published on Saturday, March 21, 2009
by Carmel Cacopardo
On February 26, during a public session, the Mepa board discussed development proposed at Malta Freeport. It decided that the approved development was to include a condition that an environmental permit relative to Freeport operations was henceforth to be a requirement and that this was to be underpinned by an environmental management system (EMS).
I was fortunate enough to participate in this discussion on behalf of AD and in support of the Birżebbuġa local council. I stressed the need to address and contain the impacts of Malta Freeport on the local residents through an EMS, which would be subject to environmental auditing.
This decision by the Mepa board is of the utmost importance. For the first time, Mepa has intervened in order that local industry adopts an EMS into its control mechanisms. In Malta, to date, this has only been carried out by companies operating as part of an international set-up, such as ST and the pharmaceutical companies that have set up shop recently.
The Freeport needs to understand that it has to behave as a good neighbour to the Birżebbuġa community. Economic activity on its own, generating profits and employment, though essential, is not sufficient. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) needs to be factored in. CSR is not about corporate sponsorships and donations: it is about the responsible behaviour of business and industry. Acting responsibly includes ensuring that the impacts of industrial activity are addressed.
This would undoubtedly entail costs. Currently, these costs are inexistent on the Freeport balance sheet: they are being borne directly by the Birżebbuġa community and paid for through an inferior quality of life. These hidden costs (externalities) include but are not limited to the contamination of the bay, the emissions to air from the various activities going on within the Freeport perimeter and noise at all times of the day, most notably during the silent hours.
Malta Freeport Terminal has been assigned to CMA-CGM, the third largest shipping container company in the world. They have commenced direction of the terminal for a period of 65 years pursuant to a decision of Parliament.
Given its size, CMA-CGM operates from a large number of ports around the globe in which they have built a solid reputation. Their website proudly and justifiably reveals that they have an environmental policy which aims at “protecting the marine environment, fighting climate change and developing eco-friendly services and solutions”. The CMA-CGM group also prides itself with the award received for the second year running from the Port of Long Beach, California as part of its Green Flag Programme. This award, according to the CMA-CGM website, reflects their commitment to environmental protection!
The Green Port Policy of the Port of Long Beach has five guiding principles, the first one of which is “the protection of the community from harmful environmental impacts of port operations”. The latest available annual report (2007) for the Port of Long Beach, entitled Reshaping A Vibrant Community, emphasises that the port takes a leadership role in the development of strategies to mitigate security risks in the port complex. Of particular interest is the section in the said report (page 17) which speaks of “Exporting Green policy to seaports worldwide”. Linking with such a vision on the part of CMA-CGM should put the minds of Birżebbuġa residents at rest! Will it?
So far, globalisation and its cousin competition policy have been the vehicle for privatisation, deregulation and economic fundamentalism. The global players imported within our shores to take charge of sections of the Maltese economy have yet to bring along their best environmental practices such that it be ensured that the communities in which they operate are not burdened with the hidden costs of their operations. To date, it has been a globalisation of opportunities for profit seekers, responsibilities lagging far behind! CSR is hardly in sight!
The Mepa board decision of February 26 paves the way for Malta Freeport to be compelled to manage its environmental externalities. It is indeed noteworthy to see that Mepa has, following public participation, taken a leaf out of the CMA-CGM environmental policy and included this as one of the conditions of the development permit.
On February 26, the Mepa board, in addition to underlining the fact that Malta Freeport needs to address its environmental impact, refused one of its applications: that dealing with an extension of the Terminal One West Quay. It is hoped that the Freeport will be capable of deciphering the writing on the wall. By determining that an EMS should underpin an environmental permit regulating the Freeport operations, the Mepa board has identified the way forward. Its neighbours hope that Malta Freeport will move along that path and that Mepa will not backtrack after the June MEP elections!