Ma’ Reno Bugeja: lil hinn mill-bebbux

Reno ġurnalista b’esperjenza li għandi kull rispett lejh. Ikun ippreparat sewwa biex ikun jista’ jindirizza l-argument quddiemu.

L-intervista kienet iffukata fuq l-ADPD u l-futur tiegħu. X’inhi r-raġuni għall-fatt li minkejja dawn is-snin kollha għadna partit żgħir?

Tul l-intervista Reno, b’sengħa, kontinwament ipprovokani biex joħroġ l-argumenti u l-ispjegazzjonijiet tiegħi.

Il-ħin ma taraħx għaddej għax l-argumenti jintiżġu flimkien b’ħeffa kbira b’mod li sat-tmiem jidher quddiemek mużajk ta’ argumenti li jagħti stampa ċara.

Id-diffikultajiet li niffaċċjaw huma essenzjalment tnejn.

L-ewwel hemm sistema elettorali li tul is-snin fittxet dejjem li tikkonsolida l-ħakma ta’ żewġ partiti fuq il-pajjiż u l-istituzzjonijiet tiegħu.

It-tieni hemm il-frammentazzjoni. Dawk li jaħsbuha bħalna huma mifruxa. Tul is-snin dejjem kien hemm diffikulta biex ninġabru flimkien. L-għaqda bejn l-Alternattiva Demokratika u l-Partit Demokratiku f’dan is-sens kien pass kbir il-quddiem. Ovvjament hemm ħafna iktar xi jsir biex l-ilħna progressivi jinġabru flimkien.

L-intervista serviet biex nispjega ukoll il-kuntrast politiku tagħna ma dak tal-partiti l-oħra.

Tkellimt ftit dwar l-ambjent. Emfasizzajt li l-ambjent għalina jmur lil hinn mill-apprezzament tal-bebbux, id-dud u l-fjuri. L-apprezzament u l-ħarsien tal-ekoloġija huwa importanti ħafna f’ħidmietna. Imma l-ħarsien tal-ambjent ifisser ukoll il-ħarsien u t-titjib fil-kwalità tal-ħajja, tagħna u tal-ġenerazzjonijiet ta’ warajna.

Tkellimna fit-tul, madwar 40 minuta.

Issibu l-ħsibijiet dwar kif il-pajjiż qed isir dipendenti fuq l-evażjoni tat-taxxa. Nafferma għal darba oħra li l-iskema tal-bejgħ taċ-ċittadinanza mhiex aċċettabbli għalina. Hi prostituzzjoni tal-pajjiż.

Hemm ukoll kummenti dwar l-abort u kif dan fil-prattika diġa qed isir fl-isptar Mater Dei.

Il-ħidma politika tagħna tkompli. Pass pass nimxu l-quddiem.

A post-Covid future

It is too simplistic to state that the surge in Covid-19 new cases is the unique responsibility of more efficient strains of the virus. The efficient virus was without doubt, for quite some time, assisted by a practically inexistent enforcement. Until last week, substantial gatherings around a number of bar outlets were definitely not monitored with any strain of virus present having a practically free rein. The high Covid infection rate is also a consequence of all this.

The virus is thus not just more efficient, it has also encountered a lax enforcement which together with Covid-19 fatigue have made its proliferation much easier. Matters were also not made easier as a result of over-optimism and back-to-normal-soon messages. These messages together with the denigration of warnings on the potential impact of additional waves of virus infection has led us to the current state of play.

It is only thanks to the hard work of the medical personnel that matters are not much worse. One only hopes that lessons are learnt and that errors of judgement are not repeated. In the prevailing circumstances, the only permissible errors are those made on the side of caution.

The financial support which government has provided to a number of sectors, which support has been increased and extended, has certainly been helpful in the short term. While prioritising the health of all we can also use this down-time to plan for the future, a post-Covid future.

The vaccination programme is a reasonable source of optimism even though the light at the end of the tunnel is not visible yet.

Nobody contests that even as a result of Covid-19, the economy is in tatters, not just the Maltese economy, but possibly the world economy! The national debate should, at this point in time, be focused on how we ought to proceed into the future. Do we rebuild the past or do we take this unique opportunity to reshape the future?

The education of future generations has been dealt a severe blow as at the end of this Covid-phase at least two years of formal education will have been wiped out. Online education has certainly been of considerable help even though it is no substitute to the direct contact between our educators and students. This applies to all levels of education but more importantly at the primary and secondary school levels. It would be indeed unfortunate if anyone of the most vulnerable goes below the educational radar, as a result of Covid.  

Recovery will definitely not be easy.

A positive aspect of the tools utilised to cope with Covid was the increased reliance on digitalisation in general and tele-working in particular. We will definitely need to discuss the implications of this in considerable depth in the debate on the post-Covid future as both rights and duties in this area are not sufficiently clear yet.

Covid, like other major epidemics (AIDS, Ebola, SARS) is a direct result of the mistreatment of nature. It is specifically the consequence of the human assault on biodiversity.

Nature has a habit of calling the shots whenever it deems fit. Viruses follow natural paths and until brought in check by proper behaviour on our part, they will reign supreme.

Tinkering with nature and natural processes always backfires. There is then a price to pay and we ignore this at our peril.

None of us, most probably, has consumed infected meat from bats or chimpanzees. However, we tinker with nature in other ways, which, in the longer term are just as lethal as viruses which jump from bats to man.

Covid has shown that nature runs roughshod over an economy which is disrespectful to the ecology and eco-systems. Nature always has the final word. Can we possibly learn the lesson this time?

In the coming weeks when hopefully matters are clearer it would be opportune if we embark on planning the future, together. Our future requires a green plan which is both fair and sustainable: A Green New Deal. A future which does not repeat past errors but which instead seeks a healthy re-establishment of the links between man and nature. Too much damage has been caused over the years through the rupture of our links with nature in an effort to conquer and domesticate it. The future does not lie in man’s violent control of nature but rather through working in partnership with it.

After all this is what sustainability is all about.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 14 March 2021

Greening: what really matters

A public consultation is currently under way relative to green roofs and green walls. A 42-page document entitled Green Paper on Greening Buildings in Malta: Initiatives for Green Walls and Roofs for Residential, Commercial, and Industrial Buildings was published, explaining the objectives to be attained. The encouragement of green roofs and green walls aims to contribute towards reaching the zero-carbon objective in 2050. 

I have no issue with greening walls and roofs where this is appropriate. However, notwithstanding all the good intentions, there is a risk that the predominant green produced is more plastic! Maybe they could, instead, start by respecting our existing green walls made up of the substantial number of trees being continuously uprooted by the Ministry for Transport!

My issue is with the artificiality of “environment policy” in Malta which concentrates and over-inflates on minor issues and then turns a blind eye to the issues that really matter.

Among the most pressing issues is that of the urgent need of greening transport policy: that is the need to ensure that mobility issues in the Maltese islands are addressed in a sustainable manner.

Two specific policy issues currently in hand need complete reversal.

The current massive investment of resources in roadbuilding is a blatant misuse of public funds as they place car-usage as the primary objective to be facilitated. It is pertinent to point, once more, towards the National Transport Master Plan 2025 which in crystal-clear language explains what’s wrong with transport policy in the Maltese islands.

The following extract is self-explanatory: “Improve integrated and long-term strategic planning and design: This objective has been defined since historically, it can be seen from experience that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has generally been more short-term (4-5 years) in nature. The lack of importance given to long-term planning means that a long-term integrated plan based on solid analysis with clear objectives and targets is lacking. This has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint.

There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change but this is in contrast with the need for communal actions to address the traffic problems existing now and in the future. This results in the Maltese traveller expecting that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.” (page 88 of National Transport Master Plan 2025)

Greening transport policy in Malta essentially means addressing and reducing car ownership in order to substantially reduce private vehicles from our roads. In a small country such as ours, sustainable mobility cannot be achieved through private vehicles but through alternative transport. Everywhere is within reach. In fact, the Transport Master Plan emphasises that 50 per cent of the trips we make with private cars are for distances taking less than 15 minutes, meaning that such trips are local or regional in nature.

We need more public transport initiatives and less private cars on our roads instead of further extensions to the public road network through massive road infrastructural projects.

The proposed Gozo tunnel is likewise another unnecessary project. It is a tunnel which facilitates the use of private cars. The feasibility of the said project is tied to a substantial increase in car movements between the islands as it is the payment of fees levied on cars making the trip that pays for the tunnel project. The documentation projects an increase from 3000 to 9000 daily movements of vehicles, a threefold increase. Green walls and green roofs do not cancel out such irresponsible action.

Greening roofs and walls do not involve rocket science. There is no issue with the implementation of a policy encouraging green roofs and green walls although it would be quite useful if plastic use in such walls and roofs is reduced! But transport policy is contentious as it involves unpopular but essential decisions. Restraining the use of private vehicles is, of paramount importance. Coupled with more public transport improvements it will reduce cars on the roads, improve the quality of our air and reduce household expenses. Avoiding this decision will only make matters worse.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 14 February 2021

Tourism planning needs tuning in to reality

A ten-year tourism strategy entitled Recover, Rethink, Revitalise has been published for consultation. It is a strategy which advocates an improvement in quality but does not seek to address the oversupply of bed-stock.

During summer of 2019, Tony Zahra, President of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) had sounded the alarm: he was reported as saying that the number of tourists visiting Malta was too high. He emphasised that it was substantially exceeding the limits of what the country can take sustainably. Tony Zahra was obviously emphasising the interest of the lobby group which he heads: the hotel industry.

The proposed tourism strategy advocates a return to the pre-Covid19 tourism levels, albeit recognising that this will be difficult to achieve as well as accepting that it will take quite some time to be achieved, if at all. Searching through the tourism strategy document for the terms agri-tourism and eco-tourism yields a zero-return indicating that the document is more of a post-Covid hotel industry roadmap than a tourism strategy.

The strategy indicates that the best scenario forecasts until 2030 suggest an increase from the 2019 2.75 million tourists to between 3 and 3.2 million tourists which would generate an average 21 million overnight stays annually. The strategy goes on to state that on the basis of existing and in the pipeline licenced bed-stock this equates to an unprofitable 57.5 per cent occupancy rate. The unlicenced bed stock further dilutes occupancy rates closer to 50 per cent, we are informed by the strategy document.

This does not point towards a potential recovery but more that the tourism industry, is, in this critical period shackled by the land development free-for-all advocated by land use planning policies over the past years. Specifically, this has been done through the continuous tinkering with the height limitation adjustment policy for hotels as well as the haphazard application of flexibility in day-to-day land use planning.

This in no way translates into a quality improvement!

The decadent land use planning process has infected tourism planning too. No wonder that the former Chief Executive of the Planning Authority is now the CEO of the Malta Tourism Authority. It is poetic justice that he should be responsible for cleaning the mess to which he substantially contributed to!

Where do we go from here?

The authors of the tourism strategy are aware that there are other possible solutions but they shoot them down. These last months were an opportunity to re-examine the fundamental role of tourism within the overall socio-economic context of the Maltese islands. The Covid19 pandemic has resulted in a reduced movement of people, a less hectic lifestyle, reduced emissions and the reduction of other negative elements for which tourism is usually singled out as a major contributor. 

Contrary to what the proposed tourism strategy opines, it is not simplistic to seriously consider the need to reset the industry. A lower level of tourism activity would prove beneficial to the destination by making it less busy and less crowded to the benefit of both the local resident population and visitor satisfaction. Obviously, it would reduce the tourism contribution to the national economy, but it would also reduce the substantial costs which planners tend to ignore or else to shift onto other sectors! Costs are not just measured in financial terms but also in terms of environmental and social impacts.  

Some months ago, I had written about turistofobia, a term coined by Catalan anthropologist Manoel Delgado, indicating a mixture of repudiation, mistrust and contempt for tourists and tourism. The social discontent associated with the pressures linked to tourism growth cannot be ignored any further.

Among the issues contributing to this developing tourist phobia are social discomfort, environmental degradation (including both generation of waste and excessive construction activity), traffic congestion, noise, the loss of cultural identity and socio-cultural clashes.

The post-Covid19 recovery is a unique opportunity for tourism planners to take note of and tune in to reality.  Unfortunately, the proposed strategy sidesteps the real issues.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 31 January 2021

Writing off future generations

Our actions today are a first draft in designing the future. They are tomorrow’s blueprint. Our future as well as that of future generations.

The ice sheets are melting at a faster rate than ever before. The resulting sea-level rise will obliterate coastal settlements around the globe. Even the Maltese islands will be impacted by a sea-level rise, irrespective of its magnitude. The larger the sea-level rise the more severe the impacts.

On a global level the sea is rising around 3 millimetres per annum. This varies with region. This variation may be insignificant to the naked eye and as result many would not even notice it.

No one can state with certainty as to how much the sea level will eventually rise. It is however clear to the scientific community that an increase in the mean global temperature is a major contributor. Islands and coastal communities all around the world will bear the brunt of this sea-level rise.

In the Pacific Ocean the sea has risen at a rate of three times the global average. A number of low-lying islands have already disappeared below the sea.  In the Indian Ocean, The Maldives, a major touristic destination, risks losing 77 per cent of its land with a 50-centimetre sea-level rise. It will completely disappear if the sea level rises to a metre or more.  

There is a time lag between our actions and sea-level rise such that we can substantially decrease sea-level rise in the future if we act appropriately now.

This is the reason underlying the EU’s policy of carbon neutrality, that is taking steps to ensure that net carbon emissions are reduced to zero by 2050, preferably earlier.

The Mediterranean Sea is a hotspot of climate change. Mediterranean experts on climate and environmental change within the framework of the UNEP Mediterranean Action Plan have drawn up a report entitled “Risks associated to climate and environmental changes in the Mediterranean Region”. This report points at the enormous challenges facing the Mediterranean due to the projected rising temperature in the region.

Without policy change it is estimated that the Mediterranean Region will, on average, be 2.2 degrees warmer in 2040 than it is today. This will have a considerable impact on water resources, agricultural production and health, amongst other issues. By 2100 without meaningful policy change this could lead to a one metre rise in sea level impacting severely the coastal communities in the Mediterranean.

The tourism industry, with most of its facilities situated along the coastline, will be obliterated. The impacts of climate change will be so severe that Covid-19 impacts will seem to be child’s play in comparison.

All over the world governments have been reluctant to act and take definite action on climate change to limit the potential temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and definitely to not more than 2 degrees Celsius. The commitments made at the Paris Climate Summit in 2015 are a welcome first step, but they are certainly not enough.

It has been estimated that if all commitments made in Paris are adhered to, we would still be on track to hit a temperature increase in excess of the two-degree limit. This would lead to a global disaster.

The first to bear the brunt will be islands all around the globe followed closely by low-lying coastal areas. This is the reason for island states being so vociferous in Climate Change fora, insisting for more action. It is unfortunate that Malta’s voice is not sufficiently heard in such fora. It is about time that we get our priorities right. Our relative silence is writing off future generations in the Mediterranean.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 3 January 2021

Il-karozzi iddominaw ħajjitna

Hi sfortuna li tul is-snin ħallejna ħajjitna tkun iddominata mill-karozzi.

Għaddejna minn kontroversja wara l-oħra dwar l-infrastruttura tat-toroq. Sfortunatament jidher li minn dan kollu l-awtoritajiet għadhom ma tgħallmu xejn.  L-aħħar każ hu dwar il-proposta għal fly-over ġdida għall-Imrieħel: fly-over oħra li mhiex meħtiega.

Il-proposta tal-Imrieħel għadha qed tkun imfassla. Ma hemmx wisq dettalji li huma magħrufa, s’issa, ħlief li probabbilment ser ikun hemm impatt sostanzjali fuq madwar 20 tomna ta’ raba’ saqwi. Minn dak li hu magħruf s’issa  Infrastruttura Malta bdiet tiltaqa’ mal-bdiewa dwar dak li eventwalment ser ikun propost.

Mhux meħtieġ li nkunu nafu d-dettalji ta’ dak li hu ppjanat, kif qed jgħid il-Ministru għat-Transport Ian Borg, biex nikkritikaw il-programm tal-Gvern dwar l-infrastruttura tat-toroq għax dan hu oġġezzjonabbli fil-prinċipju.  

M’għandiex bżonn iktar toroq. Imma għandna bżonn inqas karozzi fit-toroq li għandna.  Tnaqqis ta’ karozzi mit-toroq jwassal għal tnaqqis fil-konġestjoni tat-traffiku u titjib fil-kwalità tal-ħajja, inkluż iktar sigurtà fit-toroq tagħna għal kulħadd.

It-toroq tagħna mballati bil-karozzi. Għal din ir-raġuni l-Gvern qabbad esperti bex jistudjaw il-problema. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, bl-għajnuna ta’ fondi għall-iżvilupp reġjonali tal-Unjoni Ewropea tfassal Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport (Masterplan) minn konsulenti barranin. Il-Kabinett approva dan il-pjan fl-2016, imma kontinwament qiegħed jonqos milli jassigura li dan ikun implimentat.

Waħda mill-osservazzjonijiet bażiċi ta’ dan il-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport hi li nofs il-vjaġġi bil-karozzi privati jdumu inqas minn 15-il minuta, jiġifieri huma vjaġġi għal distanzi qosra. Bla ebda dubju hemm bosta mezzi sostenibbli li jservu għal mobilità alternattiva: il-karozzi privati bla ebda dubju nistgħu ngħaddu mingħajrhom għal dawn id-distanzi qosra, fil-parti l-kbira tal-każi.

Il-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport iwissina dwar in-nuqqas f’Malta tal-ippjanar għat-trasport: ippjanar li jħares sal-ponta ta’ mnieħru għax ma jħarisx fit-tul.  Bħala konsegwenza ta’ dan  ftit li xejn jeżistu miri ċari, hemm nuqqas  ta’ direzzjoni strateġika kif ukoll nuqqas ta’ kapaċità li jkunu ndirizzati materji diffiċli bħat-tnaqqis ta’ karozzi mit-toroq. Il-Maltin huma konservattivi wisq, jgħid il-pjan (There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change) u dan f’kuntrast mal-ħtieġa għal azzjoni fil-komunità biex tkun indirizzata l-problema tat-traffiku, kemm kif inhi illum kif ukoll kif għad tista’ tiżviluppa.  Dan, ikompli jgħid il-pjan tat-trasport approvat mill-Kabinett, iwassal biex is-sewwieq Malti jippretendi li kulħadd għandu jaddatta l-mod kif jivvjaġġa biex hu jkun jista’ jibqa’ jsuq il-karozza tiegħu! (This results in the Maltese traveller expecting that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.)

Il-politika dwar it-trasport ma jistax ikun li tibqa’ ippjanat biċċa biċċa, mil-lum għal għada. Jeħtieġ ippjanjar olistiku. Dan hu l-iskop li sar dan il-Masterplan: biex ikollna pjan olistiku u nibdew inħarsu fit-tul. Biex pjan bħal dan ikun implimentat, imma, hemm bżonn deċiżjonijiet iebsin li għandhom iwasslu għal tnaqqis fin-numru esaġerat ta’ karozzi privati li hawn fit-toroq tagħna.  

Il-problema reali li qed iżżomm l-implimentazzjoni ta’ dan il-pjan hi li l-Gvern m’għandux il-kuraġġ li jieħu dawn id-deċiżjonijiet. Ma jridx jirfes kallijiet!  

Irridu nifhmu darba għal dejjem li ċ-ċokon ta’ pajjiżna jagħmilha possibli li permezz ta’ transport pubbliku organizzat sewwa nilħqu kull rokna tal-pajjiż f’ħin qasir.

It-trasport pubbliku f’Malta għamel progress kbir f’dawn l-aħħar snin, imma dan mhux biżżejjed. Għax it-trasport pubbliku ma jistax jikkompeti ma’ Gvern li kontinwament  jinkoraġixxi l-użu tal-karozza privata b’toroq ġodda u flyovers li flok jirrestrinġu iż-żieda tat-traffiku fit-toroq tagħna jagħmluh iktar faċli.

Għal żmien twil, Gvern wara l-ieħor kien skjav tal-karozza. Il-politika tat-trasport kienet u għada politika favur il-karozzi li jikkundizzjonawlna ħajjitna. Hu dan li għandu jinbidel.

Jeħtieġ li l-politika tat-trasport tpoġġi lin-nies l-ewwel, qabel il-karozzi.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : 27 ta’ Diċembru 2020

Obliterating the future

Humanity is at war with nature. Isn’t it about time for peace?

This is the basic message of António Guterres, United Nations Secretary General, in an address delivered at Columbia University earlier this week.

António Guterres said: “Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal. Nature always strikes back – and it is already doing so with growing force and fury. Biodiversity is collapsing. One million species are at risk of extinction. Ecosystems are disappearing before our eyes.”

If humanity keeps the current pace there is the danger that we destroy the future before we have even understood the risks that we are continuously creating.

The past decade has been the hottest in human history. Some are still focusing on short term gains ignoring long term losses. Even if all the commitments made at the Paris Climate Summit in 2015 are honoured completely, we would still have some way to go in order to attain the agreed minimum objectives: limiting the global mean temperature increase to not more than 2 degrees Celsius, hopefully closer to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Beyond the 2-degree limit climate change will become catastrophic and irreversible.

Climate change is nature fighting back forcefully, without discriminating. The war is on at full speed all over the globe. In some parts it is drought. In others it is floods. Havoc is the result everywhere. The intensity and frequency of storms is on the increase as the cumulative impacts of our actions continuously increase.

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 unequivocally.

It has been a hectic 48 years since the first ministers for the environment were appointed as a direct result of the deliberations of the international community in the UN Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in June 1972. Some progress has definitely been achieved over the years but it is certainly nowhere close to enough.

It has been realised that there is only one earth which we need to care for. It has been 34 years since the Brundtland report placed sustainable development on the international agenda. Though officially accepted as an important policy objective, it is still subject to mental gymnastics in determining practical every day action to reduce impacts which threaten our future.

The spirit of the 2015 Paris summit is one which recognised the need for urgent action, yet five years down the line procrastination is still the order of the day. As we may have realised by now, half measures are not effective in addressing nature’s revenge.

We cannot keep postponing the decision to determine the cut-off date for the elimination of petrol and diesel run vehicles from our roads. The decision announced in September 2017 is taking too long to implement leading to the reasonable assumption that reluctance is having the upper hand.

The electrification of our roads is one important step which needs to be implemented rapidly if we are to start the path to carbon neutrality in a meaningful way. It must however also be accompanied by a reduction of the number of cars on our roads, an achievable objective, given the small distances which we travel in such a small country. 

It is to be underlined, once more, that the Transport Master Plan for the Maltese Islands has identified that around 50 per cent of our car journeys are for short distances in respect if which we can definitely use alternative means.  This signifies that the required changes, in our case, are less painful, even in the short term. We need however to address contradictory policy stances: the required reduction of cars from our roads will be more difficult to achieve if the development of large-scale road infrastructure is still the order of the day. Even the proposed Gozo Channel tunnel falls in this category as its feasibility is dependent on maximising car movements, a requirement which is in direct contradiction to the Paris Climate Summit conclusions!

The risk of obliterating the future is still present. Nature will not be fooled. It can distinguish between greenwash and meaningful action. Unfortunately, it is clear that it has not been impressed by our action to date. There is not much time left to change course.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 December 2020

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 basics of waste politics

Waste is what we throw away. It does however have value, which at times can be substantial.

We have lived most of our lives in a linear economy as a result of which, after we consume a product, at the end of its useful life, we throw it away as we have no further use for it.

The shift to a circular economy ought to change all that, such that after consumption we do not throw away what’s left from our “consumed product”.  In a circular economy, at the end of its useful life a product is used to create a new product. This is the objective of a sustainable waste management policy.

Incinerating waste is a declaration of failure of waste management policy. This policy has not failed overnight. Its failure is the accumulated result of mismanagement over the years as well as a reluctance of the authorities as well as the regulator to set up clear and practical objectives which drive the message home that each and every one of us needs to take control of the waste that we generate.

Consider for example the issue of organic waste. While undoubtedly progress has been achieved on the organic waste generated in our households, we still lag behind in controlling the organic waste generated by the tourism industry. The impacts of Covid-19 on the tourism industry is a unique, once in a lifetime opportunity, to bring the industry to its senses on the need to control its act. It is an opportunity which is being unfortunately being lost.

Recycling in Malta is in shambles. Malta is currently recycling around 12 per cent of Municipal Solid Waste when the Waste Framework Directive target for 2020 is fifty per cent which increases to 55 per cent in 2025. This is the extent of the failure of waste management policy in Malta.

It is a key principle of EU waste policy to move up the waste hierarchy ladder: disposal (including incineration) being the least desirable with waste prevention being the most desirable stage.

Incineration encourages the throwaway society. It does not encourage citizens to care about what they consume. It sends the message that others will shoulder the problems created by our consumption.

Where is the environmental benefit of incineration? A study commissioned by the international NGO Zero Waste Europe entitled The Potential Contribution of Waste Management to a Low Carbon Economy indicates that recycling of waste can save substantially much more energy that can be generated through the incineration of the same waste. The waste to energy proposal is thus another gimmick.

More effort needs to be invested in waste minimisation and in recycling of waste. The recycling industry has the potential of developing into a very robust pillar of the green economy, creating a number of green jobs. The government proposal in favour of incineration will be an insurmountable obstacle as a result of which this important element of the circular economy will not be allowed to develop.

Burning waste in an incinerator will further reduce the commitment of the few who are currently bothering to recycle. Instead of avoiding addressing the failure of implementing the waste management strategy, it would be more appropriate if the reasons for this failure are identified and acted upon.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 18 October 2020

Drittijiet Ambjentali bir-riforma kostituzzjonali

Il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali, meta tiġi, tkun opportunità unika biex ikunu ntrodotti drittijiet ambjentali fil-Kostituzzjoni. Dan jista’ u għandu jseħħ billi dawn id-drittijiet jinkitbu b’mod ċar u li ma jħallux lok għal miżinterpretazzjoni f’riforma li ilna nistennew żmien kbir.

Id-drittijiet ambjentali, għandhom ikunu ċari daqs id-drittijiet dwar il-propjetà. Għax il-Kostituzzjoni, b’mod pervers, filwaqt li tipproteġi drittijiet dwar il-propjetà, illum ma toffri l-ebda protezzjoni għal drittijiet ambjentali bħad-dritt għal arja nadifa inkella għal aċċess għal ilma nadif. L-anqas ma tipproteġi l-bijodiversità jew il-pajsaġġ jew kwalunkwe dritt ambjentali ieħor bħall-ħarsien tar-riżorsi naturali. Id-drittijiet tal-individwi huma b’xi mod protetti imma d-drittijiet tal-komunità l-anqas biss jissemmew.

Meta wieħed iqis li d-drittijiet tal-ġenerazzjonijiet preżenti huma kemm kemm protetti, xejn ma hemm biex niskantaw jekk il-liġi bażika tagħna tinjora lill-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri għal kollox.

Waqt li dan kollu kien għaddej, Malta, fuq livell internazzjonali nsistiet dwar il-ħarsien ta’ qiegħ il-baħar (1967), dwar il-klima (1988) u dwar il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri (1992). Imma minkejja dawn l-isforzi fuq livell internazzjonali, ma sar l-ebda sforz lokali biex dak li nippriedkaw barra minn xtutna nipprattikawh f’artna.  

Il-Kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta, fil-Kapitlu 2 tagħha, għanda sett ta’ linji gwida biex dawn ikunu ta’ għajnuna lill-Gvern billi b’mod ġenerali jindikaw it-triq li jeħtieġ li jimxi fuqha.  Wieħed minn dawn il-prinċipji gwida huwa dwar il-ħarsien ambjentali. Dan tfassal oriġinalment fl-1964 u ġie emendat riċentement.  

Wara din il-lista ta’ linji gwida, fl-aħħar tagħhom, il-Kostituzzjoni tgħidilna li ma tistax tmur il-Qorti biex tinfurzhom!

Dan il-kapitlu tal-Kostituzzjoni huwa mfassal fuq dak li hemm fil-Kostituzzjoni tal-Irlanda u tal-Indja. Kif jispjega Tonio Borg fil-kummentarju tiegħu dwar il-kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta, l-Qorti Suprema Indjana minkejja kollox, imma, interpretat il-linji gwida fil-Kostituzzjoni Indjana bħala l-kuxjenza tal-kostituzzjoni : linja gwida tabilħaqq.  Għax x’jiswa’ li toqgħod tipprietka u tħambaq dwar il-prinċipji bażiċi u l-linji gwida jekk imbagħad iżżomhom milli jkunu infurzati?

Sfortunatament, din l-istess attitudni kienet addottata meta tfasslet leġislazzjoni dwar l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art u dwar l-ambjent. Anke hawn wara ħafna dikjarazzjonijiet ta’ prinċipji nsibu li dwar dawn ukoll ma tistax tmur il-Qorti biex tinfurzhom.

Fis-sottomissjonijiet tagħha lill Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali, Alternattiva Demokratika,  ipproponiet li dan il-kapitlu fil-kostituzzjoni għandu jkun revedut b’mod li jkun assigurat li l-Gvern dejjem jimxi mal-linji gwida kostituzzjonali.   

F’pajjiżi oħra, s-soċjetà ċivili, meta meħtieġ, tieħu azzjoni legali kontra l-Gvern biex tassigura li dan jerfa’ r-responsabbiltajiet ambjentali tiegħu f’kull ħin.

Għandi f’moħħi żewġ eżempji partikolari.

L-ewwel wieħed hu dwar azzjoni legali fir-Renju Unit mill-għaqda ambjentali  Client Earth dwar il-mod kajman li bih il-Gvern Ingliż mexa fil-konfront ta’ strateġija nazzjonali dwar il-kwalità tal-arja. Il-materja spiċċat quddiem il-Qorti Suprema li f’deċiżjoni ta’ struzzjonijiet lill-Gvern dwar iż-żmien sa meta għandha tkun lesta din l-istrateġija.   

It-tieni eżempju qiegħed l-Olanda u jikkonċerna t-tibdil fil-klima u l-grupp ambjentali  Urgenda li mar il-Qorti biex iġiegħel lil Gvern jistabilixxi miri raġjonevoli dwar emissjonijiet li għandhom impatt fuq il-bidla fil-klima.

F’dawn l-eżempji, u probabbilment f’bosta oħrajn, l-azzjoni tal-Gvern kienet ferm inferjuri għall-aspettattivi tas-soċjetà ċivili. Ikun tajjeb li l-kostituzzjoni tipprovdina bl-għodda biex kull meta l-Gvern jonqos milli jimxi mal-miri kostituzzjonali ikun possibli li nippruvaw inġibuh f’sensieh.

Sal-lum niddependu mill-Kummissjoni Ewropeja bit-tama li meta jkun meħtieġ din tieħu passi. Nistqarr li f’materji ambjentali, bosta drabi tiddisappuntana u ma tagħmilx dak li nistennew minn għandha.

Il-konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali sal-lum, tista’ tkun l-unika forum fejn dan id-difett kostituzzjonali jkun possibli li nikkoreġuh. Għax hu l-waqt li d-drittijiet ambjentali jsiru parti integrali mill-kostituzzjoni.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 6 ta’ Settembru 2020