Lil hinn mill-ġebla u l-kaċċa

 

Illum l-ambjent sar parti essenzjali mil-lingwaġġ politiku li jużaw il-partiti politiċi ta’ kuljum. Imma jekk dan hux kaz ta’ konvinzjoni jew konvenjenza, hu storja oħra.

L-ippjanar bl-addoċċ tal-użu tal-art tul is-snin flimkien mal-kaċċa irresponsabbli u insostenibbli kienu fuq quddiem fl-agenda ambjentali għal ftit taż-żmien mhux ħażin. Ġa ktibt b’mod estensiv dwar dan. Il-ħarsien tal-ambjent iżda, jfisser ħafna iktar minn hekk, avolja fiċ-ċirkustanzi partikolari ta’ pajjiżna kemm l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art kif ukoll il-kaċċa ser jibqgħu fuq nett fl-aġenda ambjentali.

Żewġ oqsma li bla dubju ser ikunu fuq quddiem nett fl-aġenda ambjentali tal-pajjiż fix-xhur u s-snin li ġejjin huma l-kwalitá tal-arja u l-iskart li niġġeneraw.   Materji li ilna nitkellmu dwarhom is-snin bħala oqsma kruċjali li għandhom impatt fuq il-kwalitá tal-ħajja.

Il-kwalitá tal-arja f’pajjiżna hi effettwata prinċipalment mill-emmissjonijiet tal-karozzi. Teħtieġ li tkun indirizzata permezz  ta’ strateġija nazzjonali dwar it-trasport li tinkoraġixxi forom alternattivi ta’ aċċess sostenibbli bejn l-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna.

Il-metro li qed tiġi proposta ta’ min jikkunsidraha minkejja li s’issa għad ma hemmx dettalji biżżejjed dwar il-proposta nnifisha. Din il-proposta tal-metro, għandu jkun sottolinejat, tista’ tagħmel sens biss jekk tkun marbuta ma azzjoni simultanja li l-ewwel tnaqqas il-karozzi mit-toroq b’mod sostanzjali u li sussegwentement tassigura li fit-toroq tagħna jkun hemm biss karozzi li jaħdmu bl-elettriku.

Ma jagħmilx sens li tipproponi l-introduzzjoni ta’ metro u fl-istess ħin tibqa’ għaddej bi programm ta’ bini ta’ flyovers jew twessigħ ta’ toroq għax programm ta’ din ix-xorta filwaqt li jnaqqas il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku b’mod temporanju jżid il-kapaċitá tal-istess toroq li jieħdu iktar traffiku u dan minn innifsu jwassal għal iktar konġestjoni tat-traffiku.

L-użu ikbar tar-rota tradizzjonali kif ukoll tal-pedelecs ukoll jagħti kontribut sostanzjali għal iktar mobilitá u anke għal kwalitá tal-ħajja aħjar. Imma dan jeħtieġ investiment sostanzjali fl-infrastruttura. Dan jinkludi mhux biss toroq aħjar għal dawk li jużaw ir-rota imma ukoll faċilitajiet ta’ showers fil-post tax-xogħol flimkien ma postijiet addattati fejn titqiegħed ir-rota fiż-żoni riżervati għall-parkeġġ.

Il-mezzi differenti ta’ trasport pubbliku għandhom ikunu imħeġġa biex jagħmlu użu minn sorsi nodfa ta’ enerġija. Dan jista’ jsir billi, pereżempju l-karozzi tal-linja eżistenti jkunu konvertiti biex jaħdmu bil-metan.

L-iskart li niġġeneraw huwa wġiegħ ta’ ras ambjentali kbira li fl-aħħar qed jingħata iktar attenzjoni. Presentement qed ikun indirizzat l-iskart organiku ġġenerat mill-qasam domestiku. Jekk dan l-iskop jintlaħaq dan jista’ jagħti riżultati tajbin għax l-iskart organiku jammonta għal madwar nofs l-iskart li niġġeneraw mid-djar tagħna. Imma hemm ħtieġa urġenti ukoll li l-awtoritajiet tat-turiżmu jiffukaw ftit attenzjoni fuq l-iskart organiku li jiġġeneraw ir-restoranti u faċilitajiet simili għax dan il-qasam kien traskurat għal ftit taż-żmien mhux ħażin.

Il-qasam tal-iskart jista’ jiġġenera ħafna impiegi ambjentali (green jobs) f’industrija tar-riċiklaġġ li għad tista’ tikber għax għandha potenzjal kbir. Din hi problema li kibret magħna tul is-snin minħabba traskuraġni: nistgħu bi ftit attenzjoni nittrasformawha f’opportunitá li mhux biss tissarraf fi kwalitá tal-ħajja aħjar imma ukoll f’ġid ekonomiku.

ippubblikat fl-Illum  – 28 ta’ Mejju 2017

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Green and clean :  beyond land use planning and hunting

It is obvious to everyone that the environment is nowadays an integral part of the political lexicon of all the political parties in Malta. Whether this is out of conviction or out of convenience is,  however, another story altogether. Irrespective of the objective, it is still however positive to observe this development.

Reckless land use planning over the years, as well as irresponsible and unsustainable hunting, have been at the forefront of the environmental agenda for quite some time and I have already written extensively on these topics. Caring for the environment signifies much more than this, even though both land use planning and hunting will, of necessity remain at the top of Malta’s environmental agenda.

However, competing for attention and resources, the quality of the air we breath – as well as the waste we generate – are two specific areas which will undoubtedly be on the environmental action agenda in the months and years ahead. These are areas which the environmental lobby has been emphasising for years on end as being crucial in determining a better quality of life for all.

Air quality has to be tackled head on through the formulation of a transport strategy that seeks to encourage alternative forms of sustainable access between our towns and villages. This will most probably be a combination of various means and actions.

The proposed metro is an option worth considering, even though details are currently not available. The metro will only be feasible if it is linked with focused action on reducing the number of cars from the road and ensuring that all remaining cars on the road, after a reasonable transition, are electric cars. It is useless promoting a metro and simultaneously retaining a substantial programme of road-widening and/or construction of flyovers. Improving the road network will only ease traffic congestion temporarily but it will simultaneously increase the capacity for more traffic leading in turn to more traffic congestion.

Encouraging the use of bicycles and pedelecs will contribute substantially to improved mobility and a better quality of life, including ever-improving air quality. Substantial investment in the bicycle infrastructure  is however required. This must include the provision of more bicycle friendly roads and shower facilities at places of work as an essential pre-requisite, together with more bicycle parking areas.

Different forms of public transport using clean energy should also be encouraged – for example, converting existing public buses to the use of methane as their primary fuel.

Waste management is another environmental headache, and which has, of late, been receiving more attention. An effort is currently under way to address the organic fraction of the household waste generated. If properly managed this could lead to substantial results as organic waste accounts for around 50 per cent of all the household waste generated. The tourism authorities must, however, seek to focus on the organic waste generated by bars and restaurants as MTA has neglected this matter for far to long.

Proper waste management can result in the generation of green jobs in the recycling industry – which is still in its infancy but holds a lot of potential.  It is an opportunity to transform a problem caused by neglect over the years  into an opportunity which will be both green and clean.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 28 May 2017

Simon Busuttil għadu ma fehem xejn

Simon Busuttil 11

Simon Busuttil inħasad. Hekk irrapportat il-Malta Today dwar ir-reazzjoni tal-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni għad-deċiżjoni tal-Gvern li mhux ser jinkoraġixxi l-espansjoni tal-Port Ħieles.

Simon Busuttil għadu mhux qed jirrealizza illi l-impatti li qed joriġinaw mit-Terminal tal-Port Ħieles qed jifnu lir-residenti ta’ Birżebbuġa . L-iktar li qed jinħass presentment hu l-istorbju matul il-ħin tal-mistrieħ. Imma mhux dan biss.

Kif diġa kelli l-opportunità illi nispjega f’artikli oħra, hemm ukoll impatti li huma kkawżati mid-dawl eċċessiv fit-Terminal tal-Port Ħieles kif ukoll impatti li joriġinaw min-nuqqas ta’ aċċess għall-baħar għall-isports u d-divertiment b’mod ġenerali.

L-impatti ambjentali għandhom effett immedjat kif ukoll effetti fit-tul fuq il-kwalità tal-ħajja tar-residenti ta’ Birżebbuġa. Hekk qiegħed jagħmel il-Port Ħieles: qiegħed bil-mod il-mod jherri l-kwalità tal-ħajja tar-residenti ta’ Birżebbuġa. Fi ftit kliem is-suċċess tal-Port Ħieles qed iħallsu għalih ir-residenti ta’ Birżebbuġa billi tul is-snin, sal-lum ukoll, qed jiġu mġiegħela jissagrifikaw il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħhom.

Pajjiż serju ma jittratta lil ħadd miċ-ċittadini tiegħu b’dan il-mod. Alternattiva Demokratika ilha titkellem żmien twil dwar dan. Għalhekk huwa ta’ sodisfazzjon għalina li l-Gvern u l-Partit Laburista fl-aħħar fehmu dan. Huwa ukoll tal-mistħija li Simon Busuttil li jippoppa sidru bħala l-paladin il-ġdid tal-ambjent għadu ma fehem xejn.

The Freeport: who pays the price for its economic success?

freeport.aerial viw

 

There are conflicting views on the acceptability or otherwise of the operations of the Freeport Terminal at Kalafrana, limits of Birżebbuġa. Throughout the years, governments have repeatedly emphasised that the Freeport’s contribution to Malta’s economic growth justifies practically anything. It has been implied that no sacrifice was to be spared for the Freeport to be transformed into an economic success.

As a result, the residential community of Birżebbuġa has been forced to sacrifice its quality of life.

Putting it briefly, it is the result of a lack of planning prior to the setting up of the Planning Authority. Land required for the Freeport was expropriated as far back as 1962, yet a considerable residential area was developed close by in the mid-1980s. No suitable buffer zones were created to shield the Birżebbuġa community from the operational impacts of the Freeport. Had this been done when the Freeport was not even on the drawing board, the present day problems would have been substantially less than what they actually are today.

A major issue is the noise generated, particularly during the quiet hours. Advisors to the Freeport Terminal recently submitted the results of a 12-month noise monitoring survey which was conducted over the period February 2014 to January 2015. The report lists a number of recommended remedial measures, both those required in the short term as well as those requiring a longer time frame to implement. The 15 short-term measures and the seven long-term ones are no guarantee that issues of acoustic pollution will disappear. Reductions in impacts are anticipated even though no projections have yet been made as to whether these will be cancelled out by impacts resulting from an increase in operations at the Freeport Terminal.

A major contributor to noise pollution originating from the Freeport Terminal during the quiet hours is the humming of the main and auxiliary engines of the berthed vessels in port. It is for this specific reason that the Environmental Monitoring Committee at the Freeport Terminal (which includes representation from the Birżebbuġa Local Council) has insisted right through that the shore to ship electrical supply to vessels berthed at the Freeport Terminal should be addressed.

The final report of the 12-month noise survey in fact points at the necessity of undertaking studies on the feasibility of this proposal. This is in line with the 8 May 2006 Recommendation of the Commission of the European Union on the promotion of shore-side electricity for use by ships at berth in community ports (Recommendation 2006/339/EC).

The EU recommendation is specifically intended to be considered by EU ports “where air quality limit values are exceeded or where public concern is expressed about high levels of noise nuisance, and especially in berths situated near residential areas” .

The above makes the point on a reduction of the quality of life of the residential community as a result of just one issue: noise. Then there are other issues amongst which light pollution (resulting from the floodlights at the terminal), which issue is being addressed, as well as the lack of availability of a substantial portion of Marsaxlokk Bay which cannot be adequately used for water sports. Add to this the large number of sports facilities which the British Services developed in the past in the Birżebbuġa Area, most of which have been gobbled up by the development of the Freeport and one gets a real feel as to what the Freeport has done to the quality of life of the Birżebbuġa community.

The development of a waterpolo pitch to replace that constructed in the 60s as well as the development of a football ground, both in the final stages of completion will reduce these impacts. But they will certainly not be sufficient for a community which had so many more sports facilities when it was so much smaller.

To be fair, the Freeport Terminal is not the only contributor to the reduction of the Birżebbuġa residents’ quality of life. Generally, it is the result of the gradual industrialisation of the Marsaxlokk Port over the last thirty years. The addition of the floating gas storage facility servicing the gas-fired Delimara Power Station in the coming weeks (or months) will further increase these problems.

The concerns of ordinary people have been ignored for far too long. Maybe this is why the Prime Minister commented earlier this week on the undesirability of any further expansion of the Freeport Terminal. Possibly he has, at this late hour, realised the extent of the mess which has been created.

The time to clean up is long overdue.

published  on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 24 July 2016

Smelling the coffee

 

extract MT freeport crane clearancesmell the coffee

Last Thursday was one of those very rare occasions when the MEPA Board, considering two different development applications submitted by the Freeport Terminal operator, decided on the one which will be beneficial to Birżebbuġa residents.

I must confess that I was surprised at this, as I am accustomed to a MEPA which thinks and acts differently. I do not know whether Thursday’s sitting was a one-off or else whether it signals that the Authority has at last realised that the quality of life of our communities should be the real focus of its endeavours. Only time will tell.

The first application was to renew an approved permit in connection with  dredging work aimed at enabling larger ships to make use of the West Quay of Terminal 1. The second application proposed the installation of larger cranes with 140-metre jibs. The cranes currently in use have 110-metre jibs.

After repeated representations from the Birżebbuġa local council, as well as Birżebbuġa residents, MEPA-weeks before Thursday’s meeting- informed the Freeport Terminal Operator that siting these large cranes along the West Quay of Terminal 1 was unacceptable due to their impact on the quality of life of  residents, a number of whom live just across the road from the Freeport Terminal boundary wall.

The management of the Freeport Terminal complied with MEPA’s instructions to relocate the 140-metre jib cranes. This, however, begged the further question as to whether or not the pending dredging work was, in fact, now required.

The MEPA Board unanimously accepted the submission from the local council that, in view of the relocation of the cranes, there was no further need for the dredging permit and this was therefore not renewed.

Regarding the second application, seeking authorisation to replace a number of existing cranes with 110-metre jibs with more modern models having 140-jibs, the local council sought an explanation as to why a proposal for the siting of a power station close by – at il-Mara Bengħajsa (with an 80-metre high chimney) in the late 1980s was shot down by the Civil Aviation authorities, who are now accepting the installation of 140-metre high jibs.

During the discussion, it transpired that the clearance issued by Transport Malta was ambiguous. In fact, Transport Malta stated that the 140-metre jib cranes “will penetrate one of the established aeronautical protection surfaces by circa 18m and although this situation is not desirable, given the importance of this facility to the economy, on exceptional basis and without prejudice to any future request it is being considered acceptable subject to the following mitigations ………………”

You have read correctly. The 140-metre jib cranes are “not desirable” yet they are “being considered acceptable” by Transport Malta due to the importance of the Freeport to the economy.

The MEPA Chairman is insisting that Transport Malta owes us an explanation. He could have added that safety should not be compromised for any reason, including “economic importance”.

In a further twist in the whole saga, the Freeport Terminal management proceeded with the installation of the new cranes without waiting for a MEPA decision on the development permit requested.

Public opinion has been repeatedly critical of MEPA for its insensitivity to the impact of developments on residents in various localities. Economic operators were afforded  sufficient protection to be able to over-ride the growing environmental concerns of our communities.

The same MEPA Board which, last Thursday, unanimously decided to refuse the renewal of a development permit to carry out dredging work had, 18 months ago, voted by a large majority in favour of changes to the Freeport’s environmental permit such that it would have been permissible to carry out repairs to ships and oil rigs at the Kalafrana Terminal.  It was only at the insistence of the Birżebbuġa Local Council that the Freeport Terminal management opted not to use the permit issued.

The question to which I seek an answer to is whether Thursday’s events signify that MEPA has awoken up from its slumber and smelled the coffee  It would indeed be commendable if it is capable of standing up to corporate (and state) arrogance.

Ending MEPA’s Rip van Winkle phase would signify that, after all, the possibility to improve the quality of life in Malta through better environment protection does exist, after all. But time is running out.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 22 November 2015

Wasal iż-żmien li jinbidel il-menú

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Attendejt għal forum dwar it-titjib fil-kwalità tal-ħajja fin-nofsinnhar ta’ Malta li sar fi SmartCity nhar is-Sibt li għadda u li kien organizzat mill-NGO ambjentali Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar.

F’dawn l-okkazjonijiet, il-fus tad-diskussjoni, bħal dejjem, , idur fuq il-konflitt bejn il-ħarsien tal-ambjent u l-kilba għall-flus. Ser jirnexxilna nimxu il-quddiem biss meta jkun ċar li l-interess tan-nies jiġu qabel il-flus: meta l-iżvilupp propost ikun wieħed sostenibbli.

Sfortunatament dan mhux dejjem ċar. M’huwiex ċar minn kif jitkellmu uħud li jħawwdu f’dak li jissejjaħ żvilupp. L-anqas m’hu ċar minn uħud mid-deċiżjonijiet u policies li jiġġebbdu iktar mil-lastku.

L-awtoritajiet pubbliċi suppost li qegħdin hemm biex jiddefendu lill-komunità. Iżda, sfortunatament, bosta drabi iktar iwasslu l-messaġġ li qegħdin hemm biex iservu lill-flus u lill dawk li għax għandhom is-saħħa tal-flus iwieżnu kontinwament  lill-poter.

Dan mhux atteġġjament li qed nosservawh illum għall-ewwel darba. Iżda hu mod ta’ imġieba li issa drajniha. Il-kokijiet donnhom li qegħin jinbidlu regolarment. Imma l-menú baqa’ l-istess.  It-taħwida fil-borma għadha l-istess, avolja inbidlu l-idejn li qed iħawdu u jagħġnu.

Għax minn kokijiet li mhux imdorrijin jipproduċu ħlief frejjeġ u kawlata ma tistax tistenna żvilupp sostenibbli.

Jeħtieġ li jinbidel il-menú. In-nies trid spazji miftuħa u inqas konkos. Mhux biss spazji mhux mibnija imma fuq kollox aċċess ikbar għan-natura. Anke fin-nofsinnhar tal-pajjiż.

ippubblikat fuq iNews L-Erbgha l-1 t’April 2015

Il-ħarsien tal-ambjent : l-istedina tal-President Marie-Louise Coleiro-Preca

M.L ColeiroMillennium-Development-Goals

 

Meta l-bieraħ mexxejt delegazzjoni ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika għand il-President tar-Repubblika Marie-Louise Coleiro-Preca biex nagħtuha l-awguri għas-sena 2015  kien obbligu tiegħi u ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika li ngħidulha grazzi għall-ħidma tagħha matul dawn it-tmien xhur li ilha fil-ħatra.

Fid-diskorsi tagħha l-President ta’ Malta qed kontinwament temfasizza r-rabta bejn il-ħarsien ambjentali u l-kwalità tal-ħajja, b’emfasi fuq il-ġlieda kontra l-faqar. Fil-fatt fid-diskors tagħha mxandar fl-okkażjoni tal-Milied hija qalet li kull settur li għandu impatt ambjentali jeħtieġlu jeżamina ftit il-kuxjenza tiegħu. Il-kelma sostenibilità, qalet Coleiro-Preca fil-messaġġ tal-Milied, m’għandiex tibqa’ sempliċi kelma bħall-oħrajn iżda għandha isservi bħala gwida għall-mod kif naġixxu.

Dan id-diskors ta’ Coleiro-Preca huwa ta’ importanza, iktar u iktar fil-kuntest ta’ żewġ avvenimenti ambjentali importanti li ser iseħħu matul din is-sena li jista’ jkollhom impatt sostanzjali fuq il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri.

F’Settembru li ġej l-Assembleja Ġenerali tal-Ġnus Magħquda ser tiddiskuti s-Sustainable Development Goals li fuq quddiem nett jinkludu l-ġlieda kontra l-faqar. F’Diċembru imbagħad, ġewwa Pariġi, ser ikun hemm laqgħa importanti dwar il-klima li tista’ twassal għal ftehim ġlobali li jagħmel sens u li jkun effettiv b’seħħ mill-2020.

Nawguraw lill-President iktar minn din il-ħidma. Nittama dejjem li min għandu widnejn, jisma’.

 

Local plans, and not regional

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MEPA has embarked on a process which will lead to a revision of the seven existing  Local Plans. Five were approved in 2006. Two of them were approved earlier: the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan (1995) and the Grand Harbour Local Plan (2002).

With the exception of the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan (which regulates  Birżebbuġa, Marsaxlokk and their surrounding areas) all the Local Plans cover extensive areas. The Structure Plan, approved in 1990 and currently subject to revision, had identified the need for 24 Local Plans addressing urban areas, as well as other unspecified plans for Rural Conservation Areas. Initially when MEPA approved the Marsaxlokk Bay Local Plan it started along this path but then it opted for plans which are more regional than local in nature.

Local Plans are necessary in order that planning policy is appropriately applied at a local level where one can focus on practical considerations. Though there may be overlaps between Local Plans covering similar areas there will also be variations resulting from the specific nature of the different localities. There will be inevitable similarities between, for example, a Local Plan addressing Valletta and Floriana on one hand and another one addressing the Three Cities due to the fact that both contain vast stretches of fortifications.  However the planning issues arising may also lead to different considerations both in respect of what is to be prohibited as well as in what ought to be encouraged.

Local Plans are not neutral policy instruments. Departing from the common need to ensure a continuous maintenance programme for the fortifications (which programme is currently in hand)  Local Plans may explore different potential uses to which the fortifications in two completely different areas may be put. This would be dependent on the infrastructural services in the area  and on the impacts generated by the potential use  on the surrounding amenities and localities. It would be much easier to ensure that this is done through two separate local plans, one specifically addressing Valletta and Floriana and the other addressing just the Three Cities.

It is not just an issue of fortifications. The large number of vacant properties, currently totalling  over 72,000 cannot be addressed adequately at a regional level. Different policies and different targets have to be identified at a local level as both the causes as well as the extent of the problem vary from one locality to another.

Boundaries of a number of Urban Conservation Areas (UCAs) were substantially revised in 2006 on the understanding that it is better to limit the extent of a UCA to that which is necessary and essential. Consequently it should stand to reason that a smaller UCA is much better to regulate and monitor.

A number of vacant properties lie within UCAs as it costs much more to bring such properties to an adequate state compatible to modern standards of living. This is an area which has already been explored in the last years with various fiscal incentives being offered to encourage rehabilitaton and the reuse of such properties. Much more needs to be done. The revision of the Local Plans is another opportunity to re-examine the way forward in tackling the ever increasing number of vacant properties. The proposed policies must however be focused and local in nature as otherwise they will fail to have any impact at all.

As emphasised by eNGOs  the Local Plans should also be an opportunity to consider the integration of environmental policy and its applicability at a local level. Whilst all environmental policy is of relevance to our localities two particular areas easily spring to mind: air quality and noise pollution.

Both air quality and noise control standards can be undoubtedly upgraded if action is taken at a local level. Traffic generated is a major contributor to both. Heavy traffic through residential areas has to be reduced. If the Local Plans address this issue they will be simultaneously contributing to a better air quality and less acoustic pollution in urban areas.

From declarations made in the past weeks it is obvious that one of the controversial issues to be tackled, (most probably in a plan addressing rural areas) would be agro-tourism.  This is a very sensitive matter . If the point of departure is to seek to establish new development zones on the pretext of tourism than such proposals would be unacceptable. If on the other hand such a Rural Plan addresses the use of existing  agricultural holdings aiming to maximise the use of their existing footprint, provide a different touristic experience as well as  provide alternative or additional employment opportunities to our agricultural communities then there is room for considerable discussion.

The Local Plans to be produced will have an impact on our quality of life for the next ten years. It is hence imperative to not only ensure a high level of participation in the consultation process but that the resulting proposals are given due consideration.

This article was published in The Times of Malta, Saturday August 10, 2013

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