A Green New Deal is required

published January 9, 2010

by Carmel Cacopardo

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In the aftermath of the Copenhagen Climate Summit, fingers have been pointed at China and the US as the perceived culprits for the summit’s failure. The real fault lies elsewhere as the culprit is subservience to competition policy. Economic efficiency on its own does not lead to the right choices as the choices required are not just of an economic nature. They are in addition and simultaneously of a social, environmental and ethical nature.

Human beings are an integral part of an ecological system. This basic fact has to be the constant point of reference in all decisions taken. Unfortunately, it is however continuously ignored.

Subjecting nature to the economy is not possible in the long- term. Nature reacts whenever it considers that this is necessary in order to restore its ecological balance.

In the process, it wipes out of existence all that lies in its path. This has been going on for ages. Climate change is just the latest manifestation of this basic rule: nature always reigns supreme.

The earth’s resources are limited and, consequently, they cannot fuel infinite economic growth. There are limits to growth, which should lead developed countries to consider decoupling prosperity and economic growth.

This is a policy issue the United Kingdom Sustainable Development Commission is discussing. It is addressed in a study authored by Tim Jackson from the University of Surrey and is entitled Prosperity Without Growth: The Transition To A Sustainable Economy.

The pursuit of economic growth as the single most important policy goal is in conflict with the earth’s limited resource base and the fragile ecosystem of which we are a part and on which we depend for survival.

While economic growth is supposed to deliver prosperity, it has instead delivered climate change, fuel insecurity, sky-high commodity prices, collapsing biodiversity, reduced access to water and an ever-increasing global inequality. These are all issues whose tackling cannot be postponed to the next generation.

Progress is measured through the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). GDP measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.

It is just concerned with material wealth ignoring in the process our health, education, the safety of our streets, the social tissue of society… It includes the production of armaments and the destruction of the environment carried out in the name of progress as well as the television programmes that glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

In an EU-sponsored conference in 2007, entitled Beyond GDP: Measuring Progress, True Wealth And The Economic Well-Being Of Nations, a common thread running through the proceedings was that decision-making requires a vision based on the role of the human person within an ecological setting. If all humankind lived as the developed world, the resources of three earths would not suffice. This is the challenge of the emerging economies: they want their fair share of the earth’s resources.

The insistence of China, India, Brazil and South Africa reflected in the Copenhagen Accord (subsequently adopted by the US too) that the principle of common and differentiated responsibility should be the basis of a post-Kyoto agreement signifies that equity not competition should rule the roost.

The Copenhagen accord, though noted by the international community, is non-binding and will not be easily accepted by Parliaments in the developed world as an equitable tool to tackle climate change.

The principle of common and differentiated responsibility was successfully applied in the Montreal Protocol of 1987 relative to the elimination of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and the protection of the ozone layer.

When this principle is applied to climate change, as proposed by the Copenhagen Accord, it signifies that the international community recognises that each and every state is contributing to the accumulating disaster but that the responsibility to act differs.

The differentiation depends on the manner in which countries have contributed to the problem.

Those countries that have been emitting greenhouse gases since the industrial revolution should shoulder a larger share of the global cost of mitigation measures.

They also have the duty to assist other states in adapting not just by financing the changes required but also through facilitating the transfer of know-how and technology.

Commitment of billions of euros in aid has been made by both the EU and the US. Throwing monies at problems has never solved them! What is required is a green new deal, an integrated policy approach to the multiple crises the earth is facing. It is an approach proposed by the European Green Party during the 2009 elections for the European Parliament calling for the ecological transformation of the European economy.

Addressing the impacts of climate change cannot be divorced from the need to restructure the economy to one which is not dependent on carbon: an economy that considers its ecological impacts on the drawing board and not as an afterthought.

This is the only way forward.

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Waste update : back to the drawing board

times_of_malta196x703

by Carmel Cacopardo

published on Saturday February 28, 2009

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The Solid Waste Management Strategy update published recently, identifies a zero waste scenario as a long-term aim. It refers to a number of studies commissioned and proceeds to a selective use of conclusions from the said studies, which are still under wraps.

A Situation Audit of the strategy was carried out in 2005. Yet, the only conclusion that has found its way into the proposed update is a statement on the practical non-existence of the interministerial committee set up to coordinate the strategy’s implementation across government. The full Situation Audit should see the light of day. The public has the right to be informed as to the manner in which targets were attained and the reasons as to why others were missed.

The update is incomplete; it postpones updating the strategy on hazardous waste, promising instead a Topic Paper in the future. The management of hazardous waste includes the implementation of the WEEE Directive (Waste from Electric and Electronic Equipment), which is way behind schedule.

Producers and their representatives in terms of the WEEE Directive assume full responsibility for the waste generated by their products. Yet, the government, through the simultaneous application of the eco-contribution and the WEEE Directive, has placed them in a situation where they have to pay twice for the handling of electric and electronic waste: The payment of an eco-contribution and shouldering producer responsibility in terms of EU legislation. The result is that while, on paper, the WEEE Directive in Malta has been transposed, in practice its implementation is being obstructed. It is an area of responsibility that EU legislation assigns specifically to the private sector, yet the government is reluctant to lose a substantial chunk of eco-contribution revenues and is consequently applying the brakes.

The regulation of scrap yards does not feature in the update. They are required in order to recycle scrap metal. However, they should operate within a regulatory framework, in particular in conformity to the WEEE and the ELV (End of Life Vehicle) Directives. Recently, it was reported that, during testimony submitted in a planning appeal, concerning the enforcement order relative to the Ta’ Brolli scrap yard in Birzebbuga, it was revealed that part of its business originates from the custom of government departments and corporations!

Some scrap yards process scrap from disused refrigerators! Processing? They just crush them, as a result releasing refrigeration gases to air. These gases are CFCs (chloroflorocarbons), contributors to the depletion of the ozone layer. In a regulated environment in terms of the WEEE Directive, processing disused refrigerators for waste would include the careful collection of the CFCs as a first step. Instead, some Maltese scrap yards are contributing to the depletion of the ozone layer in contrast to the provisions of the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which Malta has bound itself to observe and implement.

The proposal for an updated strategy encourages a policy favouring waste incineration. It proposes that the use of bio-digestion to convert waste to energy is complemented by a policy favouring incineration. Specifically, it proposes a waste to energy incinerator to be sited at Delimara next to the power station. This could also mean that on waste recovery sites (currently in operation or projected) the two technologies could co-exist.

Incineration is undoubtedly a waste management tool. In my opinion, it should however, only be used as the last option.

Relying on incineration to produce electricity would, on the plus side, reduce required landfill space and the fuel bill. It would still, however, contribute to the production of greenhouse gases and, hence, cannot be described as a source of clean energy. On the minus side, it negates the need to reduce waste generation and produces other possibly toxic emissions, which would vary dependent on the composition of the RDF (refuse derived fuel).

The regulation of these emissions is normally established through a permit issued by Mepa in terms of the EU Directive on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control. The acceptability or otherwise of an incineration facility even as a tool of the last resort would in my view result from two points: The quality of emissions control imposed by Mepa through the conditions established in the IPPC permit, and the enforceability of these conditions.

If the manner in which the Marsa incinerator has operated in the past months is a reliable indicator on the workings of Mepa and Wasteserv, this is sufficient on its own to discard the incinerator option even as a tool of last resort.

These are just a few of the points indicating reasons as to why the proposed waste strategy update needs to go back to the drawing board. Together with the fact that a Strategic Environmental Assessment has not to date been carried out, this is clear evidence of its poor quality. Such a document cannot lead to a fruitful public discussion.