Reducing 122,000 vehicles from Malta’s roads

 

traffic congestion

source : http://www.um.edu.mt/think/bad-traffic-bad-air/

 

The government is apparently worried about parking problems being faced by practically all localities in Malta and Gozo. In fact, during a press conference by Transport Minister Joe Mizzi in Rabat recently, it was stated that a policy document on parking has been submitted for Cabinet’s consideration, prior to its being issued for public consultation. As usual, the government worries about effects and is very rarely willing (or able) to exercise some thought on the causes of the everyday problems we all face.

The National Statistics Office says that at the end of the Third Quarter of 2014, Malta had 332,455 vehicles on its roads.  With a population of around 421,000 this translates into 790 vehicles per 1000 population, one of the highest vehicle ownership profiles in the world. Being one of the smallest countries, with everywhere being within easy reach, it would be logical to expect that Malta should have a much different and lower vehicle ownership profile. This also sharply contrasts with the vehicle ownership profile of the USA (786), Italy (682), UK (516), Spain (592) and Switzerland (573). Even Luxembourg’s profile which stands at  741 per thousand is lower than Malta’s.

To visualise the severity of the problem, it is being stated that if Malta were to have a vehicle ownership profile of say 500 vehicles per thousand population (close to that of the United Kingdom  which currently stands at 516), the total number of vehicles on Maltese roads would be 210,673, that is a reduction of 121,784 vehicles from the current total. This would amount to a reduction of 36.63% of vehicles on Malta’s roads at present. This I submit is a realistic objective that we should aim for: reducing 122,000 vehicles from Malta’s roads.

Thus the issue which  should be tackled by Malta’s Minister for Transport is not one of seeking space for parking but reducing the number of vehicles on our roads. While parking is a problem, which will undoubtedly get worse, it is not the major transport problem in Malta.  Extensive car ownership is “the” problem. Too many vehicles on the road is not a sign of affluence but a clear indicator of administrative incompetence throughout the years. This should be the primary target of transport policy: facilitating sustainable mobility for all while reducing radically the number of vehicles on the road, thereby reversing the accumulated impacts of administrative incompetence.

Unfortunately, the government’s objective so far seems to be the precise opposite: making way for more vehicles on the road. This is the only real significance the parking policy-in-waiting or of major transport infrastructure projects in the pipeline which absorb millions of euros. These funds  could easily be used to promote more fruitful objectives.

It should focus on facilitating sustainable mobility for all while reducing vehicle ownership as a policy target would address traffic congestion, parking and air  and noise pollution. An added benefit would be that it would also cost much less to both the state and to the individual. In the long term, as a result of reduced air pollution, we will also have less respiratory illness, consequently reducing both the individual as well as the national health bill. Fewer cars on the road would also encourage more bicycle use and maybe the introduction of more and continuous bicycle lanes in contrast to the intermittent ones currently provided by Transport Malta.

This cannot be done overnight. Having been neglected for the past 50 years or so, it will take quite some time to reverse the dependence on private vehicles nurtured by a public transport system which was allowed to disintegrate. Various policy initiatives can be taken. Both the carrot and the stick have a role in such policy initiatives.

A number of interim measures may need to be introduced until such time as the new public transport provider, Autobuses de Leon, establishes itself firmly. When this is done, it is in everybody’s interest that public transport use is the success it never was to date.

A public transport system has to be both efficient and reliable. To achieve these objectives substantial subsidies are essential. This is the primary reason why the Arriva experiment failed. It was starved of subsidies as a matter of policy and was expected to survive on a relative pittance.  Even on the drawing board, it was clear from day one that the Arriva experiment was doomed to fail.

Public transport is not made up just of the public buses. The monorail initiative currently on the drawing board as well as adequate sea-transport  [servicing primarily Valletta, Sliema and the Three Cities] will also go a long way to reduce th number of  vehicles from our roads.

These are the policies which the government should consider implementing. Will it be bothered?

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: Sunday 4th January 2015

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L-ekonomija l-ħadra

green new deal

Qed nirreferi għal dik il-ħidma ekonomika li titfassal jew titwettaq b’mod li tagħti każ tal-impatti ambjentali. Il-karatteristiċi ewlenin li jiddistingwu attivita’ meqjusa bħala li tappartjeni lill-ekonomija l-ħadra minn attivita oħra huma: tnaqqis fl-emmissjonijiet, tnaqqis fit-tniġġis, effiċjenza fl-użu tal-enerġija w ir-riżorsi, li tkun evitata t-telfa tal-bodiversita’ u l-ħarsien tas-servizzi li kontinwament tagħtina (b’xejn) l-ekosistema.

L-ekonomija l-ħadra taħdem flimkien man-natura, mhux kontra tagħha. Allura tfittex li tnaqqas l-impatti ambjentali tal-ħidma ekonomika f’kull qasam. Hi u tagħmel hekk toħloq ix-xogħol.

Toħloq ix-xogħol fil-ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija nadifa u alternattiva kif ukoll fil-ħidma biex tiżdied l-effiċjenza fl-użu tal-enerġija.

Ix-xogħol jinħoloq ukoll fil-proċess li jrid iwassalna sal-punt li ma niġġenerawx iktar skart. Dan ifisser li mhux biss irridu narmu inqas imma bħala pajjiż hu meħtieġ li nkunu kapaċi nirriċiklaw iktar dak li ma jkollniex iktar użu għalih. Ir-rimi tal-iskart hu rimi ta’ riżorsi prezzjużi li fil-parti l-kbira tal-każi nistgħu nsibu użu ieħor għalhom.

L-ekonomija l-ħadra toħloq ix-xogħol ukoll fil-qasam tat-trasport pubbliku. Nafu li trasport pubbliku effiċjenti (meta xi darba jkollna) jnaqqas b’mod sostanzjali t-tniġġis tal-arja fl-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna. Jnaqqas ukoll l-istorbju iġġenerat minn traffiku kontinwu. Dan iseħħ billi (meta jkun effiċjenti) t-trasport pubbliku jħajjar iktar persuni minna biex nagħmlu użu minnu flok ma nagħmlu użu mill-karozzi privati tagħna. Fuq perjodu ta’ żmien trasport pubbliku effiċjenti jista’ jikkonvinċina li wara kollox nistgħu ngħaddu mingħajr karozza privat. Ta’ l-inqas nitħajjru nnaqsu l-karozzi fil-familji. Dan nistgħu nagħmluh meta nkunu konvinti li jkun jaqbel li nagħmlu dan.

Din tkun sitwazzjoni li minnha jirbaħ kulħadd. Jirbaħ il-pajjiż kollu għax ikollna kwalita’ ta’ arja aħjar. Nirbħu aħna lkoll mhux biss għax ninqdew aħjar imma ukoll għax innaqqsu l-ispejjes biex ikollna l-karozzi privati.

Tirbaħ ukoll l-ekonomija tal-pajjiż għax bil-ħidma tal-ekonomija l–ħadra jkunu ġġenerati l-impiegi. Impiegi b’differenza. Impiegi ħodor (green jobs) li permezz tagħhom jinħoloq il-ġid mingħajr ma issir ħsara ambjentali.

ippubblikata fuq iNews it-Tnejn 16 ta’ Diċembru 2013

Tackling the green skills gap

green skills 3

Launching the public consultation on the Green Economy last month, Ministers Leo Brincat and Evarist Bartolo emphasised the need to address the green skills gap in the process leading to a Green Economy strategy and action plan.

It is estimated that 20 million jobs will be created in the Green Economy between now and 2020 within the European Union. Capacity building is the greatest challenge: ensuring that more working men and women are adequately equipped with green skills.

The Green Economy includes activities in different sectors. It is possible to go about activity in these sectors in a manner which reduces their environmental impacts, is socially inclusive and economically rewarding.

Various sectors have been identified as being of key importance in the transition to a Green Economy. The basic characteristics which distinguish the Green Economy are a reduction of carbon emissions, the reduction of all forms of pollution, energy and resource efficiency, prevention of biodiversity loss  and the protection of eco-system services.

The United Nations Environment Programme  has repeatedly emphasised that the transition to a Green Economy enables economic growth and investment while increasing environmental quality and social inclusiveness. A Green Economy is one which respects the eco-system and recognises that there are natural limits  which, if exceeded, endanger the earth’s ecological balance. In effect it means that the transition to a Green Economy signifies addressing all of our environmental impacts in all areas of activity. Addressing impacts in one area would still signify progress although this would be of limited benefit.

An agriculture which forms part of the Green Economy is one which works with nature, not against it. It uses water sustainably and does not contaminate it. Green agriculture does not seek to genetically modify any form of life nor to patent it.

Energy efficient buildings, clean and renewable energy together with the sustainable use of land are also basic building blocks of the Green Economy. We cannot speak of the Green Economy whilst simultaneously tolerating  large scale building construction. Having a stock of 72,000 vacant dwellings, (irrespective of the reasons for their being vacant) signifies that as a nation we have not yet understood that the limited size of the Maltese islands ought to lead to a different attitude. The green skills of politicians and their political appointees on MEPA is what’s lacking in this regard.

Maritime issues are of paramount economic importance to Malta’s economy. The depleted fish stock and the quality of sea water are obvious issues. But the impacts of organised crime through the dumping of toxic, hazardous and nuclear waste in the Mediterranean Sea is not to be underestimated as has been evidenced time and again in the exploits of the eco-mafia reign to our north.

Heavy industry is fortunately absent in Malta. New industries like the pharmaceutical industry are more eco-conscious. However we still require more inputs on resource efficiency and eco-design.

Greening tourism is essential in order to ensure that more of tourism’s environmental impacts are addressed.  The consumption of tourism is 50% more per capita than that registered for a resident, indicating that there is room for considerable improvements.

Public transport is still in shambles. The effects of this state of affairs is evident in the ever increasing number of passenger cars on our roads which have a major impact on air and noise pollution in our communities. Greening transport policies signifies that the mobility of all is ensured with the least possible impacts.  Still a long way to go.

Waste management has made substantial improvement over the years even though it is still way  behind EU targets. It is positive that the draft waste management strategy has established the attaining of a Zero Waste target by 2050. However we still await the specifics of how this is to be achieved. It is achievable but the commitment of all is essential.

Our water resources have been mismanaged, year in, year our. Discharging millions of litres of treated sewage effluent into the sea is just the cherry on the cake. The contaminated and depleted water table which still contributes around 40% to Malta’s potable water supply is in danger of being  completely lost for future generations if we do not act fast.

All the above have been dealt with in various policy documents. One such document is the National Sustainable Development Strategy which establishes the parameters for the action required. Implementing the National Sustainable Development Strategy is the obvious first step in establishing a Green Economy.  It is here where the real green skill gap exists. Decision makers lack green skills. This skill gap exists at the level of Cabinet, Parliament, the top echelons of the civil service and in the ranks of the political appointees to Boards and Authorities where decisions are taken and strategies implemented.

When this skill gap is addressed, the rest will follow and we will be on the way to establishing  a green economy.

published in The Times of Malta, Saturday 14 December 2013

Santiago and maritime affairs

Aerial View_Grand Harbour

Ernest Hemingway’s Santiago in “The Old Man and the Sea” was unlucky. It took him 85 days to catch his big fish. But when he did, being on his own out at sea without any help, he had to tow it back to port, only to discover then that the sharks had reduced his catch to a mere skeleton.  It is the same with maritime policy. We need to coordinate with our Mediterranean neighbours to have meaningful and lasting results. On our own we can achieve very little.

A national integrated maritime strategy is an essential policy tool. Yet, as was pointed out by Parliamentary Secretary Edward Zammit Lewis, it is still unavailable. On May 19, European Maritime Day,  it was emphasised by Zammit Lewis that such a strategy would identify Malta’s maritime policy priorities required to support the Blue Economy.

The economic opportunities presented by the sea which surrounds Malta are substantial. We do however have to make use of such opportunities carefully, knowing that various impacts may result. Through the sea surrounding us we are subject to impacts as a result of the actions of others. Similarly Malta’s maritime activities necessarily will impact other countries, for better or for worse.

The excellent quality of seawater around the Maltese islands resulting from Malta’s recent adherence to the Urban Wastewater Directive of the EU is one positive contribution to a better Mediterranean Sea even though the sewage treatment system is badly designed as it ignores the resource value of the discharged treated water.

Through Arvid Pardo in the 1960s Malta made a lasting contribution to global maritime thought by emphasising that the seabed forms part of the common heritage of mankind.

The sea and its resources have always had a central importance in Malta’s development. Tourism, fisheries and water management easily come to mind. Maritime trade and services as well as the sustainable utilisation of resources on the seabed are also essential for this island state.

Whilst a national maritime strategy will inevitably seek the further utilisation of the coastline and its contiguous areas it is hoped that environmental responsibilities will be adequately addressed in the proposals considered.

A national integrated maritime policy, though essential, cannot however be effective if it  does not take into consideration the activities of our neighbours: both their maritime  as well as their coastal activities.

This is an issue which is given considerable importance within the European Union which seeks to assist member states in coordinating their maritime policies for the specific reason that the impacts of such policies are by their very nature transboundary.  In fact one of the EU Commissioners, Maria Damanaki,  is tasked with Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.  Her work is underpinned by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive which seeks to protect the sea in order that it could be utilised sustainably thereby contributing to attaining the objectives of EU2020, the ten year growth strategy of the European Union.

Within its maritime competencies the EU has also developed effective instruments of transboundary cooperation foremost amongst which are the Baltic Strategy and the Danube Strategy.  These macro-strategies of the European Union, as their name implies, focus on the Baltic Sea and the river Danube respectively. They bring together the European regions bordering the Baltic Sea and the Danube to cooperate in various policy areas such that the resulting coordination addresses challenges which no single country can address on its own.

Such strategies also serve as an instrument of cooperation with non-EU countries. Through the Baltic Strategy it is cooperation with Russia, Iceland and Norway whilst through the Danube Strategy eight EU member states cooperate with six European non-EU member states.  The EU has also more recently launched an Atlantic Ocean Strategy.

A national maritime strategy will  seek to identify those areas which can absorb strategic investments in order to develop the blue economy.  An important point worth emphasising is that a sustainable development of the blue economy will ensure that no negative impacts are borne by our communities residing along and adjacent to the coastal areas. Unfortunately not enough attention has been paid to this aspect in the past. Such negative impacts can be avoided not only through careful planning but also through proper consultation with both civil society as well as directly with residents.

Impacts which have to be avoided include air and sea pollution. In addition potential noise and light pollution need careful attention in particular if the operating times of the newly identified activities span into the silent hours.

Malta’s Maritime strategy needs a double focus: a national and a regional one.  Both are essential elements neither of which can be ignored. It is in Malta’s interest to take part in initiatives addressing transboundary impacts and simultaneously to integrate these initiatives within a national maritime policy strategy. Otherwise we will face Santiago’s fate. The result of our good work will be taken up by the sharks!

Originally published in The Times of Malta, Saturday June 8, 2013