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

Kemmuna: mhux dwar l-umbrelel

comino

 

Matul il-ġimgħat li għaddew diversi paġni tal-gazzetti imtlew b’aħbarijiet minn Kemmuna: il-battalja bejn dawk li jikru l-umbrelel.

Issa l-għaqdiet ambjentali ħarġu bi proposta dwar il-kontrolli rejali li hemm bżonn isiru fuq Kemmuna: kemm għandhom jirfsu l-art persuni? X’inhu dak in-numru li  jkun aħjar li ma jinqabiżx?

In-numru jrid ikun stabilit bi ħsieb. Imma jeħtieġ li jkun stabilit.

L-idea tal-għaqdiet ambjentali (Nature Trust, Din l-Art Ħelwa u Friends of the Earth) m’hiex oriġinali għax diġa tqegħdet fil-prattika f’diversi postijiet oħra mhux biss fil-postijiet li ġew indikati fil-gazzetti (Blue Lagoon fl-Iżlanda u fir-reġjun pittoresk Taljan Cinque Terre).

Il-Bhutan (pajjiż fil-Lvant imbiegħed) jikkontrolla n-numru ta’ turisti li jidħlu fil-pajjiż għax hu kinxju li numru esagerati ta’ turisti jistgħu jagħmlu ħsara mhux żgħira. Hemm ukoll il-ġzira turistika Latino Amerikana ta’ Fernando de Noronha (parti mit-territorju Brażiljan) li kienet tillimita n-numru massimu ta’ turisti li jistgħu joqgħodu fuq il-gżira għal 420, u kull wieħed minn dawn kellu jħallas taxxa ambjentali li tiżdied iktar ma jdum!

F’Malta ukoll xi żmien ilu kienu ġew introdotti kontrolli fuq in-numru ta’ turisti li f’ħin wieħed jistgħu jidħlu fl-Ipoġew ta’ Ħal-Saflieni kif ukoll in-numru massimu li setgħu jidħlu matul il-ġurnata. Dan kien sar għax kien ġie stabilit li biex dan is-sit arkejolġiku jkun protett aħjar kellhom ikun hemm kontrolli tal-mikro-klima. Dan fil-fatt sar billi kien ġie identifikat in-numru massimu ta’ 80 persuna li setgħu jidħlu f’ġurnata fl-Ipoġew.

L-istess jista’ jsir dwar il-gżira ta’ Kemmuna. Tista’ tiġi protetta billi jkunu limitati n-numri ta’ persuni li jistgħu jinżlu l-art. Dan ikun pass tajjeb li jagħmel il-ġid, lill-Kemmuna, naturalment mhux lil dawk li jikru l-umbrellel!

Future Generations must be heard

 

The politics of sustainable development links present and future generations. The 1987 report of the United Nations Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland report) emphasised that development is sustainable if the choices we make today do not restrict tomorrow’s generations from making their own independent choices.

Future generations, to date, have no political or financial power and cannot challenge decisions taken by present generations. They have no voice. They are not represented at the negotiating table where present-day decisions are made.

Politics is dominated by the requirement to satisfy today’s wants, irrespective of the costs, as witnessed by spiralling financial, environmental and social deficits.

During the preparatory meetings for the Rio 1992 earth summit, delegations discussed the impacts of development on various vulnerable groups.

In a four-page document (A/CONF.151/PC/WG./L.8/Rev.1/Add.2), dated February 21, 1992, Malta submitted a proposal to the working group of the preparatory committee of the UN Rio conference, which met in New York in early March 1992.

After underlining the international community’s recognition of the rights of future generations as another vulnerable group, the Maltese government rightly emphasised that it is not sufficient to simply recognise the principle of future generation rights.

Words must be transformed into action. In paragraph 17 of its document, Malta proposed to go beyond rhetoric through the inclusion in the 1992 Rio declaration on the environment of the following: “We declare that each generation has, in particular, the responsibility to ensure that in any national or international forum where it is likely that a decision is taken affecting the interests of future generations access be given to an authorised person appointed as ‘Guardian’ of future generations to appear and make submissions on their behalf, so that account be taken of the responsibilities stated in this declaration and the obligations created thereby.”

Malta’s proposal was presented by the Foreign Ministry led by Guido de Marco.

The proposal had been developed by the International Environment Institute of the University of Malta within the framework of its Future Generations Programme led by Fr Emanuel Agius. Malta’s proposal was not taken up in the Rio declaration on the environment.

Do we need a guardian of future generations in Malta? I believe that we do and I think that the issue should be addressed when Parliament discusses legislation on sustainable development shortly.

The reasons justifying the domestic implementation of Malta’s 1992 proposal to the UN Rio preparatory committee are crystallised in paragraph 7 of Malta’s proposal that focuses on responsibility and foresight. Malta emphasised that present generations are in duty bound to foresee possible risks and uncertainties that present economic, political and technological policies have on future generations.

Responsibility, stated Malta in 1992, demands foresight. Hence, one should anticipate effective measures to, at least, prevent foreseeable risks and uncertainties.

The guardian of future generations would be the voice of those still unborn to defend their right to make their own choices, independently of the choices of present and past generations.

S/he would be the conscience of present generations nudging them towards behaviour and decisions that are compatible with their responsibilities.

In particular, s/he would be in a position to speak up on behalf of future generations when current or contemplated policies give rise to long-term risks that are not adequately addressed. S/he would emphasise that it is unethical for present generations to reap benefits and then shift the consequence of their actions on future generations.

Future generations need a voice to be able to communicate their concerns.

The appointment of a guardian to protect their interests would be such a voice. Such an appointment would also be implementing the President’s declaration during the inaugural session of the present Parliament on May 10, 2008 when he emphasised that the government’s plans and actions are to be underpinned by the notion of sustainable development. He had further stated that “when making decisions today, serious consideration will be given to the generations of tomorrow”.

Hungary has already given the lead. In 2007, the Hungarian Parliament appointed Sándor Fülöp as Parliamentary Commissioner for Future Generations. Among other things, he is entrusted to act as a policy advocate for sustainability issues across all relevant fields of legislation and public policy.

International NGOs, such as the World Future Council, have actively brought up the issue of future generations requiring a present-day voice during the second preparatory committee of the UN Rio+20 sustainability conference held in March this year in New York.

The Maltese Greens consider that it is time for the government to accept that the principled action it took on an international level in 1992 is equally applicable on a national level.

Malta too has the responsibility of foresight. It has the responsibility to ensure that the future can speak up such that we can listen and consider the impacts of our actions.

The time is ripe to act. We owe an ear to future generations. They deserve it.

 

published in The Times – Saturday August 27, 2011

 

Just lip service and cold feet

                                             published Saturday August 13, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_____________

Other posts on sustainable development during the past 12 months

2011, July 23                Living on Ecological Credit.

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

2011, March 5              Small is Beautiful in Water Policy.

2011, January 22        Beyond the  Rhetorical declarations.

2010, October 23        Time to realign actions with words.

2010, October 17        Reflections on an Environment Policy.

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

2010, September 17  Lejn Politika tal-Ambjent.

2010, September 4     Environment Policy and the Budget.

2010, August 14          Thoughts for an Environmental Policy.

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

This is our Challenge

 

________________________________________________________________________________________ 

 Agenda 21 is the basis on which sustainability strategies are drafted. This applies to both national strategies (say, Malta, the UK or Australia sustainability strategy) as well as supranational ones (like the EU, the Baltic Sea or Mediterranean sustainability strategy). Its full title is Agenda 21. A Blueprint For Action For Global Sustainable Development Into The 21st Century. Adopted at the Rio Earth summit in 1992 it is a result of the UN debate that ensued after the publication of the Brundtland Report. (Entitled Our Common Future, it was concluded in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and Development chaired by former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland.)

Marina Silva, resigning as Brazil’s Minister for the Environment, was quoted as stating: “Today we are living through the challenge of prevention, of looking twice before doing something, discussing twice before doing something. Because each thing that we alter can lead to… dramatic consequences.

“Those who celebrated the industrial revolution never thought that we were injuring the planet, almost fatally. We didn’t have this knowledge. Today we know”.

It is within these parameters that the identification of sustainable development as the main theme underlying the government’s political programme assumes significance. It was stated that: “The government’s plans and actions are to be underpinned by the notion of sustainable development of the economy, of society and of the environment. When making decisions today, serious consideration will be given to the generations of tomorrow.” The objective is a long-term view of policy formulation and its implementation.

Sustainable development is not just about objectives; it is also about methods used in attaining them. It is about participation of the community in all that which is of concern. Agenda 21 identifies major groups in society whose role in decision-making needs to be reinforced at a global level: women, children, youth, indigenous people, NGOs, local authorities, workers and trade unions, business and industry, the scientific and technological community and farmers (Agenda 21, sections 23 to 32).

During the preparatory stages leading to the Rio Earth summit, Malta had submitted a proposal for an addition to this list. It was proposed that the world community should go beyond vague declarations of responsibilities towards future generations and institute an official guardian to safeguard posterity’s interests. Malta had then proposed the setting up of a “guardian of future generations” to appear and make submissions on their behalf, thereby introducing a new dimension, “the time horizon”, into the resolution of present-day issues. This proposal was not approved.

The government’s political programme for the current Parliament is revisiting this proposal. It is accepting that the impact of today’s decisions is of utmost relevance to future generations. This has considerable implications in all areas of policy and administration. It means that the government is (rightly) accepting that today’s generations are administering in trust on behalf of future generations. As a consequence, this signifies that the government has accepted that the present generation has a moral duty to ensure that when it concludes its tasks it hands over trusteeship to the next generation with less problems than it had itself inherited.

The fiscal deficit is being tackled and the target of a balanced budget is in sight. The environmental deficit, on the other hand, is much more complex to address as it will require the revisiting of all areas of policy which have contributed to its formation and present state. It will take much more than political rhetoric to deliver!

It requires tackling the quality of the air we breathe. As a result, this signifies the need to reduce transport emissions through the implementation of a sustainable transport policy thereby leading also to an improvement of our mobility. A sustainable alternative leading to a decrease of cars on the road could thus be available.

It requires addressing the impacts of the building industry, ensuring a sustainable use of resources as well as the setting up of an equitable rental market thereby utilising the vacant building stock.

It means addressing Malta’s contribution to climate change as a matter of urgency through living up to our commitments on the provision of renewable resources of energy as well as investing in energy-saving measures.

It means protecting our biodiversity. Recognising the intrinsic value of nature is fundamental. A recent report by the Irish environment authorities revealed that biodiversity has a net economic value to the tune of €2.6 billion per annum to the Irish economy!

It also means a culture of participatory democracy where the state leads but does not dictate.

This is the challenge which we all face. We are considerably behind schedule but if the sustainable development path is selected in earnest it may not be too late!

The author, an architect, is the spokesman on sustainable development of Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green party in Malta.

Tirreżenja l-Ministru tal-Ambjent tal-Brazil

 

 

Fil-Brazil Marina Silva, Ministru tal-Ambjent, irreżenjat. Il-BBC irrapporta  li f’ittra ta’ riżenja lil Lula da Silva, President, hi qalet li kienet qed tirreżenja għal raġunijiet personali. Qaltlu ukoll li għal xi żmien kienet qed issib diffikultajiet biex timplimenta l-politika ambjentali tal-Gvern Brażiljan.

 

Jidher li r-riżenja tagħha oriġinat minn affarijiet oħra. L-istess BBC fil-fatt jgħid li l-President Brażiljan f‘dawn l-aħħar ġimgħat ħatar Ministru ieħor biex jikkoordina l-implimentazzjoni tal-politika dwar l-Amazonia.

 

Diġa hemm min beda jgħid li jittama li l-Ministru tal-Ambjent il-ġdid ma jkunx radikali daqs Marina !

 

Marina Silva kienet ilha Ministru għall-Ambjent mill-2002 meta Lula da Silva rebaħ l-ewwel elezzjoni presidenzjali. Marina daħlet fil-politika permezz tat-Trejdunjoniżmu fejn kienet taħdem spalla ma spalla ma Chico Mendes trejdunionista assassinat fl-1988. Hija mexxiet kampanji kbar kontra l-qerda tal-foresti u permezz ta’ kampanji mhux vjolenti kienet strumentali biex ġew salvati ettari sħaħ ta’ foresti mill-qerda tal-“iżviluppatur modern” .

 

Marina Silva kellha l-fama li kienet iebsa ma dawn l-“iżviluppaturi” u fejn kienu neċessarji permessi ambjentali kienet tinsisti fuq kundizzjonijiet iebsa ħafna.

 

Mhux diffiċli biex tifhem x’kien qed jiġri!

 

 

żieda :

 

Sadanittant, il-Guardian illum 15 ta’ Mejju jitfa’ iktar dawl fuq din ir-riżenja b’artiklu intitolat : Fears for Brazil rainforest after environment minister quits.