Beyond electric cars

Minister Miriam Dalli is partially right when stating that green transport schemes should focus on fully electric options. She made this statement when queried about subsidies for hybrid cars. Emphasising that zero-emission vehicles will be the only ones in receipt of funding assistance is the correct way forward.

But are electric cars in reality zero emission vehicles? In actual fact this is dependent on the source of electricity used when they are charged. When renewable energy is used to power electric vehicles, than we can state that they are zero emission vehicles, otherwise they are not.

There are other important considerations which need to be made. Green transport policy should be much wider than schemes subsidising zero-emission vehicles.

Only approximately 10 per cent of the energy utilised in the Maltese islands is renewable energy generated in Malta, primarily solar energy. The rest is either generated at the gas-powered Delimara power station or else imported through the interconnector with the Sicilian mainland. Plans are in hand to commission a second interconnector primarily to cater for the anticipated substantial increased demand for electricity as a result of the car electrification process.

Is this sustainable? Government is apparently ignoring this consideration.

Malta will be increasingly dependent for its immediate electrical energy needs on the interconnectors with the Sicilian mainland. Failure of the interconnectors to operate for more than a few hours would render most of us immobile as there will not be enough electricity to charge our cars! This is not a far-fetched possibility as we have experienced many a time when the interconnector was out of action, for a variety of reasons. A case in point being when the interconnector was damaged as a result of its being entangled with the anchors of a tanker during a storm.

In parallel with car electrification plans it is essential that the extreme dependency of our population on car ownership is addressed. This can be done through various initiatives.

Increased use of public transport is an initiative which is already being tackled. The announcement that as of October 2022 all public transport will be free of charge can be helpful if its efficiency is enhanced. If public transport is regular and sticks to the planned time-tables it can, over a period of time, contribute significantly to addressing car dependency. One has to underline the fact that car dependency in Malta and Gozo has primarily developed as a reaction to an unreliable public transport. As a result, there is still a reluctance to trust public transport. It still has to continuously prove itself, even though there have been significant improvements in the service provided.

Car-sharing schemes can be helpful in reducing cars from our roads. Currently in Malta we have one company offering the service of 450 cars which are available for shared use (against payment obviously). Using one of these cars instead of owning your own helps in reducing cars from our roads. Having just 450 cars being subject to shared use is however too little. Fiscal incentives including subsidies to those opting to share cars rather than to own them could be helpful.

We should continuously remember that in most cases, in Malta, we travel for short distances. Having less cars on our roads will also contribute to more road safety and consequently this would encourage more walking and cycling, especially when the distance involved is small.

Electrification of our roads on its own is not sufficient. It is just one of a number of tools which need to be applied in transport policy to contribute to a reduced climate impact, attain safer roads, achieve cleaner air and also to ensure more sustainable mobility.

published on the Malta Independent on Sunday: 22 May 2022

Tibdil fil-klima u l-aċċess għax-xemx

Huwa essenzjali li nnaqqsu l-gassijiet serra jekk irridu nindirizzaw b’mod effettiv it-tindil fil-klima. F’Pariġi, fl-2015, kien hemm qbil li kien meħtieġ illi t-temperatura globali ma kelliex tiżdied iktar minn 1.5 gradi Celsius biex ikun possibli li l-bidla fil-klima tkun taħt kontroll.   Tlett xhur ilu, f’Awwissu, l-Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tal-Ġnus Magħuda (IPCC) infurmana li ż-żieda fit-temperatura diġa qabżet il-grad Celsius, u li din qed tkompli tiżdied.  

L-impatt ta’ dan jidher fil-maltemp estrem li qed niffaċċjaw kontinwament. Bħall-għargħar fi Sqallija u l- Calabria iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa u fil-Ġermanja u pajjiżi oħra iktar kmieni.  Il-ħerba li qed tiżviluppa hi enormi. Jekk ma nieħdux passi deċiżivi, dak li qed naraw mhu xejn ħdejn dak li ser jiġri.

Huwa kruċjali li l-ekonomija tagħna tkun waħda li ma tkunx dipendenti mill-karbonju, jekk irridu naslu biex nindirizzaw it-tibdil fil-klima.

Il-qalba tal-power station ta’ Delimara minn waħda li taħdem fuq iż-żejt maħmuġ (heavy fuel oil) għal waħda li taħdem fuq il-gass kien pass tajjeb li jħares il-quddiem, pass li aħna bħala partit dejjem appoġġajna. Imma dan mhux biżżejjed. L-użu tal-gass hu fih innifsu pass ta’ transizzjoni.   Li jkollna l-parti l-kbira tal-elettriku (jew kollu!) iġġenerat minn sorsi rinovabbli jkun ħafna aħjar milli nagħmlu użu mill-idroġenu – li qed jissemma bħala l-fuel tal-futur!

Neħtieġu iżda li ntejbu is-sistema nazzjonali tad-distribuzzjoni tal-elettriku biex ikun possibli li z-zoni residenzjali jikkontribwixxu iktar fl-isforz nazzjonali biex niġġeneraw l-enerġija rinovabbli.  Investiment f’sistema ta’ distribuzzjoni iktar effiċjenti hi kruċjali. F’dan għadna lura, għax mhiex prijorità.

Id-dritt tagħna għal aċċess għax-xemx għandu jissaħħaħ. Ma jistax ikun li dan id-dritt jibqa’ dipendenti fuq proċess tal-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art insensittiv u żvilupp bl-addoċċ. Iż-żieda fl-għoli permissibli tal-bini meta kienu approvati l-pjani lokali tal-2006 wassal għal impatt negattiv f’enerġija rinovabbli li ntilfet. Hu prezz li għadna nħallsu u ser nibqgħu nħallsu għall-futur immedjat. Għax baqa’ ftit biex neħilsu minn dan il-piż.

Li ninvestu iktar fil-ġenerazzjoni tal-enerġija mix-xemx jirrendi. Huwa ukoll sostenibbli meta nħarsu fit-tul. Jelimina ukoll id-dipendenza fuq it-tieni interconnector minn Sqallija li dwaru l-Gvern qiegħed iħejji l-pjanijiet tiegħu. 

Bħalissa l-prezz tal-enerġija fl-Ewropa sploda. Dan wassal biex l-użu tal-enerġija permezz tal-interconnector eżistenti bejn Malta u Sqallija ġie ristrett.

Bħala riżultat tal-qalba tat-trasport bl-art minn karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petol jew dijżil għall-elettriku, id-domanda għall-elettriku ser tiżdied skond kemm jiżdiedu l-karozzi tal-elettriku.  Nistgħu nlaħħqu ma’ din id-domanda mingħajr ma nkunu dipendenti fuq is-swieq enerġetiċi kontinentali?

Jekk jirnexxielna nżidu b’mod sostanzjali l-ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija rinovabbli nistgħu bla dubju nindirizzaw parti minn din iż-żieda fid-domanda għall-enerġija. Il-bqija hu possibli li nindirizzawha billi ninkuraġixxu bidla fil-mobilità tagħna.

L-informazzjoni bażika dwar dan diġa nafu biha. Qegħda fil-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Trasport li jiġbdilna l-attenzjoni li nofs il-vjaġġi li nagħmlu bil-karozzi privati tagħna huma għal vjaġġi qosra, li jdumu inqas minn kwarta. 

Il-politika tal-Gvern kif imfissra fl-aħħar baġit ser tintroduċi transport pubbliku b’xejn minn Ottubru 2022. Dan jeħtieġ ftit iktar attenzjoni, għax il-prezz li nħallsu għat-trasport tal-linja qatt ma kien l-ostaklu għall-użu tat-trasport pubbliku. Hi l-effiċjenza u l-frekwenza tiegħu li jeħtieġu titjib. Jekk dan ikun indirizzat jista’ jagħmel id-differenza sostanzjali fl-użu tat-trasport pubbliku.

Dan hu x’joffri l-futur: nindirizzaw it-tibdil fil-klima permezz tal-politika tat-trasport u l-ippjanar aħjar fil-qasam tal-enerġija. Fuq kollox billi nħarsu id-dritt tagħna għal aċċess għax-xemx. 

In-natura tipprovdilna soluzzjonijiet sostenibbli għall-parti l-kbira ta’ dak li neħtieġu. Jiddependi minnha jekk ngħarfux nagħmlu użu minnhom sewwa!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 31 t’Ottubru 2021

Climate Change and solar rights

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is necessary if we are to address climate change effectively. In Paris, in 2015, it was agreed by all that limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius is essential if we are to address climate change adequately.  Three months ago, in August, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) informed us that this increase was already 1.09 degrees Celsius, and rising.

The impacts of this increase are manifested in the extreme weather which we are currently witnessing, such as the floods all over Sicily and Calabria earlier this week, and in many other countries earlier. The resulting devastation is shocking. It will however get much worse very soon if we do not act decisively.

Having policies encouraging a low-carbon economy is crucial if we are to adequately address climate change.

Obviously solar rights must be entrenched: they should no longer be at the mercy of unbridled development and an insensitive land use planning process. The increase in permissible building heights introduced when the 2006 lot of local plans was approved had a heavy price-tag in renewable energy sacrificed. We are still paying this price and it will be quite some time before we recover from this irresponsible impact.

Switching over electricity generation at Delimara from one dependent on heavy fuel oil to one running on natural gas was a step in the right direction which greens always supported. It is however not enough. Natural gas is a transitional fuel.  Having most or all of our electricity generated from renewable sources would be a much better option, even better than making use of hydrogen, which is being considered as a future fuel. We need however to upgrade the national electricity distribution grid in order that it would be possible for residential areas to contribute much more to the national effort in renewable energy generation. Investing in an efficient distribution system is crucial. Yet it lags behind. It is not part of the priorities in hand.

Investing heavily in the generation of solar energy is more rewarding. It is also sustainable in the long term.  It would also do away with being dependent on a second energy interconnector with the Sicilian mainland, as government is currently planning.

Currently energy prices on mainland Europe are on a steep rise. This has resulted in a policy of restricting the use of the existing energy interconnector between Malta and Sicily.

As a result of the electrification of land transport, the demand for electricity is bound to increase in proportion to the uptake of electric cars. Can we cope with this increase in demand without being at the mercy of the mainland energy markets?

If we go for a substantial increase in the generation of renewable energy, we can definitely address part of the shortfall. The rest can also be addressed by actively encouraging a behavioural change in our mobility patterns.

The relative basic information is contained in the Transport Masterplan which points out that 50 per cent of the trips we make with our private vehicles are for short trips having a very short duration of under fifteen minutes.

Government policy as accounted for in the last budget will introduce free public transport as of October 2022. This needs fine-tuning, as existing fares have never been an obstacle to use public transport. It is the frequency and efficiency of the service which deters use. If this is adequately addressed it could be a gamechanger in increasing the attractiveness of public transport and consequently its increased use.

This is the possible future linking climate change and transport policy through adequate energy planning and the entrenchment of our solar rights.

Nature provides sustainable solutions for most of our needs. It is up to us to use them properly!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 31 October 2021

Il-kontabilità tan-negozji u l-korporazzjonijiet pubbliċi

Illum indirizzajt il-konferenza biennali tal-Malta Institute of Accountants bit-tema: A New Mindset: Reduce. Reuse. Report.

Fl-Unjoni Ewropeja bħalissa għaddejja diskussjoni dwar Direttiva biex kumpaniji diversi jkollhom l-obbligu li jissottomettu rapporti regolari dwarl-impatti tagħhom fuq is-soċjetà. Dawn ir-rapporti jikkonċernaw dak li jissejjaħ “non-financial reporting” u allura jittrattaw dwar impatti ambjentali, impatti soċjali kif ukoll l-attitudnijiet etiċi fil-kumpanija.

Id-diskussjonijiet għadhom għaddejjin. Hu tajjeb li anke aħna niddiskutu dan kollu u kif ser jeffettwa lilna u lill-kumpaniji li joperaw fil-pajjiż.

Emfasizzajt li hu importanti lil-pajjiż ma jfittix xi eżenzjoni minn din id-direttiva. Huwa importanti ukoll li l-korporazzjonijiet tal-Gvern ukoll ikunu kostretti li jippreżentaw dawn ir-rapporti.

Bħal dejjem hemm problema bl-SMEs (Small and Medium Sized Enterprises) li waħda waħda jqisu lil-impatt tagħhom hu żgħir imma li meta tgħoddhom flimkien jammonta għal impatt sostanzjali! Dawn ukoll jeħtieġ lijinstab mod kif jirrappurtaw dwarl-impatti tagħhom. Biex jagħmlu dan ikollhom bżonn l-għajnuna tal-Gvern, kemm għajnuna diretta lilhom kif ukoll lill-assoċjazzjonijiet li jgħinuhom.

Ir-rappurtaġġ li ser teżiġi l-Unjoni Ewropeja hu applikazzjoni tal-prinċipju ta’ trasparenza fuq in-negozju ul-industrija. It-trasparenza hi l-bażi li mingħajrha ma jistax ikollna kontabilità vera.

Għandna kull dritt li nkunu nafu x’inhu jiġri anke fil-kumpaniji u fil-korporazzjonijiet pubbliċi. Mhux il-politiċi biss għandhom jagħtu kont ta’ egħmilhom: anke l-kumpaniji u l-korporazzjonijiet pubbliċi!

Id-diskors kollu taqrah hawn.

Tibdil tal-klima: miżuri li jeħtieġ li jkunu ġusti

Huwa essenzjali li nilħqu l-mira ta’ emissjonijiet żero tal-karbonju (carbon neutrality). Ilu żmien ovvju li ekonomija dipendenti fuq iż-żjut mhiex waħda sostenibbli. Il-Konvenzjoni tal-Ġnus Magħquda dwar it-Tibdil fil-Klima, fis-summit ta’ Pariġi, fl-2015, kienet fasslet pjan dwar it-triq meħtieġa biex nintlaħqu miri li jħarsu l-klima. Jekk ma nimxux ma’ dan il-pjan, il-futur ifisser biss gwaj.

It-tibdil fil-klima diġa qiegħed magħna.  Madanakollu, l-impatti fuqna jistgħu jkunu ferm agħar minn dak li għaddej bħalissa: temperaturi estremi, nixfa’ kbira f’xi reġjuni u għargħar f’oħrajn. Id-diżastri qed iseħħu quddiem għajnejna kuljum. Il-qagħda għad trid teħżien bosta, qabel ma l-affarijiet (forsi) jaqilbu għall-aħjar.

It-temperatura medja fuq livell globali qed tiżdied. It-temperatura imkejla tvarja minn reġjun għall-ieħor. Fil-Mediterranean, studji riċenti qed jindikaw li qegħdin viċin li naqbżu żieda ta’ grad u nofs Celsius fuq it-temperatura pre-industrijali. L-impatti ta’ dan diġa qed inħossuhom.

Bħala stat gżira, Malta messa li hi fuq quddiem fid-dibattitu globali dwar it-tibdil fil-klima.  Sfortunatament, pajjiżna hu fost dawk il-pajjiżi li kontinwament ikaxkru saqajhom biex jevitaw jew inaqqsu l-azzjoni meħtieġa da parti tagħhom. Il-fatt li aħna żgħar ma jeżentaniex mir-responsabbiltà tagħna lejn il-futur.

Fost l-eżempji ta’ dan hemm ir-resistenza, tul is-snin, biex nagħtu importanza lill-ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija rinovabbli flimkien mat-tkaxkir tas-saqajn għall-proċess tal-elettrifikazzjoni tat-trasport.  

Ilkoll niftakru l-insistenza tal-Gvernijiet Maltin mal-Kummissjoni Ewropeja biex il-miri ta’ Malta dwar l-enerġija rinovabbli ma jkunux l-20 fil-mija iffissati mill-Kummissjoni imma jinżlu għal 10 fil-mija tal-enerġija totali ġġenerata.  Bl-istess mod, minkejja li fl-2017 saret dikjarazzjoni politika mill-Gvern favur l-elettrifikazzjoni tat-trasport, wara 4 snin għadna bla pjan u miri ċari. Il-bidla issa ser ikollha isseħħ b’ritmu mgħaġġel u ftit li xejn jidher li bħala pajjiż aħna ippreparati għaliha.

L-Unjoni Ewropeja għadha kemm żvelat pjan bi proposti biex l-emissjonijiet serra jitnaqqsu b’55 fil-mija meta mqabbel ma dawk tal-1990. Dan għandu jseħħ sal-2030, u dan bħala mira intermedja fit-triq lejn emmissjonijiet żero tal-karbonju (carbon neutrality) sas-sena 2050.

Waħda mill-proposti li qed issir hi li l-enerġija minn sorsi rinovabbli ġġenerata fl-Unjoni Ewropeja tkun ta’ 40 fil-mija mill-enerġija kollha użata. Dan ikun ifisser li fi żmien 9 snin Malta jkun jeħtieġilha li timmultiplika b’erbgħa l-enerġija rinovabbli li niġġeneraw fil-pajjiż. Din ser tkun mira iebsa, iktar u iktar meta tieħu kont tal-fatt li tul is-snin il-pajjiż dejjem ipprova jiżloq mill-obbligi tiegħu f’dan il-qasam.

Proposta oħra tal-Unjoni Ewropeja hi li sal-2035 ma jidħlux iktar fis-suq karozzi li jaħdmu bid-dijsil u l-petrol. Din mira li ser ikun meħtieġ li nilħquha fi żmien 14-il sena. Lokalment din mhi ser issolvi xejn jekk ma tkunx imżewġa ma miżuri biex jonqsu l-karozzi mit-toroq.

Proposta oħra tal-Kummissjoni Ewropeja hi dwar l-introduzzjoni ta’ taxxa fuq il-fjuwil użat milll-vapuri kif ukoll dak użat fl-avjazzjoni. Din il-proposta bla dubju jkollha impatt mhux żgħir fuq il-gżejjer u l-istati periferali Ewropej. Hi proposta li hi motivata mill-fatt li l-Ewropa kontinentali hi moqdija iktar bil-ferrovija, ġeneralment effiċjenti u li hu meqjus li tħalli impatti ambjentali ferm inqas mill-ajruplani.

Bi proposta ta’ din ix-xorta it-turiżmu jintlaqat sewwa. Kemm tkun kbira d-daqqa jiddependi minn kemm tkun kbira taxxa ta’ din ix-xorta.  Malta, il-Greċja u Ċipru diġa qed jgħidu li ma jaqblux ma dan!

Kemm is-settur tal-avjazzjoni kif ukoll dak marittimu huma kontributuri sinifikanti ta’ emissjonijiet serra. Sal-lum dawn iż-żewġ setturi evitaw  li jkunu nklużi fil-miżuri biex inkun mħarsa mit-tibdil fil-klima minħabba lobbying qawwi. Il-proposti tal-Unjoni Ewropeja jekk jidħlu fis-seħħ jibdlu din is-sitwazzjioni, dejjem sakemm il-lobbying jinżamm taħt kontroll!

Uħud diġa iddeskrivew dawn il-proposti (u oħrajn) tal-Unjoni Ewropeja bħala suwiċidju politiku u dan minħabba li l-impatti konsiderevoli tagħhom jistgħu jkunu l-kawża ta’ nkwiet soċjali qalil. Li nilħqu l-mira ta’ emissjoni żero tal-karbonju hu essenzjali imma rridu nkunu konxji li l-impatti tal-miżuri meħtieġa inevitabilment ser iweġġgħu bosta bihom.  Id-diskussjoni meħtieġa trid tassigura li waqt li jittieħdu d-deċiżjonijiet meħtieġa bla iktar dewmien, il-vulnerabbli, inkluż dawk bla mezzi jew b’mezzi limitati, għandhom ikunu mħarsa  milli jkunu huma li jħallsu għall-ispiża akkumulata minħabba nuqqas ta’ azzjoni għal snin kbar.

L-ikbar sfida ghal dan il-Patt Aħdar hi li l-bidla meħtieġa teħtieġ li tkun waħda li issir b’ġustizzja. It-trasformazzjoni ekoloġika teħtieġ li tkun soċjalment ġusta. Dan tagħmlu billi tpoġġi lin-nies mhux il-kapital jew il-profitti bħala l-konsiderazzjoni ċentrali tagħha. Il-bidla, iżda trid isseħħ illum qabel għada. Iktar ma ndumu nkaxkru saqajna, iktar ikun għoli l-prezz li jkollna nħallsu.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 18 ta’ Lulju 2021

Change must be fair

Achieving carbon neutrality is long overdue. It has long been obvious that an economy that is dependent on fossil fuel is not sustainable. The UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change) at its 2015 Paris summit finally agreed to plot the basic roadmap required. If we do not follow this roadmap, havoc is the name of the future.

Climate change is already here. However, its impacts can be much worse than what we are already experiencing: extremes of temperature, drought in some regions with floods in others. We see the disasters developing almost daily. It will get much worse before it can get any better.

The mean global temperature is rising. The measured increase varies between one region and another. In the Mediterranean, recent studies have indicated that here we are very close to surpassing a 1.5-degree Celsius rise over the pre-industrial age temperature. We can feel the impact already.

As an island state Malta should be at the forefront of the global climate change debate. Unfortunately, our country is among the laggards continuously seeking to avoid or minimise the action required at our end. Our size does not exempt us from our responsibilities towards the future.

Our slow take-up of renewable energy over the years and the institutional resistance to transport electrification are among the most obvious examples.

We do remember the insistence on the part of Maltese governments with the EU Commission that Malta renewable energy targets should be 10 per cent and not 20 per cent of the energy generated. Likewise, after a policy announcement in favour of transport electrification in 2017, four years down the line we are still without clear targets. The change will now have to be adopted at a quicker pace, and one which we are not yet prepared for.

The EU has unveiled a proposal intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55 per cent, compared to 1990 levels, by the year 2030, an intermediate target on the roadmap to carbon neutrality by 2050.

One of the measures proposed would require raising the share of the renewable energy generated to 40 per cent of the final energy consumption, meaning that Malta, within nine years, would be required to quadruple the renewable energy which it generates. This would be quite tough, in view of having repeatedly been successful in wriggling of our commitments over the years.

A de facto ban on petrol and diesel cars by 2035 would accelerate our path to electrification of transport. That is a target to be achieved within fourteen years. Locally, however, it will not solve much, if not coupled with a substantial decrease in private car usage.

The proposal to tax shipping and aviation fuel would undoubtedly have a considerable impact on islands and the peripheral states of Europe. It makes sense when applied to the European mainland which is more dependent on railways, a suitable alternative. In respect of islands and the peripheral states it will be certainly painful, even though it will, when applied, contribute to achieving emission reduction targets.

Tourism would be hit considerably by a tax on aviation fuel, dependent on the extent of the taxation rates applied.

The aviation and maritime sector are significant contributors of greenhouse gas emissions which have so far have avoided being addressed due to very effective lobbying over the years. The EU proposals would ensure that this will no longer be the state of affairs, dependent that is, on the taming of the lobbies!

Some have already described the proposals of the EU Commission as political suicide as their far-reaching impacts could trigger considerable social unrest. Achieving carbon neutrality is essential but the paths selected will be very painful, some more than others. In the ensuing discussion we have to ensure that while the essential decisions are taken without delay the poor and the most vulnerable are shielded from having to pay the accumulated cost of inaction over the years.

The biggest challenge we face is to ensure that the Green Deal is fair. The ecological transformation must be socially just and place people, not profits, as its central consideration. Change must however happen the soonest. The longer we postpone taking action the higher the price we will have to pay.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 18 July 2021

Tonio Fenech u l-froġa tal-2006

Tonio Fenech, ex-Ministru tal-Finanzi, reġa’ tfaċċa, f’attività politika li saret fil-Palazz Verdala biex  jgħidilna kif jaħsibha. Qalilna li bl-ambjent ma tirbaħx elezzjonijiet. Imma huwa bil-permessi (tal-bini), żied jgħid, tirbaħ il-voti!   Bil-qdusija artifiċjali tas-soltu jimplika li l-ħsara ambjentali kienet essenzjali biex jintrebħu l-elezzjonijiet! Għax għal Tonio Fenech kull sagrifiċċju jgħodd sakemm iwassal biex tirbaħ l-elezzjonijiet.

Dan mhu xejn ġdid. Il-problema hi li l-kejl sfortunatament hu biss mil-lum għal għada. S’issa ma konniex kapaċi nħarsu fit-tul, biex inqiesu sewwa l-impatt li d-deċiżjonijiet tal-lum għandhom fuq għada u l-ġenerazzjonijiet ta’ warajna. Sfortunatament il-politika f’pajjiż tirraġuna: għada min raħ?

Wara li (flimkien ma oħrajn) Tonio Fenech kien responsabbli mhux biss għall-pjani lokali, imma ukoll għall-eżerċizzju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni li bih żdiedet sew l-art għall-iżvilupp, issa qed jipprova jimpressjona li qed jindem!   Il-proposta tiegħu li jorbot il-pjani lokali fil-Kostituzzjoni toħloq iktar problemi milli diġa inħolqu!

Il-pjani lokali u strumenti oħra li bihom nippjanaw l-użu tal-art neċessarjament ikunu ta’ wieħed minn żewġ tipi. Jistgħu jkunu ċari u preċiżi, bil-konsegwenza li għax rigidi jkun jeħtieġilhom tibdil regolari biex jirriflettu realtajiet u żviluppi ġodda.  Inkella jkunu ġeneriċi u jkun jiddependi mill-interpretazzjoni tagħhom u l-integrità ta’ min iħaddem il-proċess kollu.

Kull possibilità hi dipendenti fuq l-integrità u l-viżjoni ta’ dawk involuti fil-fażijiet differenti li jwasslu sad-deċiżjonijiet.  Ma hemmx spjegazzjoni oħra: qegħdin f’nofs din il-froġa minħabba li Tonio Fenech u sħabu kienu bla viżjoni.  Inżid ngħid li b’mod konxju inkarigaw bil-proċess deċiżjonali numru ta’ persuni li ma kellhomx idea tal-impatt fit-tul ta’ dak li kienu qed jagħmlu. Kien jinteresshom biss mill-impatti immedjati: il-voti u l-elezzjonijiet kienu l-miri ewlenin tagħhom. Ġew jaqgħu u jqumu mill-ġid komuni.

F’dan kollu nifhem li l-integrità tfisser li tkun onest, b’subgħajk dritt, ta’ prinċipju. Kwalitajiet li huma nieqsa mill-pjani lokali.

L-ippjanar dwar l-użu tal-art huwa aspett importanti minn dak meħtieġ għall-ħarsien ambjentali: dan mhux konċernat biss mir-realtajiet tal-lum.  Jagħti sura lill-futur u jfassal il-qafas li fih jiżviluppaw il-ġenerazzjonijiet futuri. F’dan il-kuntest Il-korruzzjoni tal-ambjent biex jintrebħu l-elezzjonijiet billi jitqassmu l-permessi tal-iżvilupp bħall-pastizzi hi l-agħar azzjoni possibli, nieqsa minn kwalunkwe ħjiel ta’ integrità.  Dan hu l-kontribut sinifikanti tat-tim tal-2006 fil-politika Maltija lill-kwalità tal-ħajja tal-ġenerazzjonijiet preżenti u futuri.  Għaddew ħmistax-il sena minn meta Tonio Fenech u ta’ madwaru fl-2006 ħolqu din il-froġa ambjentali. L-impatti illum tad-deċiżjonijiet ta’ ħmistax-il sena ilu huma enormi. Sfortunatament ma hemm ħadd fil-Parlament illum li għandu l-kuraġġ li jibda it-tiswija u t-tindifa bis-serjetà tal-ħsara li ilha takkumula għal 15-il sena.

U issa? Sakemm jibqgħu jiġu eletti l-istess tip ta’ nies fil-Parlament ma hu ser jiġri xejn. Għad għandna bosta  li jiġu jaqgħu u jqumu mill-ħsara ambjentali, sakemm din tasal wara l-bieb tagħhom.  Huwa biss meta lkoll nirrealizzaw li l-vantaġġi immedjati għall-ftit ifissru tbatija fit-tul għal kulħadd li nkunu nistgħu nagħmlu l-ewwel passi fit-triq tal-fejqan.

Irridu nkunu kapaċi nifhmu kif dak li nagħmlu illum għandu effett fuq is-7 ġenerazzjonijiet li jiġu warajna. Dan nistgħu nagħmluh billi nqisu sewwa d-deċiżjonijiet u l-imġieba kollha tagħna. Ma jista’ jkun hemm l-ebda eċċezzjoni.  

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 13 ta’ Ġunju 2021

Tonio Fenech’s class of 2006

Tonio Fenech, former Finance Minister, has been resurrected onto a political platform to share his views in a recent political activity held at Verdala Palace.

The environment, he said, does not win elections. Development permits, on the other hand, win votes, Tonio Fenech emphasised! Tonio Fenech, sanctimoniously as ever, implies that it was essential to systematically ruin the environment, in order to win elections! Sort of, winning elections is an objective in respect of which no sacrifice is to be spared, in his opinion!

We have been there more than once before. Realistically speaking, the problem, in my view is entrenched short-termism and this is applicable not just to environmental politics but rather to a whole spectrum of issues of varying importance. We need to take the long-term view in our decision-making process at all levels and in all matters.

Having been responsible, together with others, for the approval not just of the Local Plans but also for the rationalisation (land use planning) exercise as a result of which extensive land was given up for development, it seems that Tonio Fenech is in atonement mode. However, his proposal of resolving the matter by enshrining Local Plans in the Constitution would create worse problems than those already inflicted upon Maltese society!

Local plans, and other land use planning instruments, necessarily need be one of two types. They could be either very clear and precise, in which case they would require periodic revision to reflect developments and new realities. Alternatively, local plans could be generic in which case much would depend on their interpretation and the integrity of those handling the process.

In each option much is dependent on the integrity and vision of those handling all the different stages of the decision-making process. There are no two ways about it: we are in the present mess due to the lack of vision of Tonio Fenech and his colleagues. I would also add that they consciously entrusted the decision-making process to various persons who had no idea of the long-term impact of what they embarked upon. They had their sights focused on short-term gains: winning votes and elections being among their primary objectives. Consciously they set aside the common good.

In my book integrity means the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, being morally upright. Qualities which are definitely missing in the local plans.

Land use planning is an important aspect of environmental stewardship, and it does not deal exclusively with present day realities. It also shapes the future and determines the parameters within which future generations can act. In this respect using a corrupted environment to consciously win elections through dishing out development permits is in my view the worst possible political declaration, devoid of any integrity. This is the significant contribution of the class of 2006 in Maltese politics to the quality of life of present and future generations. It has been fifteen years since Tonio Fenech and his class of 2006 created this environmental mess. The impacts today are enormous. It is unfortunate that no one in parliament has the courage to initiate the process to reverse this 15-year damage.

Where do we go from here? Realistically speaking we cannot go anywhere if the same type keeps making it to Parliament. We have had more than enough of those who ignore environmental blasphemy until it arrives at their doorstep or their street! The moment we realise that short-term gains for the few signify long-term pains for all, we may start registering some progress. We need to realise that the way forward is to be good ancestors to at least the next seven generations: ensuring that we take the long-term view in all our decisions. There is no room for any exception.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 13 June 2021

A post-Covid future

It is too simplistic to state that the surge in Covid-19 new cases is the unique responsibility of more efficient strains of the virus. The efficient virus was without doubt, for quite some time, assisted by a practically inexistent enforcement. Until last week, substantial gatherings around a number of bar outlets were definitely not monitored with any strain of virus present having a practically free rein. The high Covid infection rate is also a consequence of all this.

The virus is thus not just more efficient, it has also encountered a lax enforcement which together with Covid-19 fatigue have made its proliferation much easier. Matters were also not made easier as a result of over-optimism and back-to-normal-soon messages. These messages together with the denigration of warnings on the potential impact of additional waves of virus infection has led us to the current state of play.

It is only thanks to the hard work of the medical personnel that matters are not much worse. One only hopes that lessons are learnt and that errors of judgement are not repeated. In the prevailing circumstances, the only permissible errors are those made on the side of caution.

The financial support which government has provided to a number of sectors, which support has been increased and extended, has certainly been helpful in the short term. While prioritising the health of all we can also use this down-time to plan for the future, a post-Covid future.

The vaccination programme is a reasonable source of optimism even though the light at the end of the tunnel is not visible yet.

Nobody contests that even as a result of Covid-19, the economy is in tatters, not just the Maltese economy, but possibly the world economy! The national debate should, at this point in time, be focused on how we ought to proceed into the future. Do we rebuild the past or do we take this unique opportunity to reshape the future?

The education of future generations has been dealt a severe blow as at the end of this Covid-phase at least two years of formal education will have been wiped out. Online education has certainly been of considerable help even though it is no substitute to the direct contact between our educators and students. This applies to all levels of education but more importantly at the primary and secondary school levels. It would be indeed unfortunate if anyone of the most vulnerable goes below the educational radar, as a result of Covid.  

Recovery will definitely not be easy.

A positive aspect of the tools utilised to cope with Covid was the increased reliance on digitalisation in general and tele-working in particular. We will definitely need to discuss the implications of this in considerable depth in the debate on the post-Covid future as both rights and duties in this area are not sufficiently clear yet.

Covid, like other major epidemics (AIDS, Ebola, SARS) is a direct result of the mistreatment of nature. It is specifically the consequence of the human assault on biodiversity.

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.

Covid has shown that nature runs roughshod over an economy which is disrespectful to the ecology and eco-systems. Nature always has the final word. Can we possibly learn the lesson this time?

In the coming weeks when hopefully matters are clearer it would be opportune if we embark on planning the future, together. Our future requires a green plan which is both fair and sustainable: A Green New Deal. A future which does not repeat past errors but which instead seeks a healthy re-establishment of the links between man and nature. Too much damage has been caused over the years through the rupture of our links with nature in an effort to conquer and domesticate it. The future does not lie in man’s violent control of nature but rather through working in partnership with it.

After all this is what sustainability is all about.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 14 March 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