Greening: what really matters

A public consultation is currently under way relative to green roofs and green walls. A 42-page document entitled Green Paper on Greening Buildings in Malta: Initiatives for Green Walls and Roofs for Residential, Commercial, and Industrial Buildings was published, explaining the objectives to be attained. The encouragement of green roofs and green walls aims to contribute towards reaching the zero-carbon objective in 2050. 

I have no issue with greening walls and roofs where this is appropriate. However, notwithstanding all the good intentions, there is a risk that the predominant green produced is more plastic! Maybe they could, instead, start by respecting our existing green walls made up of the substantial number of trees being continuously uprooted by the Ministry for Transport!

My issue is with the artificiality of “environment policy” in Malta which concentrates and over-inflates on minor issues and then turns a blind eye to the issues that really matter.

Among the most pressing issues is that of the urgent need of greening transport policy: that is the need to ensure that mobility issues in the Maltese islands are addressed in a sustainable manner.

Two specific policy issues currently in hand need complete reversal.

The current massive investment of resources in roadbuilding is a blatant misuse of public funds as they place car-usage as the primary objective to be facilitated. It is pertinent to point, once more, towards the National Transport Master Plan 2025 which in crystal-clear language explains what’s wrong with transport policy in the Maltese islands.

The following extract is self-explanatory: “Improve integrated and long-term strategic planning and design: This objective has been defined since historically, it can be seen from experience that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has generally been more short-term (4-5 years) in nature. The lack of importance given to long-term planning means that a long-term integrated plan based on solid analysis with clear objectives and targets is lacking. This has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint.

There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change but this is in contrast with the need for communal actions to address the traffic problems existing now and in the future. This results in the Maltese traveller expecting that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.” (page 88 of National Transport Master Plan 2025)

Greening transport policy in Malta essentially means addressing and reducing car ownership in order to substantially reduce private vehicles from our roads. In a small country such as ours, sustainable mobility cannot be achieved through private vehicles but through alternative transport. Everywhere is within reach. In fact, the Transport Master Plan emphasises that 50 per cent of the trips we make with private cars are for distances taking less than 15 minutes, meaning that such trips are local or regional in nature.

We need more public transport initiatives and less private cars on our roads instead of further extensions to the public road network through massive road infrastructural projects.

The proposed Gozo tunnel is likewise another unnecessary project. It is a tunnel which facilitates the use of private cars. The feasibility of the said project is tied to a substantial increase in car movements between the islands as it is the payment of fees levied on cars making the trip that pays for the tunnel project. The documentation projects an increase from 3000 to 9000 daily movements of vehicles, a threefold increase. Green walls and green roofs do not cancel out such irresponsible action.

Greening roofs and walls do not involve rocket science. There is no issue with the implementation of a policy encouraging green roofs and green walls although it would be quite useful if plastic use in such walls and roofs is reduced! But transport policy is contentious as it involves unpopular but essential decisions. Restraining the use of private vehicles is, of paramount importance. Coupled with more public transport improvements it will reduce cars on the roads, improve the quality of our air and reduce household expenses. Avoiding this decision will only make matters worse.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 14 February 2021

Il-karozzi iddominaw ħajjitna

Hi sfortuna li tul is-snin ħallejna ħajjitna tkun iddominata mill-karozzi.

Għaddejna minn kontroversja wara l-oħra dwar l-infrastruttura tat-toroq. Sfortunatament jidher li minn dan kollu l-awtoritajiet għadhom ma tgħallmu xejn.  L-aħħar każ hu dwar il-proposta għal fly-over ġdida għall-Imrieħel: fly-over oħra li mhiex meħtiega.

Il-proposta tal-Imrieħel għadha qed tkun imfassla. Ma hemmx wisq dettalji li huma magħrufa, s’issa, ħlief li probabbilment ser ikun hemm impatt sostanzjali fuq madwar 20 tomna ta’ raba’ saqwi. Minn dak li hu magħruf s’issa  Infrastruttura Malta bdiet tiltaqa’ mal-bdiewa dwar dak li eventwalment ser ikun propost.

Mhux meħtieġ li nkunu nafu d-dettalji ta’ dak li hu ppjanat, kif qed jgħid il-Ministru għat-Transport Ian Borg, biex nikkritikaw il-programm tal-Gvern dwar l-infrastruttura tat-toroq għax dan hu oġġezzjonabbli fil-prinċipju.  

M’għandiex bżonn iktar toroq. Imma għandna bżonn inqas karozzi fit-toroq li għandna.  Tnaqqis ta’ karozzi mit-toroq jwassal għal tnaqqis fil-konġestjoni tat-traffiku u titjib fil-kwalità tal-ħajja, inkluż iktar sigurtà fit-toroq tagħna għal kulħadd.

It-toroq tagħna mballati bil-karozzi. Għal din ir-raġuni l-Gvern qabbad esperti bex jistudjaw il-problema. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, bl-għajnuna ta’ fondi għall-iżvilupp reġjonali tal-Unjoni Ewropea tfassal Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport (Masterplan) minn konsulenti barranin. Il-Kabinett approva dan il-pjan fl-2016, imma kontinwament qiegħed jonqos milli jassigura li dan ikun implimentat.

Waħda mill-osservazzjonijiet bażiċi ta’ dan il-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport hi li nofs il-vjaġġi bil-karozzi privati jdumu inqas minn 15-il minuta, jiġifieri huma vjaġġi għal distanzi qosra. Bla ebda dubju hemm bosta mezzi sostenibbli li jservu għal mobilità alternattiva: il-karozzi privati bla ebda dubju nistgħu ngħaddu mingħajrhom għal dawn id-distanzi qosra, fil-parti l-kbira tal-każi.

Il-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport iwissina dwar in-nuqqas f’Malta tal-ippjanar għat-trasport: ippjanar li jħares sal-ponta ta’ mnieħru għax ma jħarisx fit-tul.  Bħala konsegwenza ta’ dan  ftit li xejn jeżistu miri ċari, hemm nuqqas  ta’ direzzjoni strateġika kif ukoll nuqqas ta’ kapaċità li jkunu ndirizzati materji diffiċli bħat-tnaqqis ta’ karozzi mit-toroq. Il-Maltin huma konservattivi wisq, jgħid il-pjan (There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change) u dan f’kuntrast mal-ħtieġa għal azzjoni fil-komunità biex tkun indirizzata l-problema tat-traffiku, kemm kif inhi illum kif ukoll kif għad tista’ tiżviluppa.  Dan, ikompli jgħid il-pjan tat-trasport approvat mill-Kabinett, iwassal biex is-sewwieq Malti jippretendi li kulħadd għandu jaddatta l-mod kif jivvjaġġa biex hu jkun jista’ jibqa’ jsuq il-karozza tiegħu! (This results in the Maltese traveller expecting that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.)

Il-politika dwar it-trasport ma jistax ikun li tibqa’ ippjanat biċċa biċċa, mil-lum għal għada. Jeħtieġ ippjanjar olistiku. Dan hu l-iskop li sar dan il-Masterplan: biex ikollna pjan olistiku u nibdew inħarsu fit-tul. Biex pjan bħal dan ikun implimentat, imma, hemm bżonn deċiżjonijiet iebsin li għandhom iwasslu għal tnaqqis fin-numru esaġerat ta’ karozzi privati li hawn fit-toroq tagħna.  

Il-problema reali li qed iżżomm l-implimentazzjoni ta’ dan il-pjan hi li l-Gvern m’għandux il-kuraġġ li jieħu dawn id-deċiżjonijiet. Ma jridx jirfes kallijiet!  

Irridu nifhmu darba għal dejjem li ċ-ċokon ta’ pajjiżna jagħmilha possibli li permezz ta’ transport pubbliku organizzat sewwa nilħqu kull rokna tal-pajjiż f’ħin qasir.

It-trasport pubbliku f’Malta għamel progress kbir f’dawn l-aħħar snin, imma dan mhux biżżejjed. Għax it-trasport pubbliku ma jistax jikkompeti ma’ Gvern li kontinwament  jinkoraġixxi l-użu tal-karozza privata b’toroq ġodda u flyovers li flok jirrestrinġu iż-żieda tat-traffiku fit-toroq tagħna jagħmluh iktar faċli.

Għal żmien twil, Gvern wara l-ieħor kien skjav tal-karozza. Il-politika tat-trasport kienet u għada politika favur il-karozzi li jikkundizzjonawlna ħajjitna. Hu dan li għandu jinbidel.

Jeħtieġ li l-politika tat-trasport tpoġġi lin-nies l-ewwel, qabel il-karozzi.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : 27 ta’ Diċembru 2020

King of the Road

It is indeed unfortunate that over the years we have allowed the car to control our lives.

We have gone through too many controversies related to road infrastructure. Unfortunately the authorities have not learnt anything in the process. The latest case being the proposed Imrieħel bypass improvements through the construction of yet another unnecessary fly-over.

The proposed bypass improvements apparently are still on the drawing board. No details on the proposals are available except that most probably there will be a considerable impact on irrigated agricultural land, measuring around 20 tumoli, that is approximately 22,500 square metres. From what is known, recently, Infrastructure Malta has sounded farmers which may be impacted by the proposals.

Contrary to what has been stated by Minister for Transport Ian Borg, criticism of government’s road infrastructure programme does not require details as it is objectionable on a point of principle. We do not require more roads, but rather less cars on the roads. Such a reduction of cars from our roads would reduce traffic congestion as well as have a marked improvement in everyone’s quality of life, inclusive of an increased safety for all.

Our roads are currently bursting at the seams. Government has commissioned studies to study the matter. As a result, a Transport Masterplan has been produced by foreign consultants paid through EU Regional Development Funds. Cabinet has approved this Masterplan in 2016, yet it has repeatedly failed to ensure its implementation.

One of the basic observations in the said Transport Masterplan is that 50 per cent of the trips we make with private cars are for distances taking less than 15 minutes, meaning that such trips are local in nature. We can easily be served with more sustainable options to address this basic observation: use of private cars is certainly not one of them.  

The Transport Masterplan admonishes us as follows: “………… it can be seen from experience that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has generally been more short-term (4-5 years) in nature. The lack of importance given to long-term planning means that a long-term integrated plan based on solid analysis with clear objectives and targets is lacking. This has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint. There is a strong reluctance for Maltese society to change but this is in contrast with the need for communal actions to address the traffic problems existing now and in the future. This results in the Maltese traveller expecting that everyone else will change their travel habits so that they can continue to drive their car.”

Transport policy needs to be looked at holistically and not in a piecemeal fashion. That is the purpose of the Masterplan: to take a holistic view and lay out a long-term roadmap. Obviously to implement such a roadmap tough decision-taking is involved which would reduce and restrict can ownership. The real problem of Transport Policy implementation is that government does not have the balls to take such tough decisions.

The point to be addressed is that the relative smallness of our country makes practically every corner of the islands within easy reach even through public transport if this is organised properly.

Public Transport in Malta has made gigantic steps forward, but these are not sufficient. Public transport cannot compete with a government which is continuously encouraging the use of private transport and making it continuously easier through massive funds made available for unnecessary flyovers and underpasses!

Government is continuously mishandling transport policy. It is about time that it is placed back on track.

It has been government policy for more than the past twenty-five years that the car rules over our roads. We should change that. We need to reclaim ownership of our roads (and streets) placing more emphasis on the needs of the pedestrian who should be the real king of the road.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 27 December 2020

Obliterating the future

Humanity is at war with nature. Isn’t it about time for peace?

This is the basic message of António Guterres, United Nations Secretary General, in an address delivered at Columbia University earlier this week.

António Guterres said: “Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal. Nature always strikes back – and it is already doing so with growing force and fury. Biodiversity is collapsing. One million species are at risk of extinction. Ecosystems are disappearing before our eyes.”

If humanity keeps the current pace there is the danger that we destroy the future before we have even understood the risks that we are continuously creating.

The past decade has been the hottest in human history. Some are still focusing on short term gains ignoring long term losses. Even if all the commitments made at the Paris Climate Summit in 2015 are honoured completely, we would still have some way to go in order to attain the agreed minimum objectives: limiting the global mean temperature increase to not more than 2 degrees Celsius, hopefully closer to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Beyond the 2-degree limit climate change will become catastrophic and irreversible.

Climate change is nature fighting back forcefully, without discriminating. The war is on at full speed all over the globe. In some parts it is drought. In others it is floods. Havoc is the result everywhere. The intensity and frequency of storms is on the increase as the cumulative impacts of our actions continuously increase.

There is no possibility to negotiate with nature, her demands are clear and simple: unconditional surrender. We need to change our ways and habits. Nature can be a reliable friend but if transformed into an enemy, it is ruthless as climate change shows unequivocally.

It has been a hectic 48 years since the first ministers for the environment were appointed as a direct result of the deliberations of the international community in the UN Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in June 1972. Some progress has definitely been achieved over the years but it is certainly nowhere close to enough.

It has been realised that there is only one earth which we need to care for. It has been 34 years since the Brundtland report placed sustainable development on the international agenda. Though officially accepted as an important policy objective, it is still subject to mental gymnastics in determining practical every day action to reduce impacts which threaten our future.

The spirit of the 2015 Paris summit is one which recognised the need for urgent action, yet five years down the line procrastination is still the order of the day. As we may have realised by now, half measures are not effective in addressing nature’s revenge.

We cannot keep postponing the decision to determine the cut-off date for the elimination of petrol and diesel run vehicles from our roads. The decision announced in September 2017 is taking too long to implement leading to the reasonable assumption that reluctance is having the upper hand.

The electrification of our roads is one important step which needs to be implemented rapidly if we are to start the path to carbon neutrality in a meaningful way. It must however also be accompanied by a reduction of the number of cars on our roads, an achievable objective, given the small distances which we travel in such a small country. 

It is to be underlined, once more, that the Transport Master Plan for the Maltese Islands has identified that around 50 per cent of our car journeys are for short distances in respect if which we can definitely use alternative means.  This signifies that the required changes, in our case, are less painful, even in the short term. We need however to address contradictory policy stances: the required reduction of cars from our roads will be more difficult to achieve if the development of large-scale road infrastructure is still the order of the day. Even the proposed Gozo Channel tunnel falls in this category as its feasibility is dependent on maximising car movements, a requirement which is in direct contradiction to the Paris Climate Summit conclusions!

The risk of obliterating the future is still present. Nature will not be fooled. It can distinguish between greenwash and meaningful action. Unfortunately, it is clear that it has not been impressed by our action to date. There is not much time left to change course.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 December 2020

Kontradizzjonijiet

Jekk wieħed joqgħod biss fuq dak li jgħidu dawk li jitkellmu f’isem il-Gvern, malajr jasal għal konklużjoni żbaljata li qatt ma kellna Gvern favur l-ambjent daqs dan tal-lum. Sfortunatament l-affarijiet huma ferm differenti minn hekk!

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa ġie fi tmiemu l-perjodu ta’ sitt ġimgħat konsultazzjoni dwar l-iskop tal-Istrateġija Nazzjonali tal-Biodiversità u l-Pjan t’Azzjoni dwarha li għandu jwassal sal-2030. Għal xi raġuni li s’issa għad mhiex magħrufa l-Awtorità dwar l-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi (ERA), għal dawn l-aħħar snin qed tikkonċentra l-konsultazzjonijiet importanti għax-xhur tas-sajf (b’mod partikolari tul Awwissu) meta hu magħrufa li n-nies tieħu l-vaganzi u allura tistrieħ!

L-Istrateġija Nazzjonali dwar il-Biodiversità u l-Pjan t’Azzjoni assoċjat magħha, bla dubju, meta jkun konkluż ser ifittex li jħares il-kapital naturali tal-pajjiż fit-totalità tiegħu.  

Imma iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, Clint Camilleri, l-Ministru għall-Kaċċa u l-Insib, ħabbar li l-Gvern, għal darb’oħra, ser jerġa’  jipprova jissabotaġġa l-implementazzjoni tal-Direttiva tal-Unjoni Ewropea dwar l-Għasafar billi jipprova jisfrutta xi partijiet minnha!   Il-konsulenti tal-Gvern qed jippruvaw jagħmlu użu minn dik il-parti tad-Direttiva tal-Għasafar li tipprovdi dwar l-istudji xjentifiċi: din tippermetti  l-qbid ta’ numru żgħir ta’ għasafar ħajjin. Dan kollu, fil-fehma tal-Gvern u l-konsulenti tiegħu, jista’ jiġġustifika xi forma ta’ nsib!

Jidher li għadhom ma fehmu xejn: id-Direttiva tal-Għasafar tal-Unjoni Ewropea hi għodda Ewropeja dwar il-ħarsien tal-biodiversità u mhux strument biex jiġġustifika l-kaċċa jew l-insib!

Il-Prim Ministru Robert Abela, il-ġimgħa li għaddiet, waqt li kien qed jindirizza l-Kamra tal-Kummerċ ħabbar viżjoni msejsa fuq ħames punti. Wieħed minn dawn il-punti, li fl-aħħar induna bih, hu l-ħtieġa li naddottaw bħala mira li nilħqu n-newtralità fl-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju. Mira tajba, kieku dak li qed jgħid hu veru!

Dan hu każ ieħor fejn għal darb’ oħra, l-Gvern, ambjentalment qed juri wiċċ b’ieħor, kif wara kollox issa ilna li drajna!  Il-Gvern ilu s-snin iberbaq il-miljuni tal-euro fi żvilupp ta’ infrastruttura ta’ toroq li mhiex meħtieġa: l-iskop uniku hu li jirrinforza d-dipendenza fuq il-karozzi privati għax minnhom jiddipendi ammonti kbar tad-dħul tal-Gvern: minn taxxi fuq petrol u diesel sa taxxi u liċenzji assoċjati mal-karozzi.

Il-Gvern ikkummissjona studji, strateġiji u Pjani Nazzjonali u meta waslu għandu qalibhom ta’ taħt fuq.  Id-dikjarazzjoni ta’ Robert Abela favur viżjoni bil-mira ta’ newtralità fl-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju hija f’kontradizzjoni mal-infieq massiċċ tal-Gvern fuq infrastruttura tat-toroq li mhix meħtieġa.  Il-Gvern ta’ Abela, bħal dawk ta’ qablu (ħomor u blu), jaħseb li l-problemi jistgħu jissolvew billi jkunu  bbumbardjati bil-miljuni tal-euro. Il-flus ċertament dejjem ikunu ta’ għajnuna, imma jeħtieġ li jintużaw tajjeb u mhux jitberbqu kif qed iseħħ presentement.

L-ispazju li għandi hu limitat u allura ma nistax nispjega mill-ġdid il-proposti kollha li Alternattiva Demokratika għamlet dwar dan kollu tul is-snin: proposti Ii jiswew farka mill-miljuni li l-Gvern qiegħed iberbaq.  

Ikun biżżejjed li niftakru li l-Pjan Nazzjonali dwar it-Trasport jispjega illi 50 fil-mija tal-vjaġġi li nagħmlu bil-karozzi privati fil-gżejjer Maltin għandhom tul li ma jaqbizx il-ħmistax-il minuta. Dan juri b’mod mill-iktar ċar  mobilità primarjament ta’ natura lokali u reġjonali!  Għal dan la hemm bżonn ta’ flyovers u l-anqas ta’ mini imma qafas biex fih jitħaddem transport lokali u reġjonali.  Huma inizjattivi ta’ din ix-xorta li jnaqqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq li jgħinuna fit-triq diffiċli lejn n-newtralità fl-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju!

Għaddew madwar tlett snin minn meta l-predeċessur ta’ Robert Abela ħa proposta mill-Manifest Elettorali ta’ Alternattiva Demokratika dwar il-ħtieġa li nistabilixxu data li minnha lil hemm ma jinbiegħux karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-diesel u dan flimkien ma proposti oħra dwar l-elettrifikazzjoni tat-trasport fit-toroq tagħna. Imma l-istudji mwegħda ma jidhrux b’nemes!

Il-kontradizzjonijiet fil-politika ambjentali tal-Partit Laburista jimxu fuq l-eżempju tal-predeċessuri tagħhom fil-Gvern li waqt li kienu jokorbu biex nipproteġu l-ilma fasslu proġett biex l-ilma tax-xita jispiċċa kważi kollu l-baħar. Proġett li spiċċa biex mal-ilma tax-xita, rema’ l-baħar, miljuni ta’ euro f’fondi Ewropej!

Il-paroli tal-Labour u tal-PN dwar l-ambjent qatt ma solva xejn. Għax dejjem jgħidu ħaġa u jagħmlu oħra.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 23 t’Awwissu 2020

Contradictions

Taking government spokespersons at face value could lead to the mistaken conclusion that Labour in government is a defender of the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth!

Earlier this week saw the end of a six-week consultation period relative to the Intent and Objectives of a National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan leading to 2030. For some unknown reason the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA), for the past years has been concentrating its most important consultations during the summer months, in particular August, the least productive months as they coincide with the holiday period. The National Biodiversity Strategy and relative Action Plan will, when concluded, strive to actively protect our natural capital in its widest sense.

Yet earlier this week Clint Camilleri, Minister for Hunting and Trapping, announced another government attempt to try and sabotage the implementation of the EU Birds’ Directive through seeking potential additional loopholes.  Government advisors are trying to use the provisions of the Birds’ Directive relative to scientific studies, which permit the live capture of a small number of birds, to make a case for local trapping! They seem to not have yet understood that the EU Birds’ Directive is a biodiversity protection tool and not an instrument to justify hunting or trapping in whatever form or shape.

Prime Minister Robert Abela, when addressing the Chamber of Commerce last week, deemed it fit to announce a five-point vision. One of the points which he has at last adopted is the aim of attaining carbon neutrality. Very laudable indeed, if it were true!

This is another case of environmental lip service which we have become accustomed to for a number of years. Government has over the past years been squandering millions of euros in large scale transport infrastructural projects with the specific aim of reinforcing our dependence on the private car. Private cars are the source of large chunks of government income, ranging from taxes on fuel to car licences and registration taxes. Government has commissioned studies, strategies and National Plans which it then turns on their head. Robert Abela’s late conversion to a vision of a carbon neutral Malta is in direct contradiction to the spending spree on road transport infrastructure. His government, like that of his predecessors, red and blue, thinks that problems can be solved by being bombarded with euros, millions of them. Euros certainly help but they must be well spent, not squandered as they currently are.

I haven’t got space today to go through all the proposals which Greens have brought forward over the years, costing a fraction of the millions currently going down the drains. It would suffice to point out that the National Transport Master Plan had identified that 50 per cent of trips using private cars in the Maltese Islands are of a duration of less than fifteen minutes, clearly indicating primarily a mobility that it is local or regional in nature!  We don’t need flyovers, tunnels or underpasses to address this but an efficient local and regional transport network which we currently lack. It is such initiatives which encourage reduction of cars from our roads and help us climb the steep road to carbon neutrality!

It is now almost three years since Robert Abela’s predecessor took a leaf out of the Green Electoral manifesto on proposing a cut-off date on the sale of vehicles operating with internal combustion engines, and on other measures relating to the electrification of our roads. Yet the promised studies are nowhere in sight!

The constant contradictions in environmental positions taken by Labour follow the path entrenched by its predecessors, who, while emphasising the need to protect our water resources devised a project to throw away our storm water directly into the sea, using millions of euros of EU funds which ended up down the drain, with the water.

The environmental lip-service of Labour and the PN has never solved anything, nor will it ever do.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 23 August 2020

In-natura dejjem tiddeċiedi

Bħala riżultat tal-coronavirus il-pajjiż kważi wieqaf. Ġie kkonfermat għal darba oħra li m’aħniex iżolati min-natura u l-forzi naturali ta’ madwarna. Ma għandna l-ebda immunità la mill-virus u l-anqas mill-forzi tan-natura.

Illum hawn il-pandemija tal-coronavirus li għaddejja tkaxkar minn quddiema lil min ma jkunx moħħu hemm. Għada, mhux ‘il-bogħod, irridu niffaċċjaw il-qilla tat-tibdil fil-klima.

In-natura ma tiddiskriminax u tibqa’ għaddejja minn fuq kulħadd.

Il-pandemija tal-coronavirus hu maħsub li oriġinat f’Wuhan iċ-Ċina, fis-suq tal-annimali maqbuda mis-selvaġġ, permezz tal-bejgħ ta’ laħam tagħhom, ewlieni fosthom laħam tal-friefet il-lejl.

Din ġrat drabi oħra. Il-marda respiratorja magħrufa bħala SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), li tfaċċat madwar għoxrin sena ilu imma li kellha firxa limitata, ukoll oriġinat minn virus ġej mill-istess familja tal-coronavirus. Ġie identifikat li anke is-SARS toriġina minn annimali fis-selvaġġ. Jidher li fiż-żewġ każi l-virus joriġina prinċipalment mill-friefet il-lejl.

Fi żmien ieħor, kien skopert li l-HIV (Human Immune-deficiency Virus) li jattakka u jeqred id-difiża interna ta’ ġisimna toriġina minn l-ikel ta’ laħam tax-xadini infettat. Anke l-virus Ebola, kawża ta’ infezzjonijiet fatali, hi trasmessa minn annimali infettati bħall-friefet il-lejl u x-xadini, ġeneralment permezz tal-ikel ta’ laħam infettat.
In-natura għandha l-ħabta li meta jidhrilha tiddeċiedi. Il-virus jibqa’ għaddej b’mod naturali u sakemm jitwaqqaf b’imġiebitna xejn ma jżommu.

It-tbagħbis tan-natura dejjem iwassal għal konsegwenzi serji. Hemm prezz x’jitħallas għal imġiebitna. Kull meta ninjoraw dan il-fatt bażiku, jiddispjaċina.

Nimmaġina li ħadd minna ma kiel laħam infettat ġej mill-friefet il-lejl inkella mix-xadini. Aħna iżda nbagħbsu man-natura mod ieħor li fuq tul ta’ żmien jagħmel ħsara daqs il-virus li jaqbeż mill-farfett il-lejl għal ġol-bniedem.

Il-kwalità tal-arja tagħna ħafna drabi hi deskritta mill-agenzija Ewropea tal-Ambjent bħala waħda fqira.

Imma wara li daħlu fis-seħħ il-miżuri biex nikkumbattu l-imxija tal-coronavirus, fl-Imsida, fejn l-Awtorità tal-Ambjent għandha stazzjon li jkejjel il-kwalità tal-arja, ġie osservat tnaqqis fit-tniġġiż tal-arja. L-informazzjoni li nġabret mill-kampjuni tal-kwalità tal-arja tindika tnaqqis sostanzjali fit-tniġġiż li hu assoċjat mal-użu tal-karozzi. Dan seħħ tul dawn l-aħħar ġimgħat bħala riżultat tal-fatt li iktar nies qed jaħdmu mid-dar kif ukoll minħabba li l-istituzzjonijiet edukattivi għalqu l-bibien tagħhom. L-użu tal-karozzi naqas sostanzjalment u dan wassal għal tnaqqis fit-tniġġiż li joriġina mit-traffiku.

Kellha tkun il-coronavirus li twassal għall-implimentazzjoni tal-istrateġija nazzjonali tat-trasport li identifikat id-dipendenza fuq il-karozzi bħala l-problema ewlenija li dawk li jfasslu l-miżuri dwar it-trasport kontinwament jinjoraw. Nofs il-vjaġġi bil-karozzi privati f’Malta idumu inqas minn 15-il minuta. Dan ifisser li l-mobilità meħtieġa hi prinċipalment ta’ natura lokali jew reġjonali u għal distanzi qosra. Xi ħtieġa hemm ta’ karozzi privati għal dan? F’pajjiż fejn kważi kullimkien huwa tefa’ ta’ ġebla ‘l-bogħod għandna iktar minn biżżejjed mezzi alternattivi ta’ transport.

L-impatt tal-Covid-19 fuq il-ġenerazzjoni tat-traffiku u allura fuq il-kwalità tal-arja jindika li m’għandniex ħtieġa li nibqgħu għaddejjin bil-ħela ta’ fondi pubbliċi fuq proġetti massivi mhux meħtieġa in konnessjoni mal-infrastruttura tat-toroq. Ilkoll jeħtieġ li nifhmu li hu possibli illi nnaqqsu sostanzjalment l-impatti fuq il-kwalità tal-arja jekk nindirizzaw bis-serjetà d-dipendenza tagħna lkoll fuq il-karozzi privati. Jagħmlu tajjeb dawk li huma nkarigati mill-ippjanar tat-trasport jekk jagħtu każ tal-impatti tal-coronavirus fuq it-traffiku: tibdil fl-imġieba tagħna lkoll u tnaqqis tat-traffiku ġġenerat.

L-impatt tat-traffiku fuq il-kwalità tal-arja hu kontribut sinifikanti ta’ Malta għat-tibdil fi-klima. It-tibdil fil-klima hi r-reazzjoni tan-natura għat-tniġġis tal-arja ikkawżat fid-dinja, prinċipalment mill-bniedem. Din diġa qed timmanifesta ruħha permezz ta’ tibdil, kultant sostanzjali, fit-temperaturi, perjodi twal ta’ nixfa u varjazzjonijiet dwar meta u kemm tagħmel xita. Kultant l-istaġuni donnu jaslu barra minn żmienhom.

L-impatti tal-coronavirus qed jagħtu ftit nifs lin-natura u dan mhux biss f’Malta! Hemm bosta lezzjonijiet x’nitgħallmu biex forsi nibdlu l-imġieba tagħna u l-istil ta’ ħajjitna. Meta l-impatti tat-tibdil il-klima jiżdiedu u jilħqu l-milja tagħhom, dak li għaddej bħalissa riżultat tal-coronavirus inqiesuh bħala insinifikanti. Hemm bżonn niftħu ftit widnejna u nagħtu każ dak li qed tgħidilna n-natura.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 29 ta’ Marzu 2020

 

Nature calls the shots

COVID-19 has brought the country to a standstill. We are not isolated from nature and its forces at work around us. We are not immune, not just from viruses, but from the forces of nature.

Today it’s the pandemic COVID-19 that’s ploughing through. Tomorrow it will be climate change.

Nature acts in a non-discriminatory manner.

The coronavirus pandemic is thought to have had its origins at the Wuhan wild animal market in China through the sale of meat derived from various wild animals, primarily bats.

This is not the first time for such an occurrence. SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), is another respiratory disease which was detected some 20 years ago, when it had a limited spread. It was traced to a virus belonging to the same family of viruses as the Coronavirus, also traced to viruses originating in wild animals. Incidentally, bats seem to be the point of origin in both cases.

At other times HIV (Human immune-deficiency Virus) which destroys the human immune defences, was traced to the eating of meat of infected chimpanzees. Likewise, the Ebola virus, causing outbreaks of fatal infections, is transmitted from infected animals such as fruit bats, chimpanzees, and monkeys, to humans, generally through the consumption of infected meat.

Nature has a habit of calling the shots whenever it deems fit. Viruses follow natural paths and until brought in check by proper behaviour on our part, they will reign supreme.

Tinkering with nature and natural processes always backfires. There is then a price to pay and we ignore this at our peril.

None of us, most probably, has consumed infected meat from bats or chimpanzees. However, we tinker with nature in other ways, which, in the longer term are just as lethal as viruses which jump from bats to man.

The quality of our air is poor. The European Environment Agency in fact, at times, describes it as very poor.

Yet after the Coronavirus mitigation measures came into force there was a substantial decrease in air pollution registered at the air-monitoring station in Msida operated by the Environment and Resources Authority. Data available indicates a significant decrease in pollutants associated with a decrease in car use during the past weeks as more work from home and the educational institutions closed their doors. Car use has decreased substantially, as a result leading to an all-round decrease in traffic generated pollutants.

It had to be the Coronavirus to commence seriously “implementing” Malta’s National Transport Master Plan which identified car-dependency as a major issue ignored continuously by our transport planners. A basic statistic which stares at us in the face is that 50 per cent of car trips in Malta have a duration shorter than 15 minutes. It follows that mobility is primarily local and regional in nature and on very short routes. Do we need private cars for this? Are the available alternative means of transport not sufficient for this need in a country where practically everywhere is a stone’s throw away?

The impact of COVID-19 on the generation of traffic and consequently on air quality should be an eye opener indicating that we do not need to waste public funds on unnecessary infrastructural road works. We need to understand that it is possible to substantially reduce our impacts on air quality if we address car-dependency head-on. The traffic impacts of Coronavirus could be of help to transport planners to do their job properly.

The impact of traffic on air quality is a significant contribution from Malta towards climate change.

Climate change is nature’s reaction to man-made pollution of the atmosphere. This is already manifesting itself through changes in temperatures, extended periods of drought and changes to rainfall patterns. The seasons at times seem to be inversed. It could get worse, much worse in fact.

The Coronavirus impact has introduced some much-needed breathing space for nature and natural forces, not only in Malta. There are significant lessons to be learnt in order to adjust our behaviour. When the full force of nature releases additional impacts of climate change, the coronavirus impacts would pale to insignificance. Is it not about time that we start listening to nature and act accordingly?

Published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 29 March 2020

Il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli

Il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli hi materja li għandha tkun f’idejn il-Prim Ministru minħabba li tmiss ma’ kull qasam tal-politika. Hu interessanti li għal darba oħra r-responsabbiltà politika għall-iżvilupp sostenibbli reġgħet ġiet lura Kastilja, f’ħoġor il-Ministru Karmenu Abela, li nħatar Ministru fl-Uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru. Sal-lum dan rari seħħ ħlief għall-perjodu qasir li fih Mario Demarco kien Segretarju Parlamentari għat-Turiżmu u l-Ambjent.

Robert Abela mhuwiex l-ewwel Prim Ministru li emfasizza l-ħtieġa li jingħata iktar importanza lill-iżvilupp sostenibbli. Ħadd minnhom, imma, ma rnexxielu!

It-terminu “żvilupp sostenibbli” huwa l-iktar wieħed mit-termini fid-dizzjunarju politiku li huma użati ħazin. Il-lingwaġġ politiku użat kważi qatt ma jasal biex ifisser u jispjega li l-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli hi politika li tħares fit-tul: li kontinwament, huma u jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet, tagħti każ il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri.

Il-gvernijiet ma jagħtux importanza biżżejjed lill-iżvilupp sostenibbli għax din m’hiex biss dwar illum imma hi ukoll dwar għada. Hi dwar kif il-ħidma tal-lum teħtieġ li issir b’mod li ma jkunx ippreġudikat għada u l-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri. Għada min rah? L-interess ta’ bosta minnhom iwassal sa ħames snin, jiġifieri sal-elezzjoni ġenerali li jmiss.

Dan hu punt li saħqet dwaru Gro Harlem Brundtland, Norveġiża u soċjalista demokratika li kienet Prim Ministru ta’ pajjiżha. Fir-rapport li hi ħejjiet għall-Ġnus Magħquda snin ilu dwar l-ambjent u l-iżvilupp, intitolat Our Common Future, emfasizzat li “Naġixxu b’dan il-mod għax nafu li mhu ser jiġri xejn: il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri ma jivvutawx; m’għandhomx poter politiku jew finanzjarju; ma jistgħux jeħduha kontra d-deċiżjonijiet tagħna.”

Il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli mhix biss dwar l-ambjent: hi dwar kif inħarsu b’mod integrat lejn il-politika ambjentali, ekonomika, soċjali u kulturali. Tfisser li l-ħidma tagħna jeħtieġ li tħares fit-tul u li simultanjament trid tkun kompatibbli man-natura, l-ekonomija, l-iżvilupp uman u l-kultura tagħna.

L-iżvilupp sostenibbli hu dwar kif nistgħu f’kull ħin inkunu f’armonija ma’ dak li aħna mdawrin bih. Il-ħin kollu, u mhux biss meta jaqbel. Tirrikjedi s-sinkronizzazzjoni tal-politika kulturali, soċjali, ambjentali u ekonomika. Għax il-ħarsien tad-dinjità umana, l-apprezzament tal-wirt kulturali u l-ħarsien ambjentali huma essenzjali daqs l-iżvilupp ekonomiku.

Fil-qafas globali, kif ukoll Ewropew, il-politika dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli tfisser ukoll l-implimentazzjoni tal-miri dwar l-iżvilupp sostenibbli approvati mill-Ġnus Magħquda: 17-il mira imfissra f’169 oġġettiv. Din hi l-Aġenda Globali 2030 li dwarha l-Unjoni Ewropea ħadmet ħafna biex tkun maqbula mill-komunità internazzjonali. Filwaqt li l-Aġenda 2030 hi importanti kollha kemm hi, partijiet minnha għandhom importanza ikbar għalina f’Malta.

Ħu, per eżempju, l-immaniġjar tal-ilma. Hu essenzjali li nifhmu li huwa meħtieġ li r-riżorsa tal-ilma nieħdu ħsiebha sewwa u li l-użu li nagħmlu minnha jkun wieħed sostenibbli. Sfortunatament, sal-lum, l-immaniġjar tal-ilma f’Malta huwa kkaratterizzat minn doża mhux żgħira ta’ inkompetenza. Hemm aċċess kważi bla kontroll għall-ilma tal-pjan filwaqt li kwantità kbira ta’ ilma tax-xita jintrema l-baħar: kemm direttament permezz tal-mini li tħaffru għal dan l-iskop kif ukoll permezz tas-sistema tad-drenaġġ. Ir-regoli dwar il-ġbir u l-ħażna tal-ilma tax-xita applikati mill-awtoritajiet għal bini u żvilupp ġdid ħafna drabi mhumiex osservati. L-awtoritajiet ftit li xejn jagħtu kas.

Il-politika dwar it-transport hi qasam ieħor fejn l-ippjanar li ma jħarisx fit-tul jeħtieġ li jkun sostitwit billi tkun applikata l-politika ta’ żvilupp sostenibbli. Il-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Trasport, li jibqa’ fis-seħħ sal-2025, jiġbdilna l-attenzjoni tagħna li nofs il-vjaġġi li nagħmlu bil-karozzi privati jdumu inqas minn kwarta. Dan jindika li inizjattivi biex ikun imrażżan it-traffiku fuq livell lokali u reġjonali jista’ jindirizza b’mod effettiv il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku fit-toroq tagħna bil-vantaġġ doppju ta’ titjib fil-kwalità tal-arja fejn din hi l-iktar meħtieġa.

Il-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Transport jgħidilna li f’dan il-qasam, tul is-snin, ftit li xejn ħarisna fit-tul. Dan wassal, jgħidilna l-pjan, għal nuqqas ta’ direzzjoni strateġika u bħala riżultat ta’ dan żviluppajna l-inkapaċità li jkunu indirizzati materji diffiċli bħalma hi dik li tikkonċerna t-tnaqqis tal-karozzi privati. Min-naħa l-waħda għandna dan il-ħsieb sostenibbli dwar l-ippjanar tat-trasport, imma imbagħad min-naħa l-oħra l-Gvern ġie jaqa’ u jqum u għaddej bi programm ta’ nfieq sostanzjali fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq bl-iskop li tiżdied il-kapaċità tagħhom u bil-konsegwenza li d-dipendenza tagħna fuq il-karozzi tibqa’ tiżdied.

Dan kollu żejt fil-bażwa għax ġie ippruvat tul is-snin, bi studji li saru f’diversi pajjiżi, illi l-iżvilupp tas-sistema tat-toroq ma tnaqqasx il-konġestjoni tat-traffiku, imma isservi biss biex il-problema tkun posposta inkella tiċċaqlaq minn żona għall-oħra.

L-affarijiet huma agħar fil-qasam tal-ippjanar għall-użu tal-art. Gvernijiet suċċessivi wrew li ma kienux kapaċi jrażżnu l-iżvilupp esaġerat. B’wiċċ ta’ qdusija artifiċjali t-tmexxija politika tiddeskrivi lilha nnifisha bħal ħbieb tan-negozji (business friendly) inkella, kif smajna din il-ġimgħa ħbieb tas-suq (market friendly) u dan biex jippruvaw jiġġustifikaw in-nuqqas ta’ azzjoni adegwata. Qalulna li l-industrija tal-bini tant ħolqot impjiegi li qed tikkontribwixxi b’mod effettiv għal titjib fil-kwalità tal-ħajja.

Imma, kif bla dubju nafu lkoll, l-industrija tal-kostruzzjoni kienet fuq quddiem nett tkattar il-ħsara lill-pajjiż permezz ta’ żvilupp esaġerat bil-pretensjoni li l-ħsara ambjentali ikkawżata minnhom nagħmlu tajjeb għaliha aħna, l-bqija. Sfortunatament, ġew mgħejjuna minn gvernijiet suċċessivi li kontinwament fittxew kif jagħmluhielhom iktar faċli biex igawdu l-frott ta’ ħidmiethom. L-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art kif ipprattikat f’pajjiżna mhux sostenibbli u iktar ma jkun imrażżan malajr, ikun aħjar għal kulħadd.

In-nuqqas tal-politika għall-iżvilupp sostenibbli tinħass prattikament fl-oqsma kollha. Jeħtieġ li llum qabel għada nħarsu fit-tul f’kull deċiżjoni li tittieħed. Kien pass tajjeb, pass ‘l-quddiem li r-responsabbilta politika għall-iżvilupp sostenibbli marret lura f’Kastilja, fl-Uffiċċju tal-Prim Ministru. Imma dan għandu jkun biss l-ewwel pass. Il-bidu, segwit minn hafna iktar passi.

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

The politics of sustainable development

The politics of sustainable development is a matter for the Prime Minister’s direct consideration as it is wide-ranging and concerns all areas of policy.

It is quite interesting that once more sustainable development has taken up residence at Castille, being the responsibility of Minister Carmelo Abela, who has been appointed as a Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister. This was very rarely the case to date except in the short period during which Mario de Marco was Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism and the Environment.

Robert Abela is not the first Prime Minister who has emphasised the need to give much more importance to sustainable development. To date, however, none of them has delivered.

Sustainable development is one of the most abused and mis-used terms in the political lexicon. Political discourse continuously fails to project the politics of sustainable development as having a long-term view and continuously factoring future generations in the decision-taking process.

Governments do not give sufficient importance to sustainable development as this is not just about today. It is rather about how today’s activity should not prejudice tomorrow and future generations. This is not sufficiently on the radar of today’s politicians. Their interest, generally, does not span more than five years: that is until the next general election.

This is a point underlined by former Norwegian social democrat Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland in her seminal UN Report Our Common Future who emphasised that “We act as we do because we can get away with it: future generations do not vote; they have no political or financial power; they cannot challenge our decisions.

The politics of sustainable development is not just a matter of environmental concern: it involves a holistic consideration of environmental, economic, social and cultural policy. It signifies that our actions must have a long-term view and be simultaneously compatible with the forces of nature, the economy, human development and our culture.

Sustainable development is about living in harmony with all that surrounds us, at all times, not just when it suits us. It requires the synchronisation of cultural, social, environmental and economic policy. Shielding human dignity, appreciating our culture and environmental protection are as essential as economic development.

Within a global and EU framework the politics of sustainable development also involves following and implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goals: 17 goals and the associated 169 targets. This is the global 2030 Agenda to which the European Union contributed substantially. While the whole 2030 Agenda is important, some aspects of it are relatively more important on a local level.

Consider water management, for example. It is imperative that we realise that we need to manage our water resources in a sustainable manner. To date gross incompetence has characterised water management in Malta. Access to the water table is still substantially a free for all, while storm water is mostly dumped into the sea, either directly or through the public sewer system. Rules for rainwater harvesting within the framework of land use planning are more honoured in the breach, without the authorities taking the minimum of enforcement action.

Transport policy is another area where short-term planning needs to give way to the politics of sustainable development. The National Transport Master Plan which runs until 2025 draws our attention that 50 per cent of private car journeys involve trips that are shorter than 15 minutes. This indicates that taking initiatives to reduce vehicular traffic at a local and regional level would be of considerable help in addressing road congestion and improving air quality where it matters most.

The National Transport Master Plan emphasises that the approach to transport planning and policy in Malta has, to date, generally been short-term in nature. This “has resulted in the lack of strategic direction and the inherent inability to address difficult issues such as private vehicle restraint.” On the one hand we have this “written” sustainable approach to transport policy, yet on the other hand government has embarked on an unsustainable spending spree of infrastructural development to increase the capacity of our roads, as a result ensuring that car-dependency continues unabated.

Addressing traffic congestion through expanding the road network only results in shifting the problem: either physically to another area, or else moving it in time.

The cherry on the cake is land use planning. Successive governments have been unable to restrain overdevelopment.

Sanctimoniously they describe themselves as being business friendly or market friendly to try and justify their lack of adequate action. The building industry, we are repeatedly told, creates so much jobs that it “contributes to the quality of life”.

As we are all well aware the construction industry has been a major force in ruining this country through over-development and through expecting us to foot their environmental bills. Unfortunately, they have been aided by successive governments who continuously seek ways to make it easier for the industry to plunder their way through. Land use planning is clearly unsustainable and the sooner it is restrained the better for all.

Sustainable development is conspicuous by its absence in practically all areas of policy. The politics of sustainable development still needs to be ingrained in the day-to-day policy-making structures. Assigning political responsibility for sustainable development to a Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister could be a good first step forward. However, there is still a long way to go.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 19 January 2020