Malta’s EU story : the environment

JOINT SEMINAR BY THE OFFICE OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT IN MALTA AND THE TODAY PUBLIC POLICY INSTITUTE

Friday 3 October 2014

address by Carmel Cacopardo

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Since Malta’s EU accession there has been a marked contrast of interest in issues related to environmental governance.

EU accession has generally had a positive influence on Maltese environmental governance.  A flow of EU funds has been applied to various areas which Maltese governments throughout the years did not consider worthy of investing in.  On the one hand we had governments “occasionally” applying the brakes, seeking loopholes, real or imaginary,  in order to ensure that lip service  is not accidentally translated into meaningful action. On the other hand civil society has, in contrast, and  as a result of EU accession identified a new source of empowerment, at times ready to listen, however slow to react and at times ineffective.

Land use planning and abusive hunting/trapping have for many years been the main items on the local environment agenda. Water, air quality, climate change, alternative energy, biodiversity, noise, light pollution, organic agriculture, waste management and sustainable development have rightfully claimed a place in the agenda during the past 10 years. Some more frequently, others occasionally.

Land use planning has been on the forefront of civil society’s environmental agenda for many years. Abusive land use planning in the 80s fuelled and was fuelled by corruption. It led to various public manifestations in favour of the environment then equated almost  exclusively with the impacts of land development. Many such manifestations ended up in violence. Whilst this may be correctly described as history, it is occasionally resurrected  as in the recent public manifestation of hunters protesting against the temporary closure of the autumn hunting season.

Whilst hunting and land use planning may still be the main items on Malta’ environmental agenda the ecological deficit which we face is substantially deeper and wider.  It is generally the result of myopic policies.

For example it is well known that public transport has been practically ignored for the past 50 years, including the half-baked reform of 2010. This is the real cause of Malta’s very high car ownership (around 750 vehicles per 1000 population). As the Minister of Finance rightly exclaimed during a pre-budget public consultation exercise earlier this week traffic congestion is a major issue of concern, not just environmental but also economic. Impacting air quality, requiring additional land uptake to construct new roads or substantial funds to improve existing junctions traffic congestion is a drain on our resources. May I suggest that using EU funds to improve our road network  will delay by several years the shifting of custom to public transport, when we will have one which is worthy of such a description.

The mismanagement of water resources over the years is another important issue. May I suggest that millions of euros in EU funds have been misused  to institutionalise the mismanagement of water resources. This has been done through the construction of a network of underground tunnels to channel stormwater to the sea.  The approval of such projects is only possible when one  has no inkling of what sustainable management of water resources entails. Our ancestors had very practical and sustainable solutions: they practised water harvesting through the construction of water cisterns beneath each and every residence, without exception. If we had followed in their footsteps the incidence of stormwater in our streets, sometimes having the smell of raw sewage due to an overflowing public sewer, would be substantially less. And in addition we would also avoid overloading our sewage purification plants.

Our mismanagement of water resources also includes the over-extraction of ground water and the failure to introduce an adequate system of controls throughout the years such that  most probably there will be no more useable water in our water table very shortly. In this respect the various deadlines established in the Water Framework Directive would be of little use.

Whilst our Cabinet politicians have developed a skill of trying to identify loopholes in the EU’s acquis (SEA and Birds Directive) they also follow bad practices in environmental governance.

It is known that fragmentation of environmental responsibilities enables politicians to pay lip service to environmental governance but then creating real and practical obstacles in practice.

Jean Claude Juncker, the President elect of the EU Commission has not only diluted environmental governance by assigning responsibility for the environment together with that for fisheries and maritime policy as well as assigning energy with climate change. He has moreover hived off a number of responsibilities from the DG Environment to other DGs namely Health and Enterprise.

In Malta our bright sparks have anticipated his actions. First on the eve of EU accession they linked land use planning with the Environment in an Authority called MEPA with the specific aim of suffocating the environment function in an authority dominated by development. Deprived of human resources including the non-appointment of a Director for the Environment for long stretches of time, adequate environmental governance could never really get off the ground.

Now we will shortly be presented with the next phase: another fragmentation by the demerger of the environment and planning authority.

In the short time available I have tried to fill in the gaps in the environment section of the document produced by The Today Public Policy Institute. The said document rightly emphasises various achievements. It does however state that prior to EU accession the environment was not given its due importance by local policy makers. Allow me to submit that much still needs to be done and that the progress made to date is insufficient.

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Water Sustainability ………… Sostenibilta tal-Ilma

World Environment Day: Water Sustainability a most pressing issue in Malta

In a press conference held in front of the Malta Resources Authority, Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party said that water sustainability is a most pressing issue in Malta.

Michael Briguglio, AD Chairperson, said: “There are various important environmental issues in Malta, including air pollution, noise pollution, rampant construction and waste management. Like such issues, water sustainability deserves top prioritization in Malta’s environmental, economic and social policies”.

“Malta is one of the driest countries in the world, yet sustainable use of water does not yet seem to be a national priority.  We are in a situation where the majority pay their utility bills, whilst others steal water from boreholes. The water issue is ultimately an issue of environmental justice, social justice and economic good-sense. How could it be that we are treating such a scarce resource as if we have unlimited supply of it?”

Malta has mismanaged its water resources for far too long. Focusing on the potential use of recycled Treated Sewage Effluent Carmel Cacopardo AD Deputy Chairman and Spokesman on Sustainable Development and Home Affairs said that the infrastructure for sewage treatment was designed on the basis of the misconception that treated sewage had no economic value. As a result the 24 million cubic metres of treated sewage (estimated data for  2011 : 21,858,000 cm for Malta and 1,982,000 cm for Gozo, excluding rainwater in sewers during the rainy season) so far are being discharged into the sea. Simultaneously 29 million cubic metres of water are produced annually (56% by RO and 44% extracted from the water table).

The recently announced change of policy as a result of which it is envisaged that Treated Sewage Effluent is utilised for various purposes is a positive step.  However it is imperative that TSE of the right quality is available the soonest in order that boreholes all over the country are sealed up after sufficient water of the appropriate quality is available for both agriculture and industry. This said Carmel Cacopardo could lead to a much needed resting time for  the water table.

Last month the Prime Minister announced that a pilot project was in hand in order to examine the impacts of recharging the aquifer with Treated Sewage Effluent.  AD, said Carmel Cacopardo notes that a successful pilot project could lead to a long term sustainable solution to the management of water resources in Malta. This however, he added is not without its pitfalls as it is dependent on a tough enforcement policy ensuring that only permissible liquid waste is discharged into the public sewer.

AD has earlier this week met with Malta Resources Authority officials who confirmed that this is still a major sticking point.

Finally Carmel Cacopardo pointed out that Water Services Corporation has produced a “ (Master) Plan for the Use of Treated Sewage Effluent for the maltese Islands. A National  Reclamation project.” Dated May 2009 this Masterplan has been made public earlier this year in Parliament.  AD, stated Cacopardo, queries why this Masterplan has not been subject to a public consultation and being examined in terms of the Strategic Environment Assessement Directive of the EU.

Jum Dinji tal-Ambjent: Sostenibbilta tal-Ilma l-aktar kwistjoni urgenti f’Malta – AD

F’konferenza stampa li saret quddiem l-ufficini tal-Awtorita’ Maltija tar-Rizorsi, Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party qalet li s-sostenibbilita’ tal-ilma hija l-aktar kwistjoni urgenti f’Malta.

Michael Briguglio, ic-Chairperson tal-AD, qal: “Hemm diversi kwistjonijiet ambjentali importanti f’Malta, inkluz it-tniggiz ta’ l-arja, tniggiz akustiku, il-kostruzzjoni rampanti u l-gestjoni tal-iskart. Bhal dawn il-kwistjonijiet, is-sostenibbilta’ tal-ilma jisthoqqa prijorita’ gholja fil-politika ambjentali, ekonomika u socjali ta’ Malta.”

“Malta hi wahda mill-iktar pajjizi niexfa fid-dinja, izda il-politika sostenibbli dwar l-ilma mhux qed tinghata. Qeghdin f’sitwazzjoni fejn il-maġġoranza tal-poplu jħallsu l-kontijiet tad-dawl u l-ilma, waqt li ohrajn jisirqu l-ilma li jiġi mill-boreholes. Il-kwistjoni ta’ l-ilma hi wahda ta’ gustizzja ambjentali, gustizzja socjali u sens tajjeb ekonomiku. Kif jista’ jkun li rizorsa hekk skarsa qed tigi trattata qisha xi wahda bi provvista bla limitu?”

Malta ma haditx hsieb ir-rizorsi taghha tal-ilma ghal zmien twil. Huwa u jiffoka fuq il-potenzjal ghall-uzu tad-drenagg ippurifikat,  Carmel Cacopardo, Vici Chairman u Kelliemi ta’ AD ghall-Izvilupp Sostenibbli u l-Intern qal: “l-infrastruttura ghat-trattament tad-drenagg kienet iddisinjata fuq l-impressjoni zbaljata li dan l-ilma hekk prodott ma kellux valur ekonomiku. Bhala rizultat ta’ dan 24 miljunmetru kubu ta’ drenagg ippurifikat (stima ghall-2011: 21,858,000 mk ghal Malta u 1,982,000 ghal Ghawdex, apparti l-ilma tax-xita fid-drenagg meta taghmel ix-xita) s’issa qed jintefa l-bahar. Fl-istess hin 29 miljun metru kubu ta’ ilma qed ikunu prodotti kull sena (56% bl-RO u  44% estratt mill-pjan).”

“It-tibdil recenti fil-politika tal-Gvern li bhala rizultat taghha nistennew li d-drenagg riciklat ikun utilizzat ghal skopijiet diversi huwa pass pozittiv. Imma huwa essenzjali li ilma riciklat ta’ kwalita tajba ikun prodott mill-iktar fis biex ikun possibli li jinghalqu l-boreholes kollha wara li jkun hemm bizzejjed ilma ta’ kwalita’ ghall-agrikultura u l-industrija.  Dan, qal Carmel Cacopardo jista’ jwassal ghas-serhan tant mehtieg tal-ilma tal-pjan.”

“Ix-xahar li ghadda l-Prim Ministru habbar li progett pilot kien qed jezamina l-impatti li jirrizultaw jekk l-ilma tal-pjan ikun rikarikat b’ilma riciklat mid-drenagg. Alternattiva Demokratika tinnota li jekk dan il-progett pilota jirnexxi dan ikun jista’ jwassal ghal soluzzjoni sostenibbli u fit-tul tal-immanigjar tar-rizorsi tal-ilma f’Malta.  Dan imma, zied jghid, irid jiffaccja diffikultajiet kbar, principalment il-htiega ta’ id tal-hadid biex jigi assigurat li fid-drenagg  jinxtehet biss skart likwidu permissibli. “

“Alternattiva Demokratika iktar kmieni din il-gimgha iltaqghet ma ufficjali tal-Awtorita’ Maltija tar-Rizorsi li ikkonfermaw li din id-diffikulta ghadha ma gietx meghluba.”

Fl-ahhar nett  Carmel Cacopardo gibed l-attenzjoni li l-Korporazzjoni tas-Servizzi tal-Ilma ipproduciet  ‘(Master) Plan for the Use of Treated Sewage Effluent for the Maltese Islands. A National  Reclamation project’. Datat Mejju 2009 dan il-pjan kien ippubblikat fil-Parlament iktar kmieni din is-sena. Alternattiva Demokratika, qal Cacopardo, tistaqsi l-ghaliex dan il-pjan ma kienx soggett ghal konsultazzjoni pubblika kif ukoll ghaliex ma giex ezaminat ai termini tal-iStrategic Environment Assessement Directive tal-Unjoni Ewropea.

Living on Ecological Credit

published

Saturday July23, 2011

An informal meeting of EU ministers of the environment held in Poland earlier this month reminded us that we are living on ecological credit. Our balance sheet with nature is in the red. It is healthy that EU politicians have recognised this fact.

Environmentalists have been campaigning for ages that the world is living beyond its means. International NGO WWF, for example, publishes information relative to ecological footprint analysis. From the information available, Malta’s ecological footprint is 3.9 hectares per person. This can be compared to an EU average of 4.9 hectares per person (ranging from a minimum of 3.6 for Poland and Slovakia to a maximum of 7.0 for Sweden and Finland) and a world average of 2.2 hectares per person.

This adds up to a total impact for Malta of about 50 times the area of the Maltese islands. A clear indication of the extent of Malta’s reliance on ecological credit.

Malta’s environmental impacts are accentuated due to the islands’ high population density.

Malta’s small size is in some respects an advantage but this advantage has been generally ignored throughout the years. The reform of public transport, currently in hand, could someday put the issue of size to good use by developing an efficient system of communication. This reform, however, has to be properly managed. Preliminary indications point to a completely different direction. I do not exclude the possibility of the achievement of positive results even if, so far, I am disappointed.

The results the Greens hope to be achieved from the public transport reform would be the increased use of public transport and, consequently, a reduction in the number of cars on the road. This will come about if bus routes are more commuter-friendly. A reduction of cars on the road will lead to less emissions and a reduction of transport-generated noise. It would also cut a household’s expenditure through the reduction of fuel costs.

Water management in Malta also contributes considerably to the island’s ecological deficit.

The commissioning of the Ta’ Barkat sewage purification plant means that Malta is now in line with the provisions of the EU Urban Wastewater Directive. But the actual design of the sewage purification infrastructure means that by discharging the purified water into the sea an opportunity of reducing the pressure on ground water and the production of reverse osmosis-produced water has been lost. The purified water could easily be used as second-class water or it could be polished for other uses. When the Mellieħa sewage purification plant was inaugurated it was announced that studies into the possible uses of the purified water were to be carried out. These studies should have been undertaken before the sewage purification infrastructure was designed as they could have led to a differently designed infrastructure. The system as designed means that any eventual use of the purified water will require its transport from the purification plants to the point of use. A properly designed system could have reduced these expenses substantially by producing the purified water along the route of the public sewers and close to the point of use.

Public (and EU) funds have been wrongly used. Water planners have not carried out their duty towards the community they serve through lack of foresight and by not having an inkling of sustainability issues.

It also means that those who advised the head of state to inform the current Parliament’s inaugural session in May 2008 that “the government’s plans and actions are to be underpinned by the notion of sustainable development” were not aware what that statement signifies. Repeatedly, the government, led by Lawrence Gonzi, falls short of addressing adequately environmental impacts, as a result pushing these islands further down the road of dependence on ecological credit.

The government could have opted for a fresh start in May 2008 by implementing the National Sustainable Development Strategy, approved by Cabinet some months prior to the 2008 election. Instead, I am reliably informed that the National Commission for Sustainable Development has not met a single time during the past 42 months. As a consequence, the strategy has been practically shelved and discarded.

I cannot and will not say that there have not been any environmental initiatives. While various initiatives have been undertaken, some only address impacts partially. Others have been embarked upon half-heartedly. It is also clear to all that government environmental action does not form part of a holistic vision. It rather resembles the linking up of loose pieces of unrelated jigsaw puzzle bits.

This contrasts sharply with the public’s awareness and expectations. The public is one step ahead awaiting its representatives to act in a responsible manner in accordance with their much-publicised statements.

Excessive ecological credit will inevitably lead to ecological bankruptcy. No EU or IMF will bail us out. It’s better to take our environmental responsibilities seriously before it is too late.