Tourism: from Covid to Climate Change

The tourism lobby, through the MHRA (Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association), is once more breathing down the authorities’ neck. Some of their former employees have not returned, after the pandemic.  They are obviously referring to those employees of theirs who were shed off their payroll, as soon as the pandemic impacts started being felt.

After treating some of their employees like shit they are now asking for tax exemptions as a carrot to attract them back to fill the void created. Tax exemptions?  Difficult to qualify if you are employed on a zero-hour contract, hardly paying any tax at all!

The fact that an increasing number of employees are migrating from the tourism industry, is indicative that the employment conditions and the remuneration paid by the industry, at least, to some of its employees, is not worth it. If it were, former employees would come back on their own without the need to be enticed with tax exemptions.

Specifically, sections of the tourism industry are based on cheap labour: paying miserly hourly rates on zero-hour contracts. In addition to having reasonable rates of pay, it is imperative that zero-hour contracts are scrapped. That is to say a contract of employment must be for an agreed number of hours per week and not left at the absolute discretion of the employer. Greens in Malta have repeatedly advocated this step. A Labour government is apparently not interested.

Isn’t it about time that the tourism industry gets its act together? Government has over the years dedicated many resources to help the industry get on its feet. Various subsidies and favourable administrative decisions including planning policies designed to ride roughshod over the residential community are in place. Yet they want more.

At almost 3 million tourists in 2019, Malta is definitely close to a saturation point in the uptake of tourists it can handle. This has placed too large a strain on the country’s infrastructure.

Covid has clearly identified an Achilles heel. We need to learn a number of lessons. Foremost to reduce our dependence on tourism in order to ensure that the next time movement between countries is an issue, impacts on all are cushioned considerably. The next issue is round the corner. It is climate change.

Last week various initiatives were announced by the EU Commission in order that the target of carbon neutrality by 2050 is achieved. The Commission has identified a number of measures which could facilitate the achievement of an intermediate target of 55 per cent greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 2030 and beyond.

One such initiative is the environmental taxing of aviation fuel. Such an initiative is intended to internalise the environmental costs of such flights. This could result in either of two options: the payment of a carbon tax by those who use such flights or the use of alternative modes of transport thus avoiding altogether the payment of the tax.

On mainland Europe, use of trains is in many cases a suitable alternative which has considerably reduced environmental impacts. However, in our case we do not have practical alternatives to aviation. This will inevitably increase the costs of flights and consequently bring about a reduction in the number of tourists opting to visit Malta. Most of our competitors will be similarly impacted, but that is no consolation for the industry! Cheap plane fares could soon be history.

As announced by Minister Miriam Dalli, Malta expects that it is a “special case”. Most probably it will be successful in negotiating a reasonable transition, and/or some exceptions. In the long run, however, opposing outright such a measure goes against Malta’s long-term interests. Malta, like all island states, together with coastal settlements and communities, will have to face some of the worst impacts of climate change, that is sea-level rise. The climate, would not care less about our special case, or our economy. It will impact us just as forcefully. The climate is merciless.

It would be pertinent to remember that most of our tourism infrastructure lies along or within reach of the coast. This signifies that a sea-level rise could easily play havoc with such infrastructure. If substantial, a sea-level rise will also seriously impact our coastal communities, which are spread over quite a large area along the coast.

It is about time that we stop and think carefully. Tourism is at the crossroads. It needs to be subject to an overhaul: taking into consideration the covid lessons, and applying them to the climate change scenario which sooner or later we will have to face. This is the future of tourism, not tax exemptions.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 25 July 2021

Tibdil tal-klima: miżuri li jeħtieġ li jkunu ġusti

Huwa essenzjali li nilħqu l-mira ta’ emissjonijiet żero tal-karbonju (carbon neutrality). Ilu żmien ovvju li ekonomija dipendenti fuq iż-żjut mhiex waħda sostenibbli. Il-Konvenzjoni tal-Ġnus Magħquda dwar it-Tibdil fil-Klima, fis-summit ta’ Pariġi, fl-2015, kienet fasslet pjan dwar it-triq meħtieġa biex nintlaħqu miri li jħarsu l-klima. Jekk ma nimxux ma’ dan il-pjan, il-futur ifisser biss gwaj.

It-tibdil fil-klima diġa qiegħed magħna.  Madanakollu, l-impatti fuqna jistgħu jkunu ferm agħar minn dak li għaddej bħalissa: temperaturi estremi, nixfa’ kbira f’xi reġjuni u għargħar f’oħrajn. Id-diżastri qed iseħħu quddiem għajnejna kuljum. Il-qagħda għad trid teħżien bosta, qabel ma l-affarijiet (forsi) jaqilbu għall-aħjar.

It-temperatura medja fuq livell globali qed tiżdied. It-temperatura imkejla tvarja minn reġjun għall-ieħor. Fil-Mediterranean, studji riċenti qed jindikaw li qegħdin viċin li naqbżu żieda ta’ grad u nofs Celsius fuq it-temperatura pre-industrijali. L-impatti ta’ dan diġa qed inħossuhom.

Bħala stat gżira, Malta messa li hi fuq quddiem fid-dibattitu globali dwar it-tibdil fil-klima.  Sfortunatament, pajjiżna hu fost dawk il-pajjiżi li kontinwament ikaxkru saqajhom biex jevitaw jew inaqqsu l-azzjoni meħtieġa da parti tagħhom. Il-fatt li aħna żgħar ma jeżentaniex mir-responsabbiltà tagħna lejn il-futur.

Fost l-eżempji ta’ dan hemm ir-resistenza, tul is-snin, biex nagħtu importanza lill-ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija rinovabbli flimkien mat-tkaxkir tas-saqajn għall-proċess tal-elettrifikazzjoni tat-trasport.  

Ilkoll niftakru l-insistenza tal-Gvernijiet Maltin mal-Kummissjoni Ewropeja biex il-miri ta’ Malta dwar l-enerġija rinovabbli ma jkunux l-20 fil-mija iffissati mill-Kummissjoni imma jinżlu għal 10 fil-mija tal-enerġija totali ġġenerata.  Bl-istess mod, minkejja li fl-2017 saret dikjarazzjoni politika mill-Gvern favur l-elettrifikazzjoni tat-trasport, wara 4 snin għadna bla pjan u miri ċari. Il-bidla issa ser ikollha isseħħ b’ritmu mgħaġġel u ftit li xejn jidher li bħala pajjiż aħna ippreparati għaliha.

L-Unjoni Ewropeja għadha kemm żvelat pjan bi proposti biex l-emissjonijiet serra jitnaqqsu b’55 fil-mija meta mqabbel ma dawk tal-1990. Dan għandu jseħħ sal-2030, u dan bħala mira intermedja fit-triq lejn emmissjonijiet żero tal-karbonju (carbon neutrality) sas-sena 2050.

Waħda mill-proposti li qed issir hi li l-enerġija minn sorsi rinovabbli ġġenerata fl-Unjoni Ewropeja tkun ta’ 40 fil-mija mill-enerġija kollha użata. Dan ikun ifisser li fi żmien 9 snin Malta jkun jeħtieġilha li timmultiplika b’erbgħa l-enerġija rinovabbli li niġġeneraw fil-pajjiż. Din ser tkun mira iebsa, iktar u iktar meta tieħu kont tal-fatt li tul is-snin il-pajjiż dejjem ipprova jiżloq mill-obbligi tiegħu f’dan il-qasam.

Proposta oħra tal-Unjoni Ewropeja hi li sal-2035 ma jidħlux iktar fis-suq karozzi li jaħdmu bid-dijsil u l-petrol. Din mira li ser ikun meħtieġ li nilħquha fi żmien 14-il sena. Lokalment din mhi ser issolvi xejn jekk ma tkunx imżewġa ma miżuri biex jonqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq.

Proposta oħra tal-Kummissjoni Ewropeja hi dwar l-introduzzjoni ta’ taxxa fuq il-fjuwil użat milll-vapuri kif ukoll dak użat fl-avjazzjoni. Din il-proposta bla dubju jkollha impatt mhux żgħir fuq il-gżejjer u l-istati periferali Ewropej. Hi proposta li hi motivata mill-fatt li l-Ewropa kontinentali hi moqdija iktar bil-ferrovija, ġeneralment effiċjenti u li hu meqjus li tħalli impatti ambjentali ferm inqas mill-ajruplani.

Bi proposta ta’ din ix-xorta it-turiżmu jintlaqat sewwa. Kemm tkun kbira d-daqqa jiddependi minn kemm tkun kbira taxxa ta’ din ix-xorta.  Malta, il-Greċja u Ċipru diġa qed jgħidu li ma jaqblux ma dan!

Kemm is-settur tal-avjazzjoni kif ukoll dak marittimu huma kontributuri sinifikanti ta’ emissjonijiet serra. Sal-lum dawn iż-żewġ setturi evitaw  li jkunu nklużi fil-miżuri biex inkun mħarsa mit-tibdil fil-klima minħabba lobbying qawwi. Il-proposti tal-Unjoni Ewropeja jekk jidħlu fis-seħħ jibdlu din is-sitwazzjioni, dejjem sakemm il-lobbying jinżamm taħt kontroll!

Uħud diġa iddeskrivew dawn il-proposti (u oħrajn) tal-Unjoni Ewropeja bħala suwiċidju politiku u dan minħabba li l-impatti konsiderevoli tagħhom jistgħu jkunu l-kawża ta’ nkwiet soċjali qalil. Li nilħqu l-mira ta’ emissjoni żero tal-karbonju hu essenzjali imma rridu nkunu konxji li l-impatti tal-miżuri meħtieġa inevitabilment ser iweġġgħu bosta bihom.  Id-diskussjoni meħtieġa trid tassigura li waqt li jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet meħtieġa bla iktar dewmien, il-vulnerabbli, inkluż dawk bla mezzi jew b’mezzi limitati, għandhom ikunu mħarsa  milli jkunu huma li jħallsu għall-ispiża akkumulata minħabba nuqqas ta’ azzjoni għal snin kbar.

L-ikbar sfida ghal dan il-Patt Aħdar hi li l-bidla meħtieġa teħtieġ li tkun waħda li issir b’ġustizzja. It-trasformazzjoni ekoloġika teħtieġ li tkun soċjalment ġusta. Dan tagħmlu billi tpoġġi lin-nies mhux il-kapital jew il-profitti bħala l-konsiderazzjoni ċentrali tagħha. Il-bidla, iżda trid isseħħ illum qabel għada. Iktar ma ndumu nkaxkru saqajna, iktar ikun għoli l-prezz li jkollna nħallsu.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 18 ta’ Lulju 2021

Change must be fair

Achieving carbon neutrality is long overdue. It has long been obvious that an economy that is dependent on fossil fuel is not sustainable. The UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change) at its 2015 Paris summit finally agreed to plot the basic roadmap required. If we do not follow this roadmap, havoc is the name of the future.

Climate change is already here. However, its impacts can be much worse than what we are already experiencing: extremes of temperature, drought in some regions with floods in others. We see the disasters developing almost daily. It will get much worse before it can get any better.

The mean global temperature is rising. The measured increase varies between one region and another. In the Mediterranean, recent studies have indicated that here we are very close to surpassing a 1.5-degree Celsius rise over the pre-industrial age temperature. We can feel the impact already.

As an island state Malta should be at the forefront of the global climate change debate. Unfortunately, our country is among the laggards continuously seeking to avoid or minimise the action required at our end. Our size does not exempt us from our responsibilities towards the future.

Our slow take-up of renewable energy over the years and the institutional resistance to transport electrification are among the most obvious examples.

We do remember the insistence on the part of Maltese governments with the EU Commission that Malta renewable energy targets should be 10 per cent and not 20 per cent of the energy generated. Likewise, after a policy announcement in favour of transport electrification in 2017, four years down the line we are still without clear targets. The change will now have to be adopted at a quicker pace, and one which we are not yet prepared for.

The EU has unveiled a proposal intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55 per cent, compared to 1990 levels, by the year 2030, an intermediate target on the roadmap to carbon neutrality by 2050.

One of the measures proposed would require raising the share of the renewable energy generated to 40 per cent of the final energy consumption, meaning that Malta, within nine years, would be required to quadruple the renewable energy which it generates. This would be quite tough, in view of having repeatedly been successful in wriggling of our commitments over the years.

A de facto ban on petrol and diesel cars by 2035 would accelerate our path to electrification of transport. That is a target to be achieved within fourteen years. Locally, however, it will not solve much, if not coupled with a substantial decrease in private car usage.

The proposal to tax shipping and aviation fuel would undoubtedly have a considerable impact on islands and the peripheral states of Europe. It makes sense when applied to the European mainland which is more dependent on railways, a suitable alternative. In respect of islands and the peripheral states it will be certainly painful, even though it will, when applied, contribute to achieving emission reduction targets.

Tourism would be hit considerably by a tax on aviation fuel, dependent on the extent of the taxation rates applied.

The aviation and maritime sector are significant contributors of greenhouse gas emissions which have so far have avoided being addressed due to very effective lobbying over the years. The EU proposals would ensure that this will no longer be the state of affairs, dependent that is, on the taming of the lobbies!

Some have already described the proposals of the EU Commission as political suicide as their far-reaching impacts could trigger considerable social unrest. Achieving carbon neutrality is essential but the paths selected will be very painful, some more than others. In the ensuing discussion we have to ensure that while the essential decisions are taken without delay the poor and the most vulnerable are shielded from having to pay the accumulated cost of inaction over the years.

The biggest challenge we face is to ensure that the Green Deal is fair. The ecological transformation must be socially just and place people, not profits, as its central consideration. Change must however happen the soonest. The longer we postpone taking action the higher the price we will have to pay.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 18 July 2021

Min jitwieled tond, ma jmutx kwadru

Uħud ma kienux qed jistennew li Malta tiżdied fuq il-lista l-griża tal-Financial Action Task Force (FATF).  Il-kitba, iżda, ilha fuq il-ħajt għal bosta żmien. Sfortunatament il-linġwaġġ tal-governanza tajba ma jinftiehemx minn kulħadd. B’mod partikolari, min l-unika valur li jifhem fih hu dak tal-flus, ftit li xejn ser jifhem u jagħti kaz.  

Uħud donnhom jgħixu kontinwament fid-dellijiet. Donnhom jippreferu li jinsatru fid-dell tal-kważi anonimità. It-taħwid f’dan it-tip ta’ ambjent hu ferm iktar faċli.

Skond rapporti fil-media, l-awditur intern tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet,  Charlene Muscat, qed tingħata l-ġemb u ġiet miżmuma milli taqdi r-responsibbiltajiet tagħha. Qed jingħad li dan ilu jseħħ numru ta’ xhur.  Wara li ħejjiet rapport kritiku dwar ħidmet l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet issa ser tispiċċa trasferita x’imkien ieħor fis-servizz pubbliku.  

Charlene Muscat, li kienet ġurnalista mal-One kif ukoll hi ex-Sindku Laburista tal-Imqabba kienet impjegata biex tiffaċilita l-governanza tajba fl-Awtorità tal-Artijiet u dan billi tagħmel il-verifiki interni ta’ ħidmet l-awtorità.  Ġiet miżmuma milli tagħmel xogħolha billi, fost oħrajn ma tħallietx tattendi laqgħat tal-Bord u nżammilha aċċess għall-files meħtieġa biex tagħmel xogħolha. Fi ftit kliem xi ħadd iddeċieda li xogħol l-awditur intern ma kienx iktar meħtieġ. Nifhem dan xi jfisser għax dan għaddejt minnu jiena ukoll f’ċirkustanzi oħra xi żmien ilu.

Dan hu eżempju ieħor ta’ Gvern li jgħid ħaġa u jagħmel oħra: jikkuntrasta ma dak kollu li ntqal dwar il-posizzjoni ta’ Malta fuq il-lista l-griża tal-FATF. Il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela ilu jxerred id-dmugħ tal-kukkudrilli dwar kemm Malta ġiet ittrattata ħażin meta tqegħdet fuq din il-lista l-griża, għax ma ħaqqiex hekk. Imbagħad, fl-istess ħin il-Gvern tiegħu stess jirresisti proċessi ta’ verifika trasparenti, tant essenzjali biex tkun assigurata governanza tajba.  Mingħajr  governanza tajba, trasparenza u kontabilità, ftit hemm ċans li neħilsu minn posizzjoni fuq il-lista l-griża!

L-Awtorità tal-Artijiet twaqqfet ftit wara li tfaċċa l-iskandlu Gaffarena, bħala rimedju għat-taħwid li kien tfaċċa dakinnhar. Għad hemm lok għal bosta spjegazzjonijiet anke dwar dan, għax il-ħolqien tal-Awtorità jidher li ma solviet xejn, għax min jitwieled tond, ma jmutx kwadru.

Dak li kien CEO tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet, James Piscopo, kien warrab mill-kariga tiegħu ftit inqas minn sena ilu. Il-kuntratt tiegħu ma kienx ġie mġedded, u dan meta bdew jissemmew numru ta’ allegazzjonijiet serji fil-konfront tiegħu.  Kien intqal li t-taqsima tar-reati ekonomiċi fil-korp tal-Pulizija kienet qed tinvestiga numru ta’ transazzjonijiet offshore. Investigazzjoni kumplessa li jekk u meta tkun konkluża setgħet possibilment titfa’ dawl fuq  bosta ħwejjeġ. Dak li kien skrivan mal-Air Malta għad hemm bosta ħwejjeġ x’jispjega!

Iil-qarrejja bla dubju jiftakru x’għadda bejn is-sidien tal-Lukanda Fortina u l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet. Kif art pubblika li oriġinalment ngħatat b’kundizzjonijiet favorevoli għat-turiżmu spiċċat tiġi sviluppata b’mod spekulattiv għal ufiċċini u appartamenti. Żvilupp li qed iwassal għal qliegħ ta’ miljuni, a spejjes tal-kaxxa ta’ Malta. S’issa għad mhux ċar kif dan seħħ u min kien responsabbli biex ippermettieħ. L-Awtorità tal-Artijiet għad trid tispjega x’ġara eżattament.

Fid-dell, kważi mistura, hemm numru ta’ interessi kummerċjali marbutin flimkien. Interessi li nifhem li bdew ifeġġu fuq l-iskrijn tal-komputer ta’ dik li kienet l-awditur intern tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet. L-ispjegazzjonijiet iżda qatt ma ngħataw.

Meta nħolqot l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet, flok dak li kien id-Dipartiment tal-Artijiet, kien intqal b’ħafna pompa li ser tiddaħħal iktar serjetà fl-amministrazzjoni tal-art pubblika. Ma kienx ser ikollna iktar “King tal-Lands”, għax kollox kien ser jgħaddi f’idejn ir-Repubblika!  Fir-rapporti annwali tal-Awtorità tal-Artijiet hu emfasizzat li din hi mibnija fuq prinċipji sodi: fuq sens ta’ ġustizzja, kontabilità u trasparenza. Probabbilment li dik li kienet awditur intern ma taqbel xejn ma dan!  

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 4 ta’ Lulju 2021

Old habits die hard

Malta’s grey-listing by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) may have caught some on the wrong foot.  The writing, however, has been on the wall for some time. The language of good governance does not have any meaning or significance to those who appreciate values only within the context of the skills required to handle a bank account.

Unfortunately, lurking in shadowy grey areas has been a favourite past-time for some, where they consider themselves as being quite at home.

According to reports in the media, the Internal Auditor at the Lands Authority, Charlene Muscat, has been side-lined, prevented from carrying out her duties and responsibilities for a number of months. She is now being redeployed elsewhere in the civil service. This follows her critical report on the Lands Authority.

Charlene Muscat, a former One TV reporter and former Labour Mayor of Mqabba was employed in order to ensure that proper internal checks and balances are in place thereby facilitating good governance at the Lands Authority. She has been obstructed from doing her work properly by being prevented from attending board meetings, and from having access to files. In a few words, someone, somewhere made sure that the Internal Auditor is rendered useless and ineffective. I have a personal understanding of what this means and feels, having been through it myself elsewhere.

This is another example of the double-talk of government and comes hot on the heels of the FATF grey listing. The Prime Minister Robert Abela whines and whinges about Malta’s grey-listing by the FATF, shedding many crocodile tears in the process. However, at the same time, his own government actively resists the implementation of transparent internal auditing processes, a basic prerequisite for good governance. Without good governance, transparency and accountability we will never get rid of grey-listing.

Set up in the wake of the Gaffarena scandal, the Lands Authority has quite a lot of pending explanations, as apparently, old habits die hard!

Former Lands Authority Chief Executive James Piscopo stepped down from his role less than a year ago after his contract was not renewed in the wake of a number of serious allegations in his regard.  The economic crimes unit is apparently still investigating a number of offshore transactions of the former Air Malta purchasing clerk: a complex investigation which, once concluded, could possibly join a lot of dots, as a result placing more grey areas under the spotlight.

Readers may remember the dealings of the Fortina Hotel owners with the Lands Authority as a result of which public land made available to the Fortina developers in the past for tourism purposes is currently being redeveloped partly as offices and apartments. It is not so far clear as to who and how made it possible for subsidised public land to be available for speculation. A very grey area which the Lands Authority has a duty to be very transparent about.

In the grey shadows there are a number of interlocking commercial interests which I presume time and again appear on the computer screens of the Lands Authority internal auditor. Explanations have not been forthcoming yet.

When the Lands Authority was created, rising from the ashes of the former Lands Department, it was depicted as the long-awaited solution to the opaque internal secretive dealings involving land in public ownership. The Lands Authority would no longer have a king. Now it ought to be part of the republic! Its annual reports emphasise that it has a corporate philosophy grounded in the values of fairness, accountability and transparency. Really? The (former) internal auditor is definitely not convinced about that!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 4 July 2021

Another fake consultation

Reading through the Green Paper entitled “Towards Cleaner Vehicles on Our Roads” it is evident that this consultation process is flawed. After being 4 years in the making, instead of proposing solutions it just asks questions which should have been answered by the Green Paper itself as part of the consultation process.

This is symptomatic of a government which has been continuously emitting conflicting signals on transport issues. The Green Paper recognises the obvious when it states that transport combustion emissions increased by 86 per cent over the period 1990-2018. The massive investment in unnecessary road infrastructure has been a major contributor in this respect, a point which is conveniently ignored by the Green Paper.

The proposed shift to cleaner vehicles on our roads is welcome, but on its own it is not sufficient. This measure will definitely reduce combustion emissions. It will however also shift the said emissions from our roads to the sources of the electrical energy used to electrify our roads. Knowing that government is planning to install a second interconnector to the Sicilian mainland for the supply of electricity it is clear that part of the emissions will be shifted 80 kilometres to the north, the rest to Delimara. It is still unclear how this will be reflected in the price we pay for electricity, as information on the matter is conveniently absent from the Green Paper.

The Green Paper rightly discusses the need to upgrade the skills of the technical personnel required in servicing and maintaining electric and hybrid vehicles. It also points towards the need for substantial investments in the infrastructure required particularly for charging points. However, it fails to address a number of points of controversy which require urgent resolution and should have been addressed through this consultation process.

The consumption of petrol and diesel is bound to decrease as a result of the drive towards the electrification of our roads. The rate of decrease of fuel consumption will depend on the manner in which the electrification exercise will proceed throughout the transition period. Why then has no moratorium been announced on the development and construction of new fuel stations? A number of controversial applications for fuel stations are still burdening the land use planning process when it should be crystal clear to all that in view of the electrification process, they will no longer be required. The consultation process is conveniently silent on the matter thereby encouraging unnecessary pressures on the planning process.

Simultaneously it is pertinent to point out that the sale of fuel contributes a substantial income to the exchequer which income will now slowly taper to near zero through the transition period. The Green Paper fails to volunteer information in this respect. How will this substantial income be substituted? Will the electrification process itself provide the substitute financial resources or will other areas of activity be tapped to make good? The amounts involved are substantial. In fact, the budgetary estimates for 2021 indicate a projected income of €154 million from excise duties on petroleum products. What are government plans for the substitution of this income? The Green Paper is once more completely silent on the matter.

The Green Paper refers to Low Emission Zones but it does not have the courage to make specific proposals. It is imperative that the transition period from now until the full electrification of our roads gradually adopts the identification of Low Emission Zones within which internal combustion engine vehicles will have a prohibited access. The Green Paper fails in this respect too.

The Green Paper refers to two studies which have been commissioned by the Cleaner Vehicles Commission on the electrification of our roads. These studies are not however available to inform this public consultation.

Notwithstanding having been announced four years ago, with ample time for preparation, this consultation process is deficient. It fails to address the basics: it fails to inform. It is a fake consultation.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 20 June 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

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

King of the Road

It is indeed unfortunate that over the years we have allowed the car to control our lives.

We have gone through too many controversies related to road infrastructure. Unfortunately the authorities have not learnt anything in the process. The latest case being the proposed Imrieħel bypass improvements through the construction of yet another unnecessary fly-over.

The proposed bypass improvements apparently are still on the drawing board. No details on the proposals are available except that most probably there will be a considerable impact on irrigated agricultural land, measuring around 20 tumoli, that is approximately 22,500 square metres. From what is known, recently, Infrastructure Malta has sounded farmers which may be impacted by the proposals.

Contrary to what has been stated by Minister for Transport Ian Borg, criticism of government’s road infrastructure programme does not require details as it is objectionable on a point of principle. We do not require more roads, but rather less cars on the roads. Such a reduction of cars from our roads would reduce traffic congestion as well as have a marked improvement in everyone’s quality of life, inclusive of an increased safety for all.

Our roads are currently bursting at the seams. Government has commissioned studies to study the matter. As a result, a Transport Masterplan has been produced by foreign consultants paid through EU Regional Development Funds. Cabinet has approved this Masterplan in 2016, yet it has repeatedly failed to ensure its implementation.

One of the basic observations in the said Transport Masterplan is 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 in nature. We can easily be served with more sustainable options to address this basic observation: use of private cars is certainly not one of them.  

The Transport Masterplan admonishes us as follows: “………… 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.”

Transport policy needs to be looked at holistically and not in a piecemeal fashion. That is the purpose of the Masterplan: to take a holistic view and lay out a long-term roadmap. Obviously to implement such a roadmap tough decision-taking is involved which would reduce and restrict can ownership. The real problem of Transport Policy implementation is that government does not have the balls to take such tough decisions.

The point to be addressed is that the relative smallness of our country makes practically every corner of the islands within easy reach even through public transport if this is organised properly.

Public Transport in Malta has made gigantic steps forward, but these are not sufficient. Public transport cannot compete with a government which is continuously encouraging the use of private transport and making it continuously easier through massive funds made available for unnecessary flyovers and underpasses!

Government is continuously mishandling transport policy. It is about time that it is placed back on track.

It has been government policy for more than the past twenty-five years that the car rules over our roads. We should change that. We need to reclaim ownership of our roads (and streets) placing more emphasis on the needs of the pedestrian who should be the real king of the road.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 27 December 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