week, the Commission of the European Union decided to refer Malta to the European Court of Justice because Malta is not committed to end finch- trapping. The following was stated by the Commission in an explanatory press release:

“The case concerns Malta’s decision to allow the live capture (i.e. trapping) of seven species of wild finches as of 2014. In the EU, the capture and keeping of bird species like finches is generally prohibited. However, member states may derogate from the strict protection requirement if there is no other satisfactory solution, and if the derogation is used judiciously, with small numbers and strict supervision. As these conditions have not been met in this case, the Commission sent a letter of formal notice in October 2014, urging Malta to refrain from allowing finch-trapping. Despite this warning, Malta went ahead as planned with the opening of a finch-trapping season in 2014. In response, the Commission sent a reasoned opinion to Malta in May 2015, urging Malta to end the practice. Malta has replied, contesting the Commission’s analysis. Since Malta has not committed to end finch-trapping, the Commission has therefore decided to refer Malta to the Court of Justice of the EU.”

In a background note the Commission further noted:

“In Europe, many species of wild birds are in decline, and markedly so in some cases. This decline disturbs the biological balance and is a serious threat to the natural environment.The EU Directive on the conservation of wild birds aims to protect all species of wild birds that occur naturally in the Union. The Directive bans activities that directly threaten birds such as deliberate killing or capture, destruction of nests and removal of eggs, and associated activities such as trading in live or dead birds, with a few exceptions. It also places great emphasis on the protection of habitats for endangered and migratory species, especially through the establishment of a network of Special Protection Areas (SPAs).

Article 9 of the directive provides limited scope for derogations from the requirement of strict protection where there is no other satisfactory solution, for instance, in the interests of public health and safety or air safety, to prevent serious damage to crops, livestock, forests, fisheries and water, and for the protection of flora and fauna. Derogations may also be permitted for the purposes of research and teaching, repopulation, reintroduction and for the breeding necessary for these purposes.

Malta was allowed a transitional arrangement in the Accession Treaty to phase out the trapping of finches, taking into account the time required to establish a captive breeding programme. The transitional arrangement expired in 2008.

The case concerns the live capture of seven species: chaffinch, linnet, goldfinch, greenfinch, hawfinch, serin and siskin.”

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 27 September 2015

Il-prijorità li Joseph qatt ma kellu

Labour u l-Ambjent

Wara l-froġa tal-Cafè Premier, Joseph kien qalilna li l-affarijiet setgħu saru aħjar. Kien għadu qed jitgħallem!

Issa reġa’ għaffiġha.

Wara li s-soċjetà ċivili għal darba oħra semmgħet leħinha, Joseph qed jitlob li l-pubbliku jindikalu siti alternattivi fejn jista’ jpoġġi l-Universita “Amerikana”.  Qed iħokk rasu biex jara jsibx sit flok iż-Żonqor! Dan minkejja li gie dikjarat li intagħzlet l-art ODZ għax din tiswa’ inqas! Qalulna li kieku l-art tiswa’ iktar il-proġett ma jkunx vijabbli, jiġifieri l-investitur iħoss li ma jagħmilx biżżejjed qliegħ!

Fid-diskussjoni li għaddejja fil-pajjiż diġà ssemmew diversi siti. Uħud huma addattati iktar minn oħrajn!

Din x’serjetà hi li wara li tiddeċiedi u tkun ankè iffirmajt ftehim preliminari taparsi tikkonsulta? Konsultazzjoni bis-serjeta kienet tkun ferm differenti.  Gvern serju  kien jaħdem differenti.

Fuq is-sit elettroniku tal-uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru Muscat qed jitlob proposti mill-pubbliku għal siti alternattivi għaż-Żonqor liema siti jridu josservaw 5 kriterji :

  1. jkunu fis-“South”,
  2. jkunu użabbli bħala Università internazzjonali,
  3. li l-qies tal-proposti jkun ta’ madwar 90,000 metru kwadru, avolja l-Gvern lest li jikkunsidra li dawn ikunu mqassma fuq iktar minn sit wieħed,
  4. li biex titwassal l-infrastruttura neċessarja fis-sit identifikat ma jkunx hemm bżonn interventi kbar,
  5. li s-siti ma jkunux soġġetti għal protezzjoni ambjentali, b’mod partikolari protezzjoni li tirriżulta minn Direttivi Ewropej (jsemmi tlett eżempji: Habitats Directive, Birds Directive, Water Framework Directive).

Issa kieku Muscat nieda din il-konsultazzjoni qabel ma iddeċieda kont bla dubju ngħid li kien ikun pass tajjeb. Imma li mexa b’dan il-mod wara li l-opinjoni pubblika ġabitu dahru mal-ħajt, il-proċess  jista’ jkun deskritt biss bħala farsa.

 

Fi ftit kliem dan mhux eżerċiżżju ta’ konsultazzjoni, iżda wieħed ta’ damage control.  Joseph qed ifittex li jsewwi l-ħsara li għamel billi għal darba oħra għaffeġ. Għax nesa li suppost għall-Labour fil-Gvern l-ambjent kellu jkun prijorità.

Għax ngħiduha kif inhi issa ma setax jibqa’ jgħidilna li l-affarijiet setgħu saru aħjar. Għax it-tweġiba ovvja tkun: kemm ser iddum ma titgħallem?

Il-billboard ta’ Audrey Harrison hu ħafna l-bogħod mill-prijorità ta’ Joseph. Għax l-ambjent qatt ma kien prijorità ta’ Joseph. Kieku l-ambjent kien prijorità għal Joseph, kien jibda mill-ewwel fuq sieq tajba!

A future for the birds

sample ballot

 

Next Saturday we will be voting to give a future to the wild birds that migrate to Malta. By removing from Malta’s statute book the legal notice that permits the spring hunting of quail and turtle dove, Maltese voters will bring Malta in line with its obligations.

Nowhere does the Conservation of Wild Birds Directive of the European Union or Malta’s treaty of adhesion to the European Union permit spring hunting as a sport. The basic rules in the Directive, in fact,  prohibit the killing of wild birds in spring. The only permissible exceptions are related to aviation safety, the protection of public health and safety, and the prevention of serious damage to livestock, agricultural crops, fisheries and water as well as the protection of flora and fauna. Hunting as a sport does not feature anywhere in the list of reasons as a result of which a derogation from the duties spelt out in the EU Directive is permissible. It is a Directive that deals with the conservation of wild birds and not with hunting!

The Conservation of Wild Birds Directive of the European Union has been an integral part of Maltese law since – and as a result of – Malta’s  accession to the EU in 2004. It expressly states that EU Member States along migratory bird routes have a far greater responsibility for the conservation of wild birds. This  responsibility is very clearly spelled out in article 7(4) of the Directive, where it is stated that : “In the case of migratory species, [Member States] shall see in particular that the species to which hunting regulations apply are not hunted during their period of reproduction or during their return to their rearing grounds.” This applies to all bird migratory routes throughout  EU territory without exception.

Prohibiting spring hunting is not a question of numbers. It is not an issue of establishing a number of birds that can be shot without such a shoot-out having an impact on the bird population. It is an issue of principle. And there should be no playing around with principles. Wild birds require protection during the time of year when they are most vulnerable – in the period leading up to, and during,  the breeding season, that is spring.

Besides, the populations of both quail and turtle dove do not have a favourable conservation status in the EU and, as a result, are subject to  management plans. The aim of these management plans is to restore the species to a favourable conservation status. The EU management plan for quail, for example, specifically states that “Spring hunting that overlaps with the return migration or the start of breeding should not be permitted under any circumstances.”

The EU Management Plan for turtle dove, on the other hand, states: “of particular concern is hunting during the spring migration, which is practiced outside the EU and (illegally) in some other Mediterranean countries.”

This is the subject of the referendum: the future of wild birds in Malta in the spring.

There are, however, other issues that will be decided as a result of the 11 April referendum. Banning spring hunting on Maltese territory will remove a major obstacle which is impeding  access to the countryside to our families because of the dangers and arrogance of the men with the guns.  It will put the bullies roaming the countryside in the spring in their proper place.

This bullying is still going on, because in recent days we have had one of the leaders of the hunting lobby stating that, in the event of a victory for the NO vote in the referendum, the abolition of spring hunting might be contested. It comes as no surprise that the hunting lobby has no respect for the democratic will of Malta’s voters. Its members have repeatedly been sending clear signals that they are allergic to the democratic process. For years, they have  been holding  the parliamentary political parties to ransom. They have also presented a petition requesting the practical abolition of the right to call an abrogative referendum. Fortunately, the government had the good sense to ignore that petition!

A No vote on 11 April is hence also a vote on democracy. It will give a clear message to everyone of the ability of Maltese voters to decide. In the process it will liberate the parliamentary political parties from the clutches of their blackmailers.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 5 April 2015

The 11 April vote : not against hunters

 

kacca u voti

The issue to be decided upon on 11 April is whether Malta should accept or repeal the regulations that permit spring hunting.

In fact the question asked in the referendum is as follows : Do you agree that the provisions of the “Framework for Allowing a Derogation Opening a Spring Hunting Season for Turtle Dove and Quail Regulations” (Subsidiary Legislation 504.94) should continue in force?

On the 11 April we are expected to answer this question. A YES signifies agreement with spring hunting while a NO will abolish spring hunting from Malta’s statute book. It will also bring Malta in line with the Wild Birds Directive of the European Union.

The Wild Birds Directive is about the protection of biodiversity and not about facilitating hunting. As has been emphasised by university students on the campus this week, the focus of the referendum is sustainability. It is not about pleasing hunters but about our duties as a nation to protect wild birds. We have a duty, as a nation, to protect wild birds. We have a duty -all of us- to protect nature. In particular, we have a duty to prevent the loss of biodiversity.

Spring is the time when birds fly over Malta on their way to their breeding grounds. Malta, as one of the member states of the European Union along the route used by wild birds on their way to their rearing grounds, has a special responsibility to ensure that these birds are not hunted and can safely reach their destination.

The permissible exceptions are limited and very specific. These exceptions are known as “derogations”. The Wild Birds Directive permits the killing of wild birds during spring if these are a threat to aviation security. Likewise, the killing of wild birds in the spring is permissible if they are agricultural pests or else pose a sanitary threat. The Wild Birds Directive does not, in any way, permit the killing of birds for fun.

There are a number of inaccuracies being bandied around by the hunting lobby during this referendum campaign. They state, for example, that Malta has negotiated a derogation relative to spring hunting.  This is incorrect. No EU member has negotiated, or can negotiate, any spring hunting derogation. Derogations are not designed to suite the interests of individual states and the rules regulating such derogations are spelt out clearly and are applicable to all member states in equal measure.

The decision of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in 2009 is also being grossly misinterpreted and quoted out of context. The ECJ decision does not in any way condone spring hunting. It does, in fact, chastise Malta for infringing the Wild Birds Directive during the period 2004-2007 and concludes that, by authorising spring hunting of quails and turtle doves  from 2004 to 2007, Malta has failed to comply with the Wild Birds Directive. (ECJ decision C-76/08 dated 9 September 2009) The reports on the derogations unilaterally taken by the Maltese government to permit spring hunting from 2008 to date are still being evaluated by the European Commission.

These are briefly the issues which the 11 April will decide. As a direct consequence of abolishing spring hunting, in addition to shouldering our responsibilities as a nation to protect wild birds during their breeding time we will have the added benefit of reclaiming the countryside during spring.

This abrogative referendum is a democratic tool which is being utilised for the first time by civil society in Malta. It is being used because, over the years, the parliamentary political parties preferred to listen to the hunting lobby which repeatedly warned them: “No hunting no vote”   and had them on a leash.

Maybe this time they will take heed, that even environmentalists have a vote.  It is not a vote against hunters, but a vote in favour of wild birds and their protection. It is a vote in favour of our environment and in favour of Malta .

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 22nd March 2015