€55 million down the drain

Our roads are bursting at the seams. We all agree that this is an accurate statement, but the problem is with identifying sustainable solutions addressing the issue.

Government has opted for the solution which focuses on an upgrading of the road network: widening roads, reorganising road intersections, constructing flyovers and underpasses. These solutions may reduce commuting time in the short term but they will, however, in the long term inevitably increase the number of cars on our roads, as a result making the situation even worse than it is now. This is a policy which sends one clear message: the private car is the transport policy makers’ preferred mode of transport.

This policy option is clearly unsustainable.

Malta’s transport policy makers have – time and again – failed to understand that the foundations of transport policy in Malta have to be based on the simple fact that everywhere is close by – a stone’s throw away. An efficient public transport system would solve most of our mobility needs. However, for public transport to feature more prominently in the manner we select our mobility requirements, subsidies are not enough.

After more than sixty years of neglect, the policy-makers need to take a clear stand to encourage alternatives to owning and driving a car. It is only then that public transport can take its rightful place as the leading – and preferred – provider of sustainable mobility in our islands. This could be supplemented with sea-transport, cycling and walking. As a result of fewer cars on our roads, both cycling and walking would undoubtedly become more attractive options.

From the reply to a Parliamentary Question answered earlier this month by Transport Minister Ian Borg, it results that, on the 30 April 2018 we had 377,305 vehicles on our roads. With a population estimated at 432,000 that translates to 832 vehicles per thousand people, one of the highest car ownership statistics in the world. This is not a sign of effluence but the most solid proof that the policy-makers have failed to come to grips with the real issues of sustainable mobility in a small country.

According to 2014 statistics available, Luxembourg had 661 vehicles per thousand population on its roads. This too is a very high car ownership rate, but applying it to Malta would signify that we could do with removing 75,000 cars from our roads: a 20 percent reduction. Luxembourg, having a population comparable to Malta, is also small in size as a country, with everywhere being easily within reach, even though it is approximately six times the size of Malta. Turkey, on the other hand, which is much larger in size and population when compared to Malta, has 134 cars per thousand people on its roads: a car ownership statistic which, if applied to Malta, would mean that we have an excess of 302,000 cars on our roads – 80 per cent. Rather than further developing our road network with fly-overs and under-passes we could then start planning for the transformation of most of our existing roads into recreational areas! This, of course, is wishful thinking.

However, these are the real issues that need debating. Unfortunately, there is no interest in considering the reduction of car ownership as a realistic policy solution which effectively addresses traffic congestion and consequently sustainable mobility.

Rather than a policy of upgrading our roads we need a policy of transition, that slowly nudges our behaviour from one as a result of which cars rule our roads to one where our mobility is addressed in a sustainable manner primarily through a substantially increased use of public transport. It will obviously take time to reverse a 60-year neglect – as a result of which the state in Malta abdicated its duty to offer guidance leading to the development of sustainable mobility solutions.

It is this state of affairs which earlier this week led Minister of Transport Ian Borg to launch a “Central Link project”. €55 million down the drain.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 27 May 2018

The recycled summit

leaders-of-the-european

 

The Valletta Migration Summit is over. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has described it as a ‘historic summit’. It seems to me that it would be more accurately described as the ‘recycled summit’.

In one of the last speeches at the Summit, on Thursday morning, Senegalese President Macky Sall encapsulated in a few words the sentiments of the African side when he stated that African nations would have no need of aid if multinationals corporations active on the African continent paid their fair share of taxes and a fair price for the natural (African) resources. Of course President Sall left out an important last sentence: he avoided any reference to corrupt politicians generally in sync with these multinational corporations.

Earlier in the week had seen the 20th anniversary of the judicial killing of environmental activist Ken Saro Wiwa and his colleagues, who were executed on the orders of a secret military tribunal on the basis of trumped-up charges in Nigeria on 10 November 1995. Ken Saro Wiwa and his colleagues had  stood up in defence of the Ogoni people against Anglo-Dutch multinational Shell, who ignored one and all in its intensive corporate greed.

The conclusions of the Valletta Summit are nothing but a re-cycling of measures that have been discussed for some time: EU leaders have continued to focus on returning migrants and outsourcing problems to frontline states. This is an approach that the EU had previously attempted with Libyan dictator Gaddafi who, way back in 2010, had demanded €5 billion as his price-tag to stem the flow of immigrants across the Mediterranean. In contrast, the initial carrot dangled before African heads of state was a mere €1.8 billion. Another €3 billion was simultaneously being offered to Turkey by Frans Timmermans Vice President of the EU Commission.

Bargaining with non-EU countries in the hope of trading EU funds in return for re-admission mechanisms is not the right approach. The original EU proposal of linking funds to a take-back of immigrants who did not qualify for asylum had to be withdrawn as the African side of the Summit refused the bait.

The causes of immigration into the EU are various. They range from repression and civil war to the accumulating impacts of climate change – primarily drought and the resulting collapse of domestic agriculture. Matters are made worse as a result of tribal rivalry, as well as the absence of the strong institutions of a democratic state. Consequently, the resulting vacuum is filled by corrupt politicians who, after taking their fill from accommodating multinational corporations seek to top up their spoils through additional contributions from Brussels.

The situation is tricky for the EU as there is no one else to talk to. It is for this reason that the Action Plan tied the proposed €1.8 billion assistance to specific projects subdivided into sixteen priority areas built around five priority domains.

Will this Action Plan solve anything? It is too early to tell, as it is a long-term issue which will be implemented within a number of timeframes specified in the plan itself. The main point of contention remains the immediate short term, during which the pressures on the EU borders will keep increasing to the point that, as Donald Tusk indicated, the whole Schengen process is under threat.

In this context it is pertinent to underline that Malta has recently been spared the troubles as the flow of immigrants ending in Malta has decreased to a trickle as a result of Italy taking up all immigrants that it has intercepted or rescued in Malta’s search and rescue area. The reasons why Italy is behaving in this manner are not yet officially known: the rumour mill has it that oil exploration rights are part of the equation. Originally, Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela had indicated that there was some informal agreement with Italy only for him to come back and state that he had been understood.

As stated by Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian Prime Minister and Liberal leader in the European Parliament : “The EU leaders have let us down.”

While the Valletta Summit has agreed to a reasonably detailed Action Plan which can form the basis of action in the long term, it has failed at containing the migration crisis in the short term.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 15 November 2015

Learning to use chopsticks

chopsticks

We have been told that it is most worrying that China could acquire a share in our energy corporation. It is worrying, we are told, due to the strategic importance of the sector.

We tend to forget that Malta has plenty of foreign investments in other strategic sectors. Another one wouldn’t change much would it?

Our only airport is run by Austrians.

Gambling has been left to  Greek Intralot.  Banking is heavily influenced by global HSBC ironically originating from Hong Kong, the tip of the Chinese mainland.

The public  transport fiasco has an Anglo-German fingerprint through Arriva.

LPG Gas is controlled by Italians through GASCO.

The Freeport is controlled by a Franco-Turkish alliance for the next 65 years. (CMA-CGM and Yildirim Group)

When its Austria, Greece, Anglo-German interests, Italian investments, Franco -Turkish controls, or global HSBC then its globalisation.

The Chinese interest is part of the same process.

Obviously the details of the memorandum of understanding signed earlier this week are not yet known. Hence a proper discussion would have to wait until such details are known. There will surely be positive and negative impacts. China stands to gain. Whether Malta’s potential gains are adequate is still to be seen as we have only been fed titbits of information.

China obviously stands to gain through establishing a stronger foothold in Malta and within the EU.  Whether it will be similarly positive for Malta is still to be seen.

Some Chinese companies are world class. They provide stiff competition to international firms such as Lahmeyer International the one time consultants to the Malta Resources Authority and to Enemalta Corporation. Some of these Chinese companies have reached the same grade in World Bank blacklists !

We have been there before.

It may turn out not to be so difficult to learn to use chopsticks after all !

Solar Energy comes free and safe

by Carmel Cacopardo

published 10 August 2008

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The site where French Company Areva is constructing the Olkiluoto 3, the French designed                     European Pressurised Reactor

 

Greenpeace has accused Nicolas Sarkozy of using the newly formed Union of the Mediterranean to push forward the French agenda for nuclear power. Sarkozy, acting more like a salesman than a President, has been touring various regions, but clearly focusing on the Mediterranean, offering French nuclear technology.

In 2007, Sarkozy’s government signed agreements with nine Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries on nuclear exports and cooperation. He is desperately trying to sell the French designed European Pressurised Reactor (EPR), the flagship of the so-called “nuclear renaissance” despite the fact that the only construction attempts of the EPR in Finland and France have been disastrous.

The Finnish Olkiluoto 3 reactor is two-and-a-half years behind schedule, and costs have doubled to just short of €5 billion. The French nuclear safety authority has shut down the French construction site at Flamanville after just six months due to chronic safety problems.

In the Mediterranean, France has expressed an interest in the construction of nuclear plants in Libya, Algeria, Morocco, Turkey, Egypt, and Tunisia.

Libya’s reactor will supply energy for the desalination of seawater from the Mediterranean Sea.

Turkey’s first nuclear reactor is planned for Akkuyu Bay near the Mediterranean port of Mersin. It is scheduled to be in operation by 2015. Akkuyu Bay is situated in an earthquake prone zone on the Mediterranean coast north of Cyprus.

The Akkuyu reactor has been in the pipeline since 1996 but has been continuously postponed due to controversy surrounding the underestimation of the earthquake risks involved. Tenders will be issued in September 2008 and French Company Areva (90 per cent State owned) will most probably be competing with American giant General Electric for the tender. Turkey is planning to construct a second nuclear power plant at Sinop on the coast of the Black Sea.

Egypt’s nuclear reactor is under construction at El Dabaa on the Mediterranean coast.

Italy, through its Minister for Economic Development Claudio Scajola, has declared itself in favour of nuclear energy. On 26 July Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore reporting on Berlusconi’s joint press conference with Maltese Premier Lawrence Gonzi hinted at unofficial rumblings that Italy wants to set up nuclear reactors in Albania, Montenegro and Malta. It was only after being prodded by Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party that the Department of Information in Malta emerged from hibernation to deny that the matter was ever discussed between the Maltese and Italian delegations.

A Maltese delegation visits Libya: the matter of the Franco-Libyan nuclear reactor is not on the agenda. A Foreign Office official was quoted as stating that it is a non-issue, of interest only to the press.

In the meantime, in the first seven months of 2008, eight nuclear incidents have taken place on the European mainland (see box) three of them in France. Some of them are minor incidents, which could however have developed into major ones had safety precautions failed to come into operation. The French incidents are the most serious and occurred in July within a 21-day timeframe.

The French incidents have contaminated a water source and exposed 97 workers to excessive radiation from radioactive Cobalt 56. The Guardian, published in Manchester on 26 July, reported the reactions of residents living close to the Tricastin nuclear plant on the outskirts of Bolléne. “I always trusted that nuclear was totally secure. But now I wonder, have there been other accidents in the past we haven’t been told about?” In a country long accustomed to nuclear energy, which accounts for 80 per cent of all energy generated in France, this comment is significant. The nuclear leak, states Angelique Chrisafis reporting for The Guardian from Bolléne, “has shaken French trust in nuclear safety and embarrassed Nicolas Sarkozy as he crusades for a French-led world renaissance in atomic power.” The first casualty is the market for nuclear energy in the UK.

Almost concurrently with these happenings the Union of the Mediterranean has endorsed the Mediterranean Solar Plan, pushed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. This involves making use of the sun’s energy on the Sahara Desert to generate electricity for Europe’s use. The world’s sun belt in the Sahara desert can provide a solution and an alternative to the spiralling fuel costs.

 

Alok Jha, science correspondent of The Guardian reported on 23 July that an area slightly smaller than Wales in the Saharan Desert could one day generate enough solar energy to supply all of Europe with clean energy. The project is a long term one envisaging massive investments to the tune of €450 billion. Its effectiveness however will be dependent on technological innovations that are still at an experimental stage – primarily the capacity to store electricity generated when the sun doesn’t shine. Storing solar energy is currently both expensive and inefficient. Experiments are currently underway at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which, if successful could lead the way to a large scale low cost use of solar energy.

In his article entitled “Solar Power from Saharan Sun could provide Europe’s electricity, says EU”, Alok Jha emphasises that harnessing the sun in the Sahara would be more effective because the sunlight there is more intense. It is estimated that photovoltaic panels installed in the Sahara could generate three times the electricity similar panels installed in Northern Europe generate. Some doubt whether this amount of electricity could be generated. In addition, when transporting electricity over large distances issues of losses would assume a greater significance.

The major costs of the project would be related to upgrading the grid networks and infrastructure in the Southern Mediterranean countries.

Would Malta feature in such a project?

Algeria is projecting the annual export of 6,000 Mega Watts of solar-power generated to Europe by 2020. The Saharan project would take longer (up to 2050) to reach its projected annual output of 100 Giga Watts.

On the other hand, the Italian nuclear project would take between 10 and 20 years to materialise (ie between 2018 and 2028), yet the Maltese government considers it expedient to consider linking Malta to the Italian electricity grid.

Other Mediterranean countries such as Portugal and Spain have invested heavily in solar technology. On 13 June, the Jerusalem Post reported the launching of an American-Israeli experimental solar technology plant in Israel’s Negev desert.

Described as the “highest performance, lowest cost thermal solar system in the world”, this technology makes use of computer-guided flat mirrors known as heliostats to track the sun and focus its rays on a boiler at the top of a 200-foot tower. The water inside the boiler turns to steam, powering a turbine and subsequently producing electricity. The project is at a final testing stage and is planned to complete full-sized facilities in California’s Mojave Desert by 2011. It is estimated that this technology could cut costs associated with solar energy by 30 to 50 per cent.

This is the technology of the future that will be available shortly and depends exclusively on the sun’s rays that are beamed in our direction free of charge. Yet, Malta’s mainstream politicians look elsewhere.

Solar energy is an area Malta could tap jointly with Libya for mutual benefit. Both countries are blessed with a bountiful sun available all year round, which, if adequately used, is sufficient for all of Malta’s and Libya’s needs.

So, who needs nuclear energy in the world’s sun belt? Solar energy comes free and it’s safe.

Nuclear accidents this year

29 May – Rovno (Ukraine): Ruptured pipe supplying water to reactor. 1.3 cubic metres of coolant water escapes.

3 June –Dukovany (Czech Republic): Plant’s automated safety system cut output from one of its reactors after a worker mistakenly turned off coolant pipes.

4 June – Krško (Slovenia): 3 cubic metres water leaked from reactor cooling system. Reactor safely shut down.

7 July – Tricastin (France): 30,000 litres of liquid containing 12 grammes of uranium per litre spilled into ground and into Gaffiere and Lauzon rivers.

11 July – Varbourg (Sweden): Fire breaks out on roof of Ringhals nuclear plant turbine facility.

18 July – Roman Sur Isere (France): Radioactive leak from buried broken pipe.

23 July – Tricastin (France): Workers exposed to radioactive particles escaping from a ruptured pipe from plant. Ninety-seven staff had to be evacuated and sent for medical tests. Seventy showed low traces of radio-elements.

29 July – Biblis (Germany): One of Germany’s 17 functioning nuclear reactors automatically shuts down after crane snagged an electric power cable outside nuclear compound.