The war on nature is suicidal

If we are to register any significant progress in addressing our quality of life we must once and for all end the war on nature. This has been emphasised by Inger Anderson, the Executive Director of UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) when she was addressing the Conference of the Parties of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, currently in session at Montreal.

This has been also emphasised by a multitude of speakers within other fora, notably those related to climate, most recently in Sharm El Sheikh during the latest Climate Summit.

The Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Convention on Biological Diversity are just two of the many efforts and initiatives of the international community in order to end the continuous human war on nature.

Small steps forward have been made but they are nowhere near being enough in order to have any significant impact in halting the damage done to date as well as reversing its consequences.

It has been an uphill struggle for more than fifty years. It was in Stockholm fifty years ago, in June 1972, that the international community agreed for the first time ever, to recognise the environment as an important issue to be delt with by the global political agenda.

The UN Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972 laid the foundations for international environmental governance. The Stockholm Conference is in fact credited with introducing the environment in the contemporary political lexicon.

Opening the United Nations Montreal Biodiversity Conference, this week, Antonio Guterres-UN Secretary General, said that humans are treating nature “as a toilet”. Nature, said Guterres, is humanity’s best friend: without nature, we have nothing, without nature we are nothing!

We threaten nature in many ways: urbanisation, deforestation, agricultural intensification, all forms of pollution, climate change as well as the spread of invasive species. Possibly these are the primary vehicles used in the intensive war waged by humanity against nature.

It is about time that we seek ways to make peace. With nature, however, there is no room for negotiation! We must seek to make peace before nature strikes back with full force. It is already retaliating, and this will definitely get much worse.

There is no possibility to negotiate with nature, her demands are clear and simple: unconditional surrender. We need to change our ways and habits. Nature can be a reliable friend but if transformed into an enemy, it is ruthless, as climate change shows continuously and unequivocally.

Nature is what sustains everything on earth, yet it is declining on a global level. The rate of extinction of species is increasing exponentially.

Expanding protected areas is not enough to arrest nature’s decline. We need to change our behaviour through seriously addressing the various environmental threats. We must limit the spread of invasive species, and halt deforestation. We need to protect agricultural land. It is imperative that we drive some sense into land use planning. We also need to eliminate environmentally harmful subsidies. We need to protect what’s left of the natural resources which we have been provided with!

It is only when our actions match our nice words that we can start achieving the required results. Until then, we inch closer to a collective suicide.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 11 December 2022

Mqabba: vittma ta’ sklerożi tal-istituzzjonijiet

Madwar għoxrin sena ilu, l-awtorità responsabbli mill-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art, dakinnhar imsejħa l-MEPA, kienet ippubblikat pjan dwar ir-regolamentazzjoni tal-minerali fil-gżejjer Maltin. Dan id-dokument bl-isem Minerals Subject Plan for the Maltese Islands iġib id-data ta’ Mejju 2003.

Kif mistenni, dan il-Pjan hu dwar il-qafas regolatorju essenzjali biex issir l-estrazzjoni tal-minerali minn ġol-art. Primarjament dan jikkonċerna l-operazzjoni tal-barrieri biex tkun estratta l-ġebla Maltija. Dan hu qasam tal-kawbojs, qasam fejn ir-regolamentazzjoni hi skarsa u l-infurzar prattikament ineżistenti.

Fl-ewwel linji tiegħu, dan il-pjan jitkellem ċar ħafna billi jitkellem dwar il-kunflitt inevitabbli li jirriżulta mill-operazzjoni tal-barrieri. Jemfasizza li fi gżejjer li huma żgħar u b’popolazzjoni li hi iffullata hemm kunflitt mat-turiżmu u l-industrija, kif ukoll kemm mal-iżvilupp kummerċjali kif ukoll dak residenzjali. Hemm impatt ukoll fuq il-ħarsien tar-riżorsi naturali u ta’ dawk kulturali. Li jinħoloq bilanċ bejn il-ħtieġijiet tal-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni għar-riżorsi minerali f’kuntest ta’ żvilupp sostenibbli hi sfida ewlenija, jgħidlina l-pjan. Dan flimkien ma kunsiderazzjonijiet ta’ ippjanar ta’ użu ta’ art u konsiderazzjonijiet ambjentali.

Il-pjan dwar il-minerali jitkellem ukoll fid-dettall dwar l-impatt fuq terzi: jiġifieri l-impatt fuq in-nies, kemm residenti kif ukoll dawk li jkunu fil-viċinanzi, hi x’inhi r-raġuni għal dan: dan jinkludi t-tfal tal-iskola primarja. Specifikament jikkunsidra l-impatti riżultat tal-istorbju u tat-trab li huma ġġenerati mit-tħaddim tal-barrieri, mhux biss mill-ħidma biex ikun estratt il-ġebel, imma ukoll minn attività anċillari.

Il-pjan jirreferi għall-ġenerazzjoni tal-istorbju u jgħid li l-permessi ta’ żvilupp għandhom jindirizzaw dan l-inkonvenjent b’diversi miżuri, fosthom permezz ta’ ilqugħ adegwat (acoustic screening), kontroll tal-ħinijiet tal-operazzjoni tal-barriera, li jkun stabilit il-massimu tal-istorbju permissibli u li l-attività storbjuża tkun l-iktar il-bogħod possibli minn żoni sensittivi.

Il-pjan jitkellem ukoll dwar ir-regolamentazzjoni tal-ġenerazzjoni tat-trab. L-attività li tiġġenera t-trab għandha tkun il-bogħod kemm jista’ jkun minn żoni sensittivi. Hu rakkomandat ukoll mill-pjan li meta jinġemgħa fuq is-sit kwantità ta’ prodotti tal-ġebla (stockpiling) dan ikun mgħotti: dan inaqqas it-tixrid tat-trab u allura jgħin biex ikun indirizzat l-inkonvenjent.

Għandi kopja elettronika ta’ dan il-pjan li kont niżżilt minn fuq is-sit elettroniku tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar xi snin ilu. Meta din il-ġimgħa erġajt fittixt, sibt li dan id-dokument sparixxa minn hemm: illum m’għadux aċċessibli fuq is-sit elettroniku tal-awtorità!  Safejn naf jien dan il-pjan għadu fis-seħħ imma, mal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar diffiċli tgħid: għax qatt ma taf fejn int!

Ftakart f’dan kollu meta f’dawn il-ġranet ġejt ikkuntattjat minn residenti fl-Imqabba minħabba applikazzjoni tal-ippjanar (PA 0350/22) li daħlet reċentement dwar barriera fil-viċinanzi tal-iskola primarja tal-Imqabba.  Din l-applikazzjoni hi dwar attività diversa fil-barriera inkluż tkissir tal-ġebla biex tipproduċi ż-żrar kif ukoll dwar il-ħażna taż-żrar fs-sit (stock piling).

Ir-residenti qalulna, lili u lil Melissa Bagley, (kandidat tal-partit fuq id-distrett elettorali li minnu jifforma parti l-Imqabba) li ilhom jaqilgħu ġo fihom żmien. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan għandhom raġun li joqgħodu lura milli jitkellmu direttament. Bħala partit aħna ser nitkellmu f’isimhom.

Jiena rajt il-file dwar din l-applikazzjoni fuq is-sit elettroniku tal-awtorità tal-ippjanar u nħoss li għandi ngħid pubblikament li jiena mħasseb ħafna bir-reazzjoni tad-Direttorat tas-Saħħa Ambjentali li hi nieqsa minn kull sens ta’ responsabbiltà. Jonqos milli jitkellem dwar l-impatti negattivi fuq in-nies kemm tat-trab fin iġġenerat kif ukoll tal-istorbju. Ma jitkellimx dwar il-ħtieġa li dan ikun ikkontrollat mill-proċess tal-ippjanar innifsu.

L-Awtorità dwar l-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi, min-naħa l-oħra, tistabilixxi numru ta’ kundizzjonijiet li għandhom ikunu osservati in lineja ma’ l-aħjar prattiċi ambjentali. Għandu jkun ċar, iżda li dawn il-miżuri u kundizzjonijiet jeħtieġ  li jkunu partiintegrali kemm minn eventwali permess ta’ żvilupp kif ukoll mill-permess operattiv li jinħareġ mill-ERA innifisha.

Sal-ħin li qed nikteb, id-Dipartiment tal-Edukazzjoni għadu ma fetaħx ħalqu biex jipproteġi lill-istudenti fl-iskola primarja tal-Imqabba li hi daqstant viċin tal-barriera soġġett ta’ din l-applikazzjoni. Ma nafx x’qed jistennew biex jipproteġu lit-tfal Mqabbin mill-istorbju u t-trab fin ġġenerat mill-barriera!

B’mod konvenjenti l-anqas il-Kunsill Lokali tal-Imqabba ma fetaħ ħalqu. Imma dan ma jissorprendi lil ħadd.

Din hi materja serja u gravi li teħtieġ l-attenzjoni tagħna lkoll. Il-barrieri u l-ħidma fihom jinħtieġu li jkunu regolati sewwa biex il-kwalità tal-ħajja ta’ dawk kollha li jgħixu fil-madwar tkun imħarsa bis-serjetà.

Is-skiet, jew in-nuqqas ta’ azzjoni adegwata, tal-awtoritajiet li nsemmi iktar il-fuq hi skandaluża. Din hi sklerożi tal-istituzzjonijiet. Meta l-iktar hemm bżonnhom, dawn jiġġammjaw.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 6 ta’Novembru 2022

Mqabba: a victim of institutional sclerosis

Around twenty years ago, the authority responsible for land use planning, then named MEPA, had published a Minerals Subject Plan for the Maltese Islands. The plan is dated May 2003.

The Subject Plan, as expected, deals with the regulatory framework for mineral extraction, primarily limestone, which was then and still is now, cowboy territory. Regulation is scarce and enforcement in this sector is almost inexistent.

The Subject Plan fired a warning shot in its first lines by pinpointing the inevitable conflicts resulting from the operation of quarries. It emphasises that “in such small and densely populated islands there are inevitable land use conflicts between limestone extraction and tourism, industrial, commercial and residential development, and the preservation of the islands’ natural and cultural resources. Balancing the needs of the construction industry for mineral resources with other planning and environmental policies, in the context of sustainable development is a key challenge for this Mineral Subject Plan and for the day-to-day control of extraction and related activities.”

The Subject Plan considers impacts on third parties. Specifically, it considers the impacts of noise and dust resulting from quarry operations and ancillary activities.

With reference to noise, it states that planning permits will seek to regulate noise impacts through the use of acoustic screening, restricting operating hours, setting of permissible maximum noise levels, locating noisier operations as far as possible from noise sensitive locations and properties and ensuring appropriate stand-off distances between operations and sensitive locations.

On the other hand, the regulation of dust impacts in the said Mineral Subject plan is also fairly detailed in that it is required to site the dust generating activities away from sensitive locations, considering the direction of prevailing winds. Covering of stockpiles is also recommended.

I have an electronic copy of this Subject Plan which I downloaded some time ago from the Planning Authority website. Checking recently, it has apparently mysteriously disappeared: it is no longer accessible on the Planning Authority website! As far as I am aware this Subject Plan is still applicable. When dealing with the Planning Authority, however, one never knows for certain!

All this came to mind when I was recently contacted by a number of Mqabba residents relative to a planning application (PA 0350/22) submitted recently concerning a quarry in the vicinity of the Mqabba Primary School. The application seeks to carry out activities ancillary to quarrying, including crushing and stock piling of stone derived aggregate on site.

Residents, have informed me and Melissa Bagley, party candidate on the electoral district of which Mqabba forms part, that they have been at the receiving end for a long time. As a result, they are reluctant to speak up publicly. ADPD will be taking up their case and speaking on their behalf.

I have gone through the planning application file which is available online and must publicly state that I am shocked at the reactions of the Environmental Health Directorate which fails to make any submissions on the negative impacts of noise and dust generated as a result of quarry operations, and, on the need, to control them through the planning process itself.

The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA), on the other hand, lists a number of conditions to be adhered to in line with best practice environmental measures. It should however be clear that these measures should be an integral part of both an eventual planning permit as well as the standard operational permit issued by ERA itself.

The Department of Education has so far not reacted in order to protect the students at Mqabba Primary School which school almost borders the quarry in question. What is it waiting for to protect Mqabba boys and girls from excessive noise and from continuously inhaling dust particles generated by the quarry operations?

The Mqabba Local Council is also conveniently silent. However, no one is surprised about that.

This is a very serious issue which needs our attention. Quarrying needs adequate regulation and prompt enforcement such that the quality of life of all those in the vicinity is adequately protected.

The silence (or the lack of appropriate action) of the relative public authorities listed above is scandalous. This is institutional sclerosis. When needed most the institutions we have fail to act.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 November 2022

Miljun euro kuljum f’sussidji

Is-susidji li qed jitħallsu mill-kaxxa ta’ Malta għall-petrol, dijżil u elettriku huma sostanzjali. Sa nofs Lulju anke d-dijżil użat minn inġenji kbar tal-baħar kien issussidjat! Permezz ta’ avviż legali, effettiv mid-29 ta’ Lulju il-Ministeru tal-Finanzi waqqaf dan is-sussidju, u għamel tajjeb.

Din il-bidla, bl-eliminazzjoni tas-sussidju tad-dijsil u petrol għal inġenji kbar tal-baħar kienet pass tajjeb il-quddiem biex ma jibqgħux jintużaw fondi pubbliċi fuq sussidji li la kienu meħtieġa u l-anqas ma kienu ġustifikabbli.

Is-sussidji li presentement huma użati għall-petrol, dijżil u l-elettriku jeċċedu l-miljun ewro kuljum. Fil-fatt huma qrib il-miljun u nofs euro (€1,500,000) kuljum.

Il-Prim Ministru, Robert Abela, f’dawn il-ġranet qal li mhux faċli li tillimita s-sussidji biex l-għajnuna ma tispiċċax għand min għandu l-mezzi, inkelli għand min jaħli. Naqblu perfettament li qatt mhu faċli tieħu dawn id-deċiżjonijiet. Speċjalment meta jkun meħtieġ li taqta’ l-benefiċċji lil min m’għandux ħtieġa għalihom!

Hu possibli li nikkunsidraw bis-serjetà t-tnaqqis tas-sussidji għall-petrol, dijżil u elettriku biex ikunu jistgħu jintużaw biss minn min jeħtieġhom. Dan it-tnaqqis jassigura li jkun hemm ferm iktar fondi għal dawk li verament għandhom bżonn. Miżura bħal din tnaqqas il-ħtieġa li tkun indirizzata l-ispiża għall-edukazzjoni jew għal xi qasam jew proġett ta’ utilità biex tagħmel tajjeb għas-sussidji.

It-tnaqqis fl-ispiża għall-edukazzjoni universitarja, kif qed jippjana li jagħmel il-Gvern bi tnaqqis fil-fondi għall-Università hu kastig indirizzat lejn il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri.  Il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri huma diġa mgħobbija bid-dejn pubbliku akkumulat, b’riżorsi naturali li kważi spiċċaw u b’wirt nazzjonali li qiegħed kontinwament taħt assedju. M’għandniex nagħmlu l-affarijiet agħar milli diġa huma!

Is-sussidji eżistenti jistgħu jonqsu iktar.

Is-sussidji fuq il-petrol u d-dijżil jistgħu jonqsu sakemm gradwalment jinġiebu fix-xejn.  Dan iwassal għal benefiċċju addizzjonali, ta’ inqas karozzi fit-toroq, u dan billi żieda fil-prezz tal-petrol u d-dijżil inevitabilment jikkawża ċaqlieqa lejn użu ikbar tat-transport pubbliku. Irridu fuq kollox niftakru li numru sostanzjali tal-vjaġġi li nagħmlu bil-karozzi privati huma għal distanzi qosra. Dan ġie emfasizzat ukoll mill-iStrateġija Nazzjonali tat-Trasport li tgħid li 50 fil-mija tal-vjaġġi bil-karozzi privati fil-gżejjer Maltin huma għal distanzi qosra li jieħdu inqas minn ħmistax-il minuta.

F’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi, t-trasport pubbliku jista’ joffri alternattiva raġjonevoli. Iktar u iktar issa li minn Ottubru ser ikun bla ħlas! Jeħtieġ imma li jkun effiċjenti, jżomm il-ħin, dejjem, u jilħaq l-ikbar numru possibli ta’ lokalitajiet f’kull ħin. Dan għandu jinkludi servizz ridott imma effiċjenti matul il-lejl.

F’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi, it-tnaqqis tas-sussidju fuq il-petrol u id-dijżil hi l-aħjar għażla li tista’ issir.

Imbagħad ikun jinħtieġ li jkunu indirizzati b’mod dirett l-impatti ta’ dawk is-setturi ekonomiċi dipendenti fuq il-petrol u d-dijżil. Dawn jeħtieġu għajnuna diretta u iffokata li tindirizza l-impatti ta’ din id-dipendenza.

Konsiderazzjonijiet simili għandhom japplikaw għas-sussidji li preżentement japplikaw għall-konsum tal-elettriku.

Il-konsum domestiku bażiku tal-elettriku għandu jibqa’ jkun issussidjat. Imma lil hinn minn dan il-konsum bażiku, anke hawn hu ġustifikat li tkun ikkunsidrata għajnuna iffukata u mfassla għas-setturi ekonomiċi differenti. Dan jagħmel ferm iktar sens milli jkun issussidjat il-konsum kollu bla limitu.

Għandha tibqa’ prijorità l-għajnuna li twassal għall-ġenerazzjoni u użu ikbar ta’ enerġija rinovabbli.  Hemm ħtieġa ta’ sforz ikbar biex tkun iġġenerata enerġija solari permezz ta’ użu iktar effiċjenti tal-bjut tal-bini pubbliku kif ukoll, fejn dan hu possibli, tal-ispazji miftuħa. Flimkien ma investiment ikbar fit-titjib meħtieġ fis-sistema tad-distribuzzjoni tal-elettriku dan jista’ jnaqqas l-impatt ta’ din il-kriżi enerġetika fuq il-pajjiż b’mod sostanzjali.

Li ngħinu li dawk li għandhom ħtieġa, tibqa’ prijorità. Imma l-għajnuna li tingħata għandha tkun waħda li tkun sostenibbli. In-nefqa ta’ miljun euro kuljum fuq sussidji (probabbilment ferm iktar) definittivament mhux sostenibbli.

Il-futur niffaċċjawh b’serenità permezz ta’ viżjoni sostenibbli. Dan jaqbel u hu fl-interess ta’ kulħadd. Kemm fl-interess tal-ġenerazzjonijiet preżenti kif ukoll fl-interess tal-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri. L-għażliet li għandna quddiemna mhumiex faċli. Hu biss jekk nagħrfu nidentifikaw il-prijoritajiet tagħna bil-għaqal li nistgħu nkunu f’posizzjoni li nħejju futur sostenibbli.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: 18 ta’ Settembru 2022

One Million euro every day

The subsidies being currently forked out by the public exchequer relative to the current price of fuel and electricity are substantial. Until mid-July subsidised fuel was also available for use by large seacraft. Through a legal notice effective on the 29 July the Finance Ministry tweaked the subsidy rules to stop this. This was a correct step to take.

This tweaking of fuel subsidy rules was a good step in diverting subsidies from being mis-used for non-essential purposes.  The subsidies currently applied to fuel and electricity exceed the sum of one million euro per day. In fact, they are getting closer to one and a half million euro (€1,500,000) per day.

Prime Minister Robert Abela is on record as stating that it is not easy to limit subsidies from being used by the wealthy and the wasteful. I agree that decision-taking is never easy. Especially when limiting access to benefits such that those who are not in need and the wasteful do not end up being subsidised by the state!

It is however possible to seriously consider limiting the fuel and electricity subsidies to be used only by those who need them. Such a limitation would ensure that more funds are available for those who really need them. It would reduce the need to curtail expenditure on education or other useful areas/projects to make good for the subsidies.

Reducing expenditure on university education, as government is planning to do through a reduction in its operational budget, penalises future generations. Future generations are already burdened with the accumulated national debt, with the depletion of natural resources and with the continuous ruining of our national heritage. We should not make matters worse than they already are.

Existing subsidies could be further tweaked.

Subsidies on petrol and diesel could be reduced until they are completely eliminated. This would have the additional benefit of less cars on the road as increased petrol/diesel prices would inevitably shift more of us to make more use of public transport. We should remember that a substantial amount of private car use can be avoided as it is for short distances. This has been clearly emphasised in the National Transport Master Plan which states that 50 per cent of car trips in the Maltese Islands are for short distances of less than fifteen minutes duration. Public Transport can offer the reasonable alternative in these circumstances, in particular being free of charge as from next month! It must however improve its reliability as well as its efficiency. It should also aim to reach as many localities as possible, including through an efficient night service.

In these circumstances reducing gradually and eventually removing subsidies on petrol/diesel could be the way forward.

The issue remains as to those economic areas which are dependent on petrol/diesel. In these cases, government should identify suitable focused aid which addresses the specific needs of the economic areas under consideration.

Similar considerations should apply to subsidies currently applicable to electricity.

Basic domestic use of electricity should remain subsidised. Beyond that, however, it would make sense to focus the required aid to industry and business in a focused manner, in tailor-made fashion. This would make much more sense than a blanket policy of subsidies across the board.

Increased emphasis on assistance to generate and make use of renewal energy should continue to be a priority. An increased effort must be made to generate more renewable energy through an efficient use of the roofs of public buildings as well as, wherever possible, adequate use of public open spaces. Coupled with an increased expenditure on improvements to the electricity distribution system this could reduce the impacts of this energy crisis on the Maltese taxpayer in a substantial manner.

Helping those in need is a priority. In should however be done in a sustainable manner! Spending more than one million euro per day on these subsidies is definitely not sustainable.

A sustainable vision is the way forward. It is in the interest of all. This is in the interest of both the present as well as future generations. The choices we need to make are tough. It is only if we get our priorities right that we can plot the way for a sustainable future.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 18 September 2022

Nitgħallmu min-natura

Aħna familjari ma kif taħdem l-ekonomija linejari. Nagħmlu użu mir-riżorsi li nsibu madwarna u wara li ma jkollniex iktar bżonnhom narmuhom.  

In-natura taħdem ferm differenti minn hekk u minn għandha nistgħu nitgħallmu ħafna. Fil-fatt jekk nippruvaw nimxu fuq il-passi tan-natura nistgħu nsolvu bosta mill-problemi li nħabbtu wiċċna magħhom.  

Teżisti linja ta’ studju speċjali imsejħa biomimicry (imitazzjoni tan-natura) li tfittex kif nistgħu nifhmu iktar lin-natura u nitgħallmu minn għandha. Li nibdlu l-mentalità tagħna li narmu kollox hi waħda mit-tagħlimiet bażiċi li għandna bżonn.

Ħarsu lejn siġra. Meta jasal il-waqt addattat għaliha twaqqa’ l-weraq li jitmermru fil-ħamrija madwar is-siġra.  Dawn, imbagħad isiru ħaġa waħda mal-ħamrija u jservu biex is-siġra terġa tassorbi n-nutrijenti akkumulati.

Hekk taħdem l-ekonomija naturali. In-natura ma timxix bħalna, ma tarmi xejn. Issib użu għal kollox. Għalhekk ngħidu li l-ekonomija tan-natura hi waħda ċirkulari għax ma tarmi xejn, u tirriċikla kollox.  Kull prodott naturali li jispiċċa ma jintremiex iżda jitmermer u jerġa’ jitwieled mill-ġdid f’xi forma jew oħra. Jidħol f’ċiklu naturali ġdid.

Fil-ktieb tagħhom Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the way we make things William McDonough and Michael Braungart jiffukaw fuq dan kollu. Jidentifikaw inizjattivi speċifiċi  industrijali u kummerċjali li bihom inaqqsu l-użu ta’ materjali fl-ekonomija, dik li nsejħula dematerialisation. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan jista’ jitwettaq ħafna iktar bl-użu ta’ inqas riżorsi.  Ikollna l-istess kwalità ta’ servizz (jew aħjar) b’inqas użu ta’materjal: effiċjenza prattika fl-użu tar-riżorsi.

Dan iwassal mhux biss biex jonqsu l-ispejjes tal-użu tal-materjal imma ukoll jitnaqqsu l-ispejjes konnessi mal-enerġija użata: dawn huma uħud mill-benefiċċji li ġġib bidla minn ekonomija linejari għal waħda cirkulari.  Twassal ukoll għal żieda fl-investiment kif ukoll għal żieda fl-impiegi li jistgħu jinħolqu. Il-kontribut finali jkun li ntejbu l-kwalità tal-ħajja ta’ kulħadd.

Din il-ġimgħa l-Ministru tal-Ambjent aġġornana dwar il-pjan nazzjonali ta’ azzjoni biex ikunu applikati f’pajjiżna l-prinċipji tal-ekonomija ċirkulari.  Dan hu tajjeb, avolja dan hu paroli li ilna ħafna nisimgħu dwaru tul is-snin: mingħajr ma jsir xejn.

Il-Ministru fisser il-pjani tal-Gvern fuq il-magni li ser ikunu stallati madwar Malta biex permezz tagħhom ikun iffaċilitat ir-riċiklaġġ tal-fliexken tal-plastik u skart ieħor konness mal-ippakkeġġjar. Riżultat ta’ din l-inizjattiva fliexken tal-plastik u kontenituri oħra (tal-birra u tal-inbid, per eżempju) jinġabru f’magni mxerrdin mal-pajjiż u minnhom tieħu lura d-depożitu li tkun ħallast meta tkun xtrajt l-ilma, birra, inbid jew inkella luminata.

Però jkun utili li niftakru li fl-2004, kien hemm proposta kważi simili li kienet ġiet ippreżentata lill-Gvern immexxi mill-Partit Nazzjonalista. Din il-proposta kienet bħala alternattiva għall-eko-kontribuzzjoni li kienet qed tkun introdotta dakinnhar.   Kienu Farsons li fl-2004 ipproponew skema ta’ depożitu fuq il-kontenituri, liema depożitu kien ikun jista’ jittieħed lura kif kien qed iseħħ fid-Danimarka. Sfortunatament kien hemm oġġezzjonijiet kbar għall-dik il-proposta u din għaldaqstant flok ma kienet diskussa u mtejba ġiet imwarrba u injorata. Il-Gvern dakinnhar qagħad fuq dak li qalu industrijalisti oħra tal-luminati li kellhom aċċess ikbar għall-widna tal-Prim Ministru Gonzi. Dan hu kollu dokumentat.

Wara sbatax-il sena, mela, erġajna wasalna fil-punt tat-tluq oriġinali. Imma sadanittant inħlew sbatax-il sena.  

Hu fl-interess ta’ kulħadd li din l-iskema titħaddem sewwa u li tirnexxi. L-iskop hu li jkun irkuprat 85 fil-mija tal-iskart tal-ippakkeġġjar li hu ġġenerat fil-gżejjer Maltin. Nemmen li hu possibli li din il-mira tintlaħaq, kif kien anke possibli li tintlaħaq sbatax-il sena ilu. Din l-iskema ddaħħal ftit sens fil-politika tal-immaniġjar tal-iskart f’Malta. Nittama li ma tkunx ostakolata bħal ta’ qabilha.

Nistennew li jasal il-jum li tkun implimentata.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 23 ta’ Mejju 2021

Lessons from nature

We are accustomed to the functioning of the linear economy. We extract the resources from the earth, we make use of them and subsequently when they are beyond their useful life, we throw them away.

Nature works quite differently. We can learn a lot from nature. As a matter of fact, if we try to imitate nature, we can solve many of the problems which we face.

Biomimicry is a relatively new branch of study which seeks ways in which we can learn from nature. Discarding our throwaway attitudes is one such basic lesson.

Take a look at any tree. At the appropriate time, it sheds its leaves, which disintegrate in the soil below. Nature does not waste the leaves shed by the tree, as they are reused and reabsorbed through the roots of the same tree as nutrients.

This is how nature’s economy works. Mother nature functions on the basis of a cradle-to-cradle philosophy in contrast to our cradle-to-grave attitude. The natural economy is a circular one which does not throw anything away: it recycles everything. At the end of the useful life of any natural product this does not end in a landfill but it gives birth to another product, a new fruit. It is reintroduced into the natural cycle.

In their book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the way we make things William McDonough and Michael Braungart focus specifically on this matter. They identify specific industrial and commercial initiatives which seek to dematerialise the economy as a result of which we can end up doing much more with less use of resources. The same or better level of service is achieved but, in the process, there are substantially fewer material inputs: practical resource efficiency.

In addition to saving on material costs as well as energy used, the transition from a linear to a circular economy presents numerous potential benefits. In particular, it attracts additional investment and can create thousands of jobs that practically and realistically contribute to making the world a better place to live in.

This week the Minister for the Environment gave an update on a national action plan to intensify efforts to align Malta to circular economy principles. This is positive even though we have heard this a multitude of times over the years.

The Honourable Minister outlined government’s plans on plastic bottle return machines which will be available all over the islands to facilitate their recycling. As a result of this initiative plastic bottles will be returned at which point a deposit paid on their purchase will be refunded.

It would be pertinent to point out that way back in 2004, or thereabouts, a proposal essentially very similar to this had been submitted to the then PN led government as an alternative to the eco-contribution scheme.  In fact, Farsons had then proposed the setting up of a deposit refund scheme for packaging waste on the basis of the Danish model. It was however unfortunately shot down instead of being developed and adapted to the local circumstances. Government instead opted for an eco-tax as emphasised by another powerful lobby which had a much easier access to Prime Minister Gonzi and his entourage. This is all documented.

Seventeen years down the line we are back at the original point of departure. Seventeen years have in the meantime been wasted. It is in everybody’s interest that the proposed scheme functions successfully. The objective is to achieve an 85 per cent recycling of the packaging waste generated on these islands. I believe that it is achievable now just as it was seventeen years ago. It puts back some sense in Malta’s waste management policy! Hopefully it will not be sabotaged once more.

I look forward to the implementation date.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 23 May 2021

Beyond GDP

“The GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.” This was stated by Robert Kennedy at the University of Kansas 52 years ago in what is known as his GDP speech!

In what was a highly charged US Presidential campaign, during which he was assassinated, Robert Kennedy had further explained that the GDP “does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.  It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country.”

We may use different language or emphasise different aspects to explain the problem, but not much has changed since: The GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile!

Pursuing economic growth as the single most important policy goal is in conflict with the earth’s limited resource base. It contrasts with the fragile ecosystem of which we are a part and on which we depend for our survival.

Economic growth is supposed to deliver prosperity. Instead it has delivered unbridled climate change, fuel insecurity, sky-high commodity prices, collapsing biodiversity, reduced access to depleted water resources or clean air, and an ever-increasing global inequality. Is this measured by the GDP? Definitely not.

The GDP is just concerned with material wealth, ignoring in the process our health, our education, the safety of our streets, the social tissue of society, the state of our families, the devastation caused by all forms of hatred …………… GDP includes the production of armaments and the destruction of the environment carried out in the name of “progress” as well as the television programmes that glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

The earth’s resources are limited and, consequently, they cannot fuel infinite economic growth. There are practical limits to growth, which should lead our economic planners to consider decoupling prosperity and economic growth.

This is the context in which Greens welcome the Justice and Peace Commission of the Church in Malta looking beyond the GDP. It is welcome not only because it is the correct approach but also because we have been at it for so long, mostly practically on our own.

The 54 page published Church Commission study entitled Beyond GDP – A framework to gauge Malta’s success through quality of life justifiably argues that limiting ourselves to gauging progress through the use of the GDP leads to a situation where other factors leading to a satisfactory quality of life can be easily disregarded.

The study, supported by EY, APS Bank and Seed Consultancy is a very valid contribution to a mature political debate which we lack so much.

The insistence that we should go beyond GDP in gauging our quality of life is not an exercise in diminishing the importance of the economy. Rather, it signifies the determination that the economy should not be seen in isolation but that it should be viewed within a realistic context. Social, environmental and cultural dimensions are extremely relevant, as much as economics, in the gauging of our wellness, or the lack of it.

A more just economy needs to look at the bigger picture and not limit itself to the GDP to get its bearings right. This is another way of emphasising the need for a sustainable development, a term which is much in use nowadays but unfortunately not sufficiently understood or catered for. Going beyond GDP in measuring our state of wellness would definitely yield more realistic indicators which we urgently require. 

Published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 29 November 2020

The debate on the National Environment Strategy

The human person forms an integral part of the eco-system.  We do not form part of “the economy”. The economy is the manner in which we organise ourselves, but the eco-system is our DNA.

This is what the ERA National Strategy for the Environment for 2050, currently in consultation phase, should be about.

The strategy is entitled “Wellbeing First”.  A strategy drafted only in the English language, once more ignoring Maltese. While our quality of life is of the utmost importance, an environmental strategy which is anthropocentric does not make sense. An anthropocentric environmental policy is short term in nature and does not lead to enhancing well-being. Environmental policy should be eco-centric: its subject matter should be the achievement of a healthy ecology, as free as possible from human toxicity. Ensuring a healthy ecology will definitely also enhance our quality of life too.

Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) Chairperson Victor Axiaq, in the forward to the consultation document, emphasises that we have yet to learn to live within our ecological limits. Obviously, as a result of his participation in the Planning Authority Board over the past seven years, he has first-hand experience of the manner in which these limits have been continuously stretched beyond any elastic limit. There is a need to reverse this trend the soonest.

The pursuit of economic growth as the single most important policy goal is in conflict with the earth’s limited resource base and the fragile ecosystem of which we are a part and on which we depend for our survival. While economic growth is supposed to deliver prosperity, it has instead delivered unbridled climate change, fuel insecurity, sky-high commodity prices, collapsing biodiversity, reduced access to depleted water resources and an ever-increasing global inequality. These are all issues the tackling of which cannot be postponed to the next generation.

Progress is measured through the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) yet the GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.

The GDP is just concerned with material wealth ignoring in the process our health, education, the safety of our streets, the social tissue of society, the state of our families, the devastation caused by all forms of hatred…………… GDP includes the production of armaments and the destruction of the environment carried out in the name of “progress” as well as the television programmes that glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. The earth’s resources are limited and, consequently, they cannot fuel infinite economic growth. There are practical limits to growth, which should lead our economic planners to consider decoupling prosperity and economic growth.

The consultation document seeks to guide the national debate towards identifying the long-term objectives of the National Environmental Strategy. Once this is done ERA should be in a position to develop action plans for the achievement of such objectives.

It should be undoubtedly clear to all that a sustainable future will only be achieved when we start respecting the eco-system without any exception. Our eco-system determines our permissible limits which we only ignore at our peril. This is our challenge which must be addressed by the National Environment Strategy.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 30 August 2020

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