The regeneration of Marsa

The public consultation which commenced earlier this week relative to the regeneration of the inner part of the Grand Harbour along the coastal area of Marsa is most welcome. Marsa has been neglected for far too long.

The Planning Authority has been criticised in the past for its piecemeal reviews of the local plans. It is hoped that this exercise will be a holistic one. It is the whole of Marsa which should be addressed and not one tiny corner! The decay of Marsa as an urban centre needs to be addressed at the earliest opportunity. This will not be done through piecemeal local plan reviews but through a comprehensive planning exercise.

The proposed strategic vision, as directed by government, is however not a suitable one. Through the Planning Authority, government is proposing that the area subject of the consultation be transformed into a “prime tourism and leisure harbour destination”.

The primary question to be addressed is whether it is desirable for our economy to further increase its dependence on tourism. The answer to this basic question, in my view, is a clear no. It is thus not on to reserve more prime sites for tourism. Tourism has gobbled up too many prime sites. Too many land use planning policies have been compromised in the exclusive interest of the tourism industry.  

Tourism has also proven itself to be a very weak link in the economic chain. It has been brought down to its knees as a result of Covid19. It is still very weak and will take more time to recover. Understandably a significant part of its labour force has migrated to other sectors and is unwilling to return to work in the tourism sector.

Rather than more tourism we definitely need less of it.

Prior to Covid19 we had reached saturation levels in the tourism sector. The post-Covid19 impact period is a unique opportunity for tourism to be re-dimensioned in order to reduce its impacts on the community. Unfortunately, the Planning Authority is insensitive to all this: it plans to give us more of the same.  

The availability of the former power station site and its surroundings is definitely a unique opportunity which should not be squandered on the tourism industry.

The innermost part of the Grand Harbour has always been dedicated to the maritime sector for which this is a unique opportunity to re-organise, modernise and increase its contribution to the national economy while reducing its environmental impacts. Scaling down the ship-repairing facilities and moving them to outside the area earmarked for regeneration could shift this activity to close proximity of residential areas in localities which are close by. This should therefore be avoided.  Even though I doubt very much whether in practice it is that easy to shift these facilities.

The regeneration of the inner part of the Grand Harbour Area can be achieved without tying down the area to development which is tourism-linked. The consultation strategy itself identifies various other options and activities amongst which new business ventures which improve the overall well-being of the community.

The tourism industry itself, over two years ago, had sounded the alarm that the number of tourists arriving in Malta was too high: beyond that which the country can take sustainably. Research published at the same time had identified the first signs of turismofobia, a mixture of repudiation, mistrust and contempt for tourists and tourism. These are the first indications of social discontent with the pressures linked to tourism growth. They need to be addressed but are however being ignored.

There is obviously a need for less tourism, not more of it. Access to public investment has to be made available to other sectors.

The public consultation is in its initial stages, and it is still possible for the discussion to develop along different lines. The discussion required is one which addresses Marsa as a whole and which does not focus on just one tiny corner, even though it may be an important corner.

This is a unique opportunity for all stakeholders who can and should get involved to assist in the identification of a sustainable vision for the regeneration of Marsa as a whole: in the interests of all.

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 December 2021

Tourism: from Covid to Climate Change

The tourism lobby, through the MHRA (Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association), is once more breathing down the authorities’ neck. Some of their former employees have not returned, after the pandemic.  They are obviously referring to those employees of theirs who were shed off their payroll, as soon as the pandemic impacts started being felt.

After treating some of their employees like shit they are now asking for tax exemptions as a carrot to attract them back to fill the void created. Tax exemptions?  Difficult to qualify if you are employed on a zero-hour contract, hardly paying any tax at all!

The fact that an increasing number of employees are migrating from the tourism industry, is indicative that the employment conditions and the remuneration paid by the industry, at least, to some of its employees, is not worth it. If it were, former employees would come back on their own without the need to be enticed with tax exemptions.

Specifically, sections of the tourism industry are based on cheap labour: paying miserly hourly rates on zero-hour contracts. In addition to having reasonable rates of pay, it is imperative that zero-hour contracts are scrapped. That is to say a contract of employment must be for an agreed number of hours per week and not left at the absolute discretion of the employer. Greens in Malta have repeatedly advocated this step. A Labour government is apparently not interested.

Isn’t it about time that the tourism industry gets its act together? Government has over the years dedicated many resources to help the industry get on its feet. Various subsidies and favourable administrative decisions including planning policies designed to ride roughshod over the residential community are in place. Yet they want more.

At almost 3 million tourists in 2019, Malta is definitely close to a saturation point in the uptake of tourists it can handle. This has placed too large a strain on the country’s infrastructure.

Covid has clearly identified an Achilles heel. We need to learn a number of lessons. Foremost to reduce our dependence on tourism in order to ensure that the next time movement between countries is an issue, impacts on all are cushioned considerably. The next issue is round the corner. It is climate change.

Last week various initiatives were announced by the EU Commission in order that the target of carbon neutrality by 2050 is achieved. The Commission has identified a number of measures which could facilitate the achievement of an intermediate target of 55 per cent greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 2030 and beyond.

One such initiative is the environmental taxing of aviation fuel. Such an initiative is intended to internalise the environmental costs of such flights. This could result in either of two options: the payment of a carbon tax by those who use such flights or the use of alternative modes of transport thus avoiding altogether the payment of the tax.

On mainland Europe, use of trains is in many cases a suitable alternative which has considerably reduced environmental impacts. However, in our case we do not have practical alternatives to aviation. This will inevitably increase the costs of flights and consequently bring about a reduction in the number of tourists opting to visit Malta. Most of our competitors will be similarly impacted, but that is no consolation for the industry! Cheap plane fares could soon be history.

As announced by Minister Miriam Dalli, Malta expects that it is a “special case”. Most probably it will be successful in negotiating a reasonable transition, and/or some exceptions. In the long run, however, opposing outright such a measure goes against Malta’s long-term interests. Malta, like all island states, together with coastal settlements and communities, will have to face some of the worst impacts of climate change, that is sea-level rise. The climate, would not care less about our special case, or our economy. It will impact us just as forcefully. The climate is merciless.

It would be pertinent to remember that most of our tourism infrastructure lies along or within reach of the coast. This signifies that a sea-level rise could easily play havoc with such infrastructure. If substantial, a sea-level rise will also seriously impact our coastal communities, which are spread over quite a large area along the coast.

It is about time that we stop and think carefully. Tourism is at the crossroads. It needs to be subject to an overhaul: taking into consideration the covid lessons, and applying them to the climate change scenario which sooner or later we will have to face. This is the future of tourism, not tax exemptions.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 25 July 2021

Tourism planning needs tuning in to reality

A ten-year tourism strategy entitled Recover, Rethink, Revitalise has been published for consultation. It is a strategy which advocates an improvement in quality but does not seek to address the oversupply of bed-stock.

During summer of 2019, Tony Zahra, President of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) had sounded the alarm: he was reported as saying that the number of tourists visiting Malta was too high. He emphasised that it was substantially exceeding the limits of what the country can take sustainably. Tony Zahra was obviously emphasising the interest of the lobby group which he heads: the hotel industry.

The proposed tourism strategy advocates a return to the pre-Covid19 tourism levels, albeit recognising that this will be difficult to achieve as well as accepting that it will take quite some time to be achieved, if at all. Searching through the tourism strategy document for the terms agri-tourism and eco-tourism yields a zero-return indicating that the document is more of a post-Covid hotel industry roadmap than a tourism strategy.

The strategy indicates that the best scenario forecasts until 2030 suggest an increase from the 2019 2.75 million tourists to between 3 and 3.2 million tourists which would generate an average 21 million overnight stays annually. The strategy goes on to state that on the basis of existing and in the pipeline licenced bed-stock this equates to an unprofitable 57.5 per cent occupancy rate. The unlicenced bed stock further dilutes occupancy rates closer to 50 per cent, we are informed by the strategy document.

This does not point towards a potential recovery but more that the tourism industry, is, in this critical period shackled by the land development free-for-all advocated by land use planning policies over the past years. Specifically, this has been done through the continuous tinkering with the height limitation adjustment policy for hotels as well as the haphazard application of flexibility in day-to-day land use planning.

This in no way translates into a quality improvement!

The decadent land use planning process has infected tourism planning too. No wonder that the former Chief Executive of the Planning Authority is now the CEO of the Malta Tourism Authority. It is poetic justice that he should be responsible for cleaning the mess to which he substantially contributed to!

Where do we go from here?

The authors of the tourism strategy are aware that there are other possible solutions but they shoot them down. These last months were an opportunity to re-examine the fundamental role of tourism within the overall socio-economic context of the Maltese islands. The Covid19 pandemic has resulted in a reduced movement of people, a less hectic lifestyle, reduced emissions and the reduction of other negative elements for which tourism is usually singled out as a major contributor. 

Contrary to what the proposed tourism strategy opines, it is not simplistic to seriously consider the need to reset the industry. A lower level of tourism activity would prove beneficial to the destination by making it less busy and less crowded to the benefit of both the local resident population and visitor satisfaction. Obviously, it would reduce the tourism contribution to the national economy, but it would also reduce the substantial costs which planners tend to ignore or else to shift onto other sectors! Costs are not just measured in financial terms but also in terms of environmental and social impacts.  

Some months ago, I had written about turistofobia, a term coined by Catalan anthropologist Manoel Delgado, indicating a mixture of repudiation, mistrust and contempt for tourists and tourism. The social discontent associated with the pressures linked to tourism growth cannot be ignored any further.

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

The post-Covid19 recovery is a unique opportunity for tourism planners to take note of and tune in to reality.  Unfortunately, the proposed strategy sidesteps the real issues.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 31 January 2021

Wara l-gwerra ċivili fil-PN

Għad m’hemm l-ebda ħjiel tat-tmiem tal-gwerra ċivili fil-PN. Din qed tagħmel ħafna ħsara, mhux biss lill-PN: fl-aħħar minn l-aħħar qed tagħmel il-ħsara lill-pajjiż kollu.

Kull wieħed miż-żewġ darbiet fejn ġie espress vot ta’ sfiduċja fil-Kap tal-PN Adrian Delia iwassal messaġġ politiku ċar li s’issa l-Kap tal-Opposizzjoni għad ma fehem xejn minnu. Meta Delia stqarr li l-vot ta’ sfuduċja espress mill-grupp parlamentari Nazzjonalista u iktar tard mill-Kumitat Eżekuttiv tal-PN ma kellhom l-ebda sinifikat partikolari, kien qed jesponi l-miżerja ta’ kredenzjali demokratiċi tiegħu kif ukoll kien qed jirrifletti l-immaturità politika tiegħu. Dan fl-aħħar m’għandux biss rifless fuq il-kredibilità ta’ Adrian Delia imma ukoll fuq dik tal-PN innifsu.

Il-gwerra ċivili fil-PN qed tisraq l-attenzjoni li presentement jixraq li tkun fuq materji oħra ta’ importanza kbira.  L-irkupru mill-impatti sostanzjali tal-pandemija  Covid-19 u t-tisħiħ tal-kapaċità ta’ Malta kontra l-korruzzjoni u l-ħasil tal-flus jeħtieġu ferm iktar attenzjoni u enerġija. Mhux biss mill-Gvern, imma anke mill-Opposizzjoni.

Jeħtieġ li niddiskutu fid-dettall pjan ta’ rkupru mill-pandemija Covid-19 li jinfirex fuq l-oqsma kollha effettwati: pjan li għandu jkun wieħed integrat ma’ strateġija li tindirizza t-tibdil fil-klima u dan fil-qafas tal-konklużjonijiet tas-summit ta’ Pariġi.  Alternattiva Demokratika diġà tat il-kontribut tagħha xi ġimgħat ilu permezz tal-pubblikazzjoni tar-rapport: Pjan Aħdar: Ġust u Sostenibbli.

Studju riċenti ta’ Deloitte li kien ikkummissjonat mill-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Lukandi u r-Restoranti (MHRA) jindika li l-industrija tat-turiżmu bdiet ġejja f’sensiha. Qed tirrealizza li l-irkupru mhux biss seħħ bil-mod, iżda bil-mod ħafna: iktar kajman milli qatt antiċipaw.   L-Air Malta irrevediet il-pjan kummerċjali tagħha u issa qed tantiċipa li teħtieġ madwar seba’ snin biex tkun f’posizzjoni li terġa’ tibda iġġorr l-istess numru ta’ passiġġiera li kienet iġġor qabel ma faqqgħet il-pandemija.  Dan kollu jwassal għal osservazzjoni waħda – evitata minn bosta – dwar kemm l-aspettattivi tal-industrija tat-turiżmu dwar l-irkupru tal-industrija mhumiex realistiċi.

Ikun ferm aħjar kieku napprofittaw ruħna mis-sitwazzjoni u nippjanaw aħjar biex l-industrija tat-turiżmu tissaħħaħ billi ma tibqax tiffoka fuq in-numri imma fuq il-kwalità tat-turist. Pjan ta’ din ix-xorta, bla dubju, jkun jista’ jindirizza l-impatti ambjentali negattivi sostanzjali tal-industrija b’mod effettiv. Il-Ministru tat-Turiżmu  Julia Portelli-Farrugia ma tantx tidher li taqbel ma dan, għax il-ħin kollu tredden bin-numri.

Il-Moneyval hu Kumitat tal-Kunsill ta’ l-Ewropa  magħmul minn esperti li jevalwaw miżuri kontra l-ħasil tal-flus u l-finanzjament tat-terroriżmu.  Hu grupp ta’ monitoraġġ permanenti bl-inkarigu li jara li l-istati membri tal-Kunsill ta’ l-Ewropa qed jieħdu l-miżuri meħtieġa u maqbula fuq livell internazzjonali.

Fl-aħħar rapport dwar Malta ippubblikat fl-2019 il-Moneyval, tagħmel 40 rakkomandazzjoni spjegati f’ 233 paġna. Rakkomandazzjonijiet dwar x’inhu meħtieġ li jsir.  Ir-riskji għal Malta huma ċari: għandna ekonomija li hi vulnerabbli ħafna primarjament minħabba d-daqs tagħha kif ukoll minħabba l-fatt li hi esposta ħafna għal dak kollu li jiġri barra minn xtutna.   Ir-rapport tal-Moneyval jemfasizza li r-remote gaming, per eżempju hu vulnerabbli ħafna għall-ħasil tal-flus u dan “due to the high number of customers, mainly non-resident, the high volume of transactions, the non-face-to-face nature of the business and the use of prepaid cards.”

Mhux biżżejjed li għandna liġijiet li huma ġeneralment liġijiet tajbin. Hemm ħtieġa qawwija ta’ riżorsi għax mingħajr r-riżorsi ma tista’ timplimenta xejn. Ix-xhieda riċenti tal-Assistant Kummissarju tal-Pulizija  Ian Abdilla fl-inkjesta pubblika dwar l-assassinju ta’  Daphne Caruana Galizia, ftit jiem wara li tneħħa mit-tmexxija tat-taqsima tar-reati ekonomiċi, jindika n-nuqqas ta’ impenn biex il-ħafna dikjarazzjonijiet li jsiru kontra l-ħasil tal-flus ikunu implimentati. Sfortunatament id-dikjarazzjonijiet u l-assigurazzjonijiet repetuti tal-Gvern mhumiex kredibbli.

Mhux aħjar l-Opposizzjoni tuża’ l-ħin tagħha dwar dan? Iktar ma jikkonkludu l-glied intern malajr, aħjar għal kulħadd. Hemm ħafna x’isir wara li  Adrian Delia jiġi f’sensieh u jaċċetta l-inevitabbli.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 19 ta’ Lulju 2020

After the PN civil war

The civil war within the PN has no end in sight. This does not only inflict considerable damage on the PN: at the end of the day it damages the whole country.

The two instances of a vote of no confidence in PN leader Adrian Delia are clear political statements which unfortunately the Opposition leader has so far been incapable of deciphering. Labelling the no confidence votes expressed separately by the Opposition Parliamentary Group and the PN Executive Committee as being of no significance further dilutes Adrian Delia’s democratic credentials and reflects his political immaturity. This has a bearing not only on Delia’s credibility but also on that of the PN.

The PN civil war is diverting attention from more pressing issues. The recovery from the devastating impacts of Covid-19 and the strengthening of Malta’s capability in the fight against corruption and money laundering surely require more attention and energy. Not just from government but also from the opposition.

We need to discuss in depth a Covid-19 recovery plan which spans all areas and factors in climate change. Maltese Greens have already made their contribution through the report published some weeks ago entitled: Green Plan: Fair and Sustainable.

A recent Deloitte study commissioned by the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) indicates that the tourism industry is coming to its senses and realising that the recovery is slow, maybe even much slower than originally perceived.  Air Malta’s revised business plan is envisaging that it will take around seven years for the national carrier to return to pre-Covid-19 capacity. All this begs the question, so far avoided, as to whether the expectations of the tourism industry of attaining full recovery are realistic.

Would it not be more realistic if we realise that this is the appropriate time to plan for a tourism industry that foregoes quantity and focuses on quality? Such a course of action would address the substantial negative environmental impacts of the tourism industry. Tourism Minister Julia Portelli-Farrugia is not on the same page. She is unfortunately desperately after numbers.

Moneyval is a Council of Europe Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism. It is a permanent monitoring body tasked with assessing compliance of Council of Europe member States with international standards.

In its 2019 report on Malta, Moneyval, in a 233-page report, made 40 recommendations on measures which need to be taken. The risks are clear: our economy is highly vulnerable to money laundering, even as a consequence of its size and international exposure.  The report emphasises that remote gaming, for example, is inherently vulnerable to money laundering “due to the high number of customers, mainly non-resident, the high volume of transactions, the non-face-to-face nature of the business and the use of prepaid cards.”

Having good laws is not sufficient. Resources are desperately needed as otherwise laws cannot be implemented. The recent testimony of Police Assistant Commissioner Ian Abdilla in the ongoing public inquiry on the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, a few days after being unceremoniously removed from leading the Economic Crimes Unit, clearly indicates the lack of commitment to implement Malta’s declared objectives in addressing money-laundering. Unfortunately, government’s repeated declarations and assurances are not credible.

Some food for thought for the Parliamentary Opposition: the sooner they conclude their in-fighting the better. There is much to be done after Adrian Delia comes to his senses and accepts the inevitable.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 19 July 2020

It-turiżmu wara l-pandemija

It-turiżmu kien wieħed mis-setturi li l-iktar intlaqat bħala riżultat tal-pandemija Covid-19. Tul is-snin in-numri tat-turisti li ġew iżuruna żdied kull meta tjiebet il-konnettività: min-naħa l-oħra hekk kif il-konnettività naqset u eventwalment waqfet kompletament, ġara bil-maqlub.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa bdew jaslu l-ewwel turisti fil-port u l-ajruport tagħna. Bil-mod qed terġa’ tiġi stabilita l-konnettività li twassal biex it-turiżmu jibda jirpilja bil-mod. Il-Ministru tat-Turiżmu Julia Farrugia-Portelli f’dawn il-ġranet ħabbret il-mira tal-Gvern: 700,000 turist sal-aħħar tas-sena. Iktar kmieni t-tmexxija tal-Ajruport Internazzjonali ta’ Malta kienet emfasizzat li jeħtieġ madwar sentejn biex il-wasla tal-passiġġiera tirkupra u naslu fejn konna qabel ma faqqgħet il-pandemija.

Jista’ t-turiżmu qatt jilħaq il-livelli ta’ qabel il-pandemija?

Jeżistu stimi diversi dwar il-kontribut tat-turiżmu lejn l-ekonomija. Stima minnhom tipponta lejn kontribut dirett ta’ 5 fil-mija tal-ekonomija. Imma, bħala riżultat tal-impatt fuq setturi oħra dan is-sehem jitla għal madwar 12 fil-mija. Barijiet, restoranti, ħwienet li jbiegħu bl-imnut, attivitajiet pubbliċi, l-industrija tad-divertiment u t-trasport (in partikolari l-kiri tal-karozzi) huma dipendenti fuq it-turiżmu. Setturi partikolari bħat-tagħlim tal-Ingliż u ċ-ċentri tal-għaddasa huma meqjusa bħala parti integrali mill-ekonomija turistika.

Intqal ħafna dwar l-impatt tal-pandemija fuq il-lukandi. Imma anke dawk li jipprovdu sodod turistiċi barra mil-lukandi ġarrew fuq spallejhom impatt sostanzjali avolja ftit li xejn issemmew fid-dibattitu konness mal-impatti tal-pandemija. Dan huwa settur li jinvolvi negozjanti żgħar u dawk li nirreferu għalihom bħala micro-businesses li kull wieħed minnhom jimpjega inqas minn għaxar persuni.

UNCTAD, l-Aġenzija tal-Ġnus Magħquda dwar il-Kummerċ u l-Iżvilupp, iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa ħabbret li l-iġġammjar tat-turiżmu minħabba l-pandemija ser jiswa’ lill-industrija globali tat-turiżmu madwar $1.2 triljun . Din l-istima tista’ tirdoppja skond kif tiżviluppa t-tieni mewġa tal-pandemija.

Il-Ġamajka tista’ titlef madwar 11 fil-mija tal-Prodott Gross Domestiku, t-Tajlandja 9 fil-mija, l-Italja 5 fil-mija. Fl-Unjoni Ewropeja l-agħar impatti huma mal-kosta Mediterranja fejn l-ekonomija hi dipendenti ħafna fuq it-turiżmu. Minbarra Malta hemm l-Italja, l-Kroazja, is-Slovenja, Cipru u l-Greċja li kollha ntlaqtu sew. It-Turkija u t-Tunesija, parteċipanti Mediterranji fl-industrija turistika ukoll iġġammjaw, wara li gawdew minn żidiet sostanzjali fin-numri ta’ turisti tul is-snin.

Jagħmel sens li l-Gvern, f’dan il-waqt, permezz tal-Awtorità Maltija tat-Turiżmu, qiegħed jiffoka fuq li jġib lill-industrija tat-turiżmu lura fuq saqajha. Dan imma, mhux biżżejjed. Jeħtieġ li nibdew naħsbu dwar il-futur tal-industrija u dan billi neżaminaw fid-dettall dak li l-industrja teħtieġ li tiffaċċja fit-tul.

Fi tmiem is-sena li għaddiet, l-2019, ilħaqna in-numru ta’ 2.8 miljun turista iżuruna. Il-punt hu jekk dawn in-numri humiex sostenibbli. Dan hu argument ta’ dejjem li ilu għaddej sa minnmeta n-numri kienu ferm iżgħar. Id-dibattitu kien, u għandu jibqa’ jkun dwar jekk għandniex niffukaw iktar fuq il-kwalità milli fuq il-kwantità.

Il-miġja fostna tal-linji tal-ajru low-cost bħala parti essenzjali mill-politika tat-turiżmu illum tpoġġi emfasi ikbar fuq in-numri. Din hi għażla politika li saret u li teħtieġ li tkun eżaminata u analizzata fil-fond. L-impatti ekonomiċi għandhom jitqiesu fl-istess ħin mal-impatti ambjentali. Irridu niftakru kontinwament li t-turiżmu jiġġenera bosta impatti ambjentali.

Wasal iż-żmien li nirrealizzaw li d-dibattitu meħtieġ dwar il-futur tat-turiżmu jeħtieġ li jsir fl-isfond tal-Patt l-Aħdar: The Green Deal.

L-emissjonijiet tal-ajruplani ser ikollhom ikunu indirizzati fil-futur qarib. Hu inevitabbli li jiddaħħlu taxxi dwar dawn l-emissjonijiet (carbon taxes) fi żmien mhux il-bogħod. Jekk mhux ser jittieħdu passi immedjati dwar dawn l-emissjonijiet ser ikun ħafna iktar diffiċli, biex ma ngħidx impossibli, biex ikunu ndirizzati l-konklużjonijiet tas-Summit Klimatiku ta’ Pariġi tal-2015. Summit li Malta ħarġet tiftaħar li kienet wieħed mill-ewwel pajjiżi li rratifikatu. F’dak il-mument (jekk nibqgħu ma nieħdux passi) mhux biss it-turiżmu jaqla’ daqqa kbira oħra imma tkun il-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll li tieħu daqqa l-isfel.

Il-gżejjer Maltin, bħall-parti l-kbira tal-gżejjer imxerrda mal-ibħra, ikunu minn tal-ewwel biex jaqilgħu ġo fihom l-impatti tat-tibdil fil-klima. Il-kosta tkun effettwat bl-għoli tal-livell tal-baħar. Tajjeb li niftakru li l-infrastruttura tat-turiżmu qegħda kważi kollha mal-kosta! Iktar ma ninjoraw dan il-fatt bażiku ikbar tkun id-daqqa li naqilgħu.

S’issa naħseb li kulħadd irrealizza kemm l-industrija tat-turiżmu hi waħda fraġli. Kull xokk li l-industrija issofri jista’ jwassal għal tnaqqis kbir fl-impiegi f’din l-industrija. It-turiżmu għadu staġjonali wisq u dan minnu innifsu jwassal għal kundizzjonijiet tax-xogħol ta’ natura prekarja.

Jeħtieġ li nippjanaw iżjed billi nħarsu il-bogħod u fuq medda twila ta’ żmien: naħsbu u nippjanaw sewwa dwar l-impatti soċjali, ambjentali u ekonomiċi ta’ kull deċiżjoni. Dan wara kollox hu l-proċess li jwassal għal żvilupp sostenibbli. Hu l-unika mod kif nistgħu nassiguraw li l-impatti negattivi tal-industrija tat-turiżmu nistgħu nindirizzawhom illum qabel għada.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 5 ta’ Lulju 2020

Post-Covid Tourism

Tourism is understandably one of the hardest hit sectors as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the years, tourism numbers increased substantially as a result of an increased connectivity: the reverse happened the moment that connectivity was restricted or became practically inexistent.

Earlier this week saw the first arrivals at our air and seaports. Slowly, connectivity is being restored. It is expected that tourism will now start a slow recovery. Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia-Portelli is on record with a 700,000-tourist target for year end. Malta International Airport CEO had earlier opined that it will take at least two years to recover to pre-pandemic level airport movements.

Will tourism ever recover to the pre-pandemic levels?

There are various estimates of the contribution of tourism to the economy. One such estimate points at a direct contribution of around 5 percent of our economy. However, as a result of its impacts on other sectors the overall contribution rises to around 12 percent. Bars, restaurants, retail trade, events, entertainment and transport (in particular car hire), are heavily dependent on tourism. Specific sectors such as the English language school sector as well as diving are important sectors in the tourism economy.

Much has been stated on the impact of the pandemic on the hotel industry. The providers of non-hotel beds, however, have also been heavily impacted by the pandemic, but they have not featured much in the post-Covid-19 debate. This is a sector which involves a number of small-scale investors and micro-businesses each employing less than ten employees.

UNCTAD, the UN Trade and Development Agency, earlier this week stated that the four-month standstill of the tourism industry due to the pandemic Covid-19 could cost the industry around $1.2 trillion. This estimated cost could more than double, depending on the severity and spread of a second wave of the pandemic.

Jamaica could lose as much as 11 percent of its GDP, Thailand 9 percent, Italy 5 percent. In the EU, the worst impacts are along the Mediterranean coast where the economy is heavily dependent on tourism. In addition to Malta, Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, Cyprus and Greece are also heavily impacted. Turkey and Tunisia, Mediterranean players in the tourism industry have also been almost at a standstill, after experiencing a substantial expansion of their tourism industry throughout the years.

It is understandable that government through the Malta Tourism Authority is currently focused on getting tourism back on its feet. This is however not enough. We must start discussing a long-term view of the tourism industry.

At the end of 2019 the 2.8 million mark of tourists visiting the Maltese islands had been attained. The point at issue is whether this is sustainable in the long-term. This has been a perennial issue in tourism politics since the days when the numbers were much lower. The debate was and should be whether we should focus more on quality than on quantity.

The advent of low-cost carriers as an essential part of the tourism equation places more emphasis on numbers than on quality. It is a choice which may need to be analysed and revisited. Economic impacts have to be viewed concurrently with environmental impacts. We must remember that tourism has a considerable environmental impact. It is about time that the tourism debate is carried out within the parameters of the Green Deal.

Aeroplane emissions will at some point in time in the near future have to be addressed. Carbon taxes will sooner or later come into play. Unless they are addressed immediately it will be more difficult, if not practically impossible, to address the Paris Climate Change conclusions to which Malta has adhered. At that point it will not be just the tourism industry but our whole lifestyle which will be in for the chop.

The Maltese archipelago, like all islands, will bear the brunt of climate change impacts. The coastline will be severely hit by a sea level rise. It may be pertinent to remember that the coast houses practically all of the tourism infrastructure. The longer we ignore this basic fact, the more severe will the impacts be.

By now all of us are aware that Tourism is a very volatile industry: any shock will result in mass redundancies. Tourism is currently way too seasonal, and consequently it only serves to create precarious working conditions.

It is the time to plan ahead: thinking carefully of the social, environmental and economic impacts of all decisions. This is what sustainable development is, after all, about. It is the only way to ensure that the negative impacts of the tourism industry are addressed by us sooner rather than later.

 

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 5 July 2020

It-Tibdil fil-Klima: wara t-twissja ta’ Covid-19

 

Il-virus Covid-19 beżbiżna waħda sew u ħarbat il-ħidma ta’ kulħadd. Imma ħdejn l-impatti antiċipati tat-tibdil tal-klima dan hu kollu logħob tat-tfal li dwaru Covid-19 jista’ jitqies bħala prova parzjali. Twissija li forsi tiftħilna ftit għajnejna.

F’Pariġi fis-7.25pm ta’ nhar it-12 ta’ Diċembru 2015, 5,000 delegat li kienu qed jirrappreżentaw 195 pajjiż, unanimament aċċettaw l-evidenza dwar l-impatti tal-klima. Huma għażlu t-triq għall-futur.

Nhar il-25 ta’ Frar 2020 Christiana Figueres u Tom Rivette-Carnac ippreżentawna b’publikazzjoni li għandha tkun ta’ interess kbir. Hi intitolata “The Future We Choose. Surviving the Climate Crisis.” Christiana Figueres, li magħha hu assoċjat il-ftehim ta’ Pariġi, kienet tmexxi l-Aġenzija tal-Ġnus Magħquda inkarigata mit-Tibdil fil-Klima (UNFCC) bħala Segretarju Eżekuttiv. Tom Rivette-Carnac kien l-istrateġista ewlieni tagħha inkarigat biex jaħdem dwar l-appoġġ minn utenti (mhux Gvernijiet) li kienu nteressati f’dan il-ftehim li kien ilu jinħema s-snin.

Wara l-qbil dwar it-triq li setgħet twassal għal bidla, biex il-kliem miktub ikun trasformat f’azzjoni konkreta hu dejjem sfida. L-għażliet quddiemna huma ċari.

L-attitudni li qiesu mhu jiġri xejn (business as usual) twassal biex it-temperatura medja globali, li diġa qabżet bi grad wieħed Celsius it-temperatura medja ta’ qabel żmien ir-rivoluzzjoni industrijali, tista’ tiżdied b’madwar 4 sa 5 gradi Celsius. L-impatti ta’ żieda bħal din ikunu katastrofiċi. Riżultat ta’ żieda fit-temperatura globali f’xi reġjuni jkun impossibli li persuna toqgħod barra fl-apert għal ħin twil. Ħtija ta’ hekk partijiet mid-dinja isiru mhux abitabbli. Iż-żieda fit-temperatura tkompli taċċellera id-dewbien tas-silġ fil-poli u ħtija t’hekk il-livell tal-ibħra jibqa’ jiżdied. Il-komunitajiet mal-kosta jkunu taħt theddida kontinwa. L-impatti fuq l-infrastruttura kostali kifukoll fuq kull attività mal-kosta jkunu sostanzjali.

It-tibdil fil-kundizzjonijiet atmosferiċi jżidu x-xita intensiva f’żoni u nixfa tqarqaċ f’żoni oħra. Il-maltemp iżid kemm fil-frekwenza kif ukoll fl-intensità u l-ħerba assoċjata miegħu tikber bil-bosta kif naraw spiss diġa f’diversi partijiet tad-dinja.

Il-konklużjonijiet ta’ Pariġi jfissru li l-komunità internazzjonali għarfet u àccettat l-evidenza xjentifika akkumulata dwar it-tibdil fil-klima. F’Pariġi kien hemm qbil li kull pajjiż kellu jidentifika sensiela ta’ wegħdiet li kellu jwettaq fl-isforz globali biex tkun indirizzata l-kawża tat-tibdil fil-klima. Wegħdiet li għandhom ikunu aġġornati kull ħames snin. Il-wegħdiet reġistrati s’issa, anke kieku kellhom jitwettqu kollha, m’humiex biżżejjed biex iż-żieda fit-temperatura globali ma taqbiżx iż-żewġ gradi Celsius, u preferibilment mhux iktar minn grad u nofs Celsius, kif insistew il-komunitajiet ta’ mal-kosta kif ukoll il-gżejjer li mhumiex wisq il-fuq mil-livell tal-baħar. Bejn il-kliem u l-fatti, hemm baħar jikkumbatti.

Sal-2030 l-emissjonijiet globali jeħtieġ li jonqsu b’mhux inqas min-nofs biex jintlaħqu l-miri stabiliti f’Pariġi. Sal-2050, min-naħa l-oħra jrid jintlaħaq l-istatus ta’ karbonju żero. Biex jintlaħqu dawn il-miri essenzjali Christiana Figueres u Tom Rivett-Carnac jagħmlu użu minn diversi proposti li saru tul is-snin. Il-bidla meħtieġa hi waħda enormi: hi bidla li tant hi kbira li taqleb ta’ taħt fuq kważi kull ħaġa li jmmissu jdejna.

Tirrikjedi bidliet radikali dwar kif ngħixu, kif naħdmu u kif niċċaqalqu minn post għall-ieħor. Tibdil f’dak li nikkunsmaw kif ukoll kemm dwar dak li nipproduċu kif ukoll dwar il-mod kif nipproduċuħ.

Il-wasla fuqna għall-għarrieda tal-kriżi Covid-19 tatna togħma żgħira ta’ xi tibdil essenzjali. Ix-xogħol b’mod virtwali għandu, bla dubju, jkun element permanenti dwar il-mod kif naħdmu. M’għandux ikun eċċezzjoni ta’ natura temporanja. L-edukazzjoni ukoll għandha tingrana iktar fid-direzzjoni tat-tagħlim virtwali b’mod permanenti.

L-ivvjaġġar mhux essenzjali għandu jkun skoraġġit fuq bażi permanenti. Fejn meħtieġ l-ivvjaġġar għandu jsir b’mezzi sostenibbli. Dan m’għandux ikun limitat għall-elettrifikazzjoni tal-karozzi, wara li jkunu tnaqqsu drastikament fin-numru, imma għandu jinkludi tnaqqis sostanzjali tal-ajruplani. Għax l-azzjoni dwar it-tibdil fil-klima jfisser li l-ivvjaġġar bl-ajru (inkluż it-turiżmu) kif nafuh sal-lum m’għandux futur. L-ivvjaġġar bl-ajru jiġi jiswa’ ferm iktar mil-lum kemm-il darba l-impatti ambjentali sostanzjali tiegħu ikunu riflessi fl-ispejjes reali.

Jekk inħarsu fit-tul l-iżvilupp intensiv tal-infrastruttura tat-toroq mhi ser isservi l-ebda skop. Inqas karozzi fit-toroq ikun ifisser ukoll impatti konsiderevoli fuq l-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art. Inqas karozzi jfisser inqas ħtieġa għal parkeġġ u garaxxijiet u iktar spazju għan-nies. Ikun wasal iż-żmien li fl-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna r-reżidenti jiġu mill-ġdid qabel il-karozzi. Dejjem, mhux kultant.

Jeħtieġ li napprezzaw u nagħmlu użu iktar minn prodotti agrikoli lokali. Imma anke l-prezz tal-prodotti agrikoli għandhom jirriflettu l-impatti ambjentali sostanzjali li jinħolqu biex il-biedja tagħti r-riżultati. L-ispiża tal-produzzjoni tal-laħam u tal-prodotti derivati mill-ħalib, per eżempju, ma tkunx waħda żgħira jekk din tinkludi l-impatti ambjentali tal-produzzjoni. Fil-fatt, Christiana u Tom, jistqarru li l-ikel fl-2050 hu għali minħabba li jeħtieġ riżorsi ta’ valur biex il-produzzjoni tiegħu tkun possibli. “L-ilma. Il-ħamrija. L-għaraq. Il-ħin.” Hu ċar li jekk irridu nimplimentaw bis-serjetà l-ftehim ta’ Pariġi l-Politika Komuni kurrenti dwar l-Agrikultura m’għandhiex futur.

L-impatti tal-Covid-19 huma logħob tat-tfal meta wieħed jara sewwa x’hemm lest għalina bħala riżultat tat-tibdil fil-klima. Fid-dawl tat-tibdil fil-klima hemm soluzzjoni prattika waħda: bidla radikali fil-mod kif ngħixu, naħdmu u nqattgħu l-ħin liberu. Permezz tal-Covid-19 in-natura tatna twissija ċara. Jekk dan ninjorawh m’hemm ħadd f’min nistgħu nwaħħlu.

Pubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 10 ta’ Mejju 2020

Climate Change: after the Covid-19 rehearsal

Covid-19 virus has rattled each one of us, throwing all into unprecedented turmoil. This is however child’s play when contrasted with the anticipated impacts of climate change in respect of which Covid-19 may be considered as a rehearsal or a minor drill!

In Paris, at 7.25pm on 12 December 2015, five thousand delegates representing 195 nations unanimously accepted irrefutable evidence on the impacts of climate change and selected a pathway for the future.

On 25 February 2020 Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivette-Carnac presented us with a riveting publication entitled “The Future We Choose. Surviving the Climate Crisis.” Christiana Figueres, public face of the Paris agreement, was the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework for Climate Change (UNFCC). Tom Rivette-Carnac was her Chief Political Strategist. He joined the effort to advance the Paris Agreement negotiations, mobilising support from a wide range of stakeholders outside national governments.

After selecting the pathway which could lead to change, transforming words into action can be quite a challenge. The options we face are unequivocal.

Business as usual would signify that the current mean global temperature, which is already around 1 degree Celsius above average temperatures before the industrial revolution, can warm up by 4 to 5 degrees Celsius. The impacts of such an increase in global temperature would be catastrophic.

Increasingly, in some regions, as a result of an increase in global temperature it would be impossible to stay outdoors for a length of time. Parts of the earth will, as a result, become uninhabitable. The increased temperatures at the poles will accelerate the melting of the polar ice-caps, as a result further increasing the rise in sea-level. Coastal communities will be under threat and all coastal activity and infrastructure will be severely impacted.

The change in atmospheric conditions will increase precipitation in areas and drought in others. The frequency and intensity of storms and the resulting havoc will multiply as is already evident in the various parts of the globe.

The Paris summit conclusions signified that the international community has recognised and accepted the accumulated scientific evidence on climate change. In Paris it was agreed that each individual country will identify and communicate its pledges through which they will participate in the global effort to address the causes of the change in climate. These pledges have to be updated every five years. The pledges registered so far, even if adhered to, are however insufficient to limit warming to well below two degrees Celsius, and preferably to not more than one and a half degrees Celsius, in line with the expectation of communities spread along coastal areas and low-lying islands. Much more is required to walk the talk.

To achieve the Paris targets global emissions must be reduced by not less than half not later than 2030. We must attain a carbon neutral status by not later than the year 2050.
In order to reach these essential targets Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac draw on the various proposals which have been made to date. They emphasise that the change required is significant: a change of this magnitude, they emphasise, would require major transformations in all that we do. It would require radical changes as to how we live, work and travel, along with changes to what we consume as well as to how and what to produce.

The sudden advent of the Covid-19 crisis has given a minor hint of some of the changes.
Telework must be a permanent component of our method of operation and not a temporary exception. Education can and should contain a more permanent online component.

Non-essential travel should be curtailed on a permanent basis. Where necessary, travelling should use sustainable means. This does not only include electrification of our cars, after drastically reducing their numbers, but also a substantial reduction of aeroplanes from our skies permanently. Acting on climate change means that tourism as currently practised has no future. Air travel will become quite costly if its considerable environmental impacts are internalised.

On a long-term basis the current intensive development of our road infrastructure also serves no purpose. Fewer cars on our roads will also signify extensive land use planning impacts. Local communities can then reclaim back our roads. With fewer cars there will be less need of parking space and/or garages. Our towns and villages may then be planned for residents, not for cars.

We need to appreciate and make full use of local agricultural products. However, agriculture must internalise its substantial environmental costs. The cost of production of meat and dairy products, for example, would be substantial if their environmental impacts are internalised. Christiana and Tom, comment that in 2050 food is expensive because it requires valuable resources to produce. “Water. Soil. Sweat. Time.” Clearly the current Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union has no future once we seriously start implementing the conclusions of the Paris agreement.

The impacts of Covid-19 are child’s play when considering the long-term impacts of climate change. Faced with climate change we have one practical option: a radical change in how we live, work and play. The Covid-19 rehearsal is nature’s clear warning. We ignore it at our peril.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 10 May 2020

Politika dwar turiżmu sostenibbli

L-Awtorità Maltija tat-Turiżmu għadha kif ħabbret li tul l-2019 2.75 miljun turist żaru Malta. Din qabża kbir fuq perjodu ta’ għaxar snin. Fl-2010 iċ-ċifra kienet ta’ 1.33 miljun turist. Ġejna infurmati wkoll li t-turisti li żaru Malta tul l-2019, kemm damu fostna, nefqu iktar minn 2.2 biljun euro, ċifra li taqbeż ir-rekord stabilit fl-2018.

Dawn numri impressjonanti, sakemm tistaqsi (u jkollok tweġiba għal) mistoqsija bażika. Dan kollu, sostenibbli?

Xi snin ilu l-Awtorità tat-Turiżmu kienet ikkonkludiet studju li minnu joħroġ li t-turist li jiġi jżura, ras għal ras, jikkonsma 50% mir-riżorsi iktar minna li noqgħodu hawn. Din l-informazzjoni kont sibtha jiena u naqra wieħed mir-rapport dwar il-qagħda ambjentali tal-pajjiż (State of the Environment Report). Fil-qosor, dan ifisser impatt addizzjonali ras għal ras fuq ir-riżorsi li nagħmlu użu minnhom u mhux biss l-ilma u l-elettriku imma wkoll l-iskart iġġenerat, it-trasport, l-art żviluppata u ħafna iktar.

L-istatistika ppubblikata mill-Uffiċċju Nazzjonali tal-Istatistika tiffoka fuq l-aħbar pożittiva relatata mat-turiżmu lejn Malta. Imma dan kollu xejn ma jispjega l-impatti ġġenerati bħala riżultat. L-istatistika, wara kollox, m’għandiex dan l-iskop! Mhuwiex xieraq li tiffoka fuq l-aħbar li timpressjona mingħajr ma tfisser u tispjega l-impatti kkawżati biex jitlaħqu dawn ir-riżultati. .

Xi ġimgħat ilu, fuq dawn il-paġni kont iddiskutejt turiżmu li qed jikber iżżejjed (overtourism). Dakinnhar kont staqsejt jekk l-impatt ekonomiku tat-turiżmu jiġġustifikax l-effetti soċjali u ambjentali tiegħu. Dak li jiflaħ pajjiżna, jiġifieri dak li nirreferu għalih bħala l-carrying capacity tal-gżejjer Maltin, ċioe n-numru ta’ turisti li għalihom għandna riżorsi adegwati, hu ta’ importanza fundamentali f’din id-diskussjoni. Politika dwar it-turiżmu li dan kollu ma tqiesux sewwa hi politka difettuża.

Julia Farrugia Portelli, Ministru għat-Turiżmu, donnha hi tal-istess ħsieb. Fil-fatt, hi u titkellem dwar iċ-ċifri tat-turiżmu għas-sena 2019 ħabbret li l-abbozz tal-pjan għat-Turiżmu li għandu jwassalna sal-2025 ser ikun ibbażat fuq il-prinċipji ta’ turiżmu sostenibbli, kif ukoll fuq il-kisbiet tas- snin li għaddew.

Jista’ t-turiżmu qatt ikun sostenibbli? Kif bosta minna bla dubju ntebħu, is-sostenibilità hi terminu minn l-iktar abbużat.

Aħna u neżaminaw il-kontribut tat-turiżmu lis-soċjetà Maltija m’għandniex nillimitaw ruħna għad-dħul finanzjarju: għandna nagħtu każ ukoll tal-ispejjeż, mhux biss f’termini ta’ flus imma wkoll l-ispiża soċjali u ambjentali.

B’żieda mal-eċċessività ta’ riżorsi ikkunsmati ras għal ras mit-turisti wieħed għandu jżid mhux biss l-iżvilupp esaġerat tal-art, li għalih it-turiżmu wkoll jagħti sehem mhux żgħir, imma ukoll il-kontribuzzjoni lejn it-tibdil fil-klima mill-industrija tal-avjazzjoni. Din hi materja li ma nistgħux nibqgħu ninjorawha. Bla dubju ser nisimgħu ħafna iktar dwar dan matul il-ġimgħat u x-xhur li ġejjin huwa u jiżviluppa d-dibattitu dwar il-Patt Ġdid Aħdar tal-Unjoni Ewropea (EU Green Deal) ippilotat mill-Kummissarju Frans Timmermanns. Dakinhar nifhmu aħjar dwar kif jaħsbuha dwar is-sostenibilità u l-iżvilupp sostenibbli dawk li jfasslu l-politika.

Il-viżjoni għat-turiżmu għas-snin li ġejjin tkun waħda werċa jekk ma tagħtix kaz tal-impatti soċjali u ambjentali tal-industrija. Dawk li jfasslu l-politika għat-turiżmu għandhom iħarsu lil hinn mid-dħul finanzjarju.

Lura fl-2008 l-antropologu Katalan Manoel Delgado kien ħoloq it-terminu turistofobia, biża’ mit-turiżmu, terminu li jwassal taħlita ta’ sentimenti ta’ stmerrija, nuqqas ta’ fiduċja u tmaqdir tat-turiżmu. Il-politika dwar it-turiżmu għandha tindirizza dawn l-impatti tat-turiżmu billi tassigura li t-turiżmu jkun limitat u ma jaqbiżx dak li jiflaħ il-pajjiż (carrying capacity). Dan ikun pass tajjeb il-quddiem għat-turiżmu u jikkuntrasta mal-qagħda xejn sostenibbli li għandna illum.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 9 ta’ Frar 2020