After the agricultural fair has ended

The onslaught on agricultural land is continuous. It is unfortunately many a time abated by land use planning operatives. It would be an understatement to emphasise that they should know better.

Among the countless examples faced on a continuous basis I can list the following: the over-development of road infrastructure, quarries, boatyards, solar farms and fireworks factories proposed in rural areas and in lieu of agricultural land. Added to these examples one can add the craze of changing the use of agricultural land into picnic or barbeque areas. This creation of recreational areas is squeezing out agriculture! All this would not happen without the complicity of the Planning Authority and those appointed to lead it.

The agricultural fair organised last week exposed another aspect: the anguish of the farming community. A discussion organised within the precincts of the grounds of the agricultural fair focused on food security. The spiralling cost of imported animal feed fuelled by the Russian invasion of Ukraine as well as international business pressures are adding to the problems of those involved in animal husbandry.

Farmers are being pushed out of the land they have been tilling at an increasing rate. No one in his right senses would dare invest in the modernisation of an agricultural holding in such a climate. The banks, on the other hand, emphasised the farmers who took part in the discussion, are not forthcoming with loans to facilitate matters, most probably as they consider the risks involved too high.

In the meantime, eviction of farmers from the land they have tilled for generations continues unabated as government takes too long to come up with a reform of the agricultural lease legal setup.

Government has, for all intents and purposes, abandoned the agricultural community. In addition, it has repeatedly carved agricultural land into new or widened roads. The irrigated agricultural land at Attard had to make way for the so-called Central Link. Shortly more agricultural land on the outskirts of  Qormi will make way for improvements to the Mrieħel bypass project.  Add this to the planned havoc continuously emanating from the Planning Authority and you can easily understand what the agricultural community has to bear.

It is indeed ironic that a government which boasts of a programme which is intended to create more open spaces is at the same time determined to ruin more natural open spaces on the outskirts of our towns and villages.

It is clear that government has taken a basic political decision: cars have a priority over agriculture. This decision is clearly manifested in the manner of operation of Infrastructure Malta which is gobbling up extensive agricultural land which stands in the way of its projects. It is further manifested in the absolute silence of the Agricultural Ministry when it is faced with this behaviour. The agricultural minister is apparently more interested in our heritage which leaves him little time to focus on the needs of agriculture and the farmers who depend on it for their livelihood.

Given the ever-increasing population on these islands it was always very clear that local agriculture could never, on its own, suffice to cater for our needs. Supplementing local agricultural produce with imported produce should be done with care as there is always a danger that the local market can be flooded with low priced goods which make the life of our farmers more miserable than it already is!

The organisation of the agricultural fair was a good idea. It must however be supplemented with a heavy dose of good faith which is missing in the attitudes of the holders of political office in the Ministry of Agriculture through the rest of the year, that is when there is no agricultural fair!

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday : 29 May 2022

L-istupru t’Għawdex

Il-PLPN kontinwament jipperfezzjonaw l-istrateġija tagħhom dwar l-istupru t’Għawdex. Din l-istrateġija illum il-ġurnata jispjegawha fil-wegħdiet elettorali tagħhom.  Sfortunatament, f’din il-ħidma tagħhom għandhom l-appoġġ ta’ għaqdiet bħall-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdxija li għadhom kif ħarġu dokument bil-prijoritajiet li huma qed jipproponu għall-leġislatura li jmiss.

Il-mina taħt il-fliegu bejn Malta u Għawdex, għalihom tibqa’ prijorità. Ma’ dan issa żdied mitjar rurali. Jidher li jridu jassiguraw li l-istupru li qed jippjanaw fuq Għawdex ikollu effett massimu.

Il-mina proposta mhiex għan-nies iżda għall-karozzi. Hi mina dipendenti b’mod assolut fuq il-karozzi u l-inġenji kummerċjali oħra li jkunu jistgħu jagħmlu użu minna. Kull waħda minn dawn il-karozzi jew inġenji kummerċjali tħallas biex tgħaddi mill-mina. Il-vijabilità ekonomika tal-mina tiddependi milli jkunu mħajjra jagħmlu użu minna l-ikbar numru possibli ta’ karozzi.

F’wieħed mill-istudji li saru kien ħadem stima li bħala riżultat tal-mina proposta, il-moviment ta’ karozzi bejn Malta u Għawdex jimmultiplika ruħu bi tlieta, minn 3000 moviment kuljum għal 9000 movement kuljum. L-istudju hu intitolat Establishing a Permanent Link between the Island of Gozo and Mainland Malta: An Economic Cost Benefit Analysis of Available Strategic Options.  Dan l-istudju kien ikkummissjonat mill-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdxija  u  Transport Malta.

Il-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdija qegħda fuq quddiem nett fl-isforz biex Għawdex ikun stuprat. Flimkien mal-PLPN iridu jerfgħu r-responsabbiltà għall-konsegwenzi.

X’sens jagħmel li żżid bi tlett darbiet il-moviment tal-karozzi Maltin fit-toroq Għawdxin? It-toroq Għawdxin jifilħu għal dan? Għandna nissagrifikaw il-kwalità tal-arja f’Għawdex ukoll?  Jagħmel sens li nesportaw il-problemi tat-traffiku minn Malta għal Għawdex?

It-tweġiba ovvja għal kull waħda minn dawn il-mistoqsijiet hi le. Bosta minnha huma konxji li t-toroq Għawdxin ma baqax fejn tqiegħed labra fihom u dan bħala riżultat tal-karozzi li diġa qed jaqsmu l-fliegu f’dan il-mument.

Anke fit-toroq Għawdxin hemm il-ħtieġa li jonqsu l-karozzi.  Diġa hemm wisq. Ma jagħmilx sens li jiżdiedu. Dan imur kontra dak kollu li jipprovdi l-pjan nazzjonali għat-trasport. Dan il-pjan japplika għal-Għawdex ukoll.

Is-servizz tal-fast-ferry service, jekk organizzat sewwa b’mod li jwassal in-nies f’punti differenti tul il-kosta Maltija, jibqa’ soluzzjoni tajba. B’hekk tkun assigurata mobilità sostenibbli bejn il-gżejjer.  Imma biex dan ikun effettiv, jeħtieġ ukoll transport pubbliku iffukat u faċilitajiet aħjar fil-port tal-iMġarr Għawdex. Dan jassigura mobilità aħjar b’impatt ambjentali sostanzjalment imnaqqas.  

Il-pjan nazzjonali għat-trasport, ippubblikat mill-Gvern Laburista jemfasizza l-ħtieġa li jonqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna. Il-proposta għal mina bejn Malta u Għawdex tikkontradixxi dan il-pjan. Għalfejn il-Gvern jieħu parir, iħallas għalih minn fondi pubbliċi u imbagħad jinjorah? Għaliex il-Gvern qiegħed kontinwament jinjora l-pjan tat-trasport tiegħu stess?

Jekk il-proġett tal-mina isseħħ, dan ser ikun il-kawża ta’ ħsara ambjentali sostanzjali kemm f’Malta kif ukoll f’Għawdex.  F’Malta ser jinqered il-villaġġ trogloditiku tal-Għerien fil-limiti tal-Mellieħa. F’Għawdex ser jinqered ammont mhux żgħir ta’ raba’ f’ Ta’ Kenuna, limiti tan-Nadur.

Hemm iktar soluzzjonijiet biex tkun indirizzata l-mobilità bejn Malta u Għawdex. Dan jirrikjedi li niffukaw fuq il-mobilità tan-nies. Jirrikjedi li nindirizzaw id-dipendenza li żviluppajna fuq il-karozza, kemm f’Malta kif ukoll f’Għawdex. Sakemm nieħdu d-deċiżjoni li nibdew nindirizzaw din id-dipendenza, kull soluzzjoni li nippruvaw, ftit tista’ tkun effettiva.  

Ilna nopponu l-proposta għall-mina sa mill-ewwel jum minn meta, madwar għaxar snin ilu, din ġiet proposta mill-Kamra tal-Kummerċ Għawdija bl-appoġġ tal-PLPN. Jekk inti ukoll ma taqbilx li issir din il-mina żomm quddiem għajnejk li huma biss membri parlamentari eletti f’isem ADPD li jistgħu jmexxu l-quddiem l-idejat tiegħek.  

Bl-appoġġ tiegħek nhar is-26 ta’ Marzu hu possibli li dan l-istupru li l-PLPN qed jippjanaw nevitawh.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 13 ta’ Marzu 2022

The rape of Gozo

The PLPN have elevated their strategy to accelerate the rape of Gozo to manifesto status. Unfortunately, they are supported in their endeavours by the likes of the Gozo Business Chamber which has just issued its key priority areas for the next legislature.

The tunnel below the Gozo Channel remains a priority on their books. To this they have now added a “rural airfield”. It seems that they want to ensure that their planned rape has maximum effect on Gozo.

The proposed tunnel is a tunnel for cars not for people.

The proposed Gozo tunnel is dependent on cars and other vehicles making use of it. It is these cars which will be subject to the payment of tolls. Maximising such vehicular use is crucial for the proposed tunnel to make any economic sense.

One of the studies carried out, which is in the public domain, had estimated that as a result of the proposed tunnel, the current daily movements of vehicles between Malta and Gozo would be trebled from 3000 daily movements to 9000 daily movements. The study entitled Establishing a Permanent Link between the Island of Gozo and Mainland Malta: An Economic Cost Benefit Analysis of Available Strategic Options was commissioned some years back by the Gozo Business Chamber together with Transport Malta.

The Gozo Business Chamber is in the front seat in this effort to rape Gozo. Together with the PLPN it has to shoulder responsibility for the consequences.

Does it make sense to treble the daily vehicle movements on Gozitan roads? Do Gozitan roads have that capacity? Should we sacrifice air quality in Gozo too? Does it make sense to export traffic problems from Malta to Gozo? The obvious answer to all these questions is a clear no. Most of us are aware that Gozitan roads are already bursting at the seams as a result of the number vehicles crossing over at this point in time.

Cars should be decreased on Gozitan roads too! There are already too many on the road. Increasing them exponentially is not on. This is the antithesis of the underlying theme of the National Transport Master Plan.

The fast-ferry service, suitably organised and servicing multiple destinations along the Maltese coast, is the potential long-term solution to ensure having a reasonable and sustainable mobility between the islands. In order for this to be effective, however, it has to be buttressed by a more focused public transport service and substantially improved port facilities at Mġarr Gozo. This will ensure better mobility with a much-reduced environmental impact.

The National Transport Master Plan published by this Labour administration advocates the need to reduce the number of cars on our roads. The proposal for the Gozo tunnel contradicts this objective. Why does government seek advice and then ignore it? Why does government repeatedly ignore its own Transport Master Plan?

If the tunnel materialises, it will result in significant environmental damage in both Malta and Gozo. On the Malta side it would include the obliteration of the troglodytic village at l-Għerien in the limits of Mellieħa. In Gozo it would ruin extensive agricultural holdings in the Ta’ Kenuna area, in the limits of Nadur.

There are other solutions which can adequately address the mobility between Malta and Gozo. It does however require thinking outside the box and focusing on the real issue: the sustainable mobility of people. This would require a bold initiative of addressing head-on car-dependency in both Malta and Gozo. Until we take the decision to start shedding our car- dependency, however, no solution can be really effective.

The Green Party has been opposing the proposal for an undersea tunnel continuously since it was first tabled by the Gozo Business Chamber and supported by the PLPN, around ten years ago. If you disagree with this tunnel proposal kindly note that it is only green members of parliament on the ADPD list that can represent your views.

Your support on the 26 March is essential to prevent this from happening.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 13 March 2022

Il-metro: ħtieġa ta’ informazzjoni

Fi tmiem il-ġimgħa l-Gvern ħabbar il-posizzjoni tiegħu dwar il-Metro. Imma l-istudji li għandu ma ippubblikahomx.

Kif jista’ jkollna diskussjoni matura dwar il-proposta jekk il-Gvern iżomm għalih l-informazzjoni li għandu?

Naqblu dwaril-ħtieġa urġenti li l-pajjiż ikollu mezz ta’ transport tal-massa. Dan ilna ngħiduh bħalma ilna ngħidu lil-infieq massiċċ tal-Gvern fuq it-toroq ma solva xejn. Kien ħela ta’ flus. Anke l-konsulenti tal-Gvern qed jgħidu li minkejja l-infieq fl-infrastruttura tat-toroq għad għandna problem kbar.

L-issue l-kbira li teħtieġ diskussjoni hi dwar jekk il-metro jkunx taħt l-art inkella jekk ikunx prinċipalment f’livell tat-triq. Prinċipalment dan qed ngħidu minħabba l-iskart li ser ikun ġġenerat kemm-il darba l-metro jsir taħt l-art.

Jekk, kif indika l-Gvern, l-għażla tmur favur metro taħt l-art l-iskart ġġenerat ser jispiċċa radam fil-baħar, reklamazzjoni sfurzata. Aħna ma naqblux ma dan u jidhrilna li għandu jsir sforz biex dan ikun evitat.

L-għażla ta’ metro f’livell tat-triq [jeżistu ukoll sistemi hybdrid: metro/tramm] jelimna l-parti l-kbira tal-iskart, inaqqas iż-żmien tal-implimentazzjoni, inaqqas l-ispiża u jkun ta’ benefiċċju ambjentali ferm ikbar.

Fid-dawl ta’ dan hu meħtieġ li jkunu ppubblikati b’mod urġenti ir-rapporti u l-istudji kollha li saru u dan għax sa llum ftit li xejn ġiet ippubblikat informazzjoni li tista’ tkun ta’ għajnuna għad-diskussjoni pubblika. Il-logos u l-videos huma ‘PR’, mhux informazzjoni. Ma jistax ikollna diskussjoni matura dwar dawn il-proposti jekk  l-informazzjoni li għandu l-Gvern iżommha għalih u din tibqa’ moħbija mill-iskrutinju pubbliku.

Another fake consultation

Reading through the Green Paper entitled “Towards Cleaner Vehicles on Our Roads” it is evident that this consultation process is flawed. After being 4 years in the making, instead of proposing solutions it just asks questions which should have been answered by the Green Paper itself as part of the consultation process.

This is symptomatic of a government which has been continuously emitting conflicting signals on transport issues. The Green Paper recognises the obvious when it states that transport combustion emissions increased by 86 per cent over the period 1990-2018. The massive investment in unnecessary road infrastructure has been a major contributor in this respect, a point which is conveniently ignored by the Green Paper.

The proposed shift to cleaner vehicles on our roads is welcome, but on its own it is not sufficient. This measure will definitely reduce combustion emissions. It will however also shift the said emissions from our roads to the sources of the electrical energy used to electrify our roads. Knowing that government is planning to install a second interconnector to the Sicilian mainland for the supply of electricity it is clear that part of the emissions will be shifted 80 kilometres to the north, the rest to Delimara. It is still unclear how this will be reflected in the price we pay for electricity, as information on the matter is conveniently absent from the Green Paper.

The Green Paper rightly discusses the need to upgrade the skills of the technical personnel required in servicing and maintaining electric and hybrid vehicles. It also points towards the need for substantial investments in the infrastructure required particularly for charging points. However, it fails to address a number of points of controversy which require urgent resolution and should have been addressed through this consultation process.

The consumption of petrol and diesel is bound to decrease as a result of the drive towards the electrification of our roads. The rate of decrease of fuel consumption will depend on the manner in which the electrification exercise will proceed throughout the transition period. Why then has no moratorium been announced on the development and construction of new fuel stations? A number of controversial applications for fuel stations are still burdening the land use planning process when it should be crystal clear to all that in view of the electrification process, they will no longer be required. The consultation process is conveniently silent on the matter thereby encouraging unnecessary pressures on the planning process.

Simultaneously it is pertinent to point out that the sale of fuel contributes a substantial income to the exchequer which income will now slowly taper to near zero through the transition period. The Green Paper fails to volunteer information in this respect. How will this substantial income be substituted? Will the electrification process itself provide the substitute financial resources or will other areas of activity be tapped to make good? The amounts involved are substantial. In fact, the budgetary estimates for 2021 indicate a projected income of €154 million from excise duties on petroleum products. What are government plans for the substitution of this income? The Green Paper is once more completely silent on the matter.

The Green Paper refers to Low Emission Zones but it does not have the courage to make specific proposals. It is imperative that the transition period from now until the full electrification of our roads gradually adopts the identification of Low Emission Zones within which internal combustion engine vehicles will have a prohibited access. The Green Paper fails in this respect too.

The Green Paper refers to two studies which have been commissioned by the Cleaner Vehicles Commission on the electrification of our roads. These studies are not however available to inform this public consultation.

Notwithstanding having been announced four years ago, with ample time for preparation, this consultation process is deficient. It fails to address the basics: it fails to inform. It is a fake consultation.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 20 June 2021

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

We need a Carbon Budget

Searching for the word “climate” through the 2021 Pre-Budget document published earlier this week entitled Towards a Sustainable Economy one finds the word three times: twice referring to the United Nations Agenda which has to be addressed by Malta as a prospective UN Security Council member, while a third reference is to policy documents under preparation in Malta. The word climate in the pre-budget document is not associated with any climate change policy implementation or action and its impact on the Maltese economy.

It is already five years since the Paris Climate Summit and its conclusions are still being “studied” in Malta. If we keep on procrastinating, achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 will be very difficult to attain.

When Parliament approved the Climate Action Act in 2015 it identified that one of the tools to be used in the politics of climate change was the formulation of a Low Carbon Development Strategy. Consultation on a Vision to develop such a strategy was carried out in 2017, but three years down the line the final policy document is nowhere in sight, even though the Minister for Climate Change Aaron Farrugia has indicated that it may be concluded towards the end of this year. 

A Low Carbon Development Strategy will identify those sectors which are of considerable relevance in developing a low carbon strategy. Some of them are major carbon emission contributors to be addressed. Other sectors are part of the solution as they provide alternative tools which serve to decouple the economy from intensive energy use, in the process reducing carbon emissions.

The Vision which was subject to public consultation three years ago identifies a number of sectors as areas for climate action, namely: enterprise, energy, transport, waste, water, agriculture, tourism, information and communication technologies (ICT) and finance.

The Low Carbon Development Strategy, when published, should address these areas of action. It would also be expected that such a strategy would also identify the manner in which we will be in a position to achieve our target of carbon neutrality. Such a strategy would also, for completeness be expected to be coupled with a carbon budget which would break down the general target into specific manageable objectives which could be achieved over a specific and reasonable timeframe.

At the Paris Climate Summit, together with all other countries, Malta made pledges to take action in order to lay the foundations for reducing climate impacts. If all the pledges made at Paris are honoured, however, we will still be very far off from achieving the target of not exceeding a two-degree Celsius temperature rise. Much more is required.

Unfortunately, Malta’s climate related policies are double faced. On one hand the Malta government publicly pledges action to address climate change. Simultaneously, however, it proceeds with massive road infrastructural projects which encourage more cars on our roads. On the other hand, plans for the electrification of our roads are apparently subject to an elephantine gestation period. In the meantime, car emissions compete with power generation emissions as Malta’s major contributor to climate change.

It is unfortunate that the Low Carbon Development Strategy and the associated Carbon Budget are taking too long to be formulated. It will take much longer to implement them as special interest groups will undoubtedly seek to protect their specific areas to the detriment of attaining our carbon-neutral objective.  

Malta should be at the forefront of climate change action. Parliament’s declaration recognising the existence of a climate emergency is not enough. Words must give way to action. As an island, Malta should be aware that a primary climate change challenge in the years to come will be a rising sea level as a result of which the coastline may recede inwards at a rate so far unknown. The coast, we may remember, is home to most of our maritime and tourism infrastructural facilities, all of which are under threat. Even residential areas close to the sea level will be impacted. This would include all sandy beaches and the residential/commercial areas at l-Għadira, Xemxija, Salini, Gzira, Msida, Sliema, Ta’ Xbiex, Pietà, Marsa, Marsaxlokk, Marsaskala, Birzebbuga, Xlendi, and Marsalforn. Impacts could also move towards inland low-lying areas such as Qormi.

If we take too long to bring our own house in order, it may be too late.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 13 September 2020