From Dubai to Singapore

Last week, the President of the Republic, laying out the programme for the new government in what is known as the speech from the throne, emphasised that the environment is a core value for this government. Reading through the speech prepared by government, his Excellency was clear by dwelling on a number of different topics of considerable environmental importance.

However, Dr Vella was unfortunately not advised as to how and when the government intends to address its continuous contradictions in its drive to shift its focus from the infrastructure to the environment.

The elastic environmental politics presented by this government ranges from more flyovers to achieving carbon neutrality, simultaneously being dependent on two interconnectors tapping the Sicilian energy market.

Previous governments led by the Labour party had sought to transform Malta into another Dubai, that is a land of high rises and extensive land reclamation . The attempt at Dubai-ification embarked on by the Muscat led government will apparently now be transformed into a Singaporization as emphasised by infrastructure Minister Aaron Farrugia. This is the implementation of the policy of continuity which his Excellency was apparently not sufficiently advised about.

The current crop will do their best to outshine their predecessors. Since there is not much more land to ruin, they have therefore turned their gaze towards the sea which they will be ruined in due course.

Preliminary studies carried out in the past had identified the areas in Maltese waters where land reclamation could be considered, subject to more in-depth studies. The coastal areas identified and studied are those along the  Magħtab/Baħar iċ-Ċagħaq coastline and the Xgħajra/Marsaskala coastline. These are the coastal zones which have to be watched and protected.

The basic question to ask before embarking on planning any land reclamation projects is: what do we need land reclamation for? In the past land was reclaimed to construct the Freeport or to protect the coast at Msida, Gżira and elsewhere.

If any new pressing need is identified one should carefully consider them.

The Netherlands used land reclamation successfully to adequately manage its low-lying land. Hong Kong made use of land reclamation to create high value land required for its airport on the Chek Lak Kok island. Through land reclamation Singapore expanded its container port, an essential cornerstone in its economy.

The way to go about tackling land reclamation is through serious public consultation. Labour in government has, so far, only consulted developers on land reclamation. It has, in the recent past, only consulted those who were seeking new ways to make a quick buck! These are the fourth-floor guys who are only interested in making hay while the sun shines.

If government is serious about land reclamation it should immediately publish a list of its proposed projects. This should be accompanied by a draft national land-reclamation strategy for public consultation. At this point consultation should not be with the speculation lobby: it has already been extensively consulted. Consultation at this stage should primarily be with environmental NGOs and the coastal communities, in particular those directly impacted.

Having said the above I do not think that land reclamation is or should be a priority. Rather, the priority should be the restructuring of the construction industry: specifically cutting it down to size and putting it to good use.

The country would be economically, environmentally and socially much better off if the construction industry is assisted in its much-needed restructuring. It would undoubtedly need to shed labour which can be absorbed by other sectors of the economy. Retraining would be required to ease the entry of the shed labour force into other economic areas.

After years of haphazard and abusive land-use planning, land reclamation is the last thing we need!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 15 May 2022

Il-kosta tagħna lkoll: inħarsuha

Għaddej sforz kontinwu biex il-kosta tkun ikkommerċjalizzata. Sforz li ilu għaddej is-snin.

Il-jott marina proposta f’Marsaskala hi biss eżempju wieħed minn bosta li mhux limitati għan-nofsinnhar politiku, iżda li huma mifruxa mal-pajjiż.  Fost l-eżempji hemm it-Terminal tal-Port Ħieles, Manoel Island, il-Bajja tal-Balluta, ix-Xatt u l-jott marina tal-Birgu, il-jott marina fil-Kalkara u x-Xatt tal-Belt.  

Hemm ukoll għaddej il-kummerċjalizzazzjoni tal-ispazji pubbliċi mal-kosta, bil-bankini b’kollox.

L-art pubblika kontinwament qed tkun trasformata f’minjiera ta’ profitti privati, ħafna drabi għall-magħżulin. Il-kwalità tal-ħajja tar-residenti rari jagħtu każ tagħha, jekk mhux fl-aħħar minuta. Meta possibli jevitawha kompletament ukoll.

Għaddew madwar erba’ snin minn meta l-Parlament approva il-leġislazzjoni biex tissaħħah il-protezzjoni tal-kosta permezz tal-liġi dwar id-dimanju pubbliku. Kellna kemm-il Ministru li tkellem b’mod pompuż dwar dan. L-għaqdiet ambjentali ippreżentaw lista ta’ iktar minn għoxrin sit, mifruxa mal-kost,a li kollha kemm huma jikkwalifikaw għall-protezzjoni. Ninsab infurmat li l-għaqdiet ambjentali għamlu riċerka estensiva dwar min hu sid din l-art. Iżda sfortunatament l-Awtorità tal-Artijiet u l-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar qed iżommu dan il-proċess milli jitwettaq, anke għal dawk il-każijiet fejn l-art hi kollha kemm hi propjetà pubblika.  

Għalfejn jiġu approvati dawn il-liġijiet jekk ma hemm l-ebda intenzjoni li dawn ikunu implimentati?

Nafu li wieħed mill-impatti ewlenin tat-tibdil fil-klima fuq il-gżejjer, inkluż dawk Maltin, hu bit-tibdil fl-livell tal-baħar. Numru ta’ gżejjer fl-Oċejan Paċifiku li mhumiex wisq il-fuq minn livell il-baħar diġa bdew jisparixxu taħt baħar li l-livell tiegħu qed jogħla. Robert Abela, Prim Ministru, huwa u jindirizza l-laqgħa Internazzjonali fi Glasgow dwar it-tibdil fil-klima (COP26), iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, emfasizza dan il-punt.

L-għoli fil-livell tal-baħar ikollu impatt sostanzjali fuq il-gżejjer Maltin, skond kemm dan ikun kbir. Jeffettwa l-infrastruttura kostali kollha: l-infrastruttura marittima, dik tat-turiżmu, tal-ilma kif ukoll l-infrastruttura tal-enerġija li huma kollha b’xi mod marbuta mal-kosta. Kemm-il darba jogħla l-livell tal-baħar dawn kollha jitħarbtu.  Anke iż-żoni residenzjali viċin tal-kosta jsofru impatti mhux żgħar.  

Ħadd ma jaf eżatt dwar kemm, kif u meta dan ser iseħħ. L-ewwelnett għax il-proċess li bih dan iseħħ għad mhux mifhum biżżejjed. Imma ukoll għax għalkemm ma nistgħux nevitawh nistgħu nnaqqsu l-impatt tiegħu billi nindirzzaw u nnaqqsu l-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju.

Repetutatament fil-laqgħat tal-UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change) li jsiru regolarment tul is-snin, kien hemm emfasi fuq il-ħtieġa li ż-żieda fit-temperatura globali minn kif kienet fl-era pre-industrijali ma tiżdiedx b’iktar minn 1.5 gradi Celsius. Dan sar fuq insistenza tal-istati gżejjer u tal-pajjiżi sottożviluppati, għax għal snin twal il-limitu raġjonevoli kien meqjus li kien ta’ 2 gradi Celsius. Pass ieħor il-quddiem. Imma mhux biżżejjed.

F’Pariġu fl-2015 kien hemm qbil dwar dan kollu. Imma sfortunatament dan ma kienx ikkonvertit f’azzjoni. Huwa dak li issa qed nistennew li jseħħ fi Glasgow.

Huwa essenzjali li nindirizzaw it-tibdil fil-klima bis-serjetà. Anke l-ħarsien tal-kosta jiddependi minn hekk.

ippubblikat fuq Illum :il-Ħadd 7 ta’ Novembru 2021

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

Drittijiet Ambjentali bir-riforma kostituzzjonali

Il-Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali, meta tiġi, tkun opportunità unika biex ikunu ntrodotti drittijiet ambjentali fil-Kostituzzjoni. Dan jista’ u għandu jseħħ billi dawn id-drittijiet jinkitbu b’mod ċar u li ma jħallux lok għal miżinterpretazzjoni f’riforma li ilna nistennew żmien kbir.

Id-drittijiet ambjentali, għandhom ikunu ċari daqs id-drittijiet dwar il-propjetà. Għax il-Kostituzzjoni, b’mod pervers, filwaqt li tipproteġi drittijiet dwar il-propjetà, illum ma toffri l-ebda protezzjoni għal drittijiet ambjentali bħad-dritt għal arja nadifa inkella għal aċċess għal ilma nadif. L-anqas ma tipproteġi l-bijodiversità jew il-pajsaġġ jew kwalunkwe dritt ambjentali ieħor bħall-ħarsien tar-riżorsi naturali. Id-drittijiet tal-individwi huma b’xi mod protetti imma d-drittijiet tal-komunità l-anqas biss jissemmew.

Meta wieħed iqis li d-drittijiet tal-ġenerazzjonijiet preżenti huma kemm kemm protetti, xejn ma hemm biex niskantaw jekk il-liġi bażika tagħna tinjora lill-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri għal kollox.

Waqt li dan kollu kien għaddej, Malta, fuq livell internazzjonali nsistiet dwar il-ħarsien ta’ qiegħ il-baħar (1967), dwar il-klima (1988) u dwar il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri (1992). Imma minkejja dawn l-isforzi fuq livell internazzjonali, ma sar l-ebda sforz lokali biex dak li nippriedkaw barra minn xtutna nipprattikawh f’artna.  

Il-Kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta, fil-Kapitlu 2 tagħha, għanda sett ta’ linji gwida biex dawn ikunu ta’ għajnuna lill-Gvern billi b’mod ġenerali jindikaw it-triq li jeħtieġ li jimxi fuqha.  Wieħed minn dawn il-prinċipji gwida huwa dwar il-ħarsien ambjentali. Dan tfassal oriġinalment fl-1964 u ġie emendat riċentement.  

Wara din il-lista ta’ linji gwida, fl-aħħar tagħhom, il-Kostituzzjoni tgħidilna li ma tistax tmur il-Qorti biex tinfurzhom!

Dan il-kapitlu tal-Kostituzzjoni huwa mfassal fuq dak li hemm fil-Kostituzzjoni tal-Irlanda u tal-Indja. Kif jispjega Tonio Borg fil-kummentarju tiegħu dwar il-kostituzzjoni ta’ Malta, l-Qorti Suprema Indjana minkejja kollox, imma, interpretat il-linji gwida fil-Kostituzzjoni Indjana bħala l-kuxjenza tal-kostituzzjoni : linja gwida tabilħaqq.  Għax x’jiswa’ li toqgħod tipprietka u tħambaq dwar il-prinċipji bażiċi u l-linji gwida jekk imbagħad iżżomhom milli jkunu infurzati?

Sfortunatament, din l-istess attitudni kienet addottata meta tfasslet leġislazzjoni dwar l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art u dwar l-ambjent. Anke hawn wara ħafna dikjarazzjonijiet ta’ prinċipji nsibu li dwar dawn ukoll ma tistax tmur il-Qorti biex tinfurzhom.

Fis-sottomissjonijiet tagħha lill Konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali, Alternattiva Demokratika,  ipproponiet li dan il-kapitlu fil-kostituzzjoni għandu jkun revedut b’mod li jkun assigurat li l-Gvern dejjem jimxi mal-linji gwida kostituzzjonali.   

F’pajjiżi oħra, s-soċjetà ċivili, meta meħtieġ, tieħu azzjoni legali kontra l-Gvern biex tassigura li dan jerfa’ r-responsabbiltajiet ambjentali tiegħu f’kull ħin.

Għandi f’moħħi żewġ eżempji partikolari.

L-ewwel wieħed hu dwar azzjoni legali fir-Renju Unit mill-għaqda ambjentali  Client Earth dwar il-mod kajman li bih il-Gvern Ingliż mexa fil-konfront ta’ strateġija nazzjonali dwar il-kwalità tal-arja. Il-materja spiċċat quddiem il-Qorti Suprema li f’deċiżjoni ta’ struzzjonijiet lill-Gvern dwar iż-żmien sa meta għandha tkun lesta din l-istrateġija.   

It-tieni eżempju qiegħed l-Olanda u jikkonċerna t-tibdil fil-klima u l-grupp ambjentali  Urgenda li mar il-Qorti biex iġiegħel lil Gvern jistabilixxi miri raġjonevoli dwar emissjonijiet li għandhom impatt fuq il-bidla fil-klima.

F’dawn l-eżempji, u probabbilment f’bosta oħrajn, l-azzjoni tal-Gvern kienet ferm inferjuri għall-aspettattivi tas-soċjetà ċivili. Ikun tajjeb li l-kostituzzjoni tipprovdina bl-għodda biex kull meta l-Gvern jonqos milli jimxi mal-miri kostituzzjonali ikun possibli li nippruvaw inġibuh f’sensieh.

Sal-lum niddependu mill-Kummissjoni Ewropeja bit-tama li meta jkun meħtieġ din tieħu passi. Nistqarr li f’materji ambjentali, bosta drabi tiddisappuntana u ma tagħmilx dak li nistennew minn għandha.

Il-konvenzjoni Kostituzzjonali sal-lum, tista’ tkun l-unika forum fejn dan id-difett kostituzzjonali jkun possibli li nikkoreġuh. Għax hu l-waqt li d-drittijiet ambjentali jsiru parti integrali mill-kostituzzjoni.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 6 ta’ Settembru 2020

Green rights through Constitutional reform

The forthcoming Constitutional Convention, whenever it happens, is an opportunity to entrench green rights in the Constitution. This can be carried out through spelling out such rights unequivocally during the long overdue constitution reform process.

Environmental rights should be spelled out just as clearly as property rights. Our Constitution perversely protects property rights but then does not protect our right to clean air or the access to clean water. Nor does it protect our biodiversity or our landscape or any other environmental right. Individual rights are somehow protected but then the rights of the community are not even given a mention.

When one considers that the rights of the present generations are very poorly protected no one should be surprised that future generations are completely ignored in our basic law.

While this has been going on, Malta has on an international level been insisting on protecting the seabed (1967), the climate (1988) and future generations (1992). Notwithstanding the efforts made on an international level, however, there was no corresponding local effort to put in practice what we preached in international fora.

Malta’s Constitution contains a set of guiding principles in its Chapter 2 which are intended to guide government in its workings. One of these guiding principles relates to environmental protection. Originally enacted in 1964 it was amended recently.

Yet there is a catch. Towards the end of this list of guiding principles our Constitution announces that these principles cannot be enforced in a Court of Law.

This Chapter of our Constitution is modelled on similar provisions in the Irish and the Indian Constitutions. As explained in Tonio Borg’s A Commentary on the Constitution of Malta, however, the Indian Supreme Court has over the years interpreted similar constitutional provisions as the conscience of the Constitution, a real guiding light. It does not make sense to proclaim basic and guiding principles, declare that they should guide the state but then stop short of having them enforceable in a Court of Law.    

Unfortunately, the same attitude was adopted when drafting land use planning and environmental legislation. This legislation contains similar provisions: the announcement of basic guiding principles which are not enforceable in a Court of Law.

In its submissions to the Constitutional Convention, Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party has proposed revisiting this Chapter of the Constitution in order that it would be possible to ensure that government follows the guiding principles at all times instead of selectively.  

In other countries it is possible for civil society to take legal action to ensure that government carries out its environmental responsibilities adequately and at all times.

Two particular examples come to mind.

The first is legal action in the United Kingdom by environmental NGO Client Earth relative to the UK government’s lack of action on the formulation of an air quality masterplan. The matter ended up in a Supreme Court decision which instructed the UK government to act and established the parameters for such action including the relative timeframe.  

The second example comes from Holland and concerns climate change and the environmental action group Urgenda Foundation which went to Court to force government’s hand on the establishment of reasonable climate change emission targets.

In both the above examples, and probably in many others, government action was far below the expectations of civil society. It is right that the Constitution should provide us with the necessary tools such that whenever government fails to live up to the Constitutional benchmarks, (be these environmental or any other) then, civil society may call government to order.

To date we depend on the EU Commission as a fallback position, but the EU Commission, unfortunately, does not always live up to what we expect of it. It has let us down many times. The Constitutional Convention is the only forum possible, so far, through which this constitutional deficiency can be corrected. It is about time that our green rights are entrenched in the Constitution.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 6 September 2020

Tniġġiż tal-arja fil-portijiet

Il-kwalità tal-arja fil-portijiet tagħna hi ta’ tħassib kbir. Niddependu minnha biex nieħdu n-nifs. Ir-residenti fil-lokalitajiet madwar il-portijiet qed isiru iktar konxji ta’ dan u jinsistu b’qawwa li tittieħed azzjoni. Ilkoll huma mħassbin miż-żieda astronomika fil-mard respiratorju madwarhom u fil-pajjiż kollu.

Madwar sena ilu l-għaqda ambjentali Maltija Birdlife flimkien ma’ esperti minn għaqda ambjentali Ġermaniża ħadet sehem f’eserċizzju li fih tkejlet il-kwalità tal-arja. Il-kampjuni tal-arja li nġabru minn madwar il-Port il-Kbir kienu jindikaw presenza għolja ta’ trab fin, li ħafna drabi jispiċċa fil-pulmun tagħna.

Il-Port il-Kbir hu ċentru ta’ attività marittima. Jinkludi terminal tal-cruise liners li tul dawn l-aħħar ħames snin kellu medja ta’ 300 cruise liner fis-sena li ġie Malta.

Il-Cruise liners jużaw ħafna elettriku.

Il-grupp ambjentali T & E (Transport and Environment) f’ rapport li kien ħareġ u li kien hemm referenza għalih fil-media lokali, kien qal li l-emmissjonijiet tal-kubrit mill-cruise liners li żaru Malta żdiedu biex fl-2017 kienu madwar 148 darba tal-emissjonijiet tal-kubrit mill-karozzi karozzi kollha fil-gżejjer Maltin dakinnhar. Din il-konklużjoni kienu waslu għaliha meta studjaw informazzjoni li kisbu mis-satelliti.

L-istazzjon televiżiv Ingliż Channel 4, f’rapport investigattiv li xandar madwar sentejn ilu li kien jiffoka fuq il-linja tal-cruise liners P & O kien ikkonkluda li t-tniġġiż li joħloq cruise liner li jġorr madwar 2,000 passiġġier matul kull ġurnata li jopera kien ekwivalenti għat-tniġġiż ta’ miljun karozza kuljum. Dawn il-vapuri l-kbar jagħmlu użu mill-heavy fuel oil, żejt li kif smajna ħafna drabi tul is-snin iħammeġ ħafna. Fost oħajn fih ammont għoli ta’ kubrit – madwar 3,500 darba daqs kemm hemm fil-fuel li jintuża għall-karozzi.

Jista’ jkun hemm nuqqas ta’ qbil fuq iċ-ċifri eżatti tal-emissjonijiet minn dawn il-vapuri. Ħadd iżda ma jkkontesta li dawn huma sostanzjali.

Il-komunità internazzjonali tfittex kontinwament li tirregola dak li jseħħ fl-ibħra internazzjonali. Aħna, iżda, bħala pajjiż għandna noqgħodu ferm iktar attenti għal dak li qed jiġri fil-portijiet u l-ibħra tagħna. L-emissjonijiet, b’mod partikolari dawk ta’ trab fin minn vapuri fil-portijiet u l-ibħra Maltin għandhom impatt dirett fuq il-komunitajiet residenzjali li jgħixu fil-madwar. Dan jgħodd b’mod partikolari għall-lokalitajiet fil-Port il-Kbir kif ukoll għal dawk fill-Bajja ta’ Marsaxlokk.

Hemm żewġ materji partikolari li għandhom jingħataw prijorità. L-ewwel nett hemm ħtieġa li l-awtoritajiet regolatorji Maltin jinfurzaw b’mod strett ir-regoli ta’ l-Unjoni Ewropea li jobbligaw lill-operaturi tal-vapuri li fil-portijiet juzaw zjut li jniġġsu inqas u b’mod partikolari li dawn ikollhom kontenut baxx ta’ kubrit. It-tieni miżura meħtieġa hi dwar it-titjib fl-infrastruttura tal-portijiet tagħna biex ikun possibli illi l-vapuri li jidħlu fil-portijiet tagħna jagħmlu użu minn elettriku ġġenerat fuq l-art u b’hekk ikun possibli illi jintfew il-ġeneraturi tal-elettriku fuq il-vapuri. Miżura ta’ din ix-xorta telimina t-tniġġiż tal-vapuri fil-portijiet tagħna minn dak il-mument li jitfew il-ġeneraturi.

F’Malta diġa saru tal-inqas żewġ studji dwar l-implikazzjonijiet kemm-il darba l-vapuri li jżuru Malta jkollhom jagħmlu użu minn elettriku ġġenerat fuq l-art. L-ewwel studju kien sar fuq talba ta’ Transport Malta u kien konkluż fl- 2014 filwaqt li t-tieni wieħed, li kienkonkluż fl-2018 kien ġie kkummissjonat mill-management tat-Terminal tal-Port Ħieles. Iż-żewġ studji kkonkludew illi kemm-il darba l-vapuri li jżuru Malta jibdew jagħmlu użu minn elettriku ġġenerat mill-art, meta jkunu fil-portijiet tagħna, ikun hemm titjib sostanzjali fil-kwalità tal-arja fl-istess portijiet u fil-lokalitajiet kollha li jmissu magħhom. Ir-rapporti jikkonkludu ukoll li dwar jekk dan jaqbilx ekonomikament jew le, fl-aħħar jiddependi fuq kif jaġixxu l-kompetituri tagħna!

Irridu nistaqsu mistoqsija waħda ċara: jagħmel sens li ninkoraġixxu u niddependu fuq ħidma ekonomika li tagħmel ħsara lil saħhitna?

It-tweġiba għal din il-mistoqsija hi ovvjament le. Il-portijiet tagħna huma riżors prezzjuz li għandna nużawh biex intejbu l-kwalità tal-ħajja tal-kommunitajiet madwar il-kosta.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 18 t’Awwissu 2019

Air Pollution in our ports

The quality of the air we breath in our major ports is worrying. More residents in the areas around our ports are aware of this and are demanding action: they are all worried by the astronomic increases in the incidence of respiratory illnesses.

Around 12 months ago Maltese eNGO Birdlife carried out an air quality measurement exercise with the support of German experts from the German eNGO Nature and Biodiversity Union (NABU). Air samples taken from the Grand Harbour area indicted the presence of a high level of microscopic particulate matter, which ends up in our lungs.

The Grand Harbour is a hub of shipping activity and also includes a cruise liner terminal which, during the last five years, has had an average annual call rate of over 300 cruise liners.

Cruise liners make use of a large amount of electricity.  In a report covered in the local media, the campaign group T & E (Transport and Environment) said that sulphur emissions from cruise liners visiting Malta in 2017 were around 148 times as much as those emitted from the entire car fleet on the islands. This conclusion was reached after analysing satellite data.

In an investigative report it carried out two years ago focused on the P & O cruise liner company, the UK Television Channel 4 concluded that a cruise liner carrying around two thousand passengers had a daily pollution equivalent to one million cars. Large ships run on heavy fuel oil, which contains 3.5% sulphur – 3,500 times what is permitted in road fuel. There may be a lack of agreement on the exact figures for emissions from the shipping industry, but no one contests that they are substantial.

The international community continuously deals with what happens on the high seas. We can, however, deal more appropriately with what goes on in our ports. Particulate emissions in our ports by the shipping industry has a direct bearing on the residential communities surrounding our ports, notably Grand Harbour and Marsaxlokk Bay.

There are two specific issues which need to be prioritised. The first is for the regulatory authorities to ensure that EU legislation on restricting fuel use to the low sulphur type is observed. The second concerns the need to focus on infrastructural improvements in our ports to facilitate supplying the shipping industry with shore-based electricity, as a result ensuring that the ships’ generators – and consequently the resulting emissions to air –  stops when the ship berthed.

Two studies have already been carried out in Malta on the implications of a shore-to-ship electricity supply for the shipping industry. The first, which was completed in 2014, was carried out by Transport Malta and the second, carried out on behalf of the Malta Freeport Terminals, was completed in 2018. Both studies came to the conclusion that if the shipping industry changed to shore-side electricity there would be a substantial improvement in air quality in our ports. The issue of feasibility, however, is substantially dependent on what our competitors decide!

Does it make sense to keep encouraging economic activity that harms our health? The answer to this question is a definite “no”. Our ports are a most precious natural resource that we should use to enhance the quality of life of our coastal communities.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 18 August 2019

Manoel Island: one step forward

The controversy on the future of Manoel Island has been going on for ages.

The citizen’s action some 18 months ago led by eNGO Kamp Emergenza Ambjent and publicly supported by the Gżira Mayor Conrad Borg Manchè as well as various eNGOs led to the current breakthrough with MIDI, as a result of which common sense will be given the opportunity to prevail.

The setting up of the Manoel Island Foundation with environmentalist Claire Bonello as chair is a landmark decision. It does not signify agreement with what has been done to date but rather a determination that in the future, if we put our heads together, we can possibly avoid past mistakes. In time, perhaps, we can also seek to reverse some of the mistakes carried out so far.

When, together with countless others, I joined the protest at Manoel Island 18 months ago, I had one objective in mind: that access to the open spaces and the foreshore of Manoel Island belonged to all of us. There was an urgent need that this access be claimed back and subsequently guaranteed. This has now been done.

The Guardianship agreement focus specifically on the public’s right of access which right has always been in existence even though MIDI did its best to obstruct its use over the years. MIDI has (at last) bound itself to respect such a right of access and together with the Gżira Local Council has spelled out the details on how this can be reasonably exercised. The efforts put in by all environmentalists bore fruit such that MIDI clearly understood that it could no longer avoid the negotiating table. It risked further reputational damage which it could ill-afford.

The cynics among us correctly maintain that there is nothing for which to thank MIDI that has after all obstructed the public’s right of access for so many years! They are of course right, but it is time to move on to the next challenges. We move forward incrementally, one small step at a time.

The Guardianship agreement seeks to address two diametrically opposed positions: the Gżira community’s right of access as supported by the environmental lobby on the one hand and the MIDI development rights granted by Parliament in the 1990s on the other hand.

One can argue until eternity that Malta’s Parliament was irresponsible when it unanimously approved the motion granting development rights to MIDI over the Tigne peninsula and Manoel Island. I still hold that same view. No Green could ever support such a Parliamentary motion, not even with the restoration sugar-coating obligations woven into the agreed concession.

Given that Parliament has no political will to reverse the 1990s decision and take Manoel Island back into public ownership, the Gżira Local Council, supported by eNGOs was right to seek and arrive at the Guardianship agreement. The agreement fills a void which Parliament and government could not even understand, and consequently could not address.

A price had to be paid for the Guardianship agreement to be concluded. This was the acceptance, subject to the provisions of the agreement, of the Manoel Island Masterplan and commitment on the part of those around the negotiating table not to oppose or object to its implementation. I think that this is the point of contention brought forward by those who disagree with the Guardianship agreement. This might be considered a high price to pay. However, it must be pointed out that the agreement contains a number of limitations on the Masterplan’s implementation and grants the Manoel Island Foundation a legal basis to halt the commercialisation of the foreshore or the green open spaces.

Alternattiva Demokratika considers the Guardianship agreement to be a positive step forward as it addresses the pressing issue of access based of a realistic appraisal of the situation. Gżira Local Council and the eNGOs involved are to be applauded for their determination in reaching this goal. Moreover, the Guardianship agreement does not exclude the possibility that in future, a responsible Parliament would seriously consider taking all of Manoel Island back into public ownership. It should however be noted that only a green MP can guarantee that the matter makes it to Parliament’s agenda. The others are too “business friendly” to even consider the matter.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 1st April 2018

L-ODZ w it-tidwir mal-lewża

nut

 

Il-proposta tal-PN biex deciżjonijiet dwar l-ODZ jibdew jittieħdu mill-Parlament b’maġġorana ta’ żewġ terzi hi politika ta’ min qata’ qalbu li jista’ jindirizza l-kawza tal-problema u minflok jinfex fl-effett. Hija ukoll dikjarazzjoni li din is-sitwazzjoni mistennija li tkun fit-tul jew permanenti.

Kif diġa kelli l-opportunità li nikteb, id-diżastru akkumulat fl-ODZ hu riżultat ta’ falliment tal-istituzzjonijiet li la l-bieraħ u l-anqas illum ma jispiraw fiduċja. Ir-rapport li kien tħejja mill-MEPA dwar iż-Żonqor u l-posizzjoni li ħadet il-MEPA dwar per eżempju l-pompa tal-petrol li kienet proposta għall-Magħtab huma tnejn mid-diversi eżempji dwar dan.

L-awtoritajiet għandhom l-inkarigu li jipproteġu dak li hu għażiż għalina. F’dan l-inkarigu, b’mod ġenerali fallew. M’għandhomx joqgħodu jistennew liċ-ċittadini individwali jew lill-għaqdiet ambjentali biex jirrealizzaw il-gravità tas-sitwazzjoni.

Il-proposta tal-PN hi politika ta’ min qata’ qalbu għax flok ma tindirizza l-problema tfittex illi toħloq mekkaniżmu li jimblokka d-deċiżjonijiet temporanjament. Għax dik hi r-relevanza tal-mekkaniżmu tal-vot ta’ żewġ terzi fil-Parlament li ultimament jikkonverti ruħu għal deċiżjoni b’maġġoranza sempliċi kif stqarr il-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni fl-artiklu tiegħu llum. Issa din it-tip ta’ proposta tista’ tagħmel sens biss jekk tkun għal perjodu qasir ta’ żmien u dan sakemm jitnaddfu l-awtoritajiet u jinħolqu l-mekkaniżmi biex dawn jaħdmu sewwa bla tfixkil jew indħil mill-politika partiġjana.

Dan hu ir-rwol tal-Parlament: li jfittex l-aħjar mod kif ikun amministrat il-ġid komuni u li fejn ikun hemm problema dwar dan jidentifika soluzzjonijiet li jindirizzaw l-issues mingħajr tidwir mal-lewża.

Sfortunatament il-Parlament Malti, tul is-snin wera li hu bla snien fit-twettiq ta’ waħda mill-iktar funzjonijiet importanti tiegħu, dik li jgħarbel il-ħidma tal-Gvern. Din la saret u l-anqas qegħda ssir. Mhux ma issirx sewwa, imma sempliċiment ma issirx għax numru mhux żgħir ta’ Membri Parlamentari għadhom ma fehmux li din hi responsabbiltà tagħhom. Kieku dan fehmuh, dawk il-Membri Parlamentari li aċċettaw ħatriet fuq bordijiet u awtoritajiet ma kienux jagħmlu dan. Għax meta aċċettaw dawn il-ħatriet huma kkompromettew il-ħidma tagħhom bħala Membri Parlamentari għax poġġew lilhom infushom fis-sitwazzjoni ta’ kunflitt ta’ interess kontinwu u dan minħabba li issa suppost li jridu jissorveljaw il-ħidma tagħhom stess.

Din hi is-sitwazzjoni. Bla tidwir mal-lewża l-qagħda tal-ODZ f’Malta u Għawdex hi rifless tal-qagħda ġenerali tal-governanza fil-pajjiż.

______________

fuq dan il-blog, dwar l-istess suġġett ara ukoll :

Froġa oħra ta’ Simon Busuttil.

L-ODZ u l-Parlament.

Taking back control

turtle dove

 

Throughout this Sunday morning the Electoral Commission will supervise the counting of the votes cast  in yesterday’s  spring hunting abrogative referendum. The first reliable projections of the result should be available at around  10.00am with a final result early in the afternoon.

Irrespective of the result, this is history in the making as, for the first time ever, Maltese voters will be directly taking a decision on environmental policy. They will decide whether spring hunting in the Maltese islands will be consigned to the history books.

This is the end of a two year journey that began in  April 2013 when the first steps were taken to form a broad-based anti-spring hunting Coalition of  environmental NGOs together with Alternattiva Demokratika-The Green Party in Malta. Initially, Alternattiva Demokratika’s initiative was met with scepticism: there was widespread fear of confronting the parliamentary political parties which had created the current spring hunting mess.

Constructive dialogue with both the Maltese authorities as well as with the EU Commission had failed to yield results, yet when push came to shove there was still considerable reluctance to think outside the box.  This mess could not be cleared by applying the same thinking that led to its creation. The spring hunting mess was created by successive governments that were held to ransom by the hunting lobby. There was only one solution: government was the problem so it could never be part of the solution – civil society had to take back control of the decision-making process to have order restored.

This was going to be a mammoth task. The fact that the abrogative referendum tool had never been used since its introduction in 1998 understandably added to the reluctance.

As late as 18 June 2013, some environmental NGOs were still hoping that the Maltese Government, or the EU Commission itself, would act in a reasonable manner and stop spring hunting.  In fact, reports in the press at that time were speculating on then EU Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik initiating an inquiry into spring hunting in Malta.

Early in the day, few people were conscious of the empowerment potential of the abrogative referendum. Almost none of the eNGOs was aware that the abrogative referendum process is independent  of government or Parliament.  Some eNGOs  supported the initiative almost immediately but it was an uphill struggle to convince others, taking weeks and a great deal of patience until practically all eNGOs were on board.

The collection of signatures to initiate the process for calling this abrogative referendum was launched on 10 August 2013 at Il-Buskett. Initially the uptake was very slow, as voters took some time to understand that this was no ordinary petition.

Then, on 23 and 24 October 2013, one of the worst massacres of wild birds in Malta took place. It is best described in a Birdlife Press release which stated  as follows :

“Despite the presence of six BirdLife Malta teams and as many ALE units in the Buskett area this morning at least one Booted Eagle, Ajkla tal-Kalzetti, was shot down inside Buskett Gardens as it left its roost this morning. Several others, including Short-toed and Booted Eagles, were shot at and many more were seen carrying injuries after last night’s shooting spree by hunters in Dingli, Buskett, Girgenti, Siġġiewi and Zebbuġ.

This morning’s second confirmed victim was a Short-toed Eagle, Ajkla Bajda, shot down in Gozo.

The shootings follow what can only be described as a massacre yesterday evening, after more than 50 eagles were seen by birdwatchers counting passing migrating birds in their regular watch-point above the wooded valley of Buskett. At least 10 eagles are known to have been shot down and many more targeted by dozens of hunters in locations around Buskett. Several as yet unconfirmed reports were also received from members of the public who saw eagles and other large birds of prey being shot at and shot down.”

This marked the turning point in signature collection as within ten days of the massacre of these eagles the required number of signatures had been received . The verification process was commenced immediately and the petition was finalised for submission to the Electoral Commission.

By July 2014, the Electoral Commission had concluded its vetting of the signatures submitted and six months later, in January this year, the Constitutional Court threw out the hunters’ objections.

For the past three months we have been actively campaigning to drive the message home: spring is the time when birds are on the way to their breeding grounds. They need to be protected. This message has been conveyed through the different spokesman and women ambassadors who, together with hundreds of volunteers, have done wonders to ensure that practically every voter is aware the he or she has the power to take a decision in order to clean up the mess which Parliament and the government have created over the years.

Today we will know what the decision is.  Saving any last minute surprises, it is clear that after today’s result Maltese civil society will cherish its newly discovered empowerment. Tomorrow, Monday, will not be just the start of a new week.  Hopefully, it be the start of a new era of ever-vigilant NGOs, now armed with the knowledge that they can hold government to account for inadequate legislation whenever they consider that this is necessary.

The abrogative referendum is the tool through which civil society can bring government to order. Today’s result will just confirm whether it can make use of it.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 April 2015