Air Pollution in our ports

The quality of the air we breath in our major ports is worrying. More residents in the areas around our ports are aware of this and are demanding action: they are all worried by the astronomic increases in the incidence of respiratory illnesses.

Around 12 months ago Maltese eNGO Birdlife carried out an air quality measurement exercise with the support of German experts from the German eNGO Nature and Biodiversity Union (NABU). Air samples taken from the Grand Harbour area indicted the presence of a high level of microscopic particulate matter, which ends up in our lungs.

The Grand Harbour is a hub of shipping activity and also includes a cruise liner terminal which, during the last five years, has had an average annual call rate of over 300 cruise liners.

Cruise liners make use of a large amount of electricity.  In a report covered in the local media, the campaign group T & E (Transport and Environment) said that sulphur emissions from cruise liners visiting Malta in 2017 were around 148 times as much as those emitted from the entire car fleet on the islands. This conclusion was reached after analysing satellite data.

In an investigative report it carried out two years ago focused on the P & O cruise liner company, the UK Television Channel 4 concluded that a cruise liner carrying around two thousand passengers had a daily pollution equivalent to one million cars. Large ships run on heavy fuel oil, which contains 3.5% sulphur – 3,500 times what is permitted in road fuel. There may be a lack of agreement on the exact figures for emissions from the shipping industry, but no one contests that they are substantial.

The international community continuously deals with what happens on the high seas. We can, however, deal more appropriately with what goes on in our ports. Particulate emissions in our ports by the shipping industry has a direct bearing on the residential communities surrounding our ports, notably Grand Harbour and Marsaxlokk Bay.

There are two specific issues which need to be prioritised. The first is for the regulatory authorities to ensure that EU legislation on restricting fuel use to the low sulphur type is observed. The second concerns the need to focus on infrastructural improvements in our ports to facilitate supplying the shipping industry with shore-based electricity, as a result ensuring that the ships’ generators – and consequently the resulting emissions to air –  stops when the ship berthed.

Two studies have already been carried out in Malta on the implications of a shore-to-ship electricity supply for the shipping industry. The first, which was completed in 2014, was carried out by Transport Malta and the second, carried out on behalf of the Malta Freeport Terminals, was completed in 2018. Both studies came to the conclusion that if the shipping industry changed to shore-side electricity there would be a substantial improvement in air quality in our ports. The issue of feasibility, however, is substantially dependent on what our competitors decide!

Does it make sense to keep encouraging economic activity that harms our health? The answer to this question is a definite “no”. Our ports are a most precious natural resource that we should use to enhance the quality of life of our coastal communities.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 18 August 2019

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Turiżmu li jagħti kas lin-nies

Id-dibattitu dwar l-impatti tat-turiżmu hu wieħed li ma jispiċċa qatt. X’impatti soċjali u ambjentali huma ġustifikabbli minħabba l-gwadann ekonomiku tat-turiżmu? Ir-riżorsi tal-pajjiż, fi ftit kliem x’numru ta’ turisti jifilħu?

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, Tony Zahra, President tal-MHRA (l-Assoċjazzjoni Maltija tal-Lukandi u r-Restoranti) kien kritiku dwar in-numru ta’ turisti u l-impatt tagħhom. Kien rappurtat li qal li n-numru ta’ turisti li qed jiġu Malta kien qed jikber wisq. Emfasizza li l-pajjiż ma jiflaħx għall-impatti li jiġġeneraw daqshekk turisti. L-interess ta’ Tony Zahra fit-turiżmu dejjem kien limitat għall-impatt fuq dawk li joperaw il-lukandi: fejn Zahra għandu l-interessi finanzjarji tiegħu. Għadni qatt ma smajt lill- MHRA u lil Tony Zahra, per eżempju, jinkoraġixxu l-agri-turiżmu, u l-importanza ta’ dan (kieku jsir sewwa) biex jiddiversifika b’mod sostenibbli l-prodott turistiku Malti.

Kważi simultanjament għall-kummenti ta’ Tony Zahra, l-Istitut tal-Università ta’ Malta dwar il-Gżejjer u l-Istati Żgħar (The Islands and Small States Institute) ippubblika studju tal-Professuri Lino Briguglio u Marie Avellino, intitolat : Has overtourism reached the Maltese Islands?

Fl-istudju tagħhom, Briguglio u Avellino jagħtu daqqa t’għajn u jidentifikaw dak li għaddej fit-turiżmu u jidentifikaw l-argumenti kritiċi li qed ikunu żviluppati dwar il-materja. Turiżmu li qed jikber iżżejjed (overtourism) u l-biża’ mit-turiżmu (tourismphobia) huma termini li qed jintużaw bi frekwenza li qed tiżdied biex jiddeskrivu l-impatti soċjali negativi li qed jiżviluppaw bħala riżultat ta’ turiżmu li qed jikber kważi bla rażan. Kien fl-2008 li l-antropologu Katalan Manoel Delgado ddeskriva it- turistofobia bħala taħlita ta’ stmerrija, nuqqas ta’ fiduċja u tmaqdir tat-turiżmu.

Fl-istudju ta’ Briguglio u Avellino hu analizzat stħarriġ li għalih, 51% ta’ dawk li wieġbu qalu illi ma jixtiqux jaraw iktar turisti fil-belt jew raħal tagħhom. L-awturi jinterpretaw dan bħala li jindika li t-turiżmu f’Malta kiber wisq (overtourism), avolja jqisu li l-kampjun ta’ dawk li wieġbu l-istħarriġ hu ftit dgħajjef minħabba li mhux rappresentattiv b’mod adegwat.

Fost l-affarijiet li qed jikkontribwixxu għall-iżvilupp ta’ din il-biża mit-turiżmu hemm il-pressjonijiet soċjali u l-impatti ambjentali (kemm skart b’mod ġenerali kif ukoll il-kontribut għal attività esaġerata tal-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni), konġestjoni tat-traffiku, storbju, it-theddida tat-telf tal-identità kulturali u konflitti soċjo-kulturali.

L-MHRA, kif indika Tony Zahra, tidher li hi tal-istess fehma, avolja Zahra tkellem b’mod ġenerali u evita li jitkellem fid-dettall. L-interess tiegħu, wara kollox, hu l-impatt fuq il-but tal-membri tal-MHRA.

L-istudju ta’ Briguglio u Avellino jemfasizza l-ħtieġa li l-politika dwar it-turiżmu għandha tfittex li tindirizza l-impatti negattivi tal-industrija. Dan mhux biss biex tkun indirizzat il-kwalità tal-ħajja tar-residenti lokali imma ukoll biex l-esperjenza tat-turist tkun waħda aħjar u awtentika. It-triq ‘il-quddiem, jgħidulna Briguglio u Avellino, hi d-demokratizzazzjoni tal-iżvilupp turistiku u dan billi jkun inkoraġġit l-impenn tar-residenti milquta fil-komunitajiet tagħna. L-awturi ma jidħlux f’dettall biex jispjegaw dan kollu x’jista’ jfisser. Għandna nifhmu, iżda, li l-proċess tat-teħid tad-deċiżjonijiet kollha li jikkonċernaw l-iżvilupp tat-turiżmu għandhom ikunu soġġetti għal skrutinju pubbliku kontinwu. Dan m’għandux ifisser biss is-sehem tar-residenti milquta f’dan l-iskrutinju imma fuq kollox li dak li jgħidu jkun rifless fid-deċiżjonijiet li jittieħdu.

Permezz tad-demokratizzazzjoni tal-iżvilupp turistiku, hu iktar possibli li l-interessi u aġendi konfliġġenti fit-turiżmu jkunu indirizzati. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, l-imprenditur li jħares lejn il-qliegħ immedjat ikollu jiffaċċja r-realtajiet soċjali u l-impatti ambjentali u kulturali tal-ħidma tiegħu. Bħalissa l-operaturi turistiċi jimpalaw il-profitti u aħna, l-bqija, ndewwu l-feriti soċjali, kulturali u ambjentali li jkunu ħolqu b’ħidmiethom.

It-turiżmu mhiex attività li issir f’bozza. Isseħħ f’komunità magħmula min-nies li għandhom ikollhom l-assigurazzjonijiet kollha neċessarji li l-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħhom mhux ser taqla’ daqqa l-isfel bħala riżultat. It-turiżmu mhux dwar numri ta’ turisti, miljuni ta’ ewro li jintefqu inkella dwar il-kontribut lejn il-Prodott Gross Nazzjonali. Hu ukoll dwar il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll.

It-turiżmu sostenibbli huwa primarjament dwar in-nies u mhux dwar il-profitt. Stennejna iktar minn biżżejjed biex dawk li huma effettwati jkunu assigurati li l-ħajja tagħhom ma tibqax imtappna minn dawk li jaraw biss il-flus. Biex dan iseħħ ma hemm l-ebda alternattiva għajr li l-iżvilupp turistiku jkun demokratizzat.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 11 t’Awwissu 2019

The democratisation of tourism

The debate on the impacts of tourism is never-ending. To what extent does the economic impact of tourism justify its social and environmental impacts? What is the carrying capacity of our islands, that is, what is the number of tourists with which our resources can reasonably cope?

Earlier this week, Tony Zahra, President of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) sounded the alarm: he was reported as saying that the number of tourists visiting Malta was too high. He emphasised that it is substantially exceeding the limits of what the country can take sustainably. Tony Zahra’s interest in tourism is limited to the impacts on hotels and hoteliers, his bread and butter. I have yet to hear the MHRA and Tony Zahra advocating agri-tourism, for example, and its importance in diversifying Malta’s tourism product sustainably.

Almost simultaneously The Islands and Small States Institute of the University of Malta published a Paper authored by Professors Lino Briguglio and Marie Avellino, entitled: Has overtourism reached the Maltese Islands?

In their Paper Briguglio/Avellino skim though the issues, identifying the trends and an ever-growing literature on over-tourism. “Over-tourism” and “tourismphobia” are increasingly used as terms to describe the emergence of social discontent with the pressures linked to tourism growth. It was way back in 2008 that  the Catalan anthropologist Manoel Delgado had described turistofobia as a mixture of repudiation, mistrust and contempt for tourists.

In a survey which is discussed in the Briguglio/Avellino paper, 51 per cent of respondents said that they did not want to see more tourists in their town or village. The authors interpret this as indicating the existence of over-tourism in the Maltese islands, even though they consider the sample of respondents as being weak and not adequately representative.

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 MHRA, as indicated by its President Tony Zahra, seems to be on the same wavelength although Tony Zahra limits himself to speaking in general terms, as his primary interest is the financial bottom-line of MHRA members.

The Briguglio/Avellino paper points at the need for tourism policy to consider mitigating the negative impacts of tourism. This could address not just the well-being of the local residents but also the tourist experience. The democratisation of tourism development through encouraging the active participation of the residents suffering the impact in our communities, opine Briguglio/Avellino, could be the way forward. The authors do not go in detail as to what the “democratisation of tourism development” would actually mean. It is, however, understood that the decision-making process of tourism development should be subjected to more public scrutiny by the community suffering from the impact and, that the views of the community are not only heard but acted upon.

Through the democratisation of tourism development, the conflicting interests and agendas involved in tourism must be addressed. As a result, the short-term gains of tourism entrepreneurs would be compelled to face the reality of social responsibility, as well as cultural and environmental costs. So far, the tourism operators pocket the profits and we, the rest, face the 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 upon as a result of the experience. Tourism is not just about numbers of tourists, or the millions of euros spent or a contribution to the Gross National Product: it is also about our quality of life.

Sustainable tourism is primarily about people – not about profit! Is it not about time that those feeling the impacted are involved in ensuring that their lives are not made miserable by others whose vision is limited to euros on the horizon?

The democratisation of touristic development is the only way forward.

 

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday: 11 August 2019

Beyond the trees

Trees are in the news, mostly for the wrong reasons. Some of them are being chopped, others are being uprooted and transplanted from areas impacted by road infrastructure projects to elsewhere, generally close by.

At this stage of these projects’ development, their impact on trees along our roads are the most visible outcome. There are various other outcomes that will only become clear in due course.

The symbolic value of trees is powerful. They are the most obvious choice for environmental activists when these need a medium to convey clearly understood messages about what is happening to our environment.

While their symbolic value is spearheading the criticism directed at the road development programme, trees have also inherent value as part of an eco-system that is continuously under siege.

The road development projects currently under way symbolise what is wrong with our planners – they work against nature, continuously failing to factor eco-sensitivity into their plans.

The issue at hand is clearly traffic congestion and the current exercise regarding infrastructure is trying to address this to facilitate mobility. However, in addressing traffic congestion, the main problem is that the authorities are approaching the issue in the wrong manner.

Their approach is based in the short-term and, consequently, the problem is never solved. It is merely postponed to some later date to be picked up again years down the line by future generations. This has been shown to be the case time and again everywhere, and clearly crops up in all major studies on transport planning and management.

Ian Borg, the Minister of Transport, is not the cause of traffic congestion. He has inherited it from his predecessors who failed to act properly on their watch.

Unfortunately, he is following in their footsteps. Borg too will pass the buck to his successor – more roads, more traffic, more bottlenecks, more traffic congestion.

Borg is ignoring the advice that is clearly spelt out in the Transport Master Plan 2015, which clearly identifies car use and ownership as the perennially unaddressed issue.

It would be pertinent to point out the following extract from section 2.2.1 of the Transport Master Plan, saying that: “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.”

The section goes on to say: “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 action 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.”

The real issue is that our society is car dependent. This is reflected not only in all we do but also in the manner we go about doing it.

Unfortunately, governments are only interested in short-term solutions as they will generally not be around for much longer than that. So, they do not bother with implementing a long-term vision.

We need to change tack and focus our energy on the long-term solutions. It this case, it means that we can only solve traffic congestion by shifting from a focus on road capacity to one addressing car dependency. This signifies that we no longer merely act on the effects but that, instead, we start focusing on the real cause of our problem: changing our behaviour by reducing our car dependency.

I agree that this is easier said than done. But it is also fair and realistic to state that further procrastination will only add to our problems. The present state of affairs is precisely the direct consequence of a failure to act over a number of years, spurred by a policy and planning failure that has consistently opted for the short-term stop-gap solutions instead of the long-term ones.

 

Published in The Times of Malta: 9 August 2019 

Going on a diet

The health problems we face by being overweight are not resolved by changing our wardrobe or loosening our belt but by going on a reasonable diet. And it is the same with our roads.

Addressing traffic congestion will not be resolved by road-widening or large road infrastructure projects but by addressing the root cause of such congestion: the number of cars that are using of our roads.

The opposition to the Central Link project is not about trees. Trees, symbolic of environmental vitality, are an important detail in the project that Infrastructure Malta is undoubtedly only too willing to concede through promises of substantially increasing their availability, even though the plans of the project have, at various times, indicated otherwise. This is apparent from the current bombardment of TV adverts by Infrastructure Malta. The opposition to the project is rather about the short-sighted transport policy that ignores the causes of traffic congestion and deals exclusively with the effects thereof. Avoiding the root cause of traffic congestion will only result in temporary relief.

The Environment Impact Assessment on the Central Link project considers six different scenarios: Scenario 0 to Scenario 5. Scenario 0 is defined as the “do-nothing option” with the other five scenarios being different combinations of interventions in the road infrastructure. The “do-nothing option”, as implied, signifies that no infrastructural interventions are involved: everything remains as is.

Infrastructure Malta’s brief is limited to infrastructural interventions. As a consequence, the authors of the Environmental Impact Assessment did not consider it worthwhile to examine whether it is at all possible to address traffic congestion through focused policy interventions over a suitable time frame. The government has already taken some positive steps in this regard through the offering of various carrots enticing different sectors to use alternative means of mobility, which include initiatives on both land and sea transport alternatives.

In the pipeline is the proposal to widen the appeal of public transport through making it free for everyone. Various other policy proposals have been implemented, including the provision of school transport to all schools, with the aim of reducing traffic during peak hours. This is all positive and could form the basis of an exercise to realistically address traffic congestion without the need for substantial infrastructural interventions.

What is the anticipated environmental impact of all this and possibly more? We are none the wiser through reading the Environment Impact Assessment.

The Transport Master Plan emphasises that the average journey length of a private car trip in Malta is 5.5 kilometres and that 50 per cent of trips take no more than 15 minutes. This obviously leads to the important consideration that regional and local public transport, if organised efficiently, could address the movement of a substantial number of cars on our roads with considerable environmental benefits. The EIA is silent on this basic information, which, if properly acted upon, could result in a substantial number of cars being removed from our roads without the need of any infrastructural intervention!

What role does environmental taxation have in encouraging a change in behaviour of those who can address their mobility needs in a reasonable manner without the need of using a private car?

Scenario 0, which considers environmental impacts without any infrastructural interventions, does not consider this. In so doing, the EIA is incomplete as it does not assess all the available options that can have an impact on traffic congestion. This contrasts with the provisions of the EIA Regulations which broadly regulate the process of analysing and reporting on the environmental impacts of major projects and emphasise that a “sufficiently detailed and reasonably exhaustive initial appraisal of potentially suitable alternatives” is essential.

This signifies that the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) has not carried out its role in moderating the contents of the EIA appropriately. This could possibly explain why, very strangely, Professor Victor Axiaq did not utter one single word during the public hearing of the Planning Authority Board during which he voted in favour of the Central Link project!

The long-term aim of Malta’s transport policy is spelled out in the Transport Master Plan 2025: it is a reduction in the number of cars from our roads. This will increase mobility through the use of sustainable alternatives such as public transport, cycling, walking and even sea transport between locations in our harbour areas.

Transport studies carried out all over the world indicate that major road works always end up generating additional traffic. The Central Link project will not be an exception and consequently, it will not follow the direction spelt out by Malta’s Transport Master Plan approved by government in 2016!

published on The Independent on Sunday : 28 July 2019

Il-proġett Central Link: riżultat ta’ inkompetenza

Ilkoll naqblu li l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku fit-toroq tagħna hi problema kbira.

Imma hi sfortuna kbira li dawk responsabbli biex jimplimentaw il-politika dwar it-trasport qieshom mhumiex konxji li meta qed japprovaw il-proġett Central Link qed jinjoraw il-kawża tal-problema u minflok qed jikkonċentraw fuq l-effetti. Il-konġestjoni tat-toroq tagħna mhix ikkawżata mit-tul jew mill-wisa’ tat-toroq imma min-numru ta’ karozzi li jagħmlu użu minnhom.

It-toroq tagħna ma jesgħux iktar karozzi li żdiedu b’mod sproporzjonat għad-daqs u l-ħtiġijiet ta’ dawn il-gżejjer.

Id-dibattitu fuq il-proġett Central Link iffoka fuq ħafna materji importanti: l-kwalità tal-arja, l-ħarsien tal-agrikultura, l-ħarsien tas-siġar, l-passaġġi riżervati għar-roti, imma li lkoll kemm huma għandhom importanza marġinali għas-soluzzjoni tal-problema reali tal-konġestjoni tat-traffiku. Il-kawża tal-problema mhix id-daqs tat-toroq imma n-numru tal-karozzi li jagħmlu użu minnhom u li sirna dipendenti wisq fuqhom.

Il-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport fih referenza għall-analiżi bażika li tindika x’qed jikkawża l-problemi tagħna: s’issa ma konniex kapaċi nħarsu fit-tul fl-ippjanar tat-trasport. Jiġifieri aħna nfittxu l-benefiċċji mmedjati u ninjoraw l-impatti fit-tul.
B’mod speċifiku taħt it-titlu “Intejbu l-ippjanar u d-diżinn għat-traport integrat u li jħares fit-tul” il-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport jgħid hekk: “……….. nistgħu naraw, mill-esperjenza, li l-politika u l-ippjanar tat-trasport f’Malta ġeneralment ħares lejn l-immedjat ( 4 sa 5 snin). In-nuqqas li tingħata importanza lejn l-ippjanar fit-tul ifisser li ma hemm l-ebda pjan integrat ibbażat fuq analiżi solida, b’miri ċari li jħarsu fit-tul. Dan wassal għal nuqqas ta’ direzzjonji strateġika u n-nuqqas ta’ kapaċità li jkunu indirizzati materji diffiċli bħall-kontroll fuq l-użu ta’ karozzi privati. Is-soċjetà Maltija bil-mod biex tiċċaqlaq, u dan f’kuntrast mal-ħtieġa għal azzjoni biex il-problema tat-traffiku tkun indirizzata kemm illum kif ukoll fil-futur. Dan iwassal biex il-vjaġġatur Malti jistenna li kulħadd jibdel id-drawwiet tiegħu ħalli hu jkun jista’ jibqa’ jsuq il-karozza. ” (sezzjoni 2.2.1 tal-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Transport)

L-affarijiet ma jistgħux ikunu iktar ċari minn hekk. Il-problema hi waħda: d-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi. Toroq li jkunu usa’ jew itwal jistgħu jsolvu l-problema tal-konġestjoni tat-traffiku għal żmien limitat. Imma kif ġie repetutament ippruvat minn studji li saru f’diversi pajjiżi oħra, l-interventi fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq, fl-aħħar jispiċċaw biex iżidu l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku, u dan għax iżidu it-traffiku.

Min-naħa l-oħra, il-proċess biex jitnaqqas id-dipendenza fuq il-karozza jieħu l-ħin, u l-votanti mhux ser jieħdu ġost!

Sfortunatament, uħud mill-dawk li kienu kritiċi tal-proġett iffukaw fuq id-dettalji u ma ħarsux lejn il-proġett fih innifsu, fit-totalità tiegħu, u allura ma rnexxilhomx japprezzaw kemm hi kbira l-ħsara li ser jagħmel il-proġett fit-totalità tiegħu.

Dan il-proġett m’għandniex bżonnu. Neħtieġu li niffukaw fuq il-problema li ġiet evitata kontinwament għax il-politiċi fil-Parlament u fil-Gvern ma jridux jieħdu deċiżjonijiet li m’humiex popolari. Għal din ir-raġuni iroxxu l-flus u jonfquhom, taparsi qed isolvu l-problemi. Mhux flushom, ovvjament, imma dak li jiġbru mit-taxxi minn fuqna. Il-problemi tal-lum, b’hekk, ikunu trasferiti f’ħoġor il-ġenerazzjonjiet futuri.

Is-soluzzjoni meħtieġa ma tinvolvix ħafna xogħol infrastrutturali imma prinċipalment inizjattivi politiċi biex jinkoraġixxu l-użu ta’ mezzi alternattivi ta’ mobilità u dan flimkien ma inizjattivi li jippenalizzaw l-użu tal-karozzi privati.

Biex inkun ġust fil-kritika tiegħi ngħid li xi inizjattivi ittieħdu diġà u oħrajn bla dubju jitwettqu ukoll. Żdied sostanzjalment is-sussidju għat-trasport pubbliku. Ittieħdu inizjattivi diversi dwar aċċess b’xejn għat-trasport pubbliku lil diversi kategoriji u eventwalment hu ippjanat li dan ikun b’xejn għal kulħadd. Dan kollu tajjeb, iżda mhux biżżejjed. Flimkien ma dawn il-miżuri u bosta oħrajn hemm bżonn inizjattivi li jippenalizzaw l-użu tal-karozzi privati. Dawn jistgħu jinkludu żieda fit-taxxi applikabbli kemm għar-reġistrazzjoni tal-karozzi kif ukoll għall-liċenzji. Dan iwassal għal tnaqqis fin-numru tal-karozzi fit-toroq.

It-taxxi ambjentali jagħmlu l-ġid. Huma l-għodda politika li jekk użati tajjeb jgħinu biex tissolva l-problema tal-konġestjoni tat-traffiku illum.

Għax il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku hu l-prezz li l-ġenerazzjoni tal-lum qed tħallas għall-inkompetenza akkumulata tal-gvernijiet differenti fl-amministrazzjoni tal-politika tat-trasport. Sal-lum ġie evitat li jkunu ndirizzati l-problemi reali. Fir-realtà ma hemmx soluzzjonjijiet maġiċi: irridu naffrontaw il-problema. Sakemm nagħmlu hekk, il-problema tikber tista’.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 21 ta’ Lulju 2019

Central Link project: the cost of incompetence

We are all in agreement that traffic congestion is a massive problem.

However, it is indeed unfortunate that those responsible for implementing transport policy at times give the impression that they are not aware that, in approving the Central Link project they are ignoring the cause of the problem and instead they are focusing on the effects. The issue in question is not the length or width of our roads but the number of cars making use of them.

Our roads are bursting at the seams as a result of an ever-increasing number of cars that is out of proportion to the size and needs of our islands.

The debate on the Central Link project focused on many important issues: air quality, the protection of agriculture, the protection of trees, cycling lanes –  all of which are of marginal significance to the real issue. The cause of the problem is not the size of our roads but the number of cars on which we are so dependent.

The National Transport Master Plan contains a reference to the basic analysis which identifies our transport problems: a lack of long-term vision. We seek immediate gains and ignore the long-term impact.

Specifically, under the heading “Improve integrated and long-term strategic transport planning and design” the following is included in the National Transport Master Plan: “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 action 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.” (section 2.2.1 of Transport Master Plan)

Can it be clearer than this? The problem is car dependency and nothing else. Congestion can be temporarily solved with new and wider roads. It has been proven by studies carried out in other countries that infrastructural interventions in the road network will, in the end, increase traffic congestion because they end up generating more traffic.

On the other hand, addressing car dependency adequately will take a long time and it comes with a voter backlash!

Unfortunately, some critics have focused on the details and ignored the holistic view of the whole project, and consequently failed to grasp the real damaging issues at stake. We do not need a central link. We require focusing on the central problem which has been avoided time and again because politicians in Parliament and in government do not want to make unpopular decisions. Hence, they throw money at problems, thereby postponing them into the future. Today’s problems being once more shifted onto future generations.

The solution required should not involve substantial infrastructural work but policy initiatives which encourage the use of alternative means of mobility, as well as initiatives that penalise the use of private cars. We need to use both carrots and sticks as effective policy instruments.

In fairness, some initiatives are being taken and others are undoubtedly in the pipeline. Subsidies applicable to public transport have been increased substantially. Initiatives regarding access to free public transport – presently for various categories but eventually free to everyone – are laudable carrots. On their own, however, they are not enough. They need to be coupled with adequate policy initiatives which penalise the use of private cars. This could include increase to car registration tax as well as in car circulation taxes.

Environmental taxation is not a dirty expression. It is a policy that holds the keys to the solution of our traffic congestion that we should be solving now.

Traffic congestion is, in reality, the cost that the present generation is paying for the accumulated incompetence of our governments to date in managing transport policy. So far, the real issues have been avoided. It is about time we realise that there is no magical solution: we have to face the real cause of our problem head-on and, until this happens, the problem will get worse.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 21 July 2019

Il-mużika ta’ matul il-lejl

Ir-ritratti mis-satellita juru kemm hu kbir it-tniġġiż mid-dawl f’Malta. Fil-fatt, dan hu komparabbli mat-tniġġiż miż-żoni urbani fil-kontinent Ewropew! It-tniġġiż mid-dawl ma jħallix li nisimgħu l-mużika ta’ matul il-lejl. Joħnoqha u jżommna milli napprezzaw is-sbuħija tal-lejl li bil-mod jurina dak li jostor. Hekk jemfasizza l-Ħares tal-Opra (Phantom of the Opera) fix-xogħol tejatrali kapulavur ta’ Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Xi snin ilu waqt dibattitu dwar il-baġit ġie varat proġett biex id-dwal tat-toroq ikun ikkontrollat b’mod elettroniku. Proġett li meta jkun implimentat għandu jkun ta’ kontribut sostanzjali biex fil-gżejjer Maltin jonqos it-tniġġiż mid-dawl. Imma sfortunatament ftit li xejn smajna dwar xi progress seta’ kien hemm dwar din il-materja mill- 2013 lil hawn, meta tħabbar il-proġett.

Id-dawl eċċessiv użat matul il-lejl mhux biss hu użu ħażin u ineffiċjenti tal-enerġija imma jagħti kontribut konsegwenzjali għal emissjonijiet tal-karbonju li jistgħu jkunu evitati. B’dan il-ħajja fin-natura tul il-lejl qed tiġi ddisturbata u potenzjalment ukoll hi kawża għal ħsara lis-saħħa umana.

Fl-2007, il-Birdlife f’Malta ippubblikat studju dwar l-impatt tad-dwal bil-lejl fuq l-għasafar li jgħixu fl-irdumijiet u qrib il-baħar kif ukoll speċi oħra li jpassu bil-lejl. L-istudju hu intitolat Light Pollution and its effects on Yelkouan Shearwaters in Malta; causes and solutions. Il-kuntest tal-istudju kien proġett fl-iskema EU Life fl-Aħrax tal-Mellieħa fl-inħawi magħruf bħala l-Irdum tal-Madonna, sit li hu kolonja tal-garni, għasfur li jgħix mal-baħar.

L-osservazzjonijiet fir-rapport u s-soluzzjonijiet proposti jistgħu faċilment iservu ta’ bażi għal pjan ta’ azzjoni biex fil-gżejjer Maltin nibdew nindirizzaw bis-serjetà t-tniġġiż mid-dawl billi dan f’Malta mhux biss hu ta’ theddida għall-garnija (Yelkouan Shearwater)imma ukoll kawża ta’ emissjonijiet ta’ karbonju bla bżonn u theddida għall-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll.

Bħala riżultat tad-densità qawwija ta’ popolazzjoni, t-tniġġiż mid-dawl matul il-lejl għandu impatt konsiderevoli kemm fuq iż-żoni urbani kif ukoll fuq dawk rurali tal-gżejjer Maltin. Ekologikament għandu impatt fuq l-għasafar, friefet u insetti kif ukoll friefet il-lejl imma ukoll fuq l-imġieba tal-annimali b’mod ġenerali. Lil hinn mill-ħajja naturali, it-tniġġiż mid-dawl joħloq leħħ qawwi li jweġġa’ l-għajn u li għandu impatt fuq is-sigurtà fis-sewqan. Jeffettwa lil min isuq, lil min jimxi, kif ukoll lil min juża’ r-rota u jagħti kontribut mhux żgħir fl-inċidenti tat-traffiku li jseħħu matul il-lejl.

Il-każ dwar it-tniġġiż mid-dawl fid-Dwejra deċiż mit-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni dwar l-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar nhar is-27 ta’ Ġunju hu każ rari fejn deċiżjoni tajba tal-Kummissjoni għall-Kontroll tal-Iżvilupp tinbidel mit-Tribunal fl-appell: ġeneralment bil-maqlub jiġri. Meta jinbidlu, s-soltu jkunu d-deċiżjonijiet il-ħżiena li jinbidlu, mhux dawk tajbin! Fil-fatt il-Kummissjoni għall-Kontroll ta’ l-Iżvilupp kienet irrifjutat l-applikazzjoni oriġinali minħabba li l-inħawi tad-Dwejra huma żona ta’ importanza ekologika. Sfortunatament it-Tribunal ittratta it-tniġġiż mid-dawl b’mod leġġer u kien insensittiv għall-impatti ekoloġiċi.

Li l-15-il għaqda ambjentali ngħaqdu biex jiġbru l-fondi ħalli tkompli l-ġlieda b’appell fil-Qrati hu pass tajjeb ‘il-quddiem. Il-ħarsien tas-siti tan-Natura 2000 hi għadma iebsa, imma jeħtieġ li jibqa’ għaddej. Imma li jsir appell minn din id-deċiżjoni skandaluża tat-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni tal-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar għandu jkun biss l-ewwel pass.

Għandna nirrejalizzaw li l-Awtorità għall-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi għandha l-poter u l-awtorità taħt id-Direttiva Ewropea dwar l-abitati li mhiex tagħmel użu tagħhom sewwa. L-ERA għandha tasserixxi ruħha u tenforza r-regoli, u jekk hemm bżonn tibqa’ għaddejja minn fuq l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar kif tista’ u għandha tagħmel kull meta dan ikun neċessarju.

Ikun ferm aħjar kieku l-Ministru għall-Ambjent jinsisti mal-ERA biex din tieħu ħsieb iż-żoni ekoloġiċi sewwa. Ovvjament għandu jassigura li jkunu ipprovduti riżorsi adegwati.

Il-kaz tad-Dwejra hu każ speċifiku li fih l-ERA tista’ tieħu l-mazz f’idejha. X’ser tagħmel?

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 7 ta’ Lulju 2019

 

 

 

The music of the night

Satellite photos clearly indicate the extent of light pollution in Malta: it is comparable to that in most urban areas in the European continent. As a result, the music of the night is made inaudible. The night is being “impeded from unfurling its splendour”, as the Phantom of the Opera repeatedly emphasises in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s masterpiece.

Some years back, during the budget debate, a project related to intelligent street lighting was launched. When implemented, such a project would be an effective contribution to the reduction of light pollution all over the Maltese islands. Unfortunately, we have not heard of any substantial progress on the matter since late 2013, when the project was first announced.

Excessive artificial lighting used during the night is not only an inefficient use of energy, and the consequential contribution to additional carbon emissions which can be avoided, it is also a disturbance of nocturnal animal life and potentially injurious to human health.

Way back in 2007, Birdlife in Malta had published a study on the impact of night lighting on seabirds and nocturnal migrant species. The study is entitled Light Pollution and its effects on Yelkouan Shearwaters in Malta; causes and solutions. The context of the study is the EU Life project site at l-Aħrax in Mellieħa, in the area known as l-Irdum tal-Madonna, the site of a seabird colony.

The observations made and the solutions proposed in the study could easily form the basis for an action plan applicable to all of the Maltese islands to address light pollution because, in Malta, this is a serious problem not just for shearwaters but also in terms of carbon emissions and our quality of life.

As a result of Malta’s high population density, nocturnal light pollution has a considerable impact on both urban and rural areas all over the Maltese Islands. Ecologically, it has an impact on birds, moths and bats but it also has a considerable impact on animal behaviour in general. Beyond wildlife, light pollution creates glare which is a road safety issue and has an impact on drivers, pedestrians and cyclists and is known to play a considerable part in nocturnal traffic accidents.

The Dwejra light pollution case decided by the Environment and Planning Revision Tribunal on the 27 June is a rare case when a sensible decision was taken by the Planning Control Commission only for it to be reversed on appeal: normally it is the other way round! In fact, the Planning Control Commission had refused the original application on the basis that the Dwejra area is an area of ecological importance. Unfortunately, the Tribunal treated the issue of light pollution very lightly and was insensitive to its ecological impacts.

The coming together of fifteen environmental NGOs to crowd-fund the fight on appeal in Court is a good step forward. Protecting Natura 2000 sites is a tough fight but it needs to go on. Appealing against the scandalous decision of the Environment and Planning Revision Tribunal should, however, only be a first step. It should be realised that the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) has powers and authority under the provisions of the EU Habitats Directive that it does not make sufficient use of. The ERA should assert itself and enforce the rules, bulldozing through the Planning Authority whenever this is necessary.

It would be much better if the Hon. Minister for the Environment insists that the ERA manages areas of ecological importance appropriately. Obviously, he must ensure that adequate resources are provided.

This Dwejra case is a specific example of where the ERA can have the final word. Will it?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 7 July 2019

Post-electoral reflections

When voters repeatedly elect a candidate accused of usury and money-laundering into public office, it is inevitable that I ask the question as to whether, really, the voters are always right.

In view of this reality it is inevitable that now, more frequently than ever, I ask myself why I am in politics. Following the electoral counting process presents the stark reality of the substantial number of spoilt ballot papers – with a variety of comments written in very colourful language.

Answering my daily question, now more than ever, I choose to stay on as I am driven by a sense of duty towards the ordinary man and woman who request continuous help in facing their daily problems caused by an insensitive state buttressed by a variety of colourful hangers-on.

It is unfortunate that immediate gain, as opposed to long-term benefits, is the obvious choice of a majority of voters, irrespective of the locality. Tomorrow is too far away to feature in today’s choices and, as a result, voters are continuously misguided instead of being assisted in making their choices.

I am obviously disappointed that no green local councillors were elected in the latest election. Moreover, the only green councillor currently in office, Ralph Cassar in Attard, was not re-elected. The result was affected by a low turnout, coupled with a reduced number of cross-party voters in the locality. Ralph has given sterling service to Attard for a considerable number of years, almost uninterruptedly since the 1990s.

The voters’ decision not to re-elect Ralph Cassar but then for voters in another locality to  repeatedly elect a person charged with usury and money-laundering is mind-boggling.
“Crooks are everywhere” could be too simplistic an explanation. They are certainly present but their presence is definitely not ubiquitous. It would be unfair to tar all those who stand for public office with the same brush, because most of them are drawn into public life through a sense of public service.

Why am I in politics? “To be of service to the community” is the answer which I have repeatedly and convincingly given since my youth. It is a service against an ever-intruding state. It is a service in favour of the betterment of our quality of life through ensuring the optimisation of policy-making and implementation, focusing on addressing the common good.

Throughout the past months and years, together with fellow greens, I have striven hard to ensure that more people are conscious of the need to prioritise ecological issues. Tackling environmental issues is a political matter because it involves continuous political decision-taking on a large variety of issues – ranging from food and pesticides to land-use planning in all its complexities or water management.

Those who continuously plead against linking environmental issues with politics are unfortunately not conscious that each and every decision impacting the environment is a political decision. Politics is also a service to the environment, ideally seeking to ensure that long-term views prevail over short-term egoistic decisions.

During the past weeks. Alternattiva Demokratika focused on several environmental issues regarding the need to improve our urban environment. The agenda is topped by a need to improve transport planning and reclaiming back our roads and ensuring adequate accessibility for all. Reducing the number of cars from our roads is an urgent requirement but there is no interest in achieving it as an objective. This will keep up the pressure on our public spaces which are either being taken up by more parking spaces or else by tables and chairs servicing catering establishments.

It is indeed unfortunate that the voters who share these objectives did not sufficiently support those who continuously strive to address them.

It is difficult to answer the question as to why I am in politics striving to attain environmental protection in order to better our quality of life, when everything seems to be pointing in a different direction. However, there is no alternative. Putting egoistic short-termism aside is an absolute priority.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday – 2 June 2019