Ħames ħsibijiet

 

1. Ippjanar għall-użu tal-art

Tnax-il sena ilu meta l-pjani lokali kienu approvati mill-Ministru responsabbli mill-Ippjanar tal-Użu tal-Art, il-Parlament għadda biex ta l-approvazzjoni tiegħu biex meded kbar ta’ art fil-periferiji taz-zoni urbani tagħna jingħataw għall-bini. 12-il sena wara li l-Parlament approva l-ezerċiżżju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni xi residenti għadhom ma ndunawx kif għaddewhom biż-żmien. Xi drabi uħud mill-Membri Parlamentari li dakinnhar ivvutaw favur li art fl-ODZ issir tajba għall-bini, illum għandhom l-ardir li jkunu fuq quddiem jippuppaw sidirhom “f’appoġġ” għar-residenti li f’daqqa waħda jindunaw li d-dar tal-ġirien ser taqa’ u flokha tielgħa blokka appartamenti. Issa daqshekk xemx fuq il-pannelli li għadhom kemm ħallsu u stallaw ftit ilu!

Kważi kuljum nirċievi emails mingħand residenti li jkunu jixtiequ joġġezzjionaw għal żvilupp propost f’diversi lokalitajiet. Jiċċassaw meta ninfurmaw li ż-żmien għall-oġġezzjonijiet għalaq madwar 12-il sena ilu. L-parti l-kbira tar-residenti ma jiftakrux l-ismijiet tal-membri parlamentari li għaddewhom biż-żmien.

F’dawn l-aħħar ġimgħat kelli każijiet fil-Mellieħa, il-Mosta, Marsaxlokk, Wied il-Għajn u H’Attard. U għad hemm ħafna iktar.

2. Il-bdil fil-klima u l-karozzi tal-elettriku

Studju ippubblikat nhar il-Ġimgħa fil-Journal Nature Communications jiġbed l-attenzjoni li jekk wieħed iqabbel l-emmissjonijiet attwali ta’ diversi pajjiżi ma’ dak li wegħdu f’Pariġi sentejn ilu fil-laqgħa dwar it-tibdil fil-klima, għadna ħafna lura biex jintlaħqu l-miri stabiliti.

Il-wegħdiet faċli biex isiru imma sfortunatament mhux faċli biex jinżammu.

It-trasport hu illum il-kontribut ewlieni ta’ Malta għat-tibdil fil-klima. Madwar sena ilu l-Prim Ministru Muscat kien qal li mhux ‘il-bogħod li jieqfu l-karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-disil mit-toroq tagħna biex flokhom nibdew nużaw karozzi li jaħdmu bl-elettriku. Għadna nistennew lill-Gvern iħabbar il-pjan tiegħu.

3. 17 Black

L-aħbar mil-Latvja dwar l-ismijiet assoċjati mal-kumpanija 17 Black u ċ-ċaqlieq ta’ flus maħmuġin madwar id-dinja ikomplu jagħtu l-kulur lill-istorja li ma tispiċċa qatt dwar il-ħasil tal-flus. Tajjeb li niftakru f’dik iż-żjara uffiċjali f’Baku f’Diċembru 2014 meta l-ebda uffiċjal taċ-ċivil jew ġurnalista ma kien preżenti. Dakinnhar staqsejna għalfejn? Possibilment it-tweġiba illum qegħda tiċċassa lejna.

4. L-istrateġija ta’ Bedingfield

Nhar il-ġimgħa kienet l-aħħar ġurnata għall-konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar il-Kottonera li jidher li qegħda f’idejn Glenn Bedingfield. Qed jipproponu t-twaqqif ta’ fondazzjoni biex timplimenta l-istrateġija. Donnu li Glenn ftit jimpurtah mill-kunsilli lokali jew mill-kunsill tar-reġjun li s-sens komun jgħidlek li għandhom ikunu huma nkarigati bl-implementazzjoni. Forsi Glenn għadu ma ndunax li hemm “konsultazzjoni pubblika” oħra għaddejja, din id-darba dwar il-gvern lokali u għadha għaddejja sa l-aħħar ta’ Novembru. X’għala biebu!

5. L-appell dwar id-dB

L-appell kontra l-permess ta’ żvilupp li nħareġ lid-dB għat-tħarbit tas-sit tal-ITS f’ Pembroke jibda nhar it-Tlieta. It-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni għall-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar (il-Bord tal-appell) irid jibda biex jiddeċiedu dwar it-talba li għandu quddiemu minn dawk li qed jopponu l-permess biex ix-xogħol li diġa beda jieqaf immedjatament u jibqa’ hekk wieqaf sa meta jinqata’ l-appell. Wara it-Tribunal jibda jikkonsidra sottomissjonijiet fuq kull waħda mit-18-il raġuni li hemm biex il-permess jitħassar: ibda mill-kunflitt ta’ interess tal-aġent tal-propjetà membru tal-bord li japprova l-permessi tal-bini kif ukoll bir-regoli kollha li nkisru meta kien approvat dan il-permess ta’ żvilupp.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 18 ta’ Novembru 2018

 

Advertisements

Five random thoughts

1. Land Use Planning

Twelve years ago, when the local plans were approved by the then Minister responsible for land use planning, Parliament proceeded to approve the inclusion of substantial stretches of land on the periphery of most of our urban areas within the limits of permissible development. Twelve years after the approval of the rationalisation exercise by Parliament, some residents are still not aware of the manner in which they have been compromised. At times they are taken advantage of by Members of Parliament who had supported the extension of the development boundaries but now feel duty bound to “support” residents who suddenly realise that their neighbour’s house is being pulled down and in its stead a block of flats will arise, blocking out the sun off their PVCs which they have just paid for!

I receive emails almost daily from residents wishing to object to proposals for development in various localities. They are speechless when I inform them that the time for objections elapsed some 12 years ago! Most residents do not remember the names of the Members of Parliament who shafted them in 2006.

I have in the past weeks dealt with cases in Mellieħa, Mosta, Marsaxlokk, Marsaskala and Attard and many more are pending.

2. Climate Change and electrification

A study published last Friday in the Journal Nature Communications points out that if one compares q country’s actual emissions with the pledges made at the Paris Climate Change meeting two years ago, we are still very far from achieving the objectives set.
Unfortunately, pledges are easy to make and difficult to keep.

Transport is currently Malta’s major contribution to climate change. Over one year ago, Premier Muscat had stated that petrol and diesel-powered cars should be driven off our roads and substituted by electric cars. We are still waiting for government to announce its detailed plans.

3. 17 Black

The revelation from Latvia of the names associated with 17 Black and the movement of dirty money around the globe adds more spice to the never-ending saga of money laundering. It may be pertinent to point out to that official visit at Baku in December 2014 at which no civil servant or journalist was present. Then we asked why. Possibly now we have the answer.

4. Bedingfield and his strategy

Last Friday was the closing date on the ongoing public consultation on Cottonera piloted by Glenn Bedingfield. It is being proposed to set up a foundation to eventually implement this strategy. Apparently Glenn has no qualms in shafting the local councils and the regional council in the area which logically should be the ones entrusted with implementation. Maybe Glenn has not yet realised that another “public consultation” on local government is currently in hand up till 30 November. Who cares?

5. The dB appeal

The appeal against the development permit issued for the dB mega-mess at Pembroke will commence next Tuesday. High on the list on considerations to be addressed by the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal (the appeals board) will be the request by those opposing this development to stop works immediately, pending the outcome of the appeal. Then the Tribunal will commence considering submissions on the eighteen reasons which justify the invalidation of the development permit – ranging from the obvious conflict of interest of the estate agent dishing out development permits to a blatant disregard of planning policy.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 18 November 2018

Education: a hostage of the market

 

The discourse on the subject of education is centred on forcing students into following the diktats of the market: the skills gap needs to be addressed. The assumption is that the market is some kind of given – independent of everything else – that invisible hand that is directing our lives.

What should we expect from vocational education and training?

The major institution in this sector in Malta is MCAST (The Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology). Originally set up in the 1960s through funding and support from UNESCO, it had developed into an institution offering degree courses in business and engineering, amongst other new areas of study. Instead of encouraging it to develop and flourish with its own particular ethos and identity it was abruptly absorbed into the University of Malta as a result of the reforms in the late 1970s – the student-worker scheme!

Arguments for and against this absorption are plenty. What is sure, however, is, that a particular style and mode of education was lost for over 20 years and technically inclined students who followed courses at technical institutes instead of in sixth forms -with their rigid and uninspiring desk based teaching – found themselves practically shunned by places of higher education.

A lost generation.

In 2001, MCAST was re-established and existing technical institutes were brought together under one umbrella organisation. Over time, degree courses were developed and educational paths were offered at different levels – from foundation level courses, to technician level courses, up to degree level – all with different entry requirements according to the areas of study. These were backed up by different support systems catering to the differing needs of students, who can choose where to start their post-compulsory educational trajectory, depending on their progress to date. Cooperation with Dutch and Finnish technical universities and other universities of applied science are a positive development which must be further nurtured.

MCAST has developed over time, but the out-of-date mentality, still present as a colonial inheritance, which falsely splits education into ‘vocational’ and ‘academic’ streams continues to haunt the mind-set of policy makers’. Way back in the early 1900s, the progressive American educationalist John Dewey had already riled against a system that separates the practical from the so called ‘academic’. He had warned against a narrow education that pigeon-holed students, generally on the basis of their socioeconomic backgrounds.

MCAST should retain its identity; it should strengthen its cross-disciplinary and contextualised pedagogical methods. Science and technology do not exist in a vacuum and MCAST students should be given the opportunity to study languages, the relationship between science, technology and society and how policy-making depends on the power structures inherent in society.

To achieve this, the policy makers and the politically appointed board who are resisting improvement in the conditions of academic staff at MCAST are transmitting the wrong message: ie that MCAST is there to impart simple, pre-packaged ‘skills’, to train and not to educate, and that academic staff – with a wide range of qualifications and experience – are just there to transmit information.

Lecturers and technical staff should be given the opportunity to develop and apply knowledge and pedagogies which really enable students to flourish. The managerialist culture, copied from Britain, is destroying initiative and restricting innovation. Academic and technical programmes should be designed, implemented and managed by proper boards of studies made up of academic staff. Sure, input from industry is important, but the main focus should be a holistic education.

Unless technical staff and academic staff are given the right opportunities and conditions, brand new equipment will remain underutilised, new ways of teaching and learning will not be developed and, above all, treating MCAST as some kind of ‘lesser’ institution – even as regards conditions of work and the resources afforded to its academics will just strengthen long standing prejudice at the expense of society.

It is curious that Education Minister Evarist Bartolo, who is usually so vociferous when it comes to improving the educational infrastructure and the reform at the University of Malta – including the professional development of academic staff – has so far been silent on the entire subject. But then we might remember that the University of Malta will also shortly be made subservient to the interests of the business world!

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 7 January 2018

Arvid Pardo : 50 years on

Going by the Prime Minister’s address to the EU Conference held in Malta this week on the protection of the oceans. it would be reasonable to assume that, as a maritime nation, Malta’s commitment is second to none.

Searching through the website of the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) reveals a number of reports required by the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) from EU member states. However, perusal of the relative EU website reveals that Malta’s reports were not presented within the timeframes established by the Directive.

Clearly, notwithstanding what the Prime Minister says, we still need to pull our socks up.

As an island state, it is essential that we lead rather than follow in maritime matters. There was a time when Malta was the leader, when Malta’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Arvid Pardo, presented the ground-breaking initiative to consider the seabed resources as the common heritage of mankind. That was 50 years ago, in November 1967, at a session of the United Nations General Assembly.

Arvid Pardo’s initiative on behalf of Malta was, for a considerable time, pushed to the sidelines by a Labour-led government, permitting other countries to take the lead instead. In fact, when push came to shove, Jamaica squeezed Malta out and was selected to host the International Seabed Authority in Kingston. Malta had, for some time, indicated that it was no longer interested in pursuing its own initiative.

Malta has a maritime vocation. As an island nation, it needs to consider maritime politics as both a duty as well as an opportunity. The implications of all this is explained in some detail in a marine economic and social analysis report commissioned by the ERA in terms of article 8 of the MSFD and available on its website.

Sub-titled “an initial assessment”, the 133 page report concludes that 15.4 per cent of the Maltese economy makes use of the marine environment either as a provider of resources, as an input in the product or service provided or as a sink function. This enormous importance of the marine environment to the Maltese economy is further increased when one bears in mind that in other European Union member states this same statistic varies between three per cent and five per cent.

The report further states that the 15.4 per cent contribution of the marine environment to the economy does not include the use of bathing areas as well as the use of the sea as the primary source of potable water in Malta.

Over the years, I do not recall other political parties giving any weight to the significance of the marine environment in their political discourse. It is about time that this changed, because it is imperative that we realise the central importance of the marine environment.

Malta should follow in Arvid Pardo’s footsteps and take the lead in maritime issues: there is so much to do. The fact that the Marine Framework Strategy Directive is still in its infancy offers a unique opportunity that was not sufficiently highlighted during the six month presidency of the EU held by Malta earlier this year.

In Arvid Pardo’s own words at the UN General Assembly on the 1st November 1967: we are naturally vitally interested in the sea which surrounds us and through which we live and breathe.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 8 October 2017

Planning for the foreseeable future

Human nature has always been preoccupied with the future. However, at times we tend not to realise that we mould a substantial part of the future through our actions today. Unfortunately, sometimes our actions today and the future we want, point towards completely different directions.

Our future is necessarily a common one, as explained in the 1987 report of the UN Commission on Environment and Development -, the Brundtland report – aptly entitled Our Common Future. Drafted by an international commission led by former Norwegian Socialist Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, this report placed sustainable development on the global discussion platform, emphasising that we are responsible not only for each other’s welfare today but also for that of future generations. We need to consider carefully that our actions today have a considerable impact and can possibly limit the choices that future generations would have to make.

The impact of our behaviour on the climate is one such example. The impact of climate change is causing havoc in weather patterns and consequently also impacting on all areas of human activity. The patterns and intensity of rainfall is unpredictable. Our road infrastructure never coped, and now it is getting worse.

Earlier this week The Guardian reported that the planet has just a five per cent chance of reaching the Paris climate goals. Rather than avoiding warming up by more than 2oC by the end of the century, it is more likely that Mother Earth will heat up to around 5oC beyond the pre-industrial era.

The predicted consequences are catastrophic. Another report published in April this year had informed us that there are worrying signs for Greenland ice sheet which covers 80 percent of its 1.7 million square kilometres surface area: it has been observed melting faster than ever before. On its own, this factor could potentially cause a rise of many meters in sea level – as many as seven metres.

This is certainly not the future we want. Any rise in sea level rise, even if minimal, would threaten the functionability of all coastal areas and facilities. It would also wipe out entire coastal communities and islands worldwide would disappear. It would be a future of climate- change refugees pushed to higher ground by a rising sea-level. This will not only have an impact low-lying islands in the Pacific Ocean: it will also hit closer to home.
Take a look at and consider the places along the Maltese coast: Msida, Ta’ Xbiex, Pietá, Sliema, Marsaskala, Marsaxlokk, San Pawl il-Baħar, Burmarrad, Birżebbuġa, Marsalforn, Xlendi and many more.
Readers will remember the occasional rise in sea-level at Msida. In one such instant – on 11 May last year – the change in sea level was of more than a metre as a resulting flooding the roads along the coast. This phenomenon is known as seiche (locally referred to as “Il-Milgħuba”) and reported in this newspaper under the heading “Phenomenon: sea-water level rises in Msida, traffic hampered.” It also occurs at St George’s Bay in Birżebbuġa – on a small scale but on a regular basis, causing quite a nuisance to car users.

Now this phenomenon only occurs temporarily, yet it still substantially affects traffic movements when it does. Imagine if the rise in sea level rise is of a permanent nature?

Large parts of our coast are intensively developed – with roads and residential properties, as well as substantial sections of the tourism infrastructure and facilities. In addition, there is also the infrastructure of our ports which we have developed as a maritime nation over the centuries. All this points to the need for adequate planning to implement urgent adaptation measures in order to reinforce Malta’s coastal infrastructure. If we wait too long it may be too late.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 August 2017

Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor

 laudato_si_    Cry of the Earth

 

This is the title of Leonardo Boff’s seminal work on the inextricable link between social justice and environmental degradation, originally published in 1995.  Earlier, during the 1972 UN Human Environment Conference in Stockholm, it was also the rallying cry of India’s Prime Minister  Indira Gandhi who, on behalf of the developing world, forcefully insisted that poverty was inextricably linked with environmental degradation.  In Stockholm Mrs Gandhi had emphasised that “the environment cannot be improved in conditions of poverty  –  how can we speak to those who live in villages and slums about keeping the oceans, the rivers and the air clean, when their own lives are contaminated at the source?”

This is also the underlying theme of the encyclical Laudato Sì published by Pope Francis last June. It is not just a seasonal Latin American flavour at Vatican City.  The earth’s tears are continuously manifested in different ways depending on the manner in which she is maltreated .

Environmental degradation has a considerable impact on the quality of life of  us all except, that is, for the quality of life of  the select few who pocket the profits by appropriating for themselves advantages (economic or otherwise) and lumping the negative impacts on the rest.

Environmental degradation is an instrument of social injustice. Consequently, enhancing the protection of the environment is also essential to restore social justice.

The water table is subject to continuous daylight robbery: over the years it has been depleted by both authorised and unauthorised water extraction.  What is left is contaminated as a result of the impact of fertilisers as well as surface water runoff from the animal husbandry industry. Theft and acute mismanagement  are the tools used in the creation of this injustice.

The Malta Freeport has been quite successful over the years in contributing to economic growth and job creation. The price for this has, however, been paid by Birżebbuġa residents – primarily through being subjected to continuous noise pollution on a 24/7 basis. Various residential units in the area closest to the Freeport Terminal are vacant and have been so for a considerable time. A noise report commissioned as a result of the conditions of the Terminal’s environmental permit will be concluded shortly. Hopefully, the implementation of its conclusions will start the reversal of the Freeport’s negative impacts on its neighbours.

The Freeport, together with various fuel storage outlets, the Delimara Power Station (including the floating gas storage facility which will soon be a permanent feature) as well as fish-farms have together definitely converted Marsaxlokk Bay into an industrial port. As a result of various incidents during 2015, spills in Marsaxlokk Bay signify that Pretty Bay risks losing its title permanently.   Fortunately, Birżebbuġa residents have been spared additional impact originating from minor ship and oil-rig repairs after they reacted vociferously to a decision by the MEPA Board to permit such work at the Freeport Terminal.

Public Transport has made minor improvements but nowhere near what is required. It is essential that Malta’s congested roads are mopped up of the excessive number of cars. Improving the road infrastructure will just make it easier for more cars to roam about in our roads, thereby increasing the scale of the problem.  The major consequences are a reduced ease of access and the deterioration air quality.

We will soon be in a position to assess the impact of two other major projects: a business hub at the Malta International Airport as well as a car-racing track with various ancillary facilities. The former will take up land at the airport carpark but will have considerable impact on the surrounding villages. The car-racing track may take up as much as 110 hectares of land outside the development zone and have a considerable impact on both nature and local residents in the areas close to where it will be developed.

The list of environmental impacts that we have to endure is endless.

I could also have included the impact of the Malta Drydocks and the consequent squeezing out of residents from the Three Cities as a result of its operations, primarily as a result of sandblasting, in the 1970s and 1980s. I could also have added the impact of the waste recycling plant at Marsaskala and the refusal of the authorities to finance studies on the impact of its operations on the health of residents, or else the impact of the operation of petrol stations close to and within various residential areas.

The size of the Maltese islands is limited. A number of the abovementioned  activities/developments  are essential, but others are not. However, it stands to reason that we should not bear the brunt of non-essential activities or developments. This should lead us to plan more carefully so that  the impacts of the activities that are essential are adequately addressed.

As evidenced by the above list, unfortunately over the years those taking decisions betrayed their responsibilities towards the common good, seeking, instead the interests of the select few thereby compounding social injustices.

This is Malta’s contribution to the accumulated tears of Mother Earth.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 10 January 2016

Paris COP21 : the last chance ?

Paris Cop21

Next week’s Paris Climate Change meeting is the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) relative to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, a framework treaty signed in Rio de Janeiro at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.

For the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, the Paris meeting aims to achieve a universal and legally binding agreement on climate, with the aim of ensuring that global warming does not exceed the pre-industrial revolution temperatures by more than 2°C.

A number of Pacific island states whose very existence is threatened due to the rise in sea level as a result of climate change have been lobbying for a lower target, 1.5°C. This was, however, deemed as being too ambitious by the international community.

The Paris Agreement aims to help the world move towards a low-carbon future. This will mean that carbon emissions have to be reduced across the board and on a global level, as a result reducing global warming. If there are sufficient reductions in carbon emissions over a number of years the global temperature will, hopefully, be reduced by at least 2°C. If, on the other hand, carbon emissions remain practically unchecked, it is estimated that the temperature rise will be as much as 6°C over pre-industrial revolution temperatures by the year 2100. This would inevitably have catastrophic consequences – some of which are already being experienced.

The foundations for the Paris Climate Change Conference were laid in Lima, Peru, 12 months ago, as a conclusion of COP20 in what is known as the ‘Lima Call for Climate Action’. In Lima, all countries were called upon to declare their plans and pledges for the reduction of carbon emissions. Such pledges have, to date, been made by more than 180 countries which together are responsible for 97.8 per cent of global carbon emissions.

This response to the Lima Call is considered by many as being very positive, this increasing the likelihood of a successful outcome in Paris.

However, coupled with the plans and pledges for the reductions of carbon emissions, the underdeveloped countries expect that the developed countries will honour their pledges of substantial contributions to finance their transition to a low carbon economy. Initiatives during the past 12 months indicate that even on financing, Paris is on track.

During previous climate change conferences, all the countries expressed a willingness to address climate change. There was, however, one problem: they wanted others to do the hard work required. As a result, no one wished to take the first steps. The failure to reach an agreement in Copenhagen in the 2009 COP was a wake-up call.

Hopefully, we are on the eve of a global consensus that the time is ripe for action. We have a duty towards future generations to change direction and reverse the climatic impacts of human activity. Paris could well be the last chance to save the planet.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 29 November 2015

Joseph fil-Ġnus Magħquda

Joseph Muscat-UNGA.300915

Huwa tajjeb li Joseph Muscat il-bieraħ fl-Assemblea Ġenerali tal-Ġnus Magħquda tkellem dwar l-immigrazzjoni. Dwar il-ħtieġa tal-involviment ta’ kulħadd, għax wara kollox, din hi problema globali.

L-emfasi tiegħu fuq il-ħtieġa li jkun indirizzat dak li qed jikkawża l-immigrazzjoni kienet ukoll emfasi flokha. Mhux biss iċċaqlieq minħabba l-gwerer, imma issa ukoll minħabba t-tibdil fil-klima. Mhux biss is-Sirja, imam anke s-Sudan, is-Somalja, l-Etijopja u l-Eritreja. Għax kulħadd għandu ħabta jinsa ukoll.

Huwa tajjeb li dan nibqgħu insemmuh, għax dan huwa kompletament differenti mill-politika tal- pushbacks li kienet il-politika ta’ Joseph Muscat u l-Gvern tiegħu sa sentejn ilu. Imma jidher li fetaħ għajnejh sewwa. Dan għandu jkun rikonoxxut kontinwament għax il-kambjament hu kbir ħafna. Ferm aħjar milli jistqarr dubji dwar jekk il-pajjiż għandux iħares l-obbligi internazzjonali tiegħu.

Mill-kummenti li nisimgħu hu ċar li dan mhux kulħadd jifhmu jew jaqbel miegħu. Għax biex timplimenta politika rejali ta’ solidarjetà mhuwiex faċli. Dejjem, ovvjament,  jekk tkun temmen f’dak li tkun qed tagħmel.

 

Sustainable development goals : beyond rhetoric

SDGs

 

In the past few months, considerable work has been carried out by the United Nations to produce a document on sustainable development goals and earlier this week it was announced that a consensus has been achieved over this document that lists 17 goals and 169 specific targets.

The final document, which is now ready for adoption, is brief but wide-ranging. It is entitled Transforming our world: The 2030 agenda for sustainable development.

Taking into account the different national realities, the 17 identified goals cover  a wide range of issues (vide box) that form the global sustainable development agenda for the next 15 years. They aim to eradicate poverty, promote prosperity and increase environmental protection – constant objectives of the international community, that are continuously aimed for but so far not achieved.

The renewed commitment to achieve these goals is welcome. However, both the goals and the specific objectives will have to take account of different national realities and capacities, while respecting national policies and priorities.

Although the document has been described as a historic achievement, in practice it is nothing of the sort. We have been there before. For the past 40 years, commitments have been made at one global meeting after another, only for the world community to come back years later with a slightly different document.

In Malta, the politics of sustainable development is generally cosmetic in nature: full of rhetoric but relatively void when it comes to substance.

Sustainable development should be primarily concerned with having a long-term view which spans generations. It seeks an inter-generational commitment, with the present generation committing  itself to ensure that future generations have sufficient elbow room to take their own decisions. Even if we limit ourselves to this basic objective of sustainable development, it is clear that such a commitment is nowhere in sight in Maltese politics.

Sifting through the rhetoric, a clear gap is very visible. Rather than being developed over the years, the rudimentary sustainable development infrastructure has been dismantled. The National Commission for Sustainable Development, through which civil society actively participated in the formulation of a National Strategy for Sustainable Development, was dismantled by the previous administration.

If the politics of sustainable development is to be of any significance, it has to be evident at the roots of society and the sustainable development strategy itelf has to be owned by civil society. In Malta, a completely different path is followed. The sustainable development strategy is owned by the state and not by civil society. Hence it is largely irrelevant and practically insignificant.

The net result of the developments in recent years has transformed sustainable development politics in Malta into another bureaucratic process, with government appointees pushing pen against paper, producing reports and no visible improvement.

There is no political will to implement a sustainable development strategy, as this runs diametrically opposite to the political decisions of the current administration, which seeks to intensify the complete domination of Malta’s natural heritage by economic forces, plundered for short term gain.

The fragmentation of environmental governance is the latest building block of this strategy which is clearly evident behind the rhetorical facade.

This is not the future we want nor the future we deserve and it is not the transformation that Malta requires.

Next September, Malta will join the community of nations at New York in approving a document which it has no intention of implementing. Behind that rhetorical facade, the farce continues.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 9 August 2015

The costs of air pollution

WHO.air pollution cost

The WHO report published earlier this week entitled Economic cost of the Health impact of air pollution in Europe. Clean air, health and wealth is an eye opener to many who have shut their eyes to the link between environmental and health impacts.

This follows the OECD publication last year of another publication entitled The Costs of Air Pollution.  Health impacts of road transport.

The WHO report concludes that the impact of air pollution on health is substantial both in terms of premature deaths as well as in economic terms. The data quoted by the report compares the years 2005 and 2010. In terms of premature deaths the numbers are approximately stable at 228 deaths in 2010 being attributable to excessive particulate matter in the air.

The costs, on the other hand, vary with time and increase substantially. It is estimated that, in 2010, the economic cost to Malta of air pollution stood at €550 million.

It can be safely stated that in the absence of heavy industry in Malta, land transport is the major contributor to air pollution. To this one must add local contributors in specific locations, namely :  the Delimara Power Station through the use of diesel and HFO, ships in the areas close to ports as well aircraft exhaust in areas close to the airport where aeroplanes take-off or land.

Technological advances relative to fuel efficiency have, over the years, improved the situation though a lower contribution to poor air quality by individual vehicles, ships or aeroplanes.

Unfortunately this has been more than compensated for by the exponential increase in cars on the road. At the time of writing, the latest available statistics indicate that at end 2014 there were 335,249 vehicles on our roads –  an increase of 12,289 over the previous year. Most of that increase is in the passenger car category which, at end of 2014, amounted to 265,950 vehicles or 79.33% of the total number.

This number of vehicles on our roads is excessive: at peak hours even our main roads are clogged.

This state of affairs has developed gradually throughout the years as a result of the neglected state of public transport in Malta. The half-baked reforms of public transport over the last few years have not made matters any better and it will take much longer for public transport to gain the custom of Maltese (and Gozitans) to the extent that there will be a quantifiable impact on our roads.

An efficient public transport system will, in fact, be the major contributor to a reduction of air pollution but the benefits will be multiple. More efficient roads will be the most obvious benefit. This will be accompanied by a substantial reduction in respiratory illnesses and consequently less time lost by working men and women away from their work and by students from their studies.

An efficient public transport would also mean that less money would have to be spent on improving our road system through the construction of by-passes and flyovers.

All this shows that investing in public transport will pay dividends when it comes to the state of the nation’s health.  Why has it taken so long to realise such a basic truth?