Wanted: a transport policy which makes sense

Everywhere is within reach in the Maltese islands: distances are relatively small. It is, in addition, an established fact, documented in the Transport Masterplan, that 50 per cent of private car trips on our roads take less than fifteen minutes. Do we need to be dependent on private cars for such short distances?

Over the years public transport was neglected. In the absence of suitable public transport, and as a reaction thereto, a pattern of car dependency has inevitably developed. The resulting congested roads are a symptom of this fact rather than being, as suggested in Parliament earlier this week by a government backbencher, the direct consequence of an increase in the country’s standard of living.

There have been improvements in public transport in the last years: these are however insufficient. Having free public transport is a good but pre-mature initiative as public transport has yet to be efficient and reliable. The decision announced last week by Transport Minister to invest in cycle lanes, is welcome, even if it comes a little late in the day.

The heavy investment in road infrastructure over the years has been misdirected as it has focused on the effects instead of on the causes of traffic congestion. The financial resources utilised in the Marsa Road network, the Central Link and elsewhere, will, at the end of the day, prove to be monies down the drain as traffic congestion will build up once more. This is already evident even in these early days. Others have been there before us as is revealed by countless studies carried out all over the world on the link between traffic congestion and improvement of the road infrastructure.

It is only through the provision of alternative means of sustainable mobility that the problematic behavioural pattern we have developed over the years can be addressed. Moving away from car dependency will however be a very slow process if policy makers keep continuously sending conflicting signals.

Making it easier for the car user through more or better roads is no help in solving the problem. It will make matters worse. Likewise, the subsidisation of petrol and diesel is sending a clear message to all that car dependency is not even considered to be a problem.

Three specific factors are currently in play: traffic congestion, fuel cost and the transition to transport electrification. If properly managed, together they can help us move towards a state of sustainable mobility. The transition period is however necessarily painful unless it is properly managed.

Postponement in tackling traffic congestion properly will only make matters worse.

Improvement of road infrastructure has postponed the issue of tackling traffic congestion into the future. Fuel subsidies have added to the problem as they blatantly ignore it. Electrification, unless coupled with a reduction of cars on the road will add acute electricity dependency on foreign sources to our current problems. Energy sovereignty has been problematic for quite some time: it will get worse.

The second electricity interconnector with the Sicilian mainland will worsen our car dependency as a result of linking it with a dependency on electricity generated outside our shores. We know quite well what that signifies whenever the interconnector is out of service, whatever the cause!

We need to go beyond the rhetoric and act before it is too late. It is also possible to ensure that the vulnerable are adequately protected. This would mean that instead of having across-the-board subsidises, these would be focused on those who really need them. All those who have mobility problems should receive focused assistance to help them overcome the difficulties which could result from a modal shift in transport. We cannot however go on with subsidies for all: it is not sustainable, neither economically, nor environmentally or socially

Land use planning can also be of considerable help if it is focused on the actual needs of the whole community instead of being at the service of the developers. We need to ensure that each community is self-sufficient in respect of its basic needs. This will, on its own, decrease traffic generated by the search for such needs.

The climate change debate is a unique opportunity 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 basic needs are available within easy reach, not more than 15 minutes away.

Carlos 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?

All we do is essentially linked. At the end of the day traffic congestion and the related car dependency are a product of our mode of behaviour.  Thinking outside the box, we can tackle it successfully, as a result unchaining ourselves from our car dependency, consequently adjusting to a better sustainable lifestyle.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 20 November 2022

Kultura ta’ dipendenza

Il-baġit għall-2023 li l-Ministru tal-Finanzi Clyde Caruana ippreżenta lill-Parlament nhar it-Tnejn għandu jkun deskritt bħala wieħed li jsaħħaħ kultura ta’ dipendenza.  Il-Gvern jagħmel użu mit-tqassim taċ-ċekkijiet biex jilħaq dan l-iskop! Id-dipendenza fuq il-Gvern, taħt il-Labour hi oġġettiv  inkoraġġit. Is-sitwazzjoni minn baġit għall-ieħor tmur mill-ħażin għall-agħar.

Dan hu forsi l-iktar ċar mill-mod kif il-Gvern imexxi l-quddiem il-politika tiegħu dwar il-pagi. Żviluppat differenza kbira bejn id-daqs tal-paga minima u kemm verament teħtieġ biex tgħix. Il-Gvern qed jipprova jindirizza din id-differenza billi jqassam iċ-ċekkijiet. Issa ħoloq COLA ġdida biex jgħin lill-vulnerabbli u dan flimkien ma numru ta’ sussidji li uħud minnhom mhux neċessarji inkella huma ta’ ħsara.

 Il-ħolqien ta’ dan il-benefiċċju ġdid għall-persuni vulnerabbli (80,000 skond il-Ministru) li ma jistgħux ilaħħqu mal-ħajja, hu pass pożittiv. Il-vulnerabbli jeħtieġu l-għajnuna, imma jeħtieġu ferm iktar minn ċekk ta’ madwar €300 li ser jitqassam fi żmien il-Milied. Kien ikun ferm iktar għaqli kieku l-Gvern iffoka fuq il-problema reali u indirizza din il-probema bis-serjetà. Issa ilu żmien ikaxkar saqajh.

Il-problema reali hi li l-paga minima hi baxxa ħafna: hi ferm il-bogħod minn paga li tista’ tgħix biha. Gvern wara l-ieħor għamel ħiltu biex din il-problema jevitha. Tajjeb li niftakru li l-benefiċċji soċjali, fil-parti l-kbira tagħhom, huma marbuta mal-paga minima u huma rifless tagħha. Paga minima diċenti awtomatikament teffettwa l-benefiċċji soċjali li riżultat ta’ hekk jitjiebu sostanzjalment, bi dritt.

Tul dawn l-aħħar għaxar snin tlett rapporti tal-Caritas analizzaw din il-materja fil-fond. L-aħħar rapport, li nħareġ fl-2021, kien ikkonkluda li hemm diskrepanza ta’ 40 fil-mija bejn il-paga minima u dak meħtieġ biex wieħed jgħix b’mod diċenti. Dan jammonta għal diskrepanza ta’ madwar €4,000 fis-sena. Din hi l-problema rejali!

Sakemm nibqgħu bil-paga minima baxxa daqshekk, it-tqassim fuq stil tar-rigali tal-Milied (Father Christmas) ser jibqgħu jsiru biex jitnaqqas il-piz minn fuq spallejn il-vulnerabbli. Xi drabi ir-rigali ta’ Father Christmas ma jkunux limitati għall-vulnerabbli imma qed jinfirxu ma kulħadd. Hekk ġara biċ-ċekkijiet ta’ qabel l-elezzjoni, u l-hekk imsejħa rifużjoni tat-taxxa!

Flok din id-dipendenza fuq dan it-tqassim, ikun iktar xieraq li l-paga minima tiżdied u issir paga li tista’ tgħix biha.  Dan jista’ jsir billi l-baskett ta’ oġġetti u servizzi li fuqu tkun ikkalkulata l-paga minima jkun aġġornat regolarment. Dan jelimina l-ħtieġa tat-tqassim ta’ cekkijiet ta’ kull xorta fil-parti l-kbira tal-każi għax il-paga raġjonevoli tkun ir-regola: ma jkunx hemm ħtieġa tal-benvolenza politika tal-Gvern, la fi żmien il-baġit u l-anqas, fi żmien ta’ elezzjoni ġenerali kif, b’mod abbużiv diġa sar.

B’żieda ma’ dan it-tqassim taċ-ċekkijiet bi pjaċir, flok pagi ġusti bi dritt, tajbin biex wieħed jgħix bihom, il-Gvern qiegħed ukoll japplika numru ta’ sussidji li huma mfasslin b’mod żbaljat.

Is-sussidji tal-petrol u d-dijżil huma żejda. Iż-żieda internazzjonali fil-prezz tal-petrol u d-dijżil, li huma madwar id-doppju ta’ dak li qed inħallsu Malta, hi opportunità unika li f’idejn kapaċi tista’ tikkoreġi l-iżbalji li għamel il-Gvern fil-konfront tal-problema tagħna tad-dipendenza fuq il-karozza privata.

Flok is-sussidji fuq il-prezz tal-petrol u d-dijżil ikun aħjar kieku ninvestu fl-effiċjenza u l-puntwalità tat-trasport pubbliku. Din hi opportunità unika li, f’idejn min jifhem tista’, fit-tul, twassal għal tibdil fl-imġieba tan-nies favur użu iktar tat-trasport pubbliku u użu inqas tal-karozzi privati.  L-introduzzjoni ta’ transport pubbliku b’xejn għal kulħadd mill-bidu ta’ dan ix-xahar kien pass primatur: l-effiċjenza u l-puntwalità tat-trasport pubbliku kellu jkun indirizzat ferm qabel ma ttieħed dan il-pass importanti.

Li tkun indirizzat id-dipendenza fuq il-karozzi privati hu oġġettiv politiku li l-Gvern stess ippropona fil-Pjan Nazzjonali dwar it-Trasport. Il-Gvern qiegħed jinjora l-pjan tiegħu stess.

Min-naħa l-oħra hu xieraq li l-konsum bażiku tal-ilma u l-elettriku fir-residenzi tagħna jibqa’ jkun issussidjat. Imma hu żball li is-sussidju japplika ukoll għall-konsum kollu ta’ kulħadd. Ikun ferm aħjar jekk setturi differenti tal-ekonomija jkollhom aċċess għal għajnuna mfassla għall-ħtiġijiet tagħhom sakemm iddum il-kriżi kurrenti.   Dan jista’ jagħti protezzjoni ferm ikbar kemm lill-impiegi kif ukoll lill-ekonomija. Fuq kollox b’dan il-mod jista’ jkun evitat li jkun issussidjat il-ħela u l-abbuż fl-użu tal-ilma u l-elettriku.

Ma hemmx ħtieġa li nsaħħu kultura ta’ dipendenza fil-forma ta’ tqassim ta’ ċekkijiet inkella b’sussidji mhux meħtieġa.  Huwa tajjeb li l-vulnerabbli jkunu mgħejjuna. Imma li tinbena u tissaħħaħ kultura ta’ dependenza bħala riżultat ta’ politika skaduta dwar il-pagi hi xi ħaġa ferm differenti. Dan jagħmel ħsara lit-tessut soċjali tal-pajjiż u għandu jinġieb fit-tmiem l-iktar kmieni possibli.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 30 t’Ottubru 2022

A Culture of Dependency

The budget for 2023 presented to Parliament by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana last Monday may be described as one which reinforces a culture of dependency. Government handouts are used, left, right and centre to achieve this objective. Under Labour the culture of dependency is actively encouraged: it gets worse with every budget.

This is most clear in the manner in which government deals with incomes policy. A chasm has developed between the actual minimum wage and what is required as a living wage. Government tries to bridge this through various handouts including the newly created special COLA for the vulnerable as well as through subsidies, some of which are unnecessary or damaging.

The creation of a new ad hoc benefit payable to vulnerable persons (estimated by the Minister at 80,000 persons) who cannot cope with the current rate of inflation is a positive step. They definitely need help, but they need much more than an approximately €300 handout at Christmas time.  It would have been much better if government focused on the real problem and addressed it head-on. It has been procrastinating for ages.

The real problem is that the minimum wage is ridiculously low: it is far from being a living wage. Governments have repeated sought to avoid addressing this issue. It is pertinent to point out that social benefits are mostly pegged to the minimum wage. A minimum wage at a reasonable level would automatically adjust all social benefits to an equally reasonable level too.

Three Caritas reports have analysed the issue in depth in the last ten years. The last report issued in 2021 had found a 40 per cent discrepancy between the minimum wage and what is required as a living wage. This translates into approximately a €4,000 shortfall per annum. This is the real problem!

For so long as the minimum wage remains at such a low level, government handouts in Father Christmas style will remain the norm in order to reduce the burdens on the vulnerable. At times, this Father Christmas benevolence is not limited to the vulnerable but spread to the benefit of one and all. The pre-electoral handouts and the so-called tax refunds are just two examples.

Instead of being dependent on handouts, it would be appropriate if the minimum wage is a living wage. This can only be achieved through a regular updating of the basket of goods and services on the basis of which the quantum of the minimum wage is determined. This would eliminate the need for most handouts at any time of the year as all would get their dues as of right, on a regular basis, and not be dependent on the political benevolence of government, be it at budget time or else, abusively, on the eve of general elections as has already happened.

In addition to a policy of preferring handouts to a clear statutory determination of a fair living wage Government has also embarked on a policy of increased subsidies, designed in an ill-advised manner.

The subsidies applied to petrol and diesel are uncalled for. The current international spike in fuel prices – approximately double what we pay locally– is a unique opportunity which, if properly managed could make up for government’s lack of action to address the car dependency problem on the Maltese islands.

Instead of subsidising the price of petrol and diesel it would be much better to invest in the efficiency and reliability of public transport. This is a unique opportunity which if properly managed could be the beginning of a long-term behavioural change: away from the private car and towards public transport. Having free public transport for all as of this month was a pre-mature step: the efficiency and reliability of public transport should have been adequately addressed before embarking on such an important step.

Addressing car dependency head-on is a policy objective proposed by government’s own National Transport Master Plan but repeatedly ignored by government itself.

On the other hand, it is appropriate to subsidise basic water and electricity domestic consumption. One should however think beyond an across-the-board subsidy.  Having focused assistance to different sectors of the economy tailor-made to their specific needs for the duration of the current crises would yield far better results in protecting employment and the economy in the long-term. It would definitely avoid subsidisation of waste and misuse of water and electricity.  

We do not need to create or reinforce a culture of dependency in the form of handouts and unnecessary subsidies. Helping the vulnerable is laudable. Reinforcing a culture of dependency as a result of an outdated incomes policy is something quite different: it damages the social fabric and should be reversed the soonest!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 30 October 2022

Neħtieġu paga minima suriet in-nies

Hemm min iqis li huwa tajjeb li nħoloq mod ġdid ta’ għajnuna lill-vulnerabbli fil-konfront tal-piz fuqhom tal-inflazzjoni. Imma jkun ferm aħjar kieku nindirizzaw il-problema vera bis-serjetà. Il-Gvernijiet wieħed wara l-ieħor ilhom jonqsu milli jagħmlu dan.

Il-paga minima hi baxxa. Mhiex tajba biex tgħix biha. Teħtieġ li tgħola b’madwar €4,000 fis-sena kif ġie muri repetutament fir-rapporti tal-Caritas, sena wara l-oħra.

Sakemm il-pagi jibqgħu daqshekk baxxi jibqa’ l-ħtieġa tal-għotjiet mill-Gvern ta’ kull sena lil dak u lill-ieħor. Ir-ras iebsa tal-Gvern li ma jirrevedix il-baskett li fuqu hija ikkalkulata il-paga minima hija politika skaduta li qed iżżomm dipendenza tal-pajjiz fuq pagi baxxi u handouts.

Hu dritt li l-pagi jkunu ta’ livell diċenti. Dritt li hu mkasbar mill-Gvernijiet, wieħed wara l-ieħor. Pagi diċenti jnaqqsu l-ħtieġa ta’ politika ta’ Father Christmas. Ma nibqgħux nistennewh jiġi jqassam ir-rigali fil-budget!

Il-Gvern jista’ jagħmel użu aħjar tar-riżorsi tal-pajjiż. Is-sussidji kif qed japplikom il-Gvern jistgħu jkunu ferm aħjar.

Is-sussidji tal-fuel lill-kulħadd hu ħela ta’ riżorsi. Nistgħu ngħaddu mingħajr sussidji tal-petrol u tad-dijżil. Dan is-sussidju jista’ faċilment jitnaqqas u dan iwassal għal benefiċċju kbir: inqas karozzi fit-toroq u użu ikbar tat-trasport pubbliku! Li t-trasport pubbliku issa hu b’xejn mhux biżżejjed. Jeħtieg ukoll li jkun effiċjenti, li mhux.

Bla dubju, l-konsum bażiku tal-elettriku għad-djar, għandu jibqa’ jkun issussidjat imma l-bqija tas-sussidji għall-elettriku u l-fuels għandhom ikunu studjati aħjar.  Hemm modi aħjar kif il-Gvern jista’ jnaqqas il-piż minn fuq spallejn in-nies. U fl-aħħar ikollu iktar riżorsi għall-ħtiġijiet tal-pajjiz.

Jgħadduna biż-żmien

L-Awtorità tal-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi (ERA) għadha kif ippubblikat abbozz ta’ Strateġija Nazzjonali dwar l-Ambjent għal konsultazzjoni pubblika. Dan l-abbozz ippubblikatu bl-Ingliż biss. Qiesu t-tmexxija tal-ERA ma tafx bil-Malti.

Minn awtorità pubblika nistennew ferm aħjar minn hekk. Kemm ser iddumu tinsulentawna? L-iskuża li l-Malti mhux addattat għal dokument tekniku mhiex waħda aċċettabbli. In-nuqqas ta’ dokument bil-Malti hi opportunutà mitlufa biex l-ERA tikkomunika iktar man-nies.

Iżda lil hinn mil-lingwa, l-istrateġija ambjentali li qed tkun proposta hi waħda ġenerika. Fiha tmien għanijiet li hu propost li jintlaħqu sal-2050. Il-lista tal-għanijiet li l-ERA trid tindirizza mhiex il-problema, għax il-problema hija li dawn l-għanijiet huma affarijiet li ilna niddiskutu żmien: ġew ippubblikati biżibilju rapporti, strateġiji u regoli jew policies li jkunu saru b’intenzjonijiet tajba tul is-snin!  Il-problemi jinqalgħu dejjem meta nfittxu li nimplimentaw il-miżuri meħtieġa biex jitwettqu dawn l-għanijiet. F’dak il-mument jinqagħu elf skuża, għax fir-realtà ma hemmx il-volontà politika li jittieħdu passi bis-serjetà.

Dan hu bil-bosta differenti milli jipprova jgħid ic-Chairman tal-ERA fid-daħla bl-Ingliż li kiteb għad-dokument konsultattiv! Din hi storja li għaddejna minnha diversi drabi!

Il-ħsara ambjentali li saret tul is-snin mhiex xi ħaġa li ser tkun irranġata mil-lum għall-għada.  Ħadd m’għandu jistenna riżultati malajr fil-mixja biex insewwu l-ħsara ambjentali li tħalliet takkumula tul is-snin.

Il-ħarsien tal-ambjent jinvolvi li jinbidlu deċiżjonijiet politiċi diversi li ittieħdu tul is-snin li kienu parti mill-kawża ta’ ħsara konsiderevoli. Ifisser ukoll li nibdlu attitudnijiet, drawwiet u l-mod kif inġibu ruħna.

Fid-daħla għad-dokument konsultattiv iċ-Chairman tal-ERA Chairman, Victor Axiak, jistqarr li jista’ jkun hemm ħtieġa ta’ sagrifiċċji żgħar fl-immedjat biex niksbu benefiċċji ambjentali fit-tul li jitgawdew minn ġenerazzjonijiet futuri. Din hi dikjarazzjoni li prattikament kulħadd jaqbel magħha. Imma dikjarazzjoni bħal din teħtieġ ukoll li tkun segwita minn lista ta’ miżuri meħtieġa biex tittieħed azzjoni dwarhom,  lista li tvarja minn miżuri li jistgħu jittieħdu immedjatament għal oħrajn li jħarsu iktar fit-tul.

Ma baqax iktar żmien biex noqgħodu niffilosifizzaw dwar l-ambjent.  Il-problemi nafu x’inhuma u  nafu ukoll min fejn ġejjin u min hu l-kawża tagħhom! Tħejjew kwantità ta’ rapporti, strateġiji, pjani t’azzjoni u x’naf jien tul is-snin. Kull Ministru ġdid ipprova jagħti l-impressjoni li hu jew hi sabet is-soluzzjoni b’nisġa ta’ kliem sabiħ li jipprova jimpressjona. Sfortunatament ir-rapporti tekniċi li saru kif ukoll dak li qalu in-nies waqt konsultazzjonijiet pubbliċi, bosta drabi ġie injorat.  Anzi xi drabi l-gvernijiet saħansitra aġixxew bil-maqlub ta’ dak propost jew maqbul!

L-istrateġija proposta illum, per eżempju,  tiffilosofizza dwar il-ħtieġa li innaqqsu id-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi u tinsisti li għandhom jonqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna.  Jekk wieħed imur lura u jerġa’ jaqra ftit l-istrateġija nazzjonali dwar it-trasport, li kienet iffinalizzat sitt snin ilu, jsib eżattament l-istess argumenti. Imma minflok ma ħa l-passi meħtieġa, l-Gvern – kemm direttament kif ukoll permezz tal-agenziji u l-awtoritajiet tiegħu – għamel bil-maqlub!

Kull studju li sar, kemm f’Malta kif ukoll barra minn xtutna, repetutament ikkonkluda li żvilupp massiċċ tal-infrastruttura tat-toroq twassal biex awtomatikament jiżdiedu l-karozzi fit-toroq. Kif mistenni, anke f’Malta, hekk ġara. Il-konġestjoni u l-problemi tat-traffiku żdiedu mhux naqsu riżultat tal-proġetti diversi tat-toroq. Dan seħħ għax kuntrarju tal-pariri li kellu, l-Gvern ma indirizzax il-kawza tal-problemi, imma indirizza l-effett.  Il-problema mhiex il-wisa’ jew it-tul tat-toroq, imma n-numru ta’ karozzi fit-toroq. Is-sitwazzjoni illum – f’ħafna każi  – hi agħar milli kienet qabel ma saru dawn il-proġetti.  

Minnbarra dan, daqslikieku mhux biżżejjed, l-awtoritajiet għamlu is-snin jinkoraġixxu l-iżvilupp ta’ petrol stations kbar, qieshom supermarkets. Dawn ħarbtu ammont mhux żgħir ta’ raba’. Biex issa jiġu jgħidulna kemm iridu jipproteġu l-agrikultura!

Kif nistgħu ntejbu l-kwalità tal-arja jekk nibqgħu nżidu l-karozzi fit-toroq tagħna?  Uħud forsi jargumentaw li s-soluzzjoni qegħda wara l-bieb bl-introduzzjoni tal-karozzi tal-elettriku inkella bl-użu tal-idroġenu jew xi fuel ieħor alternattiv. Dan ikun biss soluzzjoni parzjali għax fl-aħħar mill-aħħar irridu naraw kif ikun ġġenerat l-elettriku meħtieġ inkella kif ikun prodott l-idroġenu jew fuel alternattiv.

M’għandiex ammont suffiċjenti ta’ enerġija rinovabbli iġġenerata lokalment għax l-għorrief li ħadu id-deċiżjonijiet ftaħru fil-passat kemm kien irnexxielhom jinnegozjaw deroga tajba biex il-mira nazzjonali ta’ ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija rinovabbli ma tkunx 20% imma 10% tal-elettriku ikkunsmat. Ħtija ta’ hekk, illum m’għandniex ammont suffiċjenti ta’ enerġija rinovabbli.  Meta għandna l-ħtieġa ta’ enerġija elettrika bi prezz raġjonevoli  għandna nuqqas f’dan il-qasam li għalih qed inħallsu bizzalza.

Id-dipendenza li għandna bħala pajjiż fuq il-karozzi privati hi riżultat ta’ traskuraġni politika tat-trasport pubbliku tul is-snin. Li t-trasport pubbliku jkun b’xejn minn dan ix-xahar kienet deċiżjoni prematura. L-ewwel pass messu kien li tkun indirizzata l-effiċjenza u l-puntwalità tas-servizz. Il-prezz qatt ma kien problema.

Hu meħtieġ li l-effiċjenza u l-puntwalità tas-servizz ikunu indirizzati b’urġenza. Meta dan isir jagħmel ġid ambjentali ferm iktar mill-argumenti tekniċi kollha dwar kemm hemm ħtieġa li nħarsu l-ambjent. Trasport pubbliku effiċjenti flimkien ma investiment f’modi alternattivi ta’ transport hu ta’ benefiċċju ambjentali enormi.

Din hi uġiegħ ta’ ras kbira. Pariri ċari kien hemm. Iżda meta kien possibli li l-problema tkun indirizzata, l-Gvern, direttament kif ukoll permezz tal-awtoritajiet u aġenziji diversi tiegħu, ġie jaqa’ u jqum minn dan u għamel bil-maqlub!

Argumenti simili jistgħu jsiru dwar numru kbir ta’ materji ta’ importanza ambjentali: mill-ilma sal-pestiċidi, mill-użu tal-art sal-bijodiversità, mill-isforzi favur ekonomija ċirkulari għal taxxi ambjentali iddiżinjati sewwa.

Il-mod kif il-politika dwar it-trasport tħalliet għan-niżla hu biss eżempju wieħed żgħir minn fost bosta li jwassal għall-konklużjoni inevitabbli li ma teżistix rieda politika biex il-ħsara ambjentali tkun indirizzata bis-serjetà.

Il-konsultazzjoni pubblika tal-ERA sfortunatament hi fażi oħra fi proċess li permezz tiegħu qed jippruvaw jgħadduna biż-żmien.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Hadd 23 t’Ottubru 202https://www.illum.com.mt/opinjoni/politika/66843/carmel_cacopardo__jgadduna_bimien?fbclid=IwAR1CqEPhkXnPODQTe040-dkJEpxDoX2Z2ZxgMLB6K3UofHZ4qjdFXa8WY2Y#.Y1kATbZBzIV2

aqra ukoll dokument sottomessmill-ADPD lill-ERA hawn

Greenwashing by ERA

The Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) has published a draft National Strategy for the Environment for public consultation. The proposed strategy is not specific but generic in nature. It lists eight strategic goals which it proposes to address till 2050.

There is no problem with the listed goals. We have, in fact been there before with a multitude of strategies and well-meaning policies. The problems arise when seeking to implement the specific measures required to achieve the said goals. When push comes to shove 1001 difficulties arise as it becomes clear that there exists no political will to act decisively. This is quite contrary to the impression conveyed in the forward penned to the strategy by the ERA Chairman!

ERA seeks a long-term vision since it is well known that the reversal of environmental damage takes time. One should not expect immediate results in the quest to reverse the accumulated damage to the environment.

Protecting the environment involves reversing political decisions which have been the cause of considerable environmental damage. It involves changing attitudes and behaviour.

In the forward to the document released for public consultation ERA Chairman Victor Axiak states that: “Short-term sacrifices may need to be made for long-term benefits to be reaped by future generations.” It is a statement that anyone in his right senses would agree with. Such a statement should however have been followed by a list of measures which require action, ranging from short term to long-term ones.

The time for philosophising on the environment is long overdue. We all know what the problems are. We also know who and what has caused them. A countless number of reports, strategies, masterplans, and action plans have been produced over the years. Unfortunately, they have been repeatedly ignored. At times governments have acted in a manner which is directly in opposition to what has been proposed or even agreed to!

The currently proposed environment strategy, for example, philosophises on reducing our car dependence and advises on the need to reduce cars from our roads. Leafing through the National Transport Master Plan finalised six years ago one finds the same admonition. Instead of taking definite steps, government, directly as well as through its agencies and authorities followed a path leading in the opposite direction.

All studies carried out in Malta and abroad have repeatedly concluded that large scale road infrastructural improvement leads to more cars on the road. As was expected this is what is happening in Malta at the time being. Traffic congestion has worsened, as instead of addressing the cause of the problem the authorities addressed the effects. They sought to widen roads and introduce new ones instead of addressing the exponential increase of cars on the roads. The traffic situation is worse than ever notwithstanding the monies spent or rather wasted in these projects.

In addition, the authorities have spent years encouraging the construction of large fuel stations, comparable to supermarkets in size, gobbling up quite an amount of good agricultural land in the process. Now, they are telling us how important it is to protect agricultural land!

How can we improve the quality of our air if we keep increasing cars on our roads? Some would say that a solution is round the corner with the electrification of vehicles or with the use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel. This would only partly solve the problem. One must consider the source of electricity utilised or how the hydrogen (or other fuel) is produced.

We do not have enough renewable energy generated from local sources as the ignoramuses leading the country were (in the past) overjoyed at their successful EU negotiations to reduce the national target for the generation of renewable energy from 20 to 10 per cent of the electrical energy consumed. Now, when we desperately need more electricity which is reasonably priced, we are faced with a substantial deficit which is costing the national exchequer considerable expense.

We are faced with a national problem of car addiction as a result of the political neglect of public transport over the years. Having it free of charge as of this month was premature as the first step should have been to address its efficiency and reliability.   Price was never an issue.

This lack of efficiency and reliability of public transport is essential to address with urgency as, once addressed, it will do more for environmental protection that all the philosophising on the environment over the years! An efficient public transport together with a substantial investment in alternative modes of transport would be quite beneficial for the environment.

This is one of the major problems we currently face. Clear advice was available, yet when it was possible to address the problem, government through its various authorities and agencies deliberately made it worse.

Similar arguments can be made about a multitude of other areas of environmental importance ranging from water to pesticides, from land use to biodiversity, from efforts to set up a circular economy to adequate environmental taxes which are appropriately designed.

The way transport policy has developed in a downhill direction is just one small example of many on the basis of which it is inevitable to conclude that there is no political will to address environmental issues seriously. The ERA public consultation is unfortunately another phase of an on-going greenwashing exercise.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 23 October 2022

see also detailed submissions by ADPD to ERA here

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

Beyond electric cars

Minister Miriam Dalli is partially right when stating that green transport schemes should focus on fully electric options. She made this statement when queried about subsidies for hybrid cars. Emphasising that zero-emission vehicles will be the only ones in receipt of funding assistance is the correct way forward.

But are electric cars in reality zero emission vehicles? In actual fact this is dependent on the source of electricity used when they are charged. When renewable energy is used to power electric vehicles, than we can state that they are zero emission vehicles, otherwise they are not.

There are other important considerations which need to be made. Green transport policy should be much wider than schemes subsidising zero-emission vehicles.

Only approximately 10 per cent of the energy utilised in the Maltese islands is renewable energy generated in Malta, primarily solar energy. The rest is either generated at the gas-powered Delimara power station or else imported through the interconnector with the Sicilian mainland. Plans are in hand to commission a second interconnector primarily to cater for the anticipated substantial increased demand for electricity as a result of the car electrification process.

Is this sustainable? Government is apparently ignoring this consideration.

Malta will be increasingly dependent for its immediate electrical energy needs on the interconnectors with the Sicilian mainland. Failure of the interconnectors to operate for more than a few hours would render most of us immobile as there will not be enough electricity to charge our cars! This is not a far-fetched possibility as we have experienced many a time when the interconnector was out of action, for a variety of reasons. A case in point being when the interconnector was damaged as a result of its being entangled with the anchors of a tanker during a storm.

In parallel with car electrification plans it is essential that the extreme dependency of our population on car ownership is addressed. This can be done through various initiatives.

Increased use of public transport is an initiative which is already being tackled. The announcement that as of October 2022 all public transport will be free of charge can be helpful if its efficiency is enhanced. If public transport is regular and sticks to the planned time-tables it can, over a period of time, contribute significantly to addressing car dependency. One has to underline the fact that car dependency in Malta and Gozo has primarily developed as a reaction to an unreliable public transport. As a result, there is still a reluctance to trust public transport. It still has to continuously prove itself, even though there have been significant improvements in the service provided.

Car-sharing schemes can be helpful in reducing cars from our roads. Currently in Malta we have one company offering the service of 450 cars which are available for shared use (against payment obviously). Using one of these cars instead of owning your own helps in reducing cars from our roads. Having just 450 cars being subject to shared use is however too little. Fiscal incentives including subsidies to those opting to share cars rather than to own them could be helpful.

We should continuously remember that in most cases, in Malta, we travel for short distances. Having less cars on our roads will also contribute to more road safety and consequently this would encourage more walking and cycling, especially when the distance involved is small.

Electrification of our roads on its own is not sufficient. It is just one of a number of tools which need to be applied in transport policy to contribute to a reduced climate impact, attain safer roads, achieve cleaner air and also to ensure more sustainable mobility.

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday: 22 May 2022

Urban open spaces and climate change

After a free-for-all building spree during which the development of multiple private gardens in our towns and villages were targeted, mostly successfully, our towns and villages have been promised open spaces. This, it is being stated, will bring nature closer to people! A shining sun which will hopefully produce less hay!

The implementation of the first such proposal for an open space is nearing conclusion. An open space in the Tar-Rabbat Housing Estate in Ħamrun has been partially built-up to produce an artificial garden on concrete stilts! The area below the concrete stilts is being reserved for parking of cars! This is definitely not an open space.

The open spaces which we need should not add to the concrete jungle which has developed unabated around us over the years. The open spaces should be free from any form of construction and should be the opportunity to squeeze out cars from the urban environment, preferably relegating them to the periphery of our towns and villages. The open spaces are meant to re-introduce nature into our lives, even if in a very limited way.

Our urban areas have been left to develop on their own for quite too long. As a result, they have been guided by business-friendly or market-friendly authorities, producing the mess of an urban jungle we have to face every day. This is a mess resulting from political decisions which have ensured that profits repeatedly have a priority over people and their quality of life.

The availability of funds to introduce open spaces in our urban areas is a unique opportunity to redesign the urban environment such that it becomes people-friendly. It is also an opportunity to bring urban planning in line with the requirements of climate change mitigation policy.

Earlier this month the latest report on climate change was published by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC). The document, almost 3000 pages long, emphasises that without profound changes to our lifestyle the Paris 2015 Climate Summit objectives will not be attained.

As islands, Malta and Gozo should be at the forefront in the international climate change debate. Climate change is already here. Extremes of temperature, long periods of drought or sudden floods are no longer a rare occurrence in the Maltese islands. We have experienced this repeatedly over the past years.

A sea-level rise will impact our coastal areas. Large stretches of our coastline are developed and used for residential purposes or else they are utilised for the maritime and tourism industries. A sea level rise, dependent on its extent, would severely impact all this activity. It is in our interest that any sea level rise resulting from climate change would be minimal, if at all. This can only happen if the climate mitigation targets agreed to at the Paris Summit are adhered to the soonest.

One of the ideas doing the rounds in the climate change debate is to rethink our urban design strategy as one of the basic tools with 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 on foot or by bike! Consequently, our dependency on the car would be done away with, as a result even claiming back our streets. The open spaces initiative could fit in perfectly within the parameters of the “15-minute city”.

Can we reassess the nature and quality of our urban lifestyle within this framework?

The Covid-19 pandemic has given most of us a taste of working from home. If this could become a permanent feature of our urban lifestyle, some of us would not need not travel to work every day. This would address and potentially reduce our addiction to the car. Over a period of time this would impact our carbon emissions.

Our contribution to climate change mitigation as a result of which we can accelerate our path to carbon neutrality could be achieved without impacting our mobility. Through a judicious use of public transport, and the facilitation of other sustainable mobility options our mobility can in fact be substantially improved as a result.

Come October all public transport will be free of charge. 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.

Within this context open spaces adequately planned have a pivotal role. They improve our quality of life by bringing it closer to nature in our 15-minute cities.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 24 April 2022