That business-as-usual stand

January 15, 2011

Saturday, 15th January 2011

That business-as-usual stand

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity was first discussed at length at the Earth summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 giving birth to the Convention on Biological Diversity, today having 193 parties. The European Union, a party to theConvention, in a 2001 summit initiated ambitious commitments agreed upon by heads of state and of government to halt the loss of biodiversity in the EU by the end of 2010. This became one of the main targets for managing and conservingnatural resources and was later endorsed by the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002.To achieve such targets and put biodiversity on course to recovery, the EU, in 2006, approved a detailed action plan, aiming primarily to clarify responsibilities concerning the implementation of legislation already in place. As a sign of further support, in 2007, the UN declared 2010 as the International Year for Biological Diversity. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stressed that “business as usual is not an option” and that “new targets and a new vision is indeed urgentlyneeded”. Such concept was elaborated in September 2010 at a high-level meeting of the UN with the participation of heads of state and of government.

The IYB’s main aim is to raise awareness on the importance of biodiversity with a view of engaging all stakeholders for protecting life on earth, to influence decision-makers and to raise biological diversity to the top of the political agenda. Everyone has to do one’s part. It is unacceptable not to take immediate and effective action. There cannot be a new vision excluding stakeholders. Only such a broad-based partnership, commitment, cooperation, coordination andcommunication can ensure life can continue to flourish on this planet for the benefit of species, naturally including humankind. This is the only way a commitment can be acquired to reinforce the implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity. An evaluation report has to be submitted to the UN General Assembly in 2011.

As a member state of the CBD, the UN and the EU, Malta is bound by all these commitments. What were Malta’scontributions towards halting biodiversity loss? Apart from the official periodic educational snippets, on the line of what environmental NGOs used to do more than 40 years ago, there is little one can highlight except for the occasional declaration of a protected area without any follow-up whatsoever. On the other hand, however, there is, unfortunately, quite a long list of decisions, actions or lack of them, which not only did not contribute to the prevention of biological loss but had a completely diametrically opposite effect. Considering the source of such negative impacts on biodiversity, this shows the importance of Mr Ban’s emphasis that “business asusual is not an option” and that “new targets and a new vision is indeed urgently needed”.

An off-the-cuff glance at some local “contributions” is a sine qua non. What comes to mind first is the number of alien invasive species that established themselves in the wild these last few years. Some have already managed to prove very costly not only economically but also ecologically and socially. Some of these introductions, albeit not all intentional but all due to lack of any foresight, include the red palm weevil, geranium bronze butterfly, the mulberry longhorn beetle, the tomato leaf miner, the Levantine water frog and about a dozen molluscs(snails) spreading from around some garden centres. Others might not have yet made an impact but when they do it will be too late for any action.

Climate change increases additional costs to control IAS. Britain spends £1.7 billion a year and EU costs amount to about €12 billion. No official figures are available for Malta despite the fact that IAS’s negative impacts are becoming more widespread. And the importation of flora and fauna, the main carriers of IAS,  goes on without any hindrance at all,  except, perhaps, for a phytosanitary/veterinary certificate on which some IAS have travelled.

More of a concern is the fact that the authority responsible to control and eliminate such IAS hinted at the possible intoxication of a fresh water pool to eliminate an alien frog in eco- Gozo. Much the same like advice from Josef Fritzl on how to protect children from sex abuse!

Still very unfortunate were development permits (none related to the management of the areas) issued inside EU Natura 2000 sites. A quick recollection reveals Mistra, Baħrija, and Dwejra – again in eco-Gozo. And, naturally, Buskett, another Natura 2000 site, saved by the skin of its teeth from becoming a public garden where, possibly, pansies and geraniums would have joined the numbers of IAS at this site.The business-as-usual stand adopted by Malta in international fora on the listing of the bluefin tuna in the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of  Wild Flora and Fauna and against adjusted quotas, both raised within the EU, is perhaps the cherry on the IYB’s cake.  Mr Ban’s emphasis that “business as usual is not an option” and that “new targets and a new vision is indeed urgently needed” seem specifically coined for the political fraternity.

The year 2010 has come and gone and with it a number of species of wild flora and fauna, which either gave up the ghost in the year of deliverance or else have been pushed to the brink of doing so. The target date has now been extended to 2020. By that time, today’s actors’ names will be engraved in stone – as a reminder of who was accountable for preventing biodiversity loss by 2010.

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Mepa and EU obligations

July 30, 2010

Friday, 30th July 2010

Mepa and EU obligations
Alfred E. Baldacchino

It seems that Mepa now acknowledges my expertise in the field of nature protection (July 21). It was also gratuitous of them to refer to me as the former Mepa assistant director for nature protection. Prior to that I was involved with the Environment Protection Department since its inception and worked under various ministers, especially in connection with EU screening and transposition of the EU biodiversity acquis. Progress during such a period was smooth and fast, with constant ministerial help, understanding and direction, despite some difficulties and lack of resources.

It was a very rewarding and satisfactory time, which I still cherish. But when Mepa was conceived and took over the responsibility of the environment (not just biodiversity), the planning mentality contributed to the dismantlement and, to some extent, the throwing overboard of established procedures and structures. Time and space do not allow me to go into detail here but should the need arise…
More surprising was the fact that Mepa, despite not wanting to fall for childish tit-for-tat, took two newspaper columns, beating about the bush and going on a wild goose chase, only to endorse all the EU Habitats Directive’s obligations outlined in my contribution (July 13). The outstanding points of Mepa’s letter are not the eulogy of what it achieved but the glaring absence of what has not been taken in hand or not done in the spirit of the obligations. To list but a few:

Article 6 of the Habitats Directive outlines what should or should not be done in Special Areas of Conservation (SAC). These, in brief, include conservation measures, management plans, steps to avoid deterioration of natural habitats and species. To use Mepa’s own words: “Obviously, projects and activities that are incompatible with the conservation of objectives of the site are prohibited.” Mepa could have explained how this was applied with regard to the permits issued for development in Baħrija, Mistra and Ramla l-Ħamra, all SACs. And it seems there are more to come!

Article 22 of the EU Habitats Directive deals with invasive alien species. To the credit of the past, now extinct, Nature Protection Unit, the hottentot fig (Carpobrutus edulis) was declared an invasive alien species, as also declared by the European Union. This species has already invaded some coastal cliffs, all SACs. Yet, public funds are being spent to plant this invasive alien species all over Malta and Gozo.  And Mepa, the Competent Authority responsible for this directive, turns a blind eye to such activities.

Buskett, another SAC and also a Special Protection Area (SPA), has become full of invasive alien species. The ongoing disturbance, deterioration and loss of habitat, decrease and disappearance of indigenous species of flora and fauna, the chopping down of protected trees and bushes is so opposed to the obligations of the Habitats Directive. Mepa, in its eulogy of achievements, completely fails to mention any actions taken or being taken in this regard.
A high Mepa official publicly stated on the national TV station that if no solution is found to eliminate the introduced alien frog in Gozo, then the water will be poisoned to eliminate it. This pool also contains, besides others, the painted frog, which is a species of EU interest in need of strict protection listed in annex IV of the Habitats Directive. Such destructive action is completely against the obligations of the directive.

Monitoring and enforcement are other obligations of the Habitats Directive which need reporting on in the six-yearly report. But no mention of these was made in the Mepa achievement list. It is no secret that Mepa is allergic to enforcement measures. When the Environment Protection Department was taken over by the Planning Authority, the former had a fully fledged environment enforcement section. Today, this section has disappeared into oblivion.

A development-driven authority can never, by any stretch of the  imagination, take responsibility and be accountable for the protection, management, monitoring and enforcement of environmental matters. The more so since the deciding bodies within Mepa do not have any inkling of environment management, conservation and EU obligations.
As publicly discussed controversial permits show, technical reports are also often ignored. The ever-increasing public discontent on how the environment in general, particularly the natural environment, is  deteriorating, blatantly abused, exploited, mismanaged and disappearing, is a very strong verdict of Mepa’s failure. A number of environmental NGOs have also publicly asked for resignations within Mepa, considering that it is the Competent Authority responsible to safeguard the environment in the name of the public, who is the main stakeholder. Sometimes, I wonder if the greatest hurdle in the way of the protection of the environment is the Competent Authority itself.

If all this is regarded by Mepa as “Malta living up to the EU Habitats Directive” then divine intervention is the only solution! I am indeed utterly worried for Mario de Marco who has now been handed environmental responsibility.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com
alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.

Link to MEPA’s letter dated 21st July 2010.

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20100721/letters/malta-living-up-to-the-eu-habitats-directive

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The author is a retired assistant director, Environment Protection Directorate at the Malta Environment and Planning Authority


The EU Habitats Directive

July 13, 2010
  Tuesday, 13th July 2010 

  The EU Habitats Directive 

 Alfred E. Baldacchino 

    Few, if any, have never heard of the European Union’s Council Directive on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora, better known as the Habitats Directive of May 21, 1992. But fewer know what the aims and obligations of this EU Directive are.

 

The main aim of the Habitats Directive is to promote the maintenance of biodiversity and to ensure the restoration or maintenance of natural habitats and species, that are important to the EU, at a favourable conservation status. Natural habitats and wild species of flora and fauna are under continuous threat from development and agricultural intensification. To pursue such an aim, EU member states are obliged to designate special areas of conservation (SACs) so that a coherent European ecological network known as Natura 2000 is created. These SACs support rare, endangered or vulnerable natural habitats, native plants and animals. Once a site designated by a member state is accepted by the EU Commission, it forms part of the Natura 2000 network, for which the member state has to honour the obligations incorporated in the directive. The EU has accepted as SACs 35 sites proposed by Malta, including Buskett/Girgenti area, Pembroke area, coastal cliffs from Il-Qammieħ area to Rdum tan-Nofsinhar, Wied il-Miżieb (which includes Mistra Bay and Baħrija Valley) and Ta’ Ċenċ area and Ramla area. 

Natura 2000 also incorporates special protection areas (SPAs) which support significant numbers of wild birds and their habitats and which are identified by member states according to the obligations of the EU Birds Directive. Malta has 

identified 13 SPAs which today form part of the Natura 2000 network, including Buskett/Girgenti area, Ta’ Ċenċ in Gozo and Filfla. 

  

Obligations which member states have towards such sites are: 

  

• the establishment of necessary conservation measures involving, if need be, the appropriate management plans specifically designed for the sites or integrated into other development plans; 

• appropriate statutory, administrative or contractual measures which correspond to the ecological requirements of the different natural habitat types listed in Annex I and of the species of flora and fauna listed in Annex II of the Habitats 

Directive, present in the sites; 

• appropriate steps to avoid the deterioration of natural habitats and the habitats of species as well as the disturbance of the species for which the areas have been designated by the member state; 

• an appropriate assessment of any plan or project not directly connected with, or necessary to, the management of the site but which is likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects. Such an appropriate assessment is needed to highlight the implications for the site in view of its conservation objective. The national competent authority for this directive (the Malta Environment and Planning Authority) shall endorse the plan or project only after having ascertained that the conclusions of such assessment regarding the implications for the SAC will not adversely affect the integrity of the SAC concerned. The national competent authority is also obliged, if appropriate, to obtain the opinion of the public. 

• If, in spite of a negative assessment of the implications for the SAC or SPA and in the absence of alternative solutions, a plan or project must nevertheless be carried out for imperative reasons of overriding public interest, including those of a social or economic nature, the member state shall take all compensatory measures necessary to ensure that the overall coherence of Natura 2000 is protected. It has to inform the EU Commission of the compensatory measures adopted. 

• Where the site concerned hosts a priority species or a natural habitat type listed in the Habitats Directive, the only considerations which may be raised are those relating to human health or public safety, beneficial consequences of primary 

importance for the environment or further to an opinion from the EU Commission. 

• Undertake surveillance of habitats and species and ensuring strict protection of species of flora and fauna listed in Annex IV of the Habitats Directive. 

• Report to the EU Commission by the national competent authority on the implementation of the directive every six years, incorporating information on conservation measures taken, describing impacts on the conservation status of the species and natural habitats types listed in the directive, measures taken in Natura 2000 sites, besides the key findings of monitoring activities conducted to assess the conservation status of species and natural habitat types of community interest, as all outlined in the directive. The directive also places particular importance on informing the public and making such reports accessible to the public. 

• To improve the ecological coherence of the Natura 2000 network, member states are to encourage the management of landscape features that are essential for the migration, dispersal and genetic exchange of wild species and so improve the ecological coherence of the Natura 2000 network of protection areas and beyond. 

• The Habitats Directive requires member states to monitor natural habitats and species of community interest. 

• Member states must also handle communication, education and public  awareness to ensure the effective implementation of this directive. Malta had to implement the Habitats Directives from the date of accession, that is May 1, 2004. It seems that a number of ministries are among the many that are not au courant with the Habitats Directive. And I would not be surprised in the least if 

the national competent authority itself is oblivious of such obligations, being so development-oriented and judging from the number of permits issued, including some in Natura 2000 sites.  

The public officer who will be detailed to write Malta’s first six-year report on the implementation of the Habitats Directive will find it easier to paint the sky green. Unfortunately, Mario de Marco, Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, will have to endorse the “achievements” of his predecessor. 

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


Farewell to the defenceless Maltese freshwater crab

May 28, 2010

Saturday, 22nd May 2010

Farewell to the defenceless Maltese freshwater crabGeorge G. Debono, Sliema

A letter about habitat destruction that recently took place in Baħrija (Crab Burrows Crushed Under Concrete, May 18) makes sad reading. As this correspondent describes, blue clay and stone were bulldozed, exposing rare freshwater crabs in their burrows in a valley which is in one of Malta’s more important protected areas. This outrage was allowed to proceed in spite of protests. The defenceless qabru is well on the way to its grave. Thanks to Mepa, yet another of Malta’s unique species, the product of millions of years of evolution, faces extinction from destruction of habitat. Yet in the May 13 edition of One World, under the title of Habitats of the Maltese Islands, Mepa piously stated that the “uniqueness of watercourses, including the rarity of a number of species inhabiting them, renders their protection of significance”. Given Mepa’s gruesome record, this is deceitful spin and it is time Mepa stopped shamelessly treating readers like idiots. Such posturing by Mepa remains hypocritical as long as developments in sensitive areas continue to destroy the habitat of endangered species, as the one in Baħrija. Maybe Mepa can inform concerned readers how to reconcile its infamous example of destruction of habitat with so many positive statements in Mepa’s regular boast column, One World. .

Comments  –

Annalise Falzon (6 hours, 3 minutes ago) @Chris Reiff. Are you serious?? What a sad comment on World Biodiversity Day! Here is part of today’s statement by Nature Trust: Some small hints which can easily be taken up by all who have nature at heart –

• Do not buy exotic animals. The trade in animals is second only to that of narcotics. If you would like to home an animal please consider all the strays on our streets and in sanctuaries around the island. • Use indigenous plants in your garden • Report any illegal activities • Write letters to the press and to your local councils • Make sure that the products you use are not endangering species which are on the brink of extinction. • Organise an awareness activity in your locality. • convert to organic farming. • Support sustainable and cruelty free activities • Join environmental NGOs • Take all litter back home • Avoid wasting resources

Anthony Mizzi (6 hours, 33 minutes ago) MEPA continues to stand out as the perpetuators of crime against the environment within questionable benchmarks of legality, the environment which MEPA is supposed to look after and protect . The development at Bahrija, approved BY MEPA, which may just result in the extinction of the Qabru belongs to Dr. Victor Scerri ex- President of the Nationalist party, which after a brief convenient spell after his resignation from Party President till the waters cooled down is back in the fold with another post in the High Hierarchy of Gonzipn. http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20100403/opinion/threatened-protected-animals-3

S Zammit (7 hours, 45 minutes ago) A very good letter…so true that our little ”defenceless” friend the Qabru is one of the most threatened species on the island.Somehow nothing is done to really protect it except a lot of bla bla and talk talk. MEPA qumu mir-raqda…hudu l-azzjoni qabel ikun tard wisq… Pule’ Carmel (8 hours, 39 minutes ago) All Management and Local Authority in Malta is just one BIG JOKE. and Paroli, and Pozi.

Chris Reiff (10 hours, 31 minutes ago) While preventing extinction is a good thing, one can not ignore the fact that over 99.9% of all species that ever existed on Earth are extinct, and most died out without human intervention.

Alfred E Baldacchino (11 hours, 6 minutes ago) As Edward Mallia clearly pointed out it is indeed a pity to see MEPA shooting itself in the foot every time it speaks on the environment. The grass roots within MEPA are genuinely trying hard to instil awareness and protect the environment. But why for example, the ‘one world’ snippets published by MEPA on the natural habitats and species of the Maltese Islands, though laudable and encouraging, never mentions that most of these are covered by the EU Habitat Directives, where most of the Sites mentioned are all Special Area of Conservation (SAC) with all their obligations. No mention of this at all by MEPA. Why? Not to put salt on the wounds, perhaps? When one considers that MEPA is the Competent Authority for the EU environment acquis, and as such it is responsible for the protection, monitoring, enforcing and honouring the obligations Malta has to national and international obligations, it is indeed a curse that MEPA is responsible for the environment. But perhaps the change of Minister can give the environment the breath of life, so that it can recover from it local pitiful state, and from the international shame Malta is in.

Edward Mallia (12 hours, 22 minutes ago) ‘Mepa’s regular boast column’ is an excellent description of the One World feature. Ironically ,today’s number celebrates World Biodiversity Day. The freshwater crab gets a look-in at the bottom right hand corner. The One World number of June 20th 2009, treated us to the gallant efforts of Mepa to preserve our heritage at Ta’ Baldu: The site is now inaccessible and invisible from the ‘main road’. Mepa has sanctioned the gates and has done nothing to reduce the height of the dry stone walls; at the back, the three country roads coming down from Dingli now have large notices saying Private No Entry, at 200m from the site. Mepa is still topping ‘treating readers like idiots’ on the Black Dust Mystery, and on the Delimara extension. The Environment Director said that he is not considering the separate disposal of the unburnable HFO sludge because he has not received any application from Enemalta. The sludge (1t/day) was mentioned in the EIA, which suggested burning in the Marsa Incinerator. To this the Director replied that Marsa did not have any IPPC permit to burn sludge. Fair enough: but is he going to do anything about it?