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

Tourism: reflections on the Deloitte report

The Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) has just published a report entitled Carrying Capacity Study for Tourism in the Maltese Islands which report has been drawn up by its consultants Deloitte and financed primarily by EU funds.

A point which made the headlines, resulting from the said report, is relative to the availability of tourism accommodation, including touristic development which is still in the pipeline. Over the next five years, the report says, there is a significant risk of an over-supply in the expected accommodation growth. Various media reports have emphasised that as a result of the projected supply of touristic accommodation, close to 5 million tourists would be required (at an average 80 per cent occupancy throughout the year) to ensure the sector’s long-term profitability. Such an influx of tourists, definitely, cannot be handled by the country.

This is definitely the result of an lack of adequate land use planning. Unfortunately, the Planning Authority has continuously encouraged a free-for-all, particularly through the relaxation of various planning policies applicable to touristic accommodation. In fact, Tony Zahra, MHRA President, has been quoted as saying that we do not have a “Planning Authority” but a “Permitting Authority”.  For once, he is quite obviously right.

Unfortunately, this attitude of the Planning Authority is not limited to the touristic sector: it is spread throughout the islands relative to all types of development. It is an attitude which has contributed considerably towards “overcrowding, overdevelopment and uglification” which the Deloitte report groups together as being the contributors to the poor urban environment which impacts both residents and tourists indiscriminately!

An interesting point made by the Deloitte report is that the tourist sector is continuously decreasing in importance as the provider of employment opportunities for Maltese residents. In fact, the report states that, in 2009, 82 per cent of those employed in the tourism sector were Maltese. By 2019 this had decreased to 40.6 per cent. A staggering decrease in excess of 50 per cent!  The report does not offer any specific explanation for this. Reliance on poor remuneration of seasonal and part-time labour is a most obvious contributor to the situation. Its correction would inevitably cut the tourism sector down in size and consequently increase the problem of over-supply! The Deloitte report is generally silent about this basic flaw.

The quality of the touristic product is impacted considerably not only by the poor urban environment, which is getting progressively worse. It is also negatively impacted by the exponential increase in traffic and litter. Deloitte also identify the lack of product authenticity as a contributor to the decreasing quality of the touristic product. This is the result of the lack of Maltese working in the sector!

The report also hints at turismophobia. It records the preoccupation of those residing in touristic areas. They are less enthusiastic about tourism when compared to those living in other areas which are not in continuous contact with the tourist.

This ties in with a study carried out by academics at the University of Malta, Lino Briguglio and Marie Avellino, who, in a paper published in 2020 and entitled Has over-tourism reached the Maltese Islands?had pointed out the need for a tourism policy which focuses on mitigating its negative impacts. 

Tourism is not an activity that happens in a vacuum. It takes place in a community of persons, who should be assured that their quality of life is not impacted negatively as a result of the experience.

Tourism is not just about the numbers of tourists who visit, or the millions of euro spent or its contribution to the Gross National Product: it is also about our quality of life.

The profitability to be addressed should not be limited to financial parameters. As tourism is not just about the tourist: it is about each one of us.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 2 October 2022

It-tibdil fil-klima: it-turiżmu mhux ser jeħlisha

Żmien il-biljetti tal-ajru bid-€10 spiċċa, qalilna Michael O’Leary, tar-Ryanair. Dan wara li sirna nafu matul dawn l-aħħar ġimgħat li fl-Unjoni Ewropeja, biex tkun implimentata l-inizjattiva l-ħadra (Green Deal), anke l-avjazzjoni teħtieġ li tagħti s-sehem tagħha billi tibda tinternalizza l-impatti ambjentali. Dan ifisser li l-ispiża riżultat tal-impatti ambjentali tal-avjazzjoni għandha tibda tkun inkluża fil-prezz tal-vjaġġ. Dan hu applikazzjoni diretta u prattika tal-prinċipju ambjentali li min iħammeg jeħtieġ li jħallas (polluter pays principle).

L-avjazzjoni ilha teħlisha billi kienet eżentata għal żmien twil milli terfa’ l-piż tal-impatti tal-emissjonijiet li tiġġenera. Issa dan ma jistax jibqa’ hekk. Din l-industrija ukoll trid tibda tagħti kont ta’ egħmilha. Bħas-setturi ekonomiċi l-oħra trid terfa’ l-piz tal-impatti ambjentali tagħha.  

Li min iħammeġ iħallas hu prinċipju ambjentali bażiku li jifforma parti integrali mill-liġi Ewropeja. Riżultat ta’ hekk dan iservi ta’ gwida għall-formolazzjoni tal-politika tal-Unjoni Ewropeja.  Sa mill-2004 dan il-prinċipju hu ukoll parti integrali mil-leġislazzjoni ambjentali Maltija. Anke fil-kaz tagħna dan il-prinċipju għandu jagħti direzzjoni ċara fil-formolazzjoni tal-politika Maltija.

Sfortunatament, minkejja li l-Parliament f’Malta approva mozzjoni li biha għaraf l-emerġenza klimatika, din id-dikjarazzjoni baqgħet fuq il-karta.  Ftit li xejn sar biex id-deċiżjonijiet meħtieġa riżultat tal-għarfien ta’ l-eżistenza ta’ din l-emerġenza jittieħdu. Hu diżappuntanti li wieħed minn dawk responsabbli biex mexxa l-quddiem din il-mozzjoni issa qed jgħid li l-azzjoni biex ikunu indirizzati l-impatti klimatiċi tal-avjazzjoni huma kontra l-interess nazzjonali. M’għandux idea x’inhu jgħid.

Ejja nkunu ċari:  bħala arċipelagu f’nofs il- Mediterran, il-gżejjer Maltin inevitabilment ikunu effettwati mill-istadji li jmiss tal-impatti tat-tibdil tal-klima, ċjoe l-għoli fil-livell tal-baħar.  Iz-zoni mal-kosta ilaqqtuha waħda sewwa, possibilment jispiċċaw taħt l-ilma, kollha jew kważi, skond kemm jogħla l-livell tal-baħar.  Dan japplika ukoll għall-infrastruttura kostali li tinkludi l-parti l-kbira tal-faċilitajiet turistiċi.

Hu fl-interess nazzjonali ta’ Malta li l-miri klimatiċi tal-2015 ta’ Pariġi jkun osservati u li jiġu  implimentati l-iktar kmieni possibli. Ma jagħmilx sens li nfittxu li nkunu eżentati. Bla dubju jkun hemm impatti konsiderevoli. Imma l-impatti  jekk naġixxu  biex nindirizzaw it-tibdil fil-klima huma ferm inqas mill-impatti li jkollna nħabbtu wiċċna magħhom jekk nibqgħu nippruvaw nevitaw ir-responsabbiltajiet  tagħna.

Tul is-snin, bla dubju, it-teknologija tkompli titjieb, u probabbilment li din tgħin biex jonqos il-piz tal-impatti.  It-tieni rapport ambjentali dwar l-avjazzjoni Ewropeja ippubblikat fl-2019 jiġbed l-attenzjoni li fiz-zona Ewropeja l-konsum medju tal-fuel fuq it-titjiriet kummerċjali naqas b’ 24 fil-mija bejn l-2005 u l-2017. Imma fl-istess żmien kien hemm żieda ta’ 60 fil-mija fil-kilometraġġ tat-titjiriet kummerċjali!

Din l-istatistika tiġbor fiha l-problema kollha: it-teknoloġija qed tnaqqas l-emissjonijiet għal kull kilometru tat-titjiriet, imma n-numru ta’ kilometri tal-vjaġġi qed jiżdied bil-kbir għax ħafna iktar nies qed jivvjaġġaw bl-ajru.  

Bħalissa għaddej dibattitu dwar taxxa fuq il-fjuwil tal-avjazzjoni. Din hi waħda mill-miżuri essenzjali u meħtieġa biex ikun possibli li sal-2030 u lil hinn il-gassijiet serra jonqsu b’55 fil-mija.  

Din l-inizjattiva għandha twassal biex il-prezz tal-biljett tal-ajru jkun jirrifletti l-ispiza reali, inkluż dik ambjentali ikkawżata mill-emissjonijiet.  Dan jista’ jseħħ jew b’żieda ta’ taxxa mal-prezz tal-biljett tal-ajru inkella billi dak li jkun jagħmel użu minn mezzi alternattivi ta’ transport.

Jekk wieħed jagħmel użu ta’ mezzi alternattivi ta’ transport it-taxxa tkun evitata u dan bil-konsegwenza li jkunu evitati ukoll l-impatti ambjentali tal-ivvjaġġar bl-ajru. Fl-Ewropa kontinentali dan jista’ jseħħ bl-użu tal-ferrovija li bosta drabi  hi alternattiva kemm effiċjenti kif ukoll iktar nadifa. Imma fil-kaz ta’ Malta u gżejjer oħra dan l-użu tal-alternattivi potenzjali hu limitat ħafna.  Dan iwassal għal żieda inevitabbli fl-ispiża biex dak li jkun jivvjaġġa bl-ajru u riżultat ta’ hekk jonqos in-numru kemm ta’ Maltin li jivvjaġġaw kif ukoll ta’ barranin (turisti) li jiġu Malta.

Għalkemm eventwalment jista’ jkun hemm xi konċessjonijiet raġjonevoli għal dawk li jgħixu fil-periferiji/gżejjer, it-turiżmu ma jistax jibqa’ jevita li jerfa’ l-piz tal-impatti tiegħu: dan hu meħtieġ biex isseħħ ġustizzja, kemm soċjali kif ukoll ambjentali!  Hu fl-interess ta’ Malta li l-impatt ambjentali tat-turiżmu, b’mod partikolari dak tal-massa, jkun indirizzat u ikkontrollat qabel ma jkun tard wisq. L-industrija tal-avjazzjoni teħtieġ li tkun imċaqalqa bi strumenti ekonomiċi bħat-taxxa ambjentali biex tirristruttura ruħha. Ejja niftakru li bħall-gżejjer kollha, Malta, flimkien mal-komunitajiet kostali, tkun minn tal-ewwel li ssofri l-agħar konsegwenzi tat-tibdil tal-klima: l-għoli fil-livell tal-baħar. It-turiżmu ma jeħlisiex. Il-klima mhux ser tikkunsidra l-posizzjoni partikolari ta’ Malta jew l-impatt fuq l-ekonomija: in-natura ma tiddiskriminax, tibqa’ għaddejja minn fuqna bħalma għamlet bnadi l-oħra fejn kaxkret kull ma sabet fin-nofs!

It-turiżmu qiegħed f’salib it-toroq. Jeħtieġ li b’mod urġenti jaddatta ruħu u jaddatta għall-impatti tat-tibdil fil-klima. Dan hu l-futur reali tat-turiżmu, mhux l-eżenzjoni mit-taxxi.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: 14 t’Awwissu 2022

Climate change: tourism will not be spared

The era of €10 air fares is over, warned Michael O’Leary, Ryanair boss. This follows the news in the past weeks that within the European Union, in order to implement the Green Deal, aviation must do its part by internalising its environmental costs. That is, environmental costs must be incorporated in the price of air fares. This is a direct and practical application of the polluter pays principle.

Aviation has been a free rider for quite some time, being exempted from shouldering the impacts of the emissions which it generates. The holiday is now over and as a direct result the tourism industry must take stock of the situation. Like all other economic sectors, it must factor in its costings the environmental impacts which it generates.

The polluter pays principle is a basic environmental principle which forms an integral part of the EU acquis: it guides EU policy. Since 2004 it also forms an integral part of Malta’s environmental legislation and consequently it should also guide the formulation of Maltese policy.

Unfortunately, notwithstanding the approval by Parliament of a motion declaring recognition of the climate emergency, this declaration is still a paper declaration. The necessary policies required to face this emergency have never been discussed, approved and acted upon. It is disappointing that a prime mover behind the climate emergency motion is now equating the required action to address aviation’s climate change impacts as being contrary to the national interest. He has no idea on the matter!

Let us be clear:  as an archipelago in the centre of the Mediterranean, the Maltese islands will be severely impacted by the next stages of climate change impacts, that is the rise in sea level. The coastal areas will be hard hit, possibly they will be wiped out or substantially reduced, depending on the extent of the sea level rise. This is also applicable for all the coastal infrastructure, which includes practically all tourism facilities.

It is in Malta’s national interest that the 2015 Paris climate goals are adhered to and implemented the soonest. Seeking exemptions is not on.  Obviously there will be considerable impacts. The impacts of acting to address climate change will however be substantially less if we act than if we continue avoiding our responsibilities. 

Over the years technology will undoubtedly improve, possibly reducing the burden. The second European Aviation Environment Report drawn up in 2019 by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the European Environment Agency (EEA) and Eurocontrol points out that within the European area, the average fuel consumption of commercial flights has decreased by 24 per cent over the period 2005-2017. However, over the same time frame there has been a 60 per cent increase in the kilometres flown by commercial flights!

This statistic frames the issue: technology is driving down the emissions per passenger kilometre, however the number of passenger kilometres has been on an exponential increase as more people are travelling by air.

Currently there is an ongoing debate regarding a tax on aviation fuel. This is one of the essential measures needed to enable the reduction of 55 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and beyond.

This initiative is aimed to ensure that the price of an air flight includes all costs, including the environmental costs caused by the resulting emissions. This can be carried out either by a tax on air travel or else through the use of alternative means of transport, as a result of which the tax can be avoided legally, with the resultant decrease of the environmental impacts. In mainland Europe the use of trains is many a time a good alternative for air travel not just due to its efficiency but also in generating less environmental impacts. In the case of Malta and other islands the potential use of alternatives is very limited. This leads to an inevitable increase in the cost of air travel and the consequential decrease in air travelling, both incoming and outgoing.

Although there may eventually be some reasonable concessions for those who live on isolated islands, tourism cannot keep avoiding its own environmental impacts: this is what social and environmental justice demands! It is in Malta’s interest that the environmental impacts of tourism, particularly mass tourism, is contained before it is too late. The aviation industry must be prodded through economic means, such as environmental taxation, to restructure itself. Let us all remember that like all islands, Malta, together with coastal communities, will be the first to suffer some of the worsts repercussions of climate change: the increase in sea level. Tourism will not be spared. The climate will not consider our special situation or our economic considerations – nature does not discriminate: it will roll over us as it did elsewhere!

Tourism is at a crossroad. It needs to urgently adapt to the impacts of climate change. This is tourism’s future, not tax exemptions.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 14 August 2022

Emerġenza Klimatika: l-impatt tal-karozzi u l-avjazzjoni

Temperaturi rekord, li f’ħafna każi jaqbżu l-40 grad Celsius, nirien qerrieda u nixfa f’diversi pajjiżi. Din hi l-aħbar ewlenija mal-Ewropa kollha f’dawn il-ġranet. Din il-mewġa ta’ sħana mhiex xi sorpriża.  

Rapport mill- Joint Research Station tal-Unjoni Ewropeja li kien ippubblikat iktar kmieni din il-ġimgha, intitolat  Drought in Europe July 2022, jemfasizza li parti sostanzjali mit-teritorju tal-Unjoni Ewropeja hu soġġett għal nixfa li f’numru ta’ każi ilha tinġemgħa. Din hi in-normalità l-ġdida!

Il-klima ta’ bħalissa għandha impatt negattiv fuq l-agrikultura fl-Ewropa kollha. L-uċuħ tar-raba’ ser jirrendu ferm inqas. Fl-Italja, ġara tagħna, fuq it-TV rajna  il-livell tal-ilma tax-xmara Po li hu ferm iktar baxx mis-soltu: hemm metri inqas. L-esperti qed jgħidu li l-volum preżenti tal-ilma tax-xmara hu madwar 80 fil-mija inqas mis-soltu. Nofs l-irziezet Taljani għandhom problemi kbar ikkawżati min-nixfa u t-temperaturi għoljin li qed jiffaċċaw.

Dan m’hu xejn ġdid għall-biedja f’Malta. Ilna niffaċċjaw dawn il-kundizzjonijiet. In-nuqqas tal-ilma hi xi ħaġa normali f’Malta, in-nixfa, imma, qed issir ukoll iktar spissa. Imbagħad jiġu mumenti fejn jinfetħu s-smewwiet Ii jgħarrqu kull m’hawn b’għargħar li jkaxkar kollox.

Il-klima ilha żmien tinbidel ftit ftit u dan riżultat tal-istil ta’ ħajja li qed ngħixu. In-natura ilha żmien tagħtina s-sinjali li ma nistgħux nibqgħu għaddejjin kif aħna. Imma kontinwament ninjorawha. Riżultat ta’ hekk issa għandna din l-emerġenza klimatika, li, ġibniha b’idejna.

L-emerġenza klimatika issa hi rejaltà u hi parti integrali mill-ħajja tagħna. Biex nindirizzawha irridu nibdew nagħtu kaz dak li qed tgħidilna n-natura. Hu meħtieġ  li dan kollu jkun rifless fil-politika li tħares fit-tul. Speċifikament nistennew li l-politika li ma mhiex kompatibbli ma dak meħtieġ biex nindirizzaw it-tibdil fil-klima tkun indirizzata b’mod immedjat.  

Malta m’għandiex industrija li tagħti xi kontribut kbir għat-tibdil fil-klima. Il-problemi ewlenin fil-kaz tagħna ġejjin mit-trasport: mill-karozzi u mill-ajruplani.

In-numru ta’ karozzi fit-toroq għadu qed jiżdied kontinwament. Ix-xogħolijiet konnessi mat-titjib fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq qed isiru bl-iskop uniku li t-toroq ikunu jifilħu għal iktar karozzi. Dan ikompli jżid mal-problema. Il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku tonqos naħa u tiżdied band’oħra! Minkejja l-ħafna kliem sabiħ ma hemmx ir-rieda politika li l-kontribut  tal-karozzi għat-tibdil fil-klima jkun indirizzat.

Il-qalba tal-karozzi għall-elettriku, waħedha, mhux ser issolvi l-problema. L-emissjonijiet jibdew jonqsu fit-toroq u jiċċaqalqu għas-sors tal-elettriku li nużaw biex niċċarġjaw il-batteriji. L-enerġija rinovabbli li qed niġġeneraw hi ta’ kwantità insinifikanti!

Parti mill-problema nesportawha lejn Sqallija billi nużaw l-interconnector, li flok wieħed issa hu ippjanat li jkollna tnejn. B’hekk inkomplu inżidu  d-dipendenza tagħna għall-ħtiġijiet enerġetiċi.

Flimkien mal-qalba tal-karozzi għall-elettriku irid isir sforz ġenwin biex jonqsu sostanzjalment il-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna. Iċ-ċokon tal-gżejjer Maltin jagħmilha iktar possibli li nindirizzaw id-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozza u li din tkun sostitwita bi transport pubbliku effiċjenti. Kważi kullimkien jista’ jintlaħaq b’faċilità.

F’ Ottubru t-trasport pubbliku ser ikun b’xejn. Dan waħdu mhux biżżejjed: jinħtieġ trasport pubbliku li jkun effiċjenti.  Hu biss meta t-trasport pubbliku jkun alternattiva tajba li jkun jagħmel sens għall-gvernijiet li jibdew il-proċess biex jonqsu b’mod sostanzjali l-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna.

Biex nindirizzaw l-impatti tal-avjazzjoni l-istorja hi iktar ikkumplikata.  Id-dibattitu kurrenti dwar taxxa fuq il-fuel tal-avjazzjoni, kif diġa ġie emfasizzat, ser ikollu impatt sproporzjonat fuq il-gżejjer periferali fl-Unjoni Ewropeja. Imma l-problema hi waħda reali u teħtieġ li tkun indirizzata bla iktar dewmien.

Il-qalba tal-argument fid-diskussjoni li għaddejja hi dwar l-impatt ta’ taxxa fuq il-fuel tal-avjazzjoni fuq it-turiżmu. Mhux biss it-turiżmu lejn il-gżejjer Maltin, imma dak lejn kull rokna tal-Unjoni Ewropeja. Ilkoll kemm aħna naċċettaw il-prinċipju ambjentali bażiku li min iħammeġ jeħtieġ li jħallas (polluter pays principle) li illum il-ġurnata jifforma parti kemm mill-liġi Ewropeja kif ukoll minn dik Maltija.  Anke it-turiżmu għandu jerfa’ l-piż tal-impatti li jiġġenera, in partikolari l-impatti ambjentali tiegħu. Dak hu l-iskop tat-taxxa proposta fuq il-fuel tal-avjazzjoni.

Wasal iż-żmien li t-turiżmu ukoll jibda jirristrittura ruħu u jibda jagħti każ tal-impatti ambjentali tiegħu. Bl-emerġenza klimatika wara l-bieb ma jagħmilx sens li nibqgħu għaddejjin bit-tkaxkir tas-saqajn.

Żommu quddiem għajnejkom li l-gżejjer u l-komunitajiet mal-kosta jaqilgħu l-ikbar daqqa meta jibdew jiżdiedu l-impatti tat-tibdil fil-klima, billi jibda jgħola l-livell tal-baħar.  Xi gżejjer u uħud mill-komunitajiet mal-kosta l-anqas biss jibqgħu jeżistu.

Man-natura ma tistax tinnegozja, trid tbaxxi rasek!

ippubblikat fuq Illum: 24 ta’ Lulju 2022

Climate Emergency: addressing car and aviation impacts

Record breaking temperatures, in many cases exceeding 40 degrees Celsius, fires raging across a multitude of countries and drought, is the current news all over Europe. The current heatwave was not unexpected.

The European Union’s Joint Research Station in a report published earlier this week, entitled Drought in Europe July 2022, reports that a substantial portion of EU territory is exposed to warning levels of drought, or even worse. This will soon be the new normal!

The current climate will severely impact agriculture all over Europe. The impact on crop yields will be substantial. In neighbouring Italy, we have witnessed on TV the level of the waters of the river Po being several metres lower than usual: its current capacity is 80 per cent down on what’s normal at this time of the year. Fifty per cent of Italian farms are at risk, devastated by drought and high temperatures.

All this is nothing new for Maltese agriculture. We have been there before, at times due to prolonged drought, at others as a result of havoc creating floods which are increasing in frequency.

The climate has been slowly changing over the years, reacting to the changing human behaviour. Nature has been reacting slowly, signalling time and again that it will not be subdued.  Nature’s signals have been repeatedly ignored: as a result, we are now faced with a climate emergency.

The Climate Emergency is now a reality which is an integral part of our daily life. Addressing it would signify that we start taking note of nature’s signals and act accordingly. It stands to reason that this should be reflected in our country’s long-term policies. Specifically, one would expect that policies which are incompatible with responsible action to address climate change, are immediately addressed.

Malta has no heavy industry which contributes to climate change.  Our major contributor to climate change is transport, specifically road transport and aviation.

The number of cars on the roads is continuously increasing. Road infrastructure improvements taken in hand are intended to increase the capacity of Maltese roads and consequently are and will continue to add to the problem. Traffic congestion is being shifted from one area to another. Notwithstanding the political rhetoric, there is clearly no political will to act and address the contribution of road transport towards climate change.

Electrification, on its own, will not solve the problem. It will rather shift emissions from our roads to the source of electricity used in charging our cars. The renewable energy we generate is not sufficient to cater for our needs, in particular if we have to also cater for a complete electrification of our car fleet.

Part of the problem will be exported to the Sicilian mainland through the submarine energy cables and will be serve to increase our energy dependency.

Electrification of our roads must be coupled with a drive to substantially reduce cars from our roads. The relative smallness of the Maltese islands makes it much easier than elsewhere to substitute our car dependency with an efficient public transport. Almost everywhere is within easy reach.

Come October public transport will be free of charge. This must be coupled with an effort to increase its efficiency and reliability. It is only when public transport is a suitable alternative that it makes sense for governments to start a campaign to substantially reduce cars from our roads.  

Addressing the impacts of aviation is more complicated. The current debate on an aviation fuel tax, as pointed out by various political observers, will impact the peripheral islands within the EU in a disproportionate manner. At the end of the day some solution will have to be found to this aspect of the problem, without further delay.

The crux of the issue, however, is the impact of such an aviation fuel tax on tourism, not just tourism directed towards Malta but that directed to all areas within the EU. All of us accept the basic “polluter pays principle” which is enshrined not only in EU legislation but also in local laws and regulations. Even tourism should internalise its environmental costs. That is the purpose of the proposed aviation fuel tax.

It is time that the tourism industry starts its much-delayed restructuring. With the climate emergency on our doorstep there is no purpose in delaying any further.

Kindly keep in mind that islands and coastal communities will be the worst hit when the impacts of climate change increase substantially through a sea-level rise. Some islands, as well as a number of coastal communities, as a result, will simply cease to exist.

One cannot bargain with nature; you have to follow its instructions!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 24 July 2022

Climate Change and the 15-minute city

The latest report on climate change was published by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) earlier this month. The full document is almost 3,000 pages long!

The current international debate on climate change is focusing on whether the objectives of the 2015 Paris Climate Summit are achievable. It is clear to all that, without profound and imminent changes in our lifestyles, these objectives will not be achieved.

The clear objective agreed to in Paris is to reduce carbon emissions in order to achieve carbon neutrality soonest. This would ensure that the global mean temperature does not surpass the pre-industrial temperature by more than 1.5ºC. This would in turn tame the climate over time.

As an island, Malta should be at the forefront in the international climate change debate. We will be severely impacted like all other countries. In fact, we are already at the receiving end of the impact of extreme weather conditions at an increased frequency. Long periods of drought are more frequent. Likewise, we have experienced more than a fair share of floods, which have caused considerable damage all over the islands.

As islands, sea-level rise will add to our problems in Malta and Gozo in a manner which is dependent on the rate at which this will take place. A substantial part of our essential infrastructure lies along our coast. This will potentially be severely impacted as a result of a sea-level rise. Just think about the impacts on the tourism infrastructure, for example.

One of the ideas doing the rounds in the climate change debate is to rethink the way we plan our cities as one way in which to combat the climate crisis. The idea crystallised as ‘the 15-minute city’ by Carlos Moreno, an architect advising the Paris mayor, entails turning current urban planning on its head to ensure that all our needs are available not more than 15 minutes away.

Moreno speaks of a social circularity for living in our urban spaces based on six essential functions: to live in good housing, to work close by, to reach supplies and services easily, to access education, healthcare and cultural entitlement locally by low-carbon means.

Can we reassess the nature and quality of our urban lifestyles within these parameters?

COVID-19 has given most of us a taste of remote working. In a limited way, this could become a permanent feature of our urban lifestyles. Some of us need not travel to work every day. With proper planning, remote working could reduce a substantial number of cars from our roads permanently and, consequently, the associated carbon emissions.

In the Maltese islands, distance should not be an issue: almost everywhere is within easy reach. Our National Transport Master Plan, in fact, advises us that 50 per cent of trips carried out by our private vehicles are for short distances, having a duration of less than 15 minutes. Achieving 15-minute cities should not be that difficult if we put our heads together to address it.

Our contribution to climate change mitigation, as a result of which we can accelerate our path to carbon neutrality, could be achieved through a substantial reduction of cars from our roads. We can achieve this without impacting our mobility. Through a judicious use of public transport and the facilitation of other sustainable mobility options, our mobility can be substantially improved as a result.

Come October, all public transport will be free. Hopefully, it will also be reliable and efficient. If adequately planned, this could be a turning point in climate change mitigation measures as, over a period of time, it can lead to a reduction of cars from our roads. Initially, such a reduction would necessarily be of a temporary nature. Eventually, we can move towards a permanent change.

Real change takes time to achieve.

Giving shape and form to 15-minute cities could be the next realistic challenge in our climate mitigation road map. All that is required is the political will.

published in The Times of Malta: 21 April 2022

Saving the little that we have

Almost two years ago, Architect Edward Said submitted a request to the Planning Authority and the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage in order that they take steps to protect a Villa along the St Julian’s promenade. The Villa known as Palazzina Vincenti was designed and constructed for his own use by Architect Gustavo Romeo Vincenti. Architect Vincenti died in 1974.

As far as is known, neither the Planning Authority nor the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage have acted upon the submissions received requesting the protection of Palazzina Vincenti. At the time of writing the Superintendence has passed the buck to the Planning Authority! In the meantime, a development application has been submitted for the demolition of Palazzina Vincenti and its substitution with a 17-storey 136 room hotel, including three levels below street level providing garage space for 58 cars.

In a report drawn up by Architect Edward Said, Palazzina Vincenti is described as “a masterpiece of architecture defined by pure geometric volumes”.  It is considered as one of the earliest examples of the use of reinforced concrete in domestic architecture in Malta.  Quoting from a 2018 Masters of Architecture dissertation by David Ellul, Architect Said emphasises that by taking full advantage of the potential of reinforced concrete, Vincenti’s artistic expression was freed from the limitations of traditional materials. The result is this masterpiece which can be lost quite soon!

Even though to the untrained eye Palazzina Vincenti may seem to be an ugly building specimen, ill-fitting in its present-day concrete jungle surroundings, it is still a masterpiece worth preserving for posterity.

I fail to understand why two years after a request for protection has been submitted no action has yet been taken. As a result of such inaction, the message conveyed by the authorities is a very clear one: that the site occupied by Palazzina Vincenti is ripe for development. This is an inevitable conclusion conveyed by those in charge as a result of their failure to act.

At this point in time, as a minimum, it is expected that an emergency conservation order protecting Palazzina Vincenti is issued urgently. This would be a clear sign to those currently benefitting from a prolonged phase of “development greed” that a red line has been drawn around our heritage, thereby protecting it. It would also provide some breathing space which would be of considerable help in order that the Planning Authority may bring its house in order.

Some have the mistaken idea that all our heritage is necessarily old, very old, going back centuries. This is certainly not the case as this specific architectural masterpiece is less than 75 years old. Unfortunately, there have been other worthy examples of our architectural heritage which have been lost through carelessness, insensitivity and institutional ignorance.

I could remind readers of another outstanding example of modern architecture which has gone to the dogs, this time in Gozo, some 15 years ago. Parts of the Qala Primary School in Gozo were demolished to make way for an Institute of Tourism Studies campus in Gozo. The said school was designed and constructed under the supervision of Architect Joseph Huntingford who as the government architect in charge of schools was responsible for most new schools constructed in Gozo between 1950 and 1961.

Way back in 2006 the Chamber of Architects and Civil Engineers had described the Qala Primary School as one of the finest examples of modern architecture on the island. Even then the Planning Authority was advised to handle our heritage with care. But it was of no use. The advice was ignored as parts of the school were demolished to make way for the ITS campus.

There is still time to save Palazzina Vincenti from being sacrificed on the altar of “development greed”. We need to be more appreciative of our heritage. We have so little of it. I am not however so sure as to whether the Planning Authority is capable of taking decisive action. It has been desensitised for far too long.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 12 December 2021

The regeneration of Marsa

The public consultation which commenced earlier this week relative to the regeneration of the inner part of the Grand Harbour along the coastal area of Marsa is most welcome. Marsa has been neglected for far too long.

The Planning Authority has been criticised in the past for its piecemeal reviews of the local plans. It is hoped that this exercise will be a holistic one. It is the whole of Marsa which should be addressed and not one tiny corner! The decay of Marsa as an urban centre needs to be addressed at the earliest opportunity. This will not be done through piecemeal local plan reviews but through a comprehensive planning exercise.

The proposed strategic vision, as directed by government, is however not a suitable one. Through the Planning Authority, government is proposing that the area subject of the consultation be transformed into a “prime tourism and leisure harbour destination”.

The primary question to be addressed is whether it is desirable for our economy to further increase its dependence on tourism. The answer to this basic question, in my view, is a clear no. It is thus not on to reserve more prime sites for tourism. Tourism has gobbled up too many prime sites. Too many land use planning policies have been compromised in the exclusive interest of the tourism industry.  

Tourism has also proven itself to be a very weak link in the economic chain. It has been brought down to its knees as a result of Covid19. It is still very weak and will take more time to recover. Understandably a significant part of its labour force has migrated to other sectors and is unwilling to return to work in the tourism sector.

Rather than more tourism we definitely need less of it.

Prior to Covid19 we had reached saturation levels in the tourism sector. The post-Covid19 impact period is a unique opportunity for tourism to be re-dimensioned in order to reduce its impacts on the community. Unfortunately, the Planning Authority is insensitive to all this: it plans to give us more of the same.  

The availability of the former power station site and its surroundings is definitely a unique opportunity which should not be squandered on the tourism industry.

The innermost part of the Grand Harbour has always been dedicated to the maritime sector for which this is a unique opportunity to re-organise, modernise and increase its contribution to the national economy while reducing its environmental impacts. Scaling down the ship-repairing facilities and moving them to outside the area earmarked for regeneration could shift this activity to close proximity of residential areas in localities which are close by. This should therefore be avoided.  Even though I doubt very much whether in practice it is that easy to shift these facilities.

The regeneration of the inner part of the Grand Harbour Area can be achieved without tying down the area to development which is tourism-linked. The consultation strategy itself identifies various other options and activities amongst which new business ventures which improve the overall well-being of the community.

The tourism industry itself, over two years ago, had sounded the alarm that the number of tourists arriving in Malta was too high: beyond that which the country can take sustainably. Research published at the same time had identified the first signs of turismofobia, a mixture of repudiation, mistrust and contempt for tourists and tourism. These are the first indications of social discontent with the pressures linked to tourism growth. They need to be addressed but are however being ignored.

There is obviously a need for less tourism, not more of it. Access to public investment has to be made available to other sectors.

The public consultation is in its initial stages, and it is still possible for the discussion to develop along different lines. The discussion required is one which addresses Marsa as a whole and which does not focus on just one tiny corner, even though it may be an important corner.

This is a unique opportunity for all stakeholders who can and should get involved to assist in the identification of a sustainable vision for the regeneration of Marsa as a whole: in the interests of all.

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 December 2021