Claiming back (and protecting) our coast

A continuous effort to commercialise the coast is under way. It has been going on for quite some time.

The proposed Marsaskala yacht marina is just one example. It is possibly the latest of many examples, not just in the political south, but throughout the Maltese islands. The Freeport Terminal, Manoel Island, Balluta Bay, the Birgu Waterfront and yacht marina, the Kalkara yacht marina, Valletta Waterfront are some of the most glaring examples which come to mind.

There is also the ongoing commercialisation of the public spaces adjacent to the coast, including pavements and open spaces.

Public land is continuously being transformed into private profits, many times for the chosen few. In practically all cases,the quality of life of residents is not factored in, until the eleventh hour. Whenever possible, it is avoided completely.

It has been around four years since parliament approved legislation in order to reinforce the protection of the coastline through the public domain legislation. Much was said pompously by many a Minister. Environmental NGOs have submitted a list of over twenty sites along the coast which qualify for protection. I am informed that eNGOs have even carried out extensive research on ownership issues related to these sites. It is indeed unfortunate that the Lands Authority and the Planning Authority have ground the whole process to an unacceptable halt. This applies even in those instances where it is proven beyond any doubt whatsoever that the land in question is public property.

Why approve such laws when there is no intention to implement them?

We are aware that one of the main areas through which climate change will impact islands, including the Maltese islands, is through sea level rise.  A number of low-lying islands in the Pacific Ocean are already in the process of disappearing below a rising sea level.  Robert Abela, Prime Minister, addressing the Glasgow Climate Change COP26 earlier this week emphasised this point.

A rise in sea level will have a substantial impact on the Maltese islands, depending on its extent. It will impact the coastal infrastructure: the maritime, tourism, as well as the water and electricity infrastructure are all linked to our coast. A sea level rise will play havoc with all this. It will even impact the residential areas which have been developed close to the coast.

No one is certain as to when, how and the extent of this happening. Primarily this is due to the fact the natural processes in play are not fully understood yet. It is also however possible that mitigation measures planned and in hand to reduce carbon emissions could be quite effective if taken up.

During UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change) meetings it is continuously emphasised that the increase in global mean temperature should not exceed 1.5 degree Celsius over the pre-industrial temperature. This is the result of extensive lobbying by island states and under-developed countries over the years. They have been successful in adjusting the objective from the previous 2 degree Celsius.  This is definitely a step in the right direction, but it is not enough. 

In Paris in 2015 this was already agreed upon. Yet it was all words, none of which was converted into action. At Glasgow we need some decisions which are implemented the soonest.

Taking definite action on climate change is required to protect our coast.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 7 November 2021

When caves collapse: people may be killed

On the 14 September the Planning Authority approved application PA3487/19 which proposed the   “stabilization of dangerous rock slope; repair to deteriorated concrete wall and construction of wave dissipation slope along the Qui Si Sana coastline”.

In simple language this involves a permit for remedial works after a cave along the Sliema Qui Si Sana coastline collapsed, thereby exposing the MIDI development works immediately behind the cave: the basement level of residential blocks T14 and T17.

We have been told that the cave collapsed as a result of erosion along the coastline. Some readers may tend to forget that way back in 2016, a Maltese geologist had sounded the alarm that a “high-rise had been constructed over a fractured and eroded sea cliff, which could collapse any time soon.” The collapse in fact occurred relatively quite soon, signifying that the geologist was pointing out the obvious which was being ignored or not given due consideration by the developer and his advisors.

The point to be made is why the Planning Authority permitted the development to take place so close to the coastline. As far as I am aware, the EIA relative to the Tigne Development by MIDI does not reveal any detailed studies on the condition of the coast as well as on the impacts of erosion on the Qui Si Sana coastline and its relevance to the development of the MIDI project. The issue is not just one of remedial works but on why the Planning Authority  ignored the state of the coast, as a result permitting development too close to the coastline for comfort. The collapse is adequate proof of all this. The Planning Authority has much to explain in this specific case. Its actions, or lack of them, should be investigated.

The issue is not one relative to the structural stability of the development but of the protection of the coastline.

Erosion as a result of natural elements occurs continuously. It is a natural ongoing phenomenon.

In this respect it may be pertinent to draw attention to a report, authored by a team of geologists, dated October 2007 and entitled : “Report on Coastal Sliema. Geology, geomorphology, sites of scientific interest and coastal protection considerations.” This report was commissioned by the Sliema Local Council.

The 50-page report, which makes interesting reading, emphasises that a number of sites along the Sliema coast “are undergoing rapid coastal erosion that will increase with climate change, resulting in instability or failure in coastal infrastructure.”

Of particular interest is that the report, authored in 2007, goes on to state that “The faulted coast along Għar id-Dud is retreating rapidly by dislodgement of boulders along joints and faults. Public structures that may be affected include Tower Road promenade. The Għar id-Dud cave may also partially or totally collapse, leading to the caving-in of the overlying pedestrian promenade. If collapse is sudden and during daytime/early night time, injury and loss of lives may result.”

I have personally drawn attention of the Transport Minister to the above some time ago, however to date I am not aware that any action has been taken.

The matter was already very worrying way back in 2007 and most probably it is even worse now, after thirteen years, given that no coastal protection works have been taken in hand in the area in the intervening period.

The Għar id-Dud cave is the result of natural erosion and collapse accelerated by wave action. This is a natural process that cannot be halted unless adequate coastal protection works are initiated. If nature is left on its own, the end result is quite predictable: a complete collapse of Għar id-Dud, a caving in of the overlying pedestrian promenade and a number of dead or injured pedestrians, depending on the time of day when a collapse possibly occurs.

Will Transport Malta and the other authorities wake up from their slumber and act immediately please?

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 27 September 2020

Il-kosta: fi stat ta’ emerġenza

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, l-International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tal-Ġnus Magħquda, ippubblika rapport dwar l-ibħra u t-tibdil fil-klima. Ġejna avżati għal darb’ oħra bil-konsegwenzi tat-tibdil fil-klima u l-impatti li ser jirriżultaw bħaż-żieda fil-livell tal-baħar.

Ir-rapport ifakkarna ukoll fil-ħtieġa urġenti li jkunu indirizzati b’mod adegwat l-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju sa mhux iktar tard mis-sena 2050.

Il-Kummissarji Ewropej Miguel Arias Cañete (Azzjoni Klimatika u Enerġija), Karmenu Vella (Ambjent, Affarijiet Marittimi u Sajd) u Carlos Moedas (Riċerka, Xjenza u Innovazzjoni) kienu sodisfatti bir-rapport, għax jikkunsidraw li dan hu tfakkira lill-komunità globali biex din taġixxi u tindirizza t-tibdil fil-klima u l-impatti tagħha fuq l-ibħra malajr kemm jista’ jkun. Fi stqarrija tal-Kummissjoni Ewropeja li t-tlett Kummissarji ħarġu nhar l-Erbgħa emfasizzaw li l-konklużjonijiet tar-rapport huma ċari: “iż-żieda fit-temperatura globali ikkawżata mill-bniedem qed tkun il-kawża ta’ tibdil drastiku fl-ibħra. Mhux biss qed togħla t-temperatura, imma l-ibħra qed isiru iktar aċidużi u fihom inqas ossiġnu. Il-livell tal-baħar qed jogħla ħafna iktar milli kien antiċipat.”

Il-Kapitlu numru 4 tar-rapport għandu jkun ta’ interess partikolari għal Malta. Huwa intitolat “Sea Level Rise and Implications for Low Lying Islands, Coasts and Communities”.

Il-medja globali taż-żieda fil-livell tal-baħar qed tiżdied b’rata li qed taċċellera. Mill-osservazzjonijiet li saru jirriżulta li din żdiedet minn 1.4 millimetri fis-sena fuq il-perjodu 1901-90 għal 3.6 millimetri fis-sena tul il-perjodu 2005-15. Ir-rapport jirreferi għal diversi studji li saru biex ikun imkejjel kemm tista’ tkun din iż-żieda fil-livell tal-ibħra fil-futur. Lil hinn mill-2050 hu diffiċli li jsiru projezzjonijiet u dan minħabba li x-xenarju dwar l-emmissjonijiet u t-tibdil fil-klima assoċjat mhux magħruf biżżejjed. L-anqas mhu magħruf kif ser tkun ir-reazzjoni tas-silġ akkumulat fl-Antartiku f’dinja b’temperatura għola. Bl-informazzjoni li hawn il-projezzjonijiet li saru jindikaw li l-livell tal-ibħra jista’ jiżdied b’madwar 110 ċentimetri sa tmiem dan is-seklu. Mhux eskluż li meta jitlestew studji addizzjonali li għadhom għaddejjin din iż-żieda tista’ titla’ sa 200 ċentimetru.

Dawn il-projezzjonijiet huma ibbażati fuq osservazzjonijiet xjentifiċi flimkien mat-tagħrif akkumulat minn studji dwar l-impatti tal-klima fuq l-ibħra, iż-żieda fit-temperaturi globali flimkien mar-ritmu li bih qed idub is-silġ akkumulat. Minkejja din l-inċertezza dwar dak li ser jiġri kif jidher mill-varjazzjoni mhux żgħira fil-projezzjonijiet dwar kemm u meta jista’ jogħla l-livell tal-ibħra, id-deċiżjonijiet ta’ ippjanar konnessi ma dak li hu meħtieġ biex tkun protetta l-kosta huma meħtieġa li jittieħdu illum.

Dan jinkludi d-deċiżjonijiet meħtieġa dwar infrastruttura ta’ importanza kritika kif ukoll xogħolijiet għall-ħarsien tal-kosta li hu meħtieġ li jkunu tlestew qabel ma jibda jseħħ ix-xenarju li l-baħar jogħla fil-livell b’mod sostanzjali.

L-għoli fil-livell tal-baħar hu ta’ theddida għall-komunitajiet residenzjali mal-kosta kif ukoll għall-parti l-kbira tal-infrastruttura turistika u marittima.

Iż-żoni kostali tagħna huma żviluppati b’mod esaġerat u fihom hemm jgħixu numru mhux żgħir ta’ nies, b’densità esaġerata.

Il-faċilitajiet u l-infrastruttura turistika huma ikkonċentrati tul il-parti tal-kosta li hi kważi fil-livell tal-baħar b’mod li l-inqas żieda fil-livell tal-baħar jista’ jkollu effett diżastruż. Għal stat gżira bħal Malta l-infrastruttura marittima hi kruċjali: anke din qegħda fil-livell tal-baħar. Bħala konsegwenza ta’ dan l-iċken ċaqlieq fil-livell tal-baħar jista’ jkollu effett diżastruz fuq il-gżejjer Maltin jekk ma nippreparawx ruħna sewwa mhux biss għall-iktar possibiltajiet realistiċi imma anke għall-agħar possibilitajiet.

X’ser nagħmlu? Qegħdin nippreparaw ruħna għal din l-emerġenza li qed tiżviluppa wara biebna?

It-tweġiba ovvja hi le: ma jidher xejn li jindika li qed nippreparaw ruħna. Il-problema ewlenija għalina hi li anke b’zieda żgħira fil-livell tal-baħar il-faċilitajiet mal-kosta jistgħu jisparixxu. Neħtieġu viżjoni ċara fuq kif ser naffrontaw it-tibdil fil-klima.

Il-Ministeru tat-Turiżmu iktar hu interessat biex joqgħod jilgħab bir-ramliet artifiċjali li malajr jitkaxkru mill-mewġ mal-ewwel maltempata qalila kif ġara fil-Bajja tal-Balluta riċentement. Man-natura ma tilgħabx! L-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, min-naħa l-oħra iktar hi interessata li taqdi lil dawk li jridu jistagħnew mil-koxxa u fl-ebda ħin ma bdiet tagħti kas tat-tibdil fil-klima fid-deċiżjonijiet tagħha.

Neħtieġu kosta ħajja u vibranti. Nistgħu nipproteġu ‘l kosta billi nħejju ruħna għal din l-emerġenza tal-klima li qed tiżviluppa quddiem għajnejna. Jekk ser nibqgħu ma niċċaqilqux it-tort ikun tal-ġenerazzjoni tagħna u ta’ ħadd iktar.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 29 ta’ Settembru 2019

Our coastline: in a state of emergency

Earlier this week the UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its report on the oceans and climate change. We are once more warned of the consequences of climate change and the impacts of rising sea levels, as well as of the urgent need to have decarbonisation in place by not later than the year 2050.

EU Commissioners Miguel Arias Cañete for Climate Action and Energy, Karmenu Vella for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries and Carlos Moedas for Research, Science and Innovation have welcomed the report, considering it a wake-up call for the global community to tackle climate change and its impacts on oceans as soon as possible. In an EU Commission press statement issued on Wednesday, they emphasised the fact that the conclusions of the new report are clear: “human-induced global warming is drastically changing our oceans. They are heating up, becoming more acidic, contain less oxygen. Sea levels are rising much faster than anticipated.”

Chapter 4 of the report should be of particular interest to Malta. It is entitled “Sea Level Rise and Implications for Low Lying Islands, Coasts and Communities”.

Global Mean Sea Level is rising at an accelerating rate. From observations made it results that this has increased from 1.4 mm per year over the period 1901-90 to 3.6 mm per year over the period 2005-15. The report refers to various studies regarding the projected sea-level rise. Beyond 2050 is unchartered territory due to the uncertainties in emission scenarios and the associated climate changes and the response of the Antarctic ice sheet in a warmer world. The relevant projections, however, still point towards a possible sea-level rise of 1.10 metres towards the end of the century. It is not excluded that this projection may be increased upwards to as much as 2 metres, once additional studies are concluded.

These projections are based on scientific observations and the accumulated knowledge from studies on the impacts of climate change on the oceans, notably the increase in global temperatures as well as the resulting melting of glaciers and ice sheets.

Despite this uncertainty associated with such a wide range of the projections made, decisions on coastal adaptation planning are required to be made today. This would include decisions on critical infrastructure and coastal protection work which need to be put in place in anticipation of the most likely scenarios.

Rising sea levels are a threat to coastal residential areas as well as to most of our tourism and maritime infrastructure.

Our coastal areas are over-developed and densely populated. Tourism facilities and infrastructure is concentrated along the low-lying areas of the coast. For an island state the maritime infrastructure is crucial. As a consequence, sea-level rise may, even in the medium term, have a devastating impact on the Maltese islands unless we are adequately prepared – not just for the likely scenarios but also for the worst case scenario.

Where do we go from here? Are we prepared for this developing emergency which is unfolding before us?

The answer is an obvious “no”. We are not prepared. There are no signs that any sort of preparation is in hand. The basic problem we have to face is that even in the medium term our coast may be wiped out together with all its infrastructure. We lack a clear vision of how to deal with climate change.

The Tourism Ministry is only interested in playing around with artificial sandy beaches which will be quickly vacuumed up and reclaimed by the sea during the first storm – as was clearly demonstrated in Balluta Bay during the last stormy season. The Planning Authority is bent on facilitating “making hay while the sun shines” and has at no point factored climate change in its policies and decisions.

A healthy and vibrant coastline is essential and we can only protect it by being prepared for the developing climate emergency. If we do not we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 29 September 2019

Il-Gvern sar agent tal-ispekulazzjoni

X’jiswa’ li nagħmlu l-liġijiet b’ħafna pompa u ftaħir meta l-anqas tilħaq tinxef il-linka li ma jkunux injorati?

Ħafna mill-kritika għall-għoti tal-art lill-Grupp dB ta’ Silvio Debono u issa lill-Grupp Corinthia kienet għax qed iħallsu bil-karawett għal art li tiswa’ miljuni kbar, art li hi tal-pajjiż kollha, għax hi art li hi amministrata mill-Gvern.

Din il-kritika hi ġustifikata kemm fil-konfront tal-Grupp dB kif ukoll fil-konfront tal-Grupp Corinthia, avolja fil-kaz tal-Corinthia l-art diġa kienet f’idejhom.

B’żieda ma dan ser isir ħsara ambjentali kbira. Diġa rajna f’dan il-blog il-ħsara li ser issir bl-approvazzjoni tal-permess tal-Grupp dB.

Issa ma jdumx ma jibda l-proċess tal-applikazzjoni tal-Corinthia. B’żieda mal-ħsara kbira li diġa ser isir bl-applikazzjoni approvata tad-dB (sakemm ma jkunx applikat il-brejk mit-Tribunal tal-Appell) issa ser isir ukoll attakk fuq il-baħar ukoll. Insew li għadhom kemm approvaw fil-Parlament b’vot unanimu  liġi li tipproteġi l-kosta.

Gvern li jgħid ħaġa u jagħmel oħra: il-prijorità tiegħu hi li jinkoraġixxi l-ispekulazzjoni.

L-appell dwar il-permess tad-dB f’Pembroke


L-appell kontra l-permess tad-dB biex iħarbat is-sit tal-ITS ġie sottomess.
Ir-raġunijiet għall-appell, fil-qosor huma s-segwenti:

1) Il-kunflitt ta’ interess ta’ Matthew Pace, membru tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar u fl-istess ħin b’interess f’aġenzija tal-propjetá,
2) Il-kunflitt ta’ interess tal-Membru Parlamentari Clayton Bartolo, membru tal-Bord tal-Awtoritá tal-Ippjanar,
3) In-nuqqas ta’ skrutinju tal-presentazzjoni sħiħa minn Jacqueline Gili li twasslet għal-laqgħa tal-Bord bil-jet,
4) Nuqqas ta’ konformitá tal-proposta ta’ żvilupp mal-Height Limitation Adjustment Policy for Hotels,
5) Nuqqas ta’ konformitá tal-proposta ta’ żvilupp mal-Planning Policy Guide on the use and applicability of the Floor Area Ratio (FAR), artiklu 5.9 dwar l-ispejjes konnessi mal-iżvilupp tal-infrastruttura,
6) Nuqqas ta’ konformitá tal-proposta ta’ żvilupp mal-Planning Policy Guide on the use and applicability of the Floor Area Ratio (FAR), u dan dwar diversi dettalji tal-policy kif imfissra dettaljatament fid-dokument tal-appell,
7) Nuqqas ta’ konformitá dwar policies li jikkonċernaw l-impatt viżiv,
8) Hemm appartamenti li huma inqas fid-daqs minn dak stabilit mill-policies tal-ippjanar,
9) is-Social Impact Assessment ma sarx sewwa,
10) L-iżvilupp propost ma jikkonformax ma policies, liġijiet u obbligi internazzjonali dwar il-ħarsien tal-wirt storiku,
11) L-iżvilupp propost jikser diversi policies u liġijiet dwar il-ħarsien tal-kosta,
12) L-iżvilupp propost ma jsegwix policies intenzjonati biex iħarsu l-ispazji miftuħa,
13) L-impatt tat-traffiku mhux ikkunsidrat b’mod adegwat; ma sarux studji neċessarji u kien hemm nuqqas ta’ konsultazzjoni bi ksur tal-Konvenzjoni ta’ Aarhus,
14) Ma ġietx osservata l-liġi tad-Dimanju Pubbliku u dan dwar il-ħarsien tal-kosta,
15) Nuqqas ta’ konsiderazzjoni u piz mogħti lil materji diversi relevanti dwar ambjent, estetika u sanitá,
16) Nuqqas ta’ development brief u Master Plan,
17) Nuqqas ta’ ħarsien ambjentali dwar protezzjoni ta’ bijodiversitá, flora u fawna fuq l-art u fil-baħar, siti Natura 2000 u Għarq Ħammiem
18) Nuqqas ta’ osservanza ta’ liġijiet diversi dwar tniġġiż u emmissjonijiet kif ukoll dwar skart riżultanti mill-proġett.