L-iżbilanċ ambjentali

L-iżbilanċ ambjentali qiegħed dejjem jiżdied. Fid-diskors twil iżżejjed tiegħu meta ħabbar il-Baġit, il-Ministru tal-Finanzi Edward Scicluna dan il-fatt ma jagħtix kas tiegħu.

L-iżviluppaturi tal-propjetà, permezz tal-assoċjazzjoni tagħhom l-MDA esprimaw is-sodisfazzjon tagħhom dwar Baġit li għal darba oħra aċċetta l-proposti tagħhom biex l-iskemi ta’ inċentivi dwar tnaqqis ta’ taxxi marbuta max-xiri tal-propjetà jkunu estiżi. Il-Baġit jippreżenta dawn il-proposti b’libsa ta’ proposti soċjali. Fir-realtà huma miżuri kontra l-ambjent għax għandhom impatt dirett fuq iktar żvilupp ta’ art kif ukoll fuq l-intensifikazzjoni tal-iżvilupp fiż-żoni urbani tagħna.

It-turiżmu tal-Cruise liners huwa mfaħħar fid-diskors tal-Baġit. Il-Ministru Scicluna jentużjażma ruħu ftit iżżejjed meta jħabbar fid-diskors tiegħu li l-industrija tal-cruise liners f’Malta kibret b’75% tul dawn l-aħħar sitt snin. Il-Ministru Scicluna, probabbilment mhux konxju biżżejjed li l-industrija tal-cruise liners hi kontributur mhux żgħir fil-kontaminazzjoni tal-kwalità tal-arja.

Jeżistu diversi studji dwar l-impatti ambjentali tal-cruise liners fl-ibħra internazzjonali. Il-materja kienet mistħarrġa ukoll minn għaqda ambjentali lokali bl-għajnuna ta’ għaqda ambjentali Ġermaniża. Il-kampjuni tal-arja li ħadu mill-inħawi tal-Port il-Kbir jindikaw preżenza mhux żgħira ta’ partikoli mikroskopiċi fl-arja li qed jispiċċaw fil-pulmun ta’ dawk li jgħixu, jaħdmu inkella sempliċiment jgħaddu mil-lokalitajiet madwar il-Port il-Kbir. Bla dubju l-istess ħaġa insibuha f’Birżebbuġa bħala riżultat tal-operazzjonijiet tal-Port Ħieles.

Biex dan ikun indirizzat, soluzzjoni possibli tkun l-introduzzjoni ta’ obbligu li l-vapuri jagħmlu użu minn elettriku ġġenerat fuq l-art meta dawn ikunu mal-moll. Dwar dan diġa saru studji preliminari. L-istudji, iżda, mhumiex biżżejjed. Jirrikjedu ukoll id-disponibilità għall-azzjoni – disponibilità li presentement ma teżistix. L-istudju dwar il-Port il-Kbir sar fl-2014 filwaqt li dak dwar Birżebbuġa sar fl-2018. Dwar dan kollu d-diskors tal-Baġit hu sieket.

Il-Gvern għadu ma ħabbarx id-data li minnha ‘l-quddiem mhux ser ikun possibli li jkunu impurtati f’Malta karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol jew bid-diżil. Ġejna nfurmati li din id-data tista’ titħabbar fl-2020. It-tfassil tal-istrateġija tal-Gvern f’dan il-qasam qed tieħu fit-tul biex tieħu sura meta kien il-Prim Ministru nnifsu li ħabbarha iktar minn sentejn ilu. Ma hemm l-ebda serjetà fil-mod kif din l-istrateġija qed tkun imfassla. Il-materja mhix biss dwar li ma nimpurtawx iktar karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol jew bid-diżil.

Tinvolvi ukoll l-interess esaġerat kurrenti fl-iżvilupp ta’ pompi tal-petrol ġodda f’diversi inħawi ta’ Malta. Għax xi ħtieġa hemm għal iktar pompi tal-petrol meta d-deċiżjoni dwar l-elettrifikazzjoni tat-trasport privat qiegħed wara l-bieb? Moratorju immedjat dwar l-iżvilupp ta’ pompi tal-petrol ġodda kienet tkun deċiżjoni tajba u f’waqtha, meta hu aċċettat minn kulħadd li ma hemmx użu għalihom!

Il-Baġit, ifaħħar u jiftaħar bl-investiment massiċċ fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq. B’mod partikolari dwar mini jew fly-overs li x-xogħol dwarhom għaddej inkella qiegħed fi stadju avvanzat ta’ ippjanar.

Il-ġustifikazzjoni għal dan, minn dikjarazzjonijiet diversi li saru matul ix-xhur li għaddew, hi, biex tkun indirizzata l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku. Studji li saru madwar id-dinja kollha repetutament żvelaw li dawn it-tipi ta’ żviluppi fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq inevitabilment twassal għal-iktar traffiku.

Il-Minstru dan kollu jinjorah u jibqa’ jinsisti li jarmi daqstant miljuni ta’ ewro. Apparti li jgħarbel ftit l-esperjenza f’pajjiżi oħra, l-Onor. Ministru għandu jikkonsulta ruħu wkoll mal-Master-Plan għat-Trasport li tfassal taħt id-direzzjoni tal-Gvern li minnu jifforma parti u li b’mod mill-iktar ċar ifisser kif it-tnaqqis tal-karozzi privati mit-toroq tagħna hu għan essenzjali. Il-Ministru għall-Finanzi għandu jfittex li jkun jaf l-għaliex il-Gvern jitlob il-pariri u mbagħad dawn ikunu injorati.

Fl-aħħar il-Gvern irrealizza li hemm ħtieġa ta’ strateġija għal Green New Deal. Din hija strateġija li tindirizza l-impatti tat-tibdil fil-klima b’mod sostenibbli: ekonomikament, ekologikament u soċjalment. Imma biex strateġija ta’ dan ix-xorta tkun tagħmel sens, il-Gvern għandu, l-ewwel u qabel kollox iżarma l-istrateġiji li diġa għandu u li huma dijametrikament opposti għall-Green New Deal.

Ma jagħmilx sens, per eżempju, li filwaqt li l-Gvern repetutament jiddikjara ruħu favur il-ħtieġa tal-ħarsien ambjentali, imma mbagħad kontinwament joħroġ inċentivi biex jinkoraġixxi is-suq tal-propjetà. Lanqas ma jagħmel sens li jibqa’ għaddej bil-programm intensiv tal-iżvilupp tal-infrastruttura tat-toroq jew li jibqa’ għaddej bil-pjani dwar l-iżvilupp tal-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex li inevitabilment ser isservi biex iktar karozzi jaqsmu bejn il-gżejjer b’faċilità.

Flok l-għotjiet għax-xiri tal-batteriji għall-ħażna tal-elettriku ġġenerat mill-pannelli fotovoltajiċi kien ikun ferm aħjar kieku l-Gvern jagħti bidu għal investiment massiv biex ikun assigurat li s-sistema tad-distribuzzjoni tal-elettriku titjib għax hu b’dan li jista’ jkun aċċertat illi fid-djar tagħna jkun possibli li niġġeneraw iktar elettriku mix-xemx. In-nuqqas ta’ miżuri effettivi biex tkun iġġenerata iktar enerġija minn sorsi rinovabbli juru kemm mhu veru xejn li l-Gvern hu kommess favur t-tfassil u l-implimentazzjoni ta’ strateġija dwar il-Green New Deal.

Il-Ministru tal-Finanzi qed jgħaddina biż-żmien meta f’nifs wieħed jinsisti jitkellem dwar Għawdex bħala gżira ekoloġika filwaqt li jibqa’ jinsisti fuq “ħtieġa” għall-mina bejn il-gżejjer. Mina li ser taċċellera l-ħsara ambjentali fil-gżira Għawdxija.

L-iżbilanċ ambjentali qed jikber kontinwament, bla ebda kontroll ta’ xejn.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 20 ta’ Ottubru 2019

 

The environmental deficit

The environmental deficit is still rising and  the long-winded Budget speech by Finance Minister Edward Scicluna last Monday did not address it.

Through the MDA, their association, property developers have expressed satisfaction at the Budget as, once more, it has taken up their proposals intended to further extend tax incentive schemes linked to the purchase of property. The budget presents these measures as being of a social nature when, in fact, that are anti-environmental measures because their direct impact is the take-up of more land as well as additional pressure on the intensification of the development of our urban areas.

Cruise liner tourism comes in for substantial praise in the Budget speech. Minister Scicluna was over-enthusiastic in announcing that there has been a 75 per cent  increase in the cruise liner industry in Malta over the last six years. He may not be sufficiently aware that the cruise liner industry is a substantial contributor to the degradation of air quality. Various studies have been carried out on the environmental impacts of cruise liners on the high seas and the subject has also been studied by a local environmental NGO with the support of their German counterparts.

Their studies revealed that air samples taken from the Grand Harbour area indicte the presence of a high level of microscopic particulate matter, which is ending in the respiratory systems of those living, working or passing through this area. Similar issues undoubtedly exist in Birżebbuġa as a result of the operations of the Freeport.

A possible solution to address this problem  is the introduction of a compulsory shore-to-ship electricity supply – in respect of which preliminary studies have already been carried out. The studies, however, are not enough. They require a commitment to act – a commitment is currently non-existent. The studies date back to 2014 in respect of the Grand Harbour and to 2018 in respect of Birżebbuġa.

The government has not yet announced the cut-off date for the importation of cars running on petrol and diesel. We were informed that it may be announced some time in 2020. The government strategy in this respect is taking too long too formulate – given that it was announced by the Prime Minister over two years ago.

There is alack of seriousness about the manner in which this issue is being addressed. It  does not just involve determining when no more vehicles running on petrol or diesel will be imported; it also involves the current acute interest in the development of new fuel service stations in various parts of the island. Why do we need such fuel service stations if electrification of private transport is around the corner? An immediate moratorium on the development of new fuel service stations would have been quite appropriate, given that it is accepted by one and all that there will be no use for them!

In addition, the budget praises the heavy investment in road infrastructure, in particular the construction fly-overs and tunnels, the construction of which are either already in hand or else at an advanced state of planning. The justification for this, as has been made through various statements over the months, is to address the ever-increasing traffic congestion.

Studies carried out all over the world have repeatedly revealed that such developments in the road infrastructure inevitably leads to more traffic. Minster Scicluna ignores this experience from other countries and keeps insisting in channelling millions of euros down the drain. He should consult the Transport Master-Plan, drawn up under the direction of his own government, which clearly lists the reduction of the number of vehicles on our roads as an essential objective. The Finance Minister should query why his government commissions experts for their advice which it then ignores.

The Government has, at last realised that it needs a ‘Green New Deal’ strategy – a strategy which addresses the impacts of climate change sustainably, economically, ecologically and socially. But for such a strategy to make sense, it should first dismantle its existing strategies which are in direct opposition to a ‘Green New Deal’.

It does not make sense, for example, for the Government to declare the need to protect the environment and then hands out all sorts of incentives to encourage the property market. Nor does it make sense to keep to its programme of intensive development of the road infrastructure, or to keep pushing for the development of a tunnel between Malta and Gozo, which will only serve the free movement of more cars between the islands.

Instead of grants for batteries to store electricity generated through solar panels, it would have been much better had the Government embarked on a massive investment to ensure a better distribution network of electricity, as this would – of itself – increase the potential for the generation of more renewable energy by households. The lack of effective measures to generate more energy from renewable sources clearly shows that Government is not really committed to drafting and implementing a real ‘Green New Deal’ strategy.

The Minister of Finance is taking everybody for a ride when, on the one hand he speaks of Gozo as an ecological island and then, on the other, keeps insisting on the ‘need’ for a tunnel between the islands, – which will only serve to accelerate the environmental degradation of Gozo.

The environmental deficit is clearly out of control.

 

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday 20 October 2019

Turiżmu li jagħti kas lin-nies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The democratisation of tourism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Through the democratisation of tourism development, the conflicting interests and agendas involved in tourism must be addressed. As a result, the short-term gains of tourism entrepreneurs would be compelled to face the reality of social responsibility, as well as cultural and environmental costs. So far, the tourism operators pocket the profits and we, the rest, face the impacts.

Tourism is not an activity that happens in a vacuum. It takes place in a community of persons, who should be assured that their quality of life is not impacted negatively upon as a result of the experience. Tourism is not just about numbers of tourists, or the millions of euros spent or a contribution to the Gross National Product: it is also about our quality of life.

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

The democratisation of touristic development is the only way forward.

 

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday: 11 August 2019

Beyond the trees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It would be pertinent to point out the following extract from section 2.2.1 of the Transport Master Plan, saying that: “historically, it can be seen from experience that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has generally been more short-term (4-5 years) in nature. The lack of importance given to long-term planning means that a long-term integrated plan based on solid analysis with clear objectives and targets is lacking.”

The section goes on to say: “This has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint. There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change but this is in contrast with the need for communal action to address the traffic problems existing now and in the future. This results in the Maltese traveller expecting that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.”

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

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

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

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

 

Published in The Times of Malta: 9 August 2019 

Going on a diet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

published on The Independent on Sunday : 28 July 2019

Il-proġett Central Link: riżultat ta’ inkompetenza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Central Link project: the cost of incompetence

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

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

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

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

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

Specifically, under the heading “Improve integrated and long-term strategic transport planning and design” the following is included in the National Transport Master Plan: “This objective has been defined since, historically, it can be seen from experience that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has generally been more short-term (4-5 years) in nature. The lack of importance given to long-term planning means that a long-term integrated plan based on solid analysis with clear objectives and targets is lacking. This has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint. There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change but this is in contrast with the need for communal action to address the traffic problems existing now and in the future. This results in the Maltese traveller expecting that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.” (section 2.2.1 of Transport Master Plan)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 21 July 2019

Il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli

It-terminu “żvilupp sostenibbli” hu wieħed mill-iktar abbużat fil-lingwaġġ u d-diskorsi politiċi. Nazzarda ngħid li hu terminu abbużat iktar mill-kelma “demokrazija”. Jintuża f’kuntest żbaljat u bħala riżultat jitwassal messaġġ mhux korrett.

Żvilupp sostenibbli jfisser żvilupp li jħares fit-tul, jiġifieri jqis, jikkunsidra u jindirizza impatti fit-tul. B’mod partikolari jfisser żvilupp li jassigura illi r-riżorsi jintużaw bir-reqqa u li l-interessi tal-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri jkunu kkunsidrati. Dan mhux biss materja ta’ interess ambjentali. Imma li l-politika ambjentali, ekonomika, soċjali u kulturali jimxu id f’id. Ifisser li dak kollu li nagħmlu jrid iħares fit-tul u jkun kompatibbli simultanjament man-natura, mal-ekonomija, mal-iżvilupp uman kif ukoll mal-kultura.

L-iżvilupp sostenibbli jirrikjedi li nkunu f’armonija ma’ dak li hawn madwarna, f’kull ħin. Huwa dwar ħajja f’armonija kemm man-natura kif ukoll mal-bnedmin ta’ madwarna. Dan li hawn madwarna nqiesuh bħala parti mill-familja. Hi t-triq lejn iktar dinjità mmirata simultanjament lejn il-qerda tal-faqar u l-ħarsien tal-ambjent kollu madwarna. L-iżvilupp sostenibbli jirrikjedi li l-politika kulturali, soċjali, ambjentali u ekonomika jkunu sinkronizzati. Għax il-ħarsien tad-dinjità umana, l-apprezzament tal-kultura tagħna u l-ħarsien ambjentali huma essenzjali daqs l-iżvilupp ekonomiku.

L-iżvilupp sostenibbli hu fil-fatt żvilupp ibbilanċjat għax suppost li għandu perspettiva wiesgħa ħafna. Huwa għal dan l-iskop li sa mis-snin disgħin, meta għall-ewwel darba daħlet referenza għall-iżvilupp sostenibbli fil-liġijiet Maltin, ir-responsabbiltà politika għal dan il-qasam (fuq il-karta) kienet dejjem waħda diretta tal-prim ministru. Għax fil-prattika tfisser il-koordinazzjoni sħiħa tal-poltiika tal-Gvern u għandha tkun riflessa f’kull qasam, mit-trasport, sal-agrikultura u l-politika marittima.

Huwa minħabba li l-iżvilupp sostenibbli jidħol f’kull qasam ta’ politika li jeħtieġ li responsabbiltà għalih ikun f’idejn membru anzjan tal-Kabinett. Sfortunatament l-ebda wieħed mill-Prim Ministri li kellna ma żamm din ir-responsabbiltà f’idejh u b’mod jew ieħor kollha ddelegaw din ir-responsabbiltà lill-Ministru jew lis-Segretarju Parlamentari responsabbli għall-ambjent.

Ikkonsidra, per eżempju l-politika dwar it-trasport li dwarha ktibt b’mod estensiv tul dawn l-aħħar ġimgħat. Fuq il-karta għandna strateġija nazzjonali dwar it-trasport li tipprovdi kemm għal titjib fiżiku tax-xibka ta’ toroq fil-gżejjer Maltin kif ukoll li jittieħdu inizjattivi speċifiċi biex jonqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna. Hu ovvju li fejn it-toroq mhux qed jaqdu sewwa għandhom ikunu rranġati. Imma huwa daqstant ieħor ovvju li hemm limitu dwar id-daqs tat-toroq tagħna

Studji mad-dinja kollha juru li jekk il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku ikun indirizzat b’iktar żvilupp tal-infrastruttura tat-toroq, il-problema tkun effettivament posposta u tiċċaqlaq minn triq għal-oħra inkella tkun posposta għal data oħra.

Li nindirizzaw is-sostenibilità tal-politika tat-trasport ifisser li għandna nifhmu dak li hu bażiku għall-mobiltà: il-mobilità faċli minn post għall-ieħor f’kull ħin. Sfortunatament dan mhux qed isir. Dan hu rifless f’numru ta’ kontradizzjonijiet fil-politika tat-trasport. Uħud minnhom diġa iddiskutejthom f’dan l-artikli imma hemm oħrajn bħall-politika dwar l-elettrifikazzjoni u dik dwar il-pompi tal-fuel. Politika dwar it-trasport li tħares verament fit-tul mhiex kompatibbli ma’ policy li tmexxi l-quddiem l-iżvilupp il-pompi tal-fuel. Il-fatt li f’data fil-viċin suppost li nibdew il-proċess tal-elettrifikazzjoni tal-karozzi, mifrux fuq numru ta’ snin, iwassal għal konklużjoni loġika li f’data mhux il-bogħod in-numru ta’ pompi tal-fuel meħtieġa ser ikun wieħed insinifikanti. Ministeru tat-Trasport iggwidat minn prinċipji bażiċi ta’ sens komun kien jifhem dan u jaġixxi b’mod loġiku.

Il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli jeħtieġ li ssir parti integrali mill-istrutturi politiċi li jieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet. Jekk dan isir inkun f’posizzjoni ferm aħjar biex nindirizzaw il-kontradizzjonijiet u dan iwassal għal deċiżjonijiet aħjar fl-interess ta’ kulħadd.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 5 ta’ Mejju 2019

The politics of sustainable development

The term “sustainable development” is one of the most misused and abused in political discourse. I would dare say that it is as misused as much as the word “democracy”. It is generally used in the wrong context, and,  as a result, sends a wrong message.

Sustainable development refers to development which has a long-term view, that is a view that considers and addresses long-term impacts. In particular, it signifies development which ensures that resources are carefully used so that the interests of future generations are taken into consideration. This is not just a matter of environmental concern – it is an intertwining of environmental, economic, social and cultural policy. It means that our actions must take the long-term view and be simultaneously compatible with the forces of nature, the economy, human development and a respect for culture.

Sustainable development is about living in harmony with all that surrounds us, at all times. It is about being in harmony with Mother Earth, with nature and with our fellow human beings. It is treating our surroundings as part of our family. It is the path to dignity, aiming simultaneously at the eradication of poverty and the protection of the planet. Sustainable development requires the synchronisation of cultural, social, environmental and economic policy. Shielding human dignity, appreciating our culture and environmental protection are as essential as economic development.

Sustainable development is, in fact, a balanced approach to development, as its perspective is all-encompassing. It is for this reason that, since the 1990s, when sustainable development first made it into Malta’s statute book, it was retained (on paper) as a direct political responsibility of the Prime Minister. In practice, it involves coordinating all areas of policy and should be reflected in transport policy as much as in maritime or agricultural policy.

Sustainable development permeates all areas of policy and hence requires a senior politician in Cabinet to be in charge. Unfortunately, not even one of our prime ministers assumed direct political responsibility for the matter as, formally or informally, all of them delegated the matter to the Minister (or Parliamentary Secretary) responsible for the environment.

Consider, for example, transport policy – about which I have written extensively in recent weeks. On paper, it is described through the National Transport Masterplan which envisages both physical improvements to the road network as well as specific initiatives to limit cars on our roads. It is obvious that bottlenecks have to be addressed, but it is just as obvious that there is a practical limit to the size of our road network.

Studies all over the world have clearly shown that addressing traffic congestion through expanding the road network has only postponed the problem and has either moved it physically to another area, or else moved it in time.

Addressing the sustainability of transport policy means that we should get to grips with the basics of mobility issues: the movement with ease from one point to another at all times. Unfortunately, this is not being done. This is reflected in the large number of contradictions encountered in the various aspects of transport policy and ranges from the electrification policy to the policy on the development of fuel stations.

A long-term view of transport policy would have easily made short shrift of the fuel service station policy. The fact that the electrification of motor vehicles will shortly commence and will be spread over a number of years, makes it  pretty obvious to one and all that, at the end of the process, the number of fuel service stations required will be insignificant. A Transport Ministry guided by the basic principles of common sense would have easily understood this basic point and acted accordingly.

The politics of sustainable development still needs to be ingrained in the day-to-day policy-making structures. If this is done, we will be in a position to weed out glaring contradictions and, as a result, be in a position to produce policies which promote the interests of all.