Il-mużika ta’ matul il-lejl

Ir-ritratti mis-satellita juru kemm hu kbir it-tniġġiż mid-dawl f’Malta. Fil-fatt, dan hu komparabbli mat-tniġġiż miż-żoni urbani fil-kontinent Ewropew! It-tniġġiż mid-dawl ma jħallix li nisimgħu l-mużika ta’ matul il-lejl. Joħnoqha u jżommna milli napprezzaw is-sbuħija tal-lejl li bil-mod jurina dak li jostor. Hekk jemfasizza l-Ħares tal-Opra (Phantom of the Opera) fix-xogħol tejatrali kapulavur ta’ Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Xi snin ilu waqt dibattitu dwar il-baġit ġie varat proġett biex id-dwal tat-toroq ikun ikkontrollat b’mod elettroniku. Proġett li meta jkun implimentat għandu jkun ta’ kontribut sostanzjali biex fil-gżejjer Maltin jonqos it-tniġġiż mid-dawl. Imma sfortunatament ftit li xejn smajna dwar xi progress seta’ kien hemm dwar din il-materja mill- 2013 lil hawn, meta tħabbar il-proġett.

Id-dawl eċċessiv użat matul il-lejl mhux biss hu użu ħażin u ineffiċjenti tal-enerġija imma jagħti kontribut konsegwenzjali għal emissjonijiet tal-karbonju li jistgħu jkunu evitati. B’dan il-ħajja fin-natura tul il-lejl qed tiġi ddisturbata u potenzjalment ukoll hi kawża għal ħsara lis-saħħa umana.

Fl-2007, il-Birdlife f’Malta ippubblikat studju dwar l-impatt tad-dwal bil-lejl fuq l-għasafar li jgħixu fl-irdumijiet u qrib il-baħar kif ukoll speċi oħra li jpassu bil-lejl. L-istudju hu intitolat Light Pollution and its effects on Yelkouan Shearwaters in Malta; causes and solutions. Il-kuntest tal-istudju kien proġett fl-iskema EU Life fl-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa fl-inħawi magħruf bħala l-Irdum tal-Madonna, sit li hu kolonja tal-garni, għasfur li jgħix mal-baħar.

L-osservazzjonijiet fir-rapport u s-soluzzjonijiet proposti jistgħu faċilment iservu ta’ bażi għal pjan ta’ azzjoni biex fil-gżejjer Maltin nibdew nindirizzaw bis-serjetà t-tniġġiż mid-dawl billi dan f’Malta mhux biss hu ta’ theddida għall-garnija (Yelkouan Shearwater)imma ukoll kawża ta’ emissjonijiet ta’ karbonju bla bżonn u theddida għall-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll.

Bħala riżultat tad-densità qawwija ta’ popolazzjoni, t-tniġġiż mid-dawl matul il-lejl għandu impatt konsiderevoli kemm fuq iż-żoni urbani kif ukoll fuq dawk rurali tal-gżejjer Maltin. Ekologikament għandu impatt fuq l-għasafar, friefet u insetti kif ukoll friefet il-lejl imma ukoll fuq l-imġieba tal-annimali b’mod ġenerali. Lil hinn mill-ħajja naturali, it-tniġġiż mid-dawl joħloq leħħ qawwi li jweġġa’ l-għajn u li għandu impatt fuq is-sigurtà fis-sewqan. Jeffettwa lil min isuq, lil min jimxi, kif ukoll lil min juża’ r-rota u jagħti kontribut mhux żgħir fl-inċidenti tat-traffiku li jseħħu matul il-lejl.

Il-każ dwar it-tniġġiż mid-dawl fid-Dwejra deċiż mit-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni dwar l-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar nhar is-27 ta’ Ġunju hu każ rari fejn deċiżjoni tajba tal-Kummissjoni għall-Kontroll tal-Iżvilupp tinbidel mit-Tribunal fl-appell: ġeneralment bil-maqlub jiġri. Meta jinbidlu, s-soltu jkunu d-deċiżjonijiet il-ħżiena li jinbidlu, mhux dawk tajbin! Fil-fatt il-Kummissjoni għall-Kontroll ta’ l-Iżvilupp kienet irrifjutat l-applikazzjoni oriġinali minħabba li l-inħawi tad-Dwejra huma żona ta’ importanza ekologika. Sfortunatament it-Tribunal ittratta it-tniġġiż mid-dawl b’mod leġġer u kien insensittiv għall-impatti ekoloġiċi.

Li l-15-il għaqda ambjentali ngħaqdu biex jiġbru l-fondi ħalli tkompli l-ġlieda b’appell fil-Qrati hu pass tajjeb ‘il-quddiem. Il-ħarsien tas-siti tan-Natura 2000 hi għadma iebsa, imma jeħtieġ li jibqa’ għaddej. Imma li jsir appell minn din id-deċiżjoni skandaluża tat-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni tal-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar għandu jkun biss l-ewwel pass.

Għandna nirrejalizzaw li l-Awtorità għall-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi għandha l-poter u l-awtorità taħt id-Direttiva Ewropea dwar l-abitati li mhiex tagħmel użu tagħhom sewwa. L-ERA għandha tasserixxi ruħha u tenforza r-regoli, u jekk hemm bżonn tibqa’ għaddejja minn fuq l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar kif tista’ u għandha tagħmel kull meta dan ikun neċessarju.

Ikun ferm aħjar kieku l-Ministru għall-Ambjent jinsisti mal-ERA biex din tieħu ħsieb iż-żoni ekoloġiċi sewwa. Ovvjament għandu jassigura li jkunu ipprovduti riżorsi adegwati.

Il-kaz tad-Dwejra hu każ speċifiku li fih l-ERA tista’ tieħu l-mazz f’idejha. X’ser tagħmel?

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 7 ta’ Lulju 2019

 

 

 

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The music of the night

Satellite photos clearly indicate the extent of light pollution in Malta: it is comparable to that in most urban areas in the European continent. As a result, the music of the night is made inaudible. The night is being “impeded from unfurling its splendour”, as the Phantom of the Opera repeatedly emphasises in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s masterpiece.

Some years back, during the budget debate, a project related to intelligent street lighting was launched. When implemented, such a project would be an effective contribution to the reduction of light pollution all over the Maltese islands. Unfortunately, we have not heard of any substantial progress on the matter since late 2013, when the project was first announced.

Excessive artificial lighting used during the night is not only an inefficient use of energy, and the consequential contribution to additional carbon emissions which can be avoided, it is also a disturbance of nocturnal animal life and potentially injurious to human health.

Way back in 2007, Birdlife in Malta had published a study on the impact of night lighting on seabirds and nocturnal migrant species. The study is entitled Light Pollution and its effects on Yelkouan Shearwaters in Malta; causes and solutions. The context of the study is the EU Life project site at l-Aħrax in Mellieħa, in the area known as l-Irdum tal-Madonna, the site of a seabird colony.

The observations made and the solutions proposed in the study could easily form the basis for an action plan applicable to all of the Maltese islands to address light pollution because, in Malta, this is a serious problem not just for shearwaters but also in terms of carbon emissions and our quality of life.

As a result of Malta’s high population density, nocturnal light pollution has a considerable impact on both urban and rural areas all over the Maltese Islands. Ecologically, it has an impact on birds, moths and bats but it also has a considerable impact on animal behaviour in general. Beyond wildlife, light pollution creates glare which is a road safety issue and has an impact on drivers, pedestrians and cyclists and is known to play a considerable part in nocturnal traffic accidents.

The Dwejra light pollution case decided by the Environment and Planning Revision Tribunal on the 27 June is a rare case when a sensible decision was taken by the Planning Control Commission only for it to be reversed on appeal: normally it is the other way round! In fact, the Planning Control Commission had refused the original application on the basis that the Dwejra area is an area of ecological importance. Unfortunately, the Tribunal treated the issue of light pollution very lightly and was insensitive to its ecological impacts.

The coming together of fifteen environmental NGOs to crowd-fund the fight on appeal in Court is a good step forward. Protecting Natura 2000 sites is a tough fight but it needs to go on. Appealing against the scandalous decision of the Environment and Planning Revision Tribunal should, however, only be a first step. It should be realised that the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) has powers and authority under the provisions of the EU Habitats Directive that it does not make sufficient use of. The ERA should assert itself and enforce the rules, bulldozing through the Planning Authority whenever this is necessary.

It would be much better if the Hon. Minister for the Environment insists that the ERA manages areas of ecological importance appropriately. Obviously, he must ensure that adequate resources are provided.

This Dwejra case is a specific example of where the ERA can have the final word. Will it?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 7 July 2019

The mauling of Dwejra : an environmental crime

 

Some would have formed the opinion that the basic information on the Dwejra debacle is known to all.

Not quite, I would say.

MEPA issued a permit containing The Consent Conditions relative to a number of sites in Malta and Gozo to be used for filming parts of the tele-serial “Game of Thrones”. One of the sites was at Dwejra Gozo.

Two site specific conditions applicable to Dwejra (conditions 23 and 24 of The Consent Conditions) refer to Areas of Ecological Importance and Sites of Scientific Importance. These are terms used by the Structure Plan to classify the protection afforded to areas of conservation (Structure Plan Policies RCO 1, RCO 2 and RCO 3). Given that the Dwejra site is a Special Area of Conservation I searched and noted that in The Consent Conditions there is no reference whatsoever to Special Areas of Conservation rules and policies, regulated in terms of the Habitats Directive of the EU which was transposed into Maltese law through Legal Notice 311 of 2006 (Flora, Fauna and Natural Habitats Protection Regulations 2006).

This leads to the logical conclusion that the consent issued by MEPA for the use of the Dwejra site to film part of the tele-serial “Game of Thrones” was only processed in terms of land use planning considerations. Environmental considerations are completely absent: they were completely ignored. The Consent Conditions being a written proof  of this.

Planning vs Environment

During the national debate as to whether it made sense to have land use planning and environment protection forming part of the same authority the Gonzi-Demarco duo  always insisted that MEPA dealing with both would lead to having a much better protection of the environment. Coordination, it was said, was the name of the game. In practice we are faced with something else: land use planning considerations are ruling the day and environmental considerations are being continuously sidelined. The Dwejra case being a typical example.

 

The Species Data Form

Dwejra was included as a Nature 2000 site and consequently as a Special Area of Conservation by the European Union at the request of the Maltese Government which also supplied the detailed justification as to why the area should be protected. The scientific reasons justifying the selection of the site as a Special Area of Conservation are available on the Species Data Form which MEPA had submitted to the EU on behalf of the Government of Malta some years back. An electronic copy is available at the EU website.

EU LIFE+  financial support

In 2003, given the importance of the protection afforded to the site the EU through its LIFE+ Fund  supported a conservation project for the area headed by Nature Trust Malta then in partnership with MEPA and WWF Italy. The EU forked out €324,000 of the EU taxpayers’ money.

Permissible Activity

Permissible activity in a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) is a very delicate matter. It is regulated primarily by regulations 18 and 19 of Legal Notice 311 of 2006.

Regulation 18 establishes that a permit is necessary for any activity in an SAC. It also determines who needs to be notified.

Regulation 19 goes in detail and establishes the parameters within which MEPA as the Competent Authority can act. When the consent required is not related to the management of the SAC and it is likely to have a significant effect thereon, MEPA or the applicant is to carry out “an appropriate assessment of the implications of the operation or activity on the site in view of the site’s conservation objectives”.

Legitimate question

After having ascertained, through the assessment, that the integrity of the site is not affected MEPA is required to obtain and take into account “the opinion of the general public and representations made”.  This means that the assessment carried out has to be subject to a public consultation.

In view of the above it is legitimate to ask: was an appropriate assessment carried out? And further, when was this appropriate assessment subjected to the scrutiny of the public in order that representations could be made by the public as well as environmental NGOs?

I am not aware as to whether an appropriate assessment was carried out and hence nor am I aware as to its possible conclusions. However if this assessment was carried out I do not recollect that it was subjected to public consultation.  Nor have any of the environmentalists with whom I have discussed the matter any recollection of this public consultation ever taking place.

The public interest

Regulation 19 of Legal Notice 311/2006 further specifies what is to be done if the appropriate assessment results in negative implications for the SAC site. In such cases MEPA as the Competent Authority may only give its consent to the activity “for imperative reasons of overriding public interest …… of a social or economic nature.”  These reasons are defined as relating to human health, public safety, or beneficial consequences of primary importance for the environment or other reasons which in the opinion of the EU Commission are imperative reasons of overriding public interest.   

The consent must be accompanied by “compensatory measures necessary to ensure that the overall coherence of Natura 2000 is protected.”  The EU Commission is furthermore to be informed of these compensatory measures taken by the Competent Authority.

MEPA’s responsibilities

To date the public has been informed in detail as to how the conditions of the permit which MEPA issued to Fire and Blood Productions were not observed. The public is aware that Fire and Blood Productions has apologised for the damage caused but shifted the blame onto its Gozitan sub-contractor.

This only explains one small part of the saga. No one has yet commented as to how MEPA has contributed to the debacle when it is crystal clear that it is precluded from issuing a permit for the Dwejra site in terms of the provisions of the Habitats Directive.

MEPA as the Competent Authority has the duty to ensure that the provisions of the Habitat’s Directive of the EU are observed to the letter. As explained above, through its actions MEPA has ignored both the letter and the spirit of the Habitats Directive.

This leads me to conclude that the damage caused to the SAC was not caused just by the Gozitan sub-contractor acting on behalf of Fire and Blood Productions. Through its lack of observance of the provisions of Legal Notice 311/2006 MEPA has made it much easier for damage to be inflicted onto the Dwejra SAC. Instead of protecting the environment the now reformed MEPA has facilitated its damage.

This is an environmental crime for which persons having a name and a surname are directly and personally responsible.                        

Accountability

It is time to translate words into action.

I hope that investigations currently in hand will identify the names of those responsible in order that they may be requested to account for both their actions as well as their inaction which have led to the Dwejra SAC mauling.

In a country where the organs of the state are bursting at the seams with lawyers one may sometimes assume that in Malta the rule of law is strictly observed. Such incidents prove that one is grossly mistaken in making such assumptions.    

Environmental legislation must be adhered to first of all by the state. If the state through its institutions ignores environmental legislation how do we expect Joe Bloggs to respect it?

The EU has given us the tools to hold decision takers to account. This is a reason why a large number of environmentalists voted in favour of Malta’s accession to the EU. It is the only way to save what’s left of our heritage.

Published in the Environment Supplement of  The Malta Independent on Sunday,   November 21, 2010