It-Tibdil fil-Klima: wara t-twissja ta’ Covid-19

 

Il-virus Covid-19 beżbiżna waħda sew u ħarbat il-ħidma ta’ kulħadd. Imma ħdejn l-impatti antiċipati tat-tibdil tal-klima dan hu kollu logħob tat-tfal li dwaru Covid-19 jista’ jitqies bħala prova parzjali. Twissija li forsi tiftħilna ftit għajnejna.

F’Pariġi fis-7.25pm ta’ nhar it-12 ta’ Diċembru 2015, 5,000 delegat li kienu qed jirrappreżentaw 195 pajjiż, unanimament aċċettaw l-evidenza dwar l-impatti tal-klima. Huma għażlu t-triq għall-futur.

Nhar il-25 ta’ Frar 2020 Christiana Figueres u Tom Rivette-Carnac ippreżentawna b’publikazzjoni li għandha tkun ta’ interess kbir. Hi intitolata “The Future We Choose. Surviving the Climate Crisis.” Christiana Figueres, li magħha hu assoċjat il-ftehim ta’ Pariġi, kienet tmexxi l-Aġenzija tal-Ġnus Magħquda inkarigata mit-Tibdil fil-Klima (UNFCC) bħala Segretarju Eżekuttiv. Tom Rivette-Carnac kien l-istrateġista ewlieni tagħha inkarigat biex jaħdem dwar l-appoġġ minn utenti (mhux Gvernijiet) li kienu nteressati f’dan il-ftehim li kien ilu jinħema s-snin.

Wara l-qbil dwar it-triq li setgħet twassal għal bidla, biex il-kliem miktub ikun trasformat f’azzjoni konkreta hu dejjem sfida. L-għażliet quddiemna huma ċari.

L-attitudni li qiesu mhu jiġri xejn (business as usual) twassal biex it-temperatura medja globali, li diġa qabżet bi grad wieħed Celsius it-temperatura medja ta’ qabel żmien ir-rivoluzzjoni industrijali, tista’ tiżdied b’madwar 4 sa 5 gradi Celsius. L-impatti ta’ żieda bħal din ikunu katastrofiċi. Riżultat ta’ żieda fit-temperatura globali f’xi reġjuni jkun impossibli li persuna toqgħod barra fl-apert għal ħin twil. Ħtija ta’ hekk partijiet mid-dinja isiru mhux abitabbli. Iż-żieda fit-temperatura tkompli taċċellera id-dewbien tas-silġ fil-poli u ħtija t’hekk il-livell tal-ibħra jibqa’ jiżdied. Il-komunitajiet mal-kosta jkunu taħt theddida kontinwa. L-impatti fuq l-infrastruttura kostali kifukoll fuq kull attività mal-kosta jkunu sostanzjali.

It-tibdil fil-kundizzjonijiet atmosferiċi jżidu x-xita intensiva f’żoni u nixfa tqarqaċ f’żoni oħra. Il-maltemp iżid kemm fil-frekwenza kif ukoll fl-intensità u l-ħerba assoċjata miegħu tikber bil-bosta kif naraw spiss diġa f’diversi partijiet tad-dinja.

Il-konklużjonijiet ta’ Pariġi jfissru li l-komunità internazzjonali għarfet u àccettat l-evidenza xjentifika akkumulata dwar it-tibdil fil-klima. F’Pariġi kien hemm qbil li kull pajjiż kellu jidentifika sensiela ta’ wegħdiet li kellu jwettaq fl-isforz globali biex tkun indirizzata l-kawża tat-tibdil fil-klima. Wegħdiet li għandhom ikunu aġġornati kull ħames snin. Il-wegħdiet reġistrati s’issa, anke kieku kellhom jitwettqu kollha, m’humiex biżżejjed biex iż-żieda fit-temperatura globali ma taqbiżx iż-żewġ gradi Celsius, u preferibilment mhux iktar minn grad u nofs Celsius, kif insistew il-komunitajiet ta’ mal-kosta kif ukoll il-gżejjer li mhumiex wisq il-fuq mil-livell tal-baħar. Bejn il-kliem u l-fatti, hemm baħar jikkumbatti.

Sal-2030 l-emissjonijiet globali jeħtieġ li jonqsu b’mhux inqas min-nofs biex jintlaħqu l-miri stabiliti f’Pariġi. Sal-2050, min-naħa l-oħra jrid jintlaħaq l-istatus ta’ karbonju żero. Biex jintlaħqu dawn il-miri essenzjali Christiana Figueres u Tom Rivett-Carnac jagħmlu użu minn diversi proposti li saru tul is-snin. Il-bidla meħtieġa hi waħda enormi: hi bidla li tant hi kbira li taqleb ta’ taħt fuq kważi kull ħaġa li jmmissu jdejna.

Tirrikjedi bidliet radikali dwar kif ngħixu, kif naħdmu u kif niċċaqalqu minn post għall-ieħor. Tibdil f’dak li nikkunsmaw kif ukoll kemm dwar dak li nipproduċu kif ukoll dwar il-mod kif nipproduċuħ.

Il-wasla fuqna għall-għarrieda tal-kriżi Covid-19 tatna togħma żgħira ta’ xi tibdil essenzjali. Ix-xogħol b’mod virtwali għandu, bla dubju, jkun element permanenti dwar il-mod kif naħdmu. M’għandux ikun eċċezzjoni ta’ natura temporanja. L-edukazzjoni ukoll għandha tingrana iktar fid-direzzjoni tat-tagħlim virtwali b’mod permanenti.

L-ivvjaġġar mhux essenzjali għandu jkun skoraġġit fuq bażi permanenti. Fejn meħtieġ l-ivvjaġġar għandu jsir b’mezzi sostenibbli. Dan m’għandux ikun limitat għall-elettrifikazzjoni tal-karozzi, wara li jkunu tnaqqsu drastikament fin-numru, imma għandu jinkludi tnaqqis sostanzjali tal-ajruplani. Għax l-azzjoni dwar it-tibdil fil-klima jfisser li l-ivvjaġġar bl-ajru (inkluż it-turiżmu) kif nafuh sal-lum m’għandux futur. L-ivvjaġġar bl-ajru jiġi jiswa’ ferm iktar mil-lum kemm-il darba l-impatti ambjentali sostanzjali tiegħu ikunu riflessi fl-ispejjes reali.

Jekk inħarsu fit-tul l-iżvilupp intensiv tal-infrastruttura tat-toroq mhi ser isservi l-ebda skop. Inqas karozzi fit-toroq ikun ifisser ukoll impatti konsiderevoli fuq l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art. Inqas karozzi jfisser inqas ħtieġa għal parkeġġ u garaxxijiet u iktar spazju għan-nies. Ikun wasal iż-żmien li fl-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna r-reżidenti jiġu mill-ġdid qabel il-karozzi. Dejjem, mhux kultant.

Jeħtieġ li napprezzaw u nagħmlu użu iktar minn prodotti agrikoli lokali. Imma anke l-prezz tal-prodotti agrikoli għandhom jirriflettu l-impatti ambjentali sostanzjali li jinħolqu biex il-biedja tagħti r-riżultati. L-ispiża tal-produzzjoni tal-laħam u tal-prodotti derivati mill-ħalib, per eżempju, ma tkunx waħda żgħira jekk din tinkludi l-impatti ambjentali tal-produzzjoni. Fil-fatt, Christiana u Tom, jistqarru li l-ikel fl-2050 hu għali minħabba li jeħtieġ riżorsi ta’ valur biex il-produzzjoni tiegħu tkun possibli. “L-ilma. Il-ħamrija. L-għaraq. Il-ħin.” Hu ċar li jekk irridu nimplimentaw bis-serjetà l-ftehim ta’ Pariġi l-Politika Komuni kurrenti dwar l-Agrikultura m’għandhiex futur.

L-impatti tal-Covid-19 huma logħob tat-tfal meta wieħed jara sewwa x’hemm lest għalina bħala riżultat tat-tibdil fil-klima. Fid-dawl tat-tibdil fil-klima hemm soluzzjoni prattika waħda: bidla radikali fil-mod kif ngħixu, naħdmu u nqattgħu l-ħin liberu. Permezz tal-Covid-19 in-natura tatna twissija ċara. Jekk dan ninjorawh m’hemm ħadd f’min nistgħu nwaħħlu.

Pubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 10 ta’ Mejju 2020

Climate Change: after the Covid-19 rehearsal

Covid-19 virus has rattled each one of us, throwing all into unprecedented turmoil. This is however child’s play when contrasted with the anticipated impacts of climate change in respect of which Covid-19 may be considered as a rehearsal or a minor drill!

In Paris, at 7.25pm on 12 December 2015, five thousand delegates representing 195 nations unanimously accepted irrefutable evidence on the impacts of climate change and selected a pathway for the future.

On 25 February 2020 Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivette-Carnac presented us with a riveting publication entitled “The Future We Choose. Surviving the Climate Crisis.” Christiana Figueres, public face of the Paris agreement, was the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework for Climate Change (UNFCC). Tom Rivette-Carnac was her Chief Political Strategist. He joined the effort to advance the Paris Agreement negotiations, mobilising support from a wide range of stakeholders outside national governments.

After selecting the pathway which could lead to change, transforming words into action can be quite a challenge. The options we face are unequivocal.

Business as usual would signify that the current mean global temperature, which is already around 1 degree Celsius above average temperatures before the industrial revolution, can warm up by 4 to 5 degrees Celsius. The impacts of such an increase in global temperature would be catastrophic.

Increasingly, in some regions, as a result of an increase in global temperature it would be impossible to stay outdoors for a length of time. Parts of the earth will, as a result, become uninhabitable. The increased temperatures at the poles will accelerate the melting of the polar ice-caps, as a result further increasing the rise in sea-level. Coastal communities will be under threat and all coastal activity and infrastructure will be severely impacted.

The change in atmospheric conditions will increase precipitation in areas and drought in others. The frequency and intensity of storms and the resulting havoc will multiply as is already evident in the various parts of the globe.

The Paris summit conclusions signified that the international community has recognised and accepted the accumulated scientific evidence on climate change. In Paris it was agreed that each individual country will identify and communicate its pledges through which they will participate in the global effort to address the causes of the change in climate. These pledges have to be updated every five years. The pledges registered so far, even if adhered to, are however insufficient to limit warming to well below two degrees Celsius, and preferably to not more than one and a half degrees Celsius, in line with the expectation of communities spread along coastal areas and low-lying islands. Much more is required to walk the talk.

To achieve the Paris targets global emissions must be reduced by not less than half not later than 2030. We must attain a carbon neutral status by not later than the year 2050.
In order to reach these essential targets Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac draw on the various proposals which have been made to date. They emphasise that the change required is significant: a change of this magnitude, they emphasise, would require major transformations in all that we do. It would require radical changes as to how we live, work and travel, along with changes to what we consume as well as to how and what to produce.

The sudden advent of the Covid-19 crisis has given a minor hint of some of the changes.
Telework must be a permanent component of our method of operation and not a temporary exception. Education can and should contain a more permanent online component.

Non-essential travel should be curtailed on a permanent basis. Where necessary, travelling should use sustainable means. This does not only include electrification of our cars, after drastically reducing their numbers, but also a substantial reduction of aeroplanes from our skies permanently. Acting on climate change means that tourism as currently practised has no future. Air travel will become quite costly if its considerable environmental impacts are internalised.

On a long-term basis the current intensive development of our road infrastructure also serves no purpose. Fewer cars on our roads will also signify extensive land use planning impacts. Local communities can then reclaim back our roads. With fewer cars there will be less need of parking space and/or garages. Our towns and villages may then be planned for residents, not for cars.

We need to appreciate and make full use of local agricultural products. However, agriculture must internalise its substantial environmental costs. The cost of production of meat and dairy products, for example, would be substantial if their environmental impacts are internalised. Christiana and Tom, comment that in 2050 food is expensive because it requires valuable resources to produce. “Water. Soil. Sweat. Time.” Clearly the current Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union has no future once we seriously start implementing the conclusions of the Paris agreement.

The impacts of Covid-19 are child’s play when considering the long-term impacts of climate change. Faced with climate change we have one practical option: a radical change in how we live, work and play. The Covid-19 rehearsal is nature’s clear warning. We ignore it at our peril.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 10 May 2020

From plastic to seaweed: having nature as an industrial partner

The EU Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy was adopted in January. The strategy addresses the challenges posed by the use of plastics throughout their life cycle: that is, from the initial stages of production until the end of their useful life. This strategy lays the foundations for a new plastics economy, where the design and production of plastics and plastic products fully respect reuse, repair and recycling needs, resulting in more sustainable materials being developed and promoted.

One of the problem areas is that of single use plastics, that is plastic products which are thrown away after being used just once, increasing the amount of the waste generated and going to landfill exponentially.

In those countries which appreciate the value of research, efforts are under way to encourage the identification of alternative sustainable materials. In this respect, being sustainable signifies not only reducing the waste produced and thrown away but also ensuring that the waste generated by the alternatives identified is minimised and possibly eliminated. Wishful thinking?

One such alternative material being currently researched is seaweed. A start-up company based in London is pioneering the use of natural materials extracted from plants and seaweed, thereby aiming at creating packaging with a very low environmental impact. The use of seaweed as a raw material could possibly create waste-free alternatives to plastic bottles, cups, plates, knives, forks ……….

Bio-based news quotes the researcher thus: “You use a coffee cup for half an hour maximum and then it’s going to be in the environment for probably 700 years. That’s a big mismatch in terms of use and shelf life”.

The coffee cups we use are lined with oil-based waxes in order to prevent liquids from seeping out. This creates difficulties when the cups are thrown away as they take a long time to decompose. Using a seaweed-based extract creates a sustainable alternative as it can decompose in about four to six weeks: compare this to 700 years! Moreover, seaweed is cheap and easy to harvest. It is also easily available along and not far from our coastline. In addition, it is one of the fastest growing organisms on earth. Some types of seaweed can grow up to fifty centimetres per day!

What are we waiting for? Some apparently are not aware that we have an abundance of seaweed in Maltese waters!

Isn’t it about time that we have a sustainable industrial policy? That is, an industrial policy which encourages the environmentally friendly production of goods.

Our industrial policy should work in tandem and be synchronised with a sustainable development strategy seeking to create wealth hand in hand with the protection of nature. This article focuses on one tiny example which, if properly dealt with, could have considerable impacts. I list a basic three: a sustainable use of our natural resources, addressing plastic waste in particular single use plastic, laying the foundation for a sustainable industrial policy.

Unfortunately, the politics of sustainable development is being ignored. Cabinet Ministers do not have an idea of the dormant potential of nature. Is it not about time that our economic activity works in tandem with nature instead of against it? What is the use of having interminable speeches on the circular economy, the blue economy and sustainable development if we cannot translate words into action? Nature is our industrial partner kept waiting at the doors of opportunity.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 25 November 2018

Common sense at Buleben

The farmers at Buleben have been served with an evacuation order because the land they have tilled for generations is required to make way for the construction of new factories. We are told that our economy needs the land for factories. We also need our fields for agriculture and too much has already been lost!

We have been there before. One hectare after another is being gobbled up by concrete or tarmac. At Buleben, they want to enlarge the industrial estate. In other localities, roads, new residential development or hotels are planned instead of protecting agricultural land. Lately, we gave witnessed a never ending list of applications for petrol stations. There also seems to be an on-going competition of high-rise development: contrasting phallic symbols of all shapes and sizes.

Undeveloped land is under continuous siege.

In this specific case, the government through Malta Industrial Parks Limited is the developer and, like some of the other developers, at times it too tries to ride roughshod over one and all.

Do we consider this as progress? We need to stop and reflect on the consequences of the considerable damage which is piling up. Is anybody considering these impacts?

The expansion of the industrial estate was planned many years ago, as far back as the late 1960s when the then newly set up Malta Development Corporation embarked on the development of industrial estates. Fortunately, not all land available was then developed. However, agricultural rents from farmers in the area have not been accepted since then. They have now received their marching orders and must be gone within one month!

Ta’ Buleben, was always considered as an extremely fertile agricultural area. Erin Serracino Inglott in his dictionary Miklem Malti explains that the word Buleben means “the owner of herds producing large quantities of milk”. When agriculture was the principal economic activity, it was of paramount importance to be able to farm land which yielded abundant harvests.

The land at Buleben is owned by the government. It can argue that there is insufficient space for existing industrial estates to expand. The government could also inform us that an industrial estate which could have been put to use instead of the Buleben one was that of Ricasoli. But in the meantime, the Ricasoli Industrial Estate was given over for speculation by a previous government which ignored the need for more space for industrial use. Such reasoning would be correct. However pointing at yesterday’s serious mistakes to try to justify today’s shortcomings would not solve anything. We are still shouldered with the responsibility to take care of what’s left of society’s assets.

This is what the Zejtun NGO Wirt iż-Żejtun led by Architect Reuben Abela is doing. Even Żejtun requires and deserves protection. It is definitely a step forward that more of our fellow Maltese are voicing their concerns about protecting our national heritage.

As emphasised by Wirt iż-Żejtun, it is possible to address the need to provide more space for factories without taking up more agricultural land. We should take note that the Local Plan for the South, approved twelve years ago, included a declaration on the need to provide protection to agricultural land in the surroundings that contain a large number of protected carob trees which have graced the area for possibly hundreds of years.

It would be pertinent if we remember that  Punic remains were discovered in the Buleben area some years ago and it would be realistic to expect that more archeological remains could be uncovered if more land is disturbed.

Another important consideration concerns the proximity of the proposed industrial estate extension to the residential area of Ġebel San Martin at Żejtun. The proposed factories will be too close to the residential area. I have not seen the drawings of the proposed development, as they have not been made available. However, NGO Wirt iż-Żejtun is on record as stating that only a few tens of metres would actually separate the residential from the industrial.

When one considers that the existing industrial estate is already a cause of nuisance, acoustic primarily, throughout the day, this signifies not only that this nuisance will increase but that it would also be made worse.

At the time of writing this article, Members of Parliament elected on behalf of the Labour Party from the Third Electoral District (which incorporates Żejtun) have declared that the government is in listening mode and is considering alternative sites. This is a good step forward. It is always appropriate to ensure that common sense is in charge. But this also means that the proposal as made was not sufficiently analysed before the planning stage was concluded.

If the proposal is not scrapped, another green lung, this time around Żejtun, will be lost. It is useless to complain that the young generation is barely interested in agriculture if consecutive governments treat farmers in this manner.

Our land needs protection from excessive development. If the Buleben proposal is not discarded at the earliest we may soon see our last carob tree!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 February 2018

published in The Independent on Sunday : 11 February 2018

L-aħħar ħarruba ġo Buleben u s-sens komun

 

Il-bdiewa ġo Buleben ġew ordnati jiżgumbraw għax l-art li ilhom jindukraw ġenerazzjoni wara l-oħra trid tagħmel il-wisgħa għal fabbriki ġodda. Għax qalulna li għandna bżonn il-fabbriki. Qiesu m’għandniex bżonn ir-raba’ wkoll: il-ftit li baqa’!

Hi storja li ilha tirrepeti ruħha, kontinwament. Tomna wara l-oħra qed tinbela mill-konkos jew mit-tarmac. F’Buleben iridu jkabbru ż-żona industrijali. F’inħawi oħra jridu jgħaddu t-toroq jew jibnu id-djar jew xi lukanda, inkella joħolmu b’pompa tal-petrol, waħda wara l-oħra. Inkella nimlew lill-pajjiż bit-torrijiet, kompetizzjoni ta’ simboli falliċi, wieħed ikbar mill-ieħor.

L-attakk fuq l-art mhux żviluppata donnu li ma jistax jieqaf. L-iżviluppatur f’dan il-każ hu l-Gvern permezz tal-Malta Industrial Parks Limited. Anke l-Gvern qed jipprova jagħmel bħal uħud mill-iżviluppaturi: jipprova jibqa’ għaddej minn fuq kulħadd.

Dan xi progress hu? Għandna bżonn nieqfu naħsbu ftit dwar il-konsegwenzi ta’ dak li għaddej, tat-tħarbit li qiegħed jiġi ippjanat. Min qed iqis l-effett ta’ dan kollu?

Bla dubju l-espansjoni taż-żona industrijali ilha ippjanata żmien, snin kbar, sa minn meta tfassal għall-ewwel darba l-inħawi fis-snin sittin meta l-Korporazzjoni Maltija tal-Iżvilupp bdiet tiżviluppa l-ewwel żoni industrijali. Imma fortunatament dakinnhar ma kienx hemm bżonn l-art kollha u z-zona industrijali ma kienitx kbira daqs kemm kien ippjanat. Imma l-qbiela mingħand il-bdiewa ilha sa minn dakinhar ma tkun aċċettata. Issa tawhom ordni ta’ żgumbrament u għandhom xahar żmien biex joħorġu ‘l-barra.

Ta’ Buleben, dejjem kienet meqjusa bħala art mill-iktar għammiela, sakemm ħallewha bi kwieta. Fil-fatt Erin Serracino Inglott fil-Miklem Malti jfisser il-kelma Buleben bħala “sid l-imrieħel li jagħtu ħafna ħalib”. Kien għalhekk li meta l-agrikultura kella importanza ekonomika ikbar li l-art ta’ Buleben kienet meqjusa bħala ta’ importanza għax kienet art li tirrendi. Min għandu Ta’ Buleben, jgħid wieħed mill-qwiel li ħolqu missierietna, id-dinja tagħtih widen. Għax agrikultura għammiela kienet tfisser ukoll saħħa ekonomika, meta l-agrikultura kellha importanza ċentrali fil-ħajja ta’ missierijietna.

L-art hi tal-Gvern li bla dubju issa ser jargumenta li ma baqax biżżejjed art fejn jikbru ż-żoni industrijali. Forsi jgħidilna ukoll li wieħed mill-oqsma industrijali li seta jintuża flok dak ta’ Buleben kien dak tar-Rikażli. Imma ż-żona industrijali tar-Rikażli sadanittant ingħatat għall-ispekulazzjoni minn Gvern ieħor li injora l-ħtieġa ta’ iktar spazju għall-fabbriki. Ikollu raġun jekk jgħid hekk il-Gvern. Imma mhux biżżejjed li nippuntaw subgħajna lejn l-iżbalji ħoxnin tal-bieraħ biex niġġustifikaw l-iżbalji tal-lum. Xorta jibqalna l-obbligu li illum nagħmlu ħilitna kollha biex nipproteġu l-ftit li baqa’.

Huwa għalhekk floku dak li qed tagħmel l-għaqda Żejtunija Wirt iż-Żejtun, immexxija mill-Perit Żejtuni Reuben Abela. Għax anke iż-Żejtun, jeħtieġ u jixraqlu l-protezzjoni. Huwa pass ‘il-quddiem li n-nies, huma għajnejhom miftuħin beraħ biex, safejn hu possibli, huma ukoll iħarsu wirt missirijietna.

Hu possibli, kif qalet l-assoċjazzjoni Wirt iż-Żejtun li jintuża spazju fiż-żona industrijali mingħajr ma tintmiss iktar raba’. Ikun floku ukoll li niftakru li l-Pjan Lokali għan-Nofsinnhar, approvat tnax-il sena ilu, jinkludi dikjarazzjoni dwar il-ħtieġa li jkun imħares il-valur agrikolu tal-art fl-inħawi li fiha kwantità mhux żgħira ta’ siġar tal-ħarrub li huma f’saħħithom u li ilhom hemm mijiet ta’ snin.

Tajjeb li niftakru ukoll li fl-inħawi f’dawn l-aħħar snin instabu fdalijiet Puniċi u li jekk iktar art ser tkun disturbata probabbilment jinstabu bosta iktar fdalijiet arkeoloġiċi.

Hemm imbagħad konsiderazzjoni oħra. Il-binja tal-estensjoni taż-żona industrjali ser tqarreb il-fabbriki lejn iż-żona residenzjali ta’ Ġebel San Martin fiż-Żejtun. Il-fabbriki l-ġodda jidher li ser jiġu viċin wisq tar-residenzi. Il-pjanti proposti jiena ma rajthomx, ma jidhirx li huma pubbliċi s’issa. Imma l-għaqda Wirt iż-Żejtun tgħid li ser ikun hemm biss ftit għexieren ta’ metri li jifred iż-żona residenzjali minn dik industrijali.

Issa meta tqis li diġa hemm inkonvenjent prinċipalment ikkawżat minn ħsejjes f’kull ħin tal-jum, dan ifisser li l-inkonvenjent ser jikber u ser ikun iktar qrib ukoll.

Waqt li qed nikteb ħarġet l-aħbar li diversi Membri Parlamentari li jiġu eletti f’isem il-Partit Laburista mit-tielet distrett elettorali (li jinkludi ż-Żejtun) qed jgħidu li l-Gvern qiegħed jisma’ dak li qiegħed jingħad u qed jikkunsidra siti alternattivi. Dan hu pass tajjeb. Għax hu dejjem tajjeb li s-sens komun jingħata ftit ċans. Imma dan ifisser ukoll li l-proposta ma kienitx studjata sewwa qabel ma tħejjew il-pjani għal iżjed fabbriki.

Jekk il-proposta ma tinbidilx ser ikun ifisser li ser noqtlu pulmun ieħor din id-darba dak ta’ madwar iż-Żejtun. Hu inutli li nilmentaw kemm il-ġenerazzjoni żagħżugħa ftit hi interessat fil-biedja jekk Gvern wara l-ieħor jibqa’ jittratta lill-bdiewa daqstant ħażin.

Inħarsu l-art mill-esaġerazzjonijiet ta’ żvilupp. Din il-proposta għal Buleben teħtieġ li titwarrab minnufih. Jekk le daqt inkun nistgħu ngħidu li rajna l-aħħar ħarruba!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 11 ta’ Frar 2018

Traffic and the budget

traffic.Marsa

The Budget acknowledges that traffic is a problem; unfortunately it fails to present a vision for the future, as Transport Malta has yet to carry out a consultation exercise.

Acknowledging that Malta’s roads are bursting at the seams is one small step in the right direction. Simultaneously, however, the Budget goes in to propose various measures, amongst which a couple which will definitely increase traffic. Providing more parking spaces, widening roads and improving junctions through the provision of flyovers will improve traffic flow, but it will also increase vehicular traffic.

It is not rocket science to conclude that a long-term plan to reduce car ownership is the only way forward. Currently, with around 341,000 cars on our roads, car ownership in Malta stands at 802 per thousand population. In contrast, the figure for the UK is 516, for Italy 682 and for the USA 786. If Malta’s car ownership profile were to be reduced to a reasonable 500 cars per 1000 population, this would signify that there are currently 130,000 more cars on our roads than is reasonable.

Given the short travelling distances in Malta, public transport should normally be sufficient for most of our needs. Car ownership has increased exponentially over the years as public transport was found lacking – even for such short distances and it  got worse over time.

The recently published White Paper by the Education Ministry pointed out how schools are affected by traffic congestion. They are not, in fact, a  cause of traffic congestion; rather, they are one of its many victims. Introducing a coordinated scheme providing school transport to serve both private and public schools could reducing traffic during rush hours.

The same could be stated in regarding the accessibility of industrial estates. If these were suitably serviced by public transport routes, a substantial reduction in traffic generation could be achieved.

The budget also refers to alternative means of transport. Reinforcing sea links across Grand Harbour between Valletta and the Three Cities as well as across Marsamxett Bay between Sliema and Valletta, could also contribute substantially to a reduction of traffic movements. Various attempts have been made over the years to restore such links but they were not as successful as had been hoped due to the fares having generally been considered as being on the high side.

Reintroducing these maritime links across the harbours on a sound footing would provide a long-term alternative public transport service that would substantially reduce travel time for all its users. However, it would not be reasonable to expect this to be completely self-financed, at least not until such time as it has attracted custom and established itself as a reliable and efficient public transport service.

The budget also encourages the use of small-capacity motorcycles by reducing their annual road licence fee to €10. This reduction would certainly be an encouragement, even though it could very easily been removed completely!  However, as was pointed out – even in the budget speech itself – such a measure can only be effective if it is reinforced by an improvement in the  behaviour of  road-users as well as through better maintenance of our roads.

Improving the use of the existing road infrastructure would be effective as a short-term measure. The proposal to introduce the “tidal lane” in a number of ours roads would  certainly reduce congestion through facilitating traffic flow. It will not, however, reduce vehicle movements.

The EU -funded study entitled The External Costs of Passenger and Commercial Vehicles Use in Malta carried out by the Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development at the University of Malta examined the economic impact of traffic in Malta. Such impact included not only time lost due to heavy traffic, but also excessive fuel consumed and the effect on health of the resulting air and noise pollution.  The estimated impact is substantial and add up to around four per cent of GDP. This would completely cancel out the projected 2016 increase of 3.6 per cent in Malta’s GDP.

The current extent of the traffic problem in Malta is due to the failure on the part of the state over a number of years. The mismanagement of public transport has created a vacuum, as a result of which cars have been permitted to take over our roads. Reversing the process is possible, but it will not be easy: it will require a coordinated approach and clear thinking. At the end of the day, all the measures taken must have one clear objective: replacing the private car as the preferred means of transport. It is the only way forward.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday, 18 October 2015

Anniversarji u Polemiċi fl-2014

Dom Mintoff + Arc M. Gonzi

Matul l-2014 Malta tfakkar diversi anniversarji. Magħhom hemm minsuġa polemiċi tal-passat, polemiċi li bil-mod għad jinħallu u jieqfu mill-jkunu sors firda.

Infakkru l-50 anniversarju tal-Indipendenza, meta Malta fl-1964 bdiet tmexxi lilha innifisha. Kienet indipendenza politika immedjata imma ekonomikament Malta kienet għadha dipendenti mill-infieq assoċjat mal-bażi militari. George Borg Olivier ħejja l-pedamenti tal-industrija tal-manufattura u beda jinkoraġixxi t-turiżmu. Wieħed mill-argumenti ewlenin fid-dibattitu politiku dwar l-Indipendenza fis-snin sittin kien dwar jekk kienx essenzjali li l-ewwel il-pajjiż ikun b’saħħtu ekonomikament u dan qabel ma jieħu rajh f’idejh. George Borg Olivier dejjem sostna li ħadd ħlief il-Maltin nfushom m’għandhom l-interess li l-pajjiż jiżviluppa ekonomija b’saħħita. Għaldaqstant għalih kienet meħtieġa l-indipendenza immedjata għax din kien iqiesha bħala ċ-ċavetta jew l-għodda essenzjali għall-iżvilupp ekonomiku. Id-differenza bejn il-Partiti ewlenin ma kienitx l-Indipendenza imma l-Kostituzzjoni.  Il-partiti ż-żgħar min-naħa l-oħra riedu t-tisħiħ ekonomiku qabel l-Indipendenza.

Diversi kienu l-issues kostituzzjonali ta’ konflitt, ewlenin fosthom is-separazzjoni bejn l-Istat u l-Knisja u ż-żwieġ ċivili.

George Borg Oliver kien jieħu l-affarijiet bil-mod, fil-waqt li l-ħidma politika tal-Perit  Mintoff kienet karatterizzata mill-għaġġla. Żewġ metodi ta’ ħidma li t-tnejn nisslu bosta diffikultajiet. Il-ħidma bil-mod ittelfek il-paċenzja għax iddum ma tara ir-riżultati. Il-ħidma mgħaġġla iżżejjed min-naħa l-oħra tnissel problemi ta’ żbalji kultant goffi kif ukoll inġustuzzji ma min jinqabad fin-nofs.

Infakkru l-40 anniversarju mit-twaqqif tar-Repubblika fl-1974 nhar it-13 ta’ Diċembru fuq proposta ta’ Mintoff bl-appoġġ tal-parti l-kbira tal-Opposizzjoni. Baqgħu jopponu l-ħolqien tar-Repubblika George Borg Olivier flimkien mal-ħames membri parlamentari ta’ madwaru. George Borg Olivier ried iżomm il-monarkija iżda l-PN fil-Parlament bi ħġaru appoġġa l-ħolqien tar-Repubblika. Fatt dan li bosta ma jagħtuhx il-piż mistħoqq.

Infakkru l-35 anniversarju tal-egħluq tal-bażi militari li seħħet nhar il-31 ta’ Marzu 1979. Dan il-jum għandu sinifikat politiku sostanzjali għax hu l-ewwel darba fl-istorja ta’ Malta li ma kienx hawn bażijiet militari ta’ pajjiżi barranin. Kienet aspirazzjoni politika ewlenija tal-Perit Mintoff, bla dubju imsejsa fuq l-osservazzjonijiet u s-sensittivitajiet ta’ tfulitu. Il-fatt li missieru ħadem għal numru ta’ snin mal-Kap Kmandant tal-Forzi Militari Ingliżi f’Malta (Lord Louis Mountbatten) ġewwa l-Berġa ta’ Kastilja bla dubju  kien element ewlieni fid-determinazzjoni tiegħu li jilħaq dan l-iskop. Għalih Malta “ħelset mill-barrani” u minn hawn ir-referenza għal Jum il-Ħelsien. Titlu li jinstema ftit bombastiku għal uħud iżda li fir-realta hu rifless tal-emozzjonijiet ta’ ġenerazzjonijiet ta’ Maltin li ġustament ħolmu li għad jasal il-jum li f’Malta ma jkunx hawn iżjed forzi militari barranin.

Infakkru l-10 anniversarju tat-tisħib tal-Malta fl-Unjoni Ewropeja. L-aħħar kapitlu f’din l-istorja riċenti ta’ ġensna. Kapitlu frisk mimli suċcessi kif ukoll affarijiet li setgħu saru aħjar. Kapitlu li għadu qiegħed jinkiteb.

Dawn l-anniversarji u l-kontroversji assoċjati magħhom inħmew matul dawn l-aħħar 50 sena. Sawru lil ġensna kif inhu illum. Bil-pożittiv, bin-negattiv u bil-preġudizzji kollha immaġinabbli.

Il-ġenerazzjoni tiegħi għexet kull wieħed minn dawn l-avvenimenti. Ma jdejjaqni l-ebda wieħed minnhom. Ma jfissirx li naqbel ma kif żvolġew. Imma kollha huma avvenimenti li huma parti integrali minn ħajti. Għexthom u naf xi jfissru.

Konxju li fil-pajjiż mhux kulħadd jaħsibha b’dan il-mod. Għad hawn min jixtieq iħassar mill-memorja kollettiva wieħed jew iktar minn dawn l-avvenimenti. Ma naħsibx li dan hu possibli. L-iżvilupp paċifiku ta’ dan il-pajjiż ikun possibli jekk ilkoll naċċettaw li pajjiżna għandu is-sura li għandu illum bħala riżultat ta’ diversi ħidmiet li għalihom ikkontribwixxa kulħadd.

Naf li mhux faċli. Imma fiduċjuż li naslu.

Tackling the green skills gap

green skills 3

Launching the public consultation on the Green Economy last month, Ministers Leo Brincat and Evarist Bartolo emphasised the need to address the green skills gap in the process leading to a Green Economy strategy and action plan.

It is estimated that 20 million jobs will be created in the Green Economy between now and 2020 within the European Union. Capacity building is the greatest challenge: ensuring that more working men and women are adequately equipped with green skills.

The Green Economy includes activities in different sectors. It is possible to go about activity in these sectors in a manner which reduces their environmental impacts, is socially inclusive and economically rewarding.

Various sectors have been identified as being of key importance in the transition to a Green Economy. The basic characteristics which distinguish the Green Economy are a reduction of carbon emissions, the reduction of all forms of pollution, energy and resource efficiency, prevention of biodiversity loss  and the protection of eco-system services.

The United Nations Environment Programme  has repeatedly emphasised that the transition to a Green Economy enables economic growth and investment while increasing environmental quality and social inclusiveness. A Green Economy is one which respects the eco-system and recognises that there are natural limits  which, if exceeded, endanger the earth’s ecological balance. In effect it means that the transition to a Green Economy signifies addressing all of our environmental impacts in all areas of activity. Addressing impacts in one area would still signify progress although this would be of limited benefit.

An agriculture which forms part of the Green Economy is one which works with nature, not against it. It uses water sustainably and does not contaminate it. Green agriculture does not seek to genetically modify any form of life nor to patent it.

Energy efficient buildings, clean and renewable energy together with the sustainable use of land are also basic building blocks of the Green Economy. We cannot speak of the Green Economy whilst simultaneously tolerating  large scale building construction. Having a stock of 72,000 vacant dwellings, (irrespective of the reasons for their being vacant) signifies that as a nation we have not yet understood that the limited size of the Maltese islands ought to lead to a different attitude. The green skills of politicians and their political appointees on MEPA is what’s lacking in this regard.

Maritime issues are of paramount economic importance to Malta’s economy. The depleted fish stock and the quality of sea water are obvious issues. But the impacts of organised crime through the dumping of toxic, hazardous and nuclear waste in the Mediterranean Sea is not to be underestimated as has been evidenced time and again in the exploits of the eco-mafia reign to our north.

Heavy industry is fortunately absent in Malta. New industries like the pharmaceutical industry are more eco-conscious. However we still require more inputs on resource efficiency and eco-design.

Greening tourism is essential in order to ensure that more of tourism’s environmental impacts are addressed.  The consumption of tourism is 50% more per capita than that registered for a resident, indicating that there is room for considerable improvements.

Public transport is still in shambles. The effects of this state of affairs is evident in the ever increasing number of passenger cars on our roads which have a major impact on air and noise pollution in our communities. Greening transport policies signifies that the mobility of all is ensured with the least possible impacts.  Still a long way to go.

Waste management has made substantial improvement over the years even though it is still way  behind EU targets. It is positive that the draft waste management strategy has established the attaining of a Zero Waste target by 2050. However we still await the specifics of how this is to be achieved. It is achievable but the commitment of all is essential.

Our water resources have been mismanaged, year in, year our. Discharging millions of litres of treated sewage effluent into the sea is just the cherry on the cake. The contaminated and depleted water table which still contributes around 40% to Malta’s potable water supply is in danger of being  completely lost for future generations if we do not act fast.

All the above have been dealt with in various policy documents. One such document is the National Sustainable Development Strategy which establishes the parameters for the action required. Implementing the National Sustainable Development Strategy is the obvious first step in establishing a Green Economy.  It is here where the real green skill gap exists. Decision makers lack green skills. This skill gap exists at the level of Cabinet, Parliament, the top echelons of the civil service and in the ranks of the political appointees to Boards and Authorities where decisions are taken and strategies implemented.

When this skill gap is addressed, the rest will follow and we will be on the way to establishing  a green economy.

published in The Times of Malta, Saturday 14 December 2013

Resurrection of eco-Gozo

The Gozo Channel

There is much more to a Gozo Channel bridge than its financial cost calculated in euros. There are also social and  environmental costs.

The proposal to link Malta and Gozo permanently has been around for ages. It involves connecting the islands such that there are no physical obstructions to proceed from one island to the other.

Gozo’s connectivity is a serious matter. Yet Gozo’s double insularity may well be its greatest asset which has been misunderstood and ill-used throughout the years.

The improvement of existing transport links  by introducing more efficient means or through alternative  means of transport is one way of looking at the channel crossing-challenge. Almost all  alternatives have been tried out in the past. Fast sea links linking Mġarr Gozo directly with a central location have been tried and subsequently discontinued. Alternatively, air links through the use of amphibious small planes  and helicopters too have been tried.

Will Gozo be better off if it is permanently linked to Malta?  I think that those insisting on the bridge or the tunnel genuinely believe that because they themselves may be better off everyone else will possibly be better off too.

Reality, unfortunately, is considerably different as with a physical link between Malta and Gozo there will be both winners and losers.   The process leading to a decision has to be both honest and transparent if it is to be of any help.

It has to be honest as it has to consider all the anticipated impacts of each proposal under consideration. Improved connectivity for industry to deliver goods produced in Gozo to Malta and elsewhere also signifies improved connectivity for working men and women living in Gozo and working in Malta. This could suggest that there may then be no more scope in locating industry in Gozo as the labourforce would easily access their working place. To date, providing work for Gozitans in Gozo has been an important social and political objective. If a physical link materialises this may no longer be so. Gozo will then be a locality just like any other in Malta.

Double insularity, if ditched by choice, will no longer be able to justify subsidies and incentives to lure industry to Gozo.  Double insularity will no longer be justification for EU regional development funds as it will no longer exist. What purpose then for the projected Gozo office in Brussels?

What about the impacts on the tourism industry?  Tourism policy relative to Gozo has always focused on Gozo as the destination with a difference. Gozo’s potential as an eco-tourism destination has been occassionally tapped. Diving is a well-developed niche market for eco-tourism in Gozo. Agri-tourism in Gozo has substantial potential, which is to date largely untapped.

These are issues whose potential could and should have been developed within the context of the eco-Gozo project. Unfortunately, this project has been hijacked by those who, after plagiarising the idea from  Alternattiva Demokratika used it as a slogan and ignored it as a vision.

The contribution to tourism of cultural activities such as opera performances  in Gozo is not to be underestimated. Such cultural activities contribute substantially to the viability of hotel operations in Gozo through the generation of revenue in the winter months. The introduction of a permanent link will undoubtedly increase the potential audiences for opera and other cultural activities in Gozo. However, with a bridge or tunnel in place, the use of hotels in Gozo will not be required by opera enthusiasts as they would be in a position to drive back home immediately. This has already been evident when Gozo Channel increased its trips through the introduction of late night trips.

In addition one has to consider environmental impacts. Impacts on protected marine areas in the Gozo Channel would be substantial. Add visual impacts in the case of the bridge or over two million cubic metres of excavated material in the case of the tunnel.

And what about the geological features of the Gozo Channel? As the area is riddled with geological faults, the first logical step is obviously a detailed geological examination of the area.  But what is obviously a logical first step seems not to have been given due weight.

Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party in Malta advocates a different line of action. A connectivity strategy for Gozo considering in detail all the different options is to be drawn up. After subjecting it to a Strategic Environment Assessement in line with the EU environmental legislation such a strategy should be subject to a public consultation, not just with the Gozitans but on a national level.

Taking into consideration all impacts would ensure that the decison taken is a sustainable one. Not in the interests of one specific sector but in the interests of all. Resurrecting (the real) eco-Gozo in the process would not be a bad idea.

Published in The Times of Malta – Saturday June 29, 2013 

For those who can think: food for thought

Chamber of Commerce and Industry 1

Helga Ellul, retiring Brandstatter CEO in Malta  was interviewed by the Sunday Times on December 23, 2012. The last part of the interview was as follows:

How did the uncertainty on the election and the slim majority in Parliament impact business?

The problem is that in Malta with just two political parties it is always a close run and this makes it very difficult for whoever wins to govern.

Whereas in other countries we have more parties and coalition governments and different constellations, in Malta it is so close knit that if it is not a clear majority than it will be very difficult to govern.

The perception is that coalition governments will bring more instability.

In Germany we do have that (instability) but it is not all negative because a party has to come out with a proper programme and then change according to the coalition, which may not be the worst of it. Coalitions would encourage parties to look at the overall picture and adjust accordingly.