Overshoot-and-collapse

October 16, 2018

Tuesday, 16 October, 2018

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Local mass media daily carry news of an alarming increase in traffic accidents, some with loss of life; injuries and deaths in the neck-breaking rush of the construction industry; the alarming increase in criminal activities, some leading to manslaughter and even murder; already seven in less than nine months.

Not necessarily hitting the headlines are the number of physical and psychological impacts on both the old and young population, especially children.

“A new government will put the environmental health as a focal point in the decisions taken,” said one of the government’s last two electoral manifestos. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Unless the socio-ecological fabric of our country walks hand in hand with the economic factor, the former will have to pay externalities – the hidden costs – of short-sighted commercial decisions. The latter are putting the carrying capacity of our country under heavy pressure.

The overshooting of the carrying capacity was emphatically stressed by a pro-rector at the University, jokingly or not, saying that the government should consider buying Pantalleria.

Any sociologist qualified in population dynamics and population ecology can easily expound on the naturally occurring negative impacts of an over-populated affluent society, now rumoured to double.

The carrying capacity of a country is the number of people, animals or crops, which a region can support without environmental (social and ecological) degradation. When population exceeds the long-term carrying capacity of its environment, it leads to an ‘overshoot’. The environment usually has mechanisms in place to prevent such overshoot – often referred to as ‘overshoot-and-collapse’.

A country’s biocapacity deficit increases as either its population or its per capita consumption grows: faster if both grow. Decline is then faster than growth leading to social and ecological dysfunction.

The biocapacity or biological capacity of an ecosystem is an estimate of its production of certain biological materials, such as natural resources, and its absorption and filtering of other materials such as carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When the ecological footprint of a population exceeds the biocapacity of the environment it lives in, this can be called an ‘ecological overshoot’.

I tend to believe that this is not the government’s intention, though I am afraid I cannot see any official measures in place to prevent this – not even from the handpicked Planning Authority or the Environment and Resources Authority. It would be a great injustice to our younger and future generations if they find themselves in this cul de sac.

The accelerating mismanagement of the socio-ecological fabric is contributing to such overshoot-and-collapse. This can be gathered from the decimation, with official consent, of biodiversity: land, ecosystem, air and water resources. The lack of enforcement of the national and international obligations, including those of the EU, make it seem as if these, as well as official authorities referred to, exist only on paper.

Past promised commitments as outlined in the government’s last two electoral manifestos led one to hope for a better future through good governance in the light of such principles; but it gives me great heartaches when I remember such signed commitments. Allow me to quote some:

“Social justice also means environmental justice. It means clean air. It means that everybody has a right to live without fear in our country and feel safe. Social justice means the creation of a society which thinks about everybody. These are the foundation of what we believe in” (forward to Labour Electoral Manifesto 2017).

“Environmental protection will be given priority and weight in all major Government decisions” (page 117).

“Protection of outside development zones will be strengthened. A new government led by Joseph Muscat will be committed that no major public project will be constructed in ODZ” (page 117).

“We believe that Malta should be in the front line in environmental standards. Not because of the obligations of European directives, but because this is what our children deserve” (2013, page 93).

“A new government will take more seriously and with greater commitment environmental matters. We are going to work with determination so that the lost time will be regained, aware that there are difficult decisions to be taken, among which is the reform of Mepa, from its roots. We are going to take this measure in the environmental interest of our country so that we will be in a better position to address the challenges” (2013, page 93).

“A better environment leads to better health. A new government will put the environmental health as a focal point in the decisions taken. Our aim is that we will make our country one of the best in air quality; water conservation; waste management; drainage treatment; and other related fields. Therefore, a new government commits itself to better considerably these fields, to ensure a better environmental heritage to our children” (2013, page 96).

“We will focus with more professionality on the protection of biodiversity and natural species in our country, while we will ensure honouring all the obligations of our country for the protection of biodiversity” (2013, page 100).

“A new government acknowledges and recognises the professional work and the professionals in the environmental field. Therefore, we will create a structure which recognises and better leads the professions in this field, while encouraging more professional specialisation (2013, page 101).

“Environment will be given the priority it deserves and this will be incorporated with that of the present Resource Authority and so establish the Environment and Resource Authority, which will be more proactive and strategic and which will focus more specifically on the conservation, protection of the environment and resources, while also assuming the important role of an environmental regulator which presently our country does not have” (2013, page 94).

Past promised commitments as outlined in the government’s last two electoral manifestos led one to hope for a better future

These are all commendable, noble commitments, with which I fully agree. I have been working for the best part of my life towards such aims, because I love my country, its people and its environment. So, I feel it is my obligation and my responsibility to say that the way official decisions are presently being taken and implemented are diametrically opposite to such commitments – commitments which our country not only deserves, but also demands. The government is responsible to implement such commitments. Unfortunately, I cannot see any, not even in their embryonic stage.

I also remember a circular e-mail (February 20, 2013) titled “Your priorities are our priorities” from Joseph Muscat, now Prime Minister, confirming that: “I will be personally accountable for delivery.”

Regrettably, with hindsight, I would not be surprised if I am laughed off, or told that these are now past the best-before date.

The people of Malta, irrespective of their political beliefs, deserve to feel confident of a better, safer, peaceful, healthier, common future, living in a healthy environment, as after all has been officially promised.

Science never lies. So would I be expecting too much if I say that I am eagerly looking forward to immediate action, in the interest of the young and future generation, who have lent this country to us? I am sure that anybody with a genuine socialist background not only would agree with these principles and commitments, but would also take immediate measures to implement them. Not so if one is blinded by the capitalist system. Unless of course, I am corrected again.

“The choices we make about the lives we live determine the kinds of legacies we leave,”  said Tavis Smiley, the American talk-show host, author, political commentator, entrepreneur, advocate and philanthropist.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 

 

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Where the wind blows

April 12, 2016

times of malta

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Where the wind blows

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The EU met on 8th March 2016 to decide whether to extend for another 15 years, the use of glyphosate, a crucial weedkiller ingredient. The decision was abruptly postponed at the eleventh hour.

pic-3

A glyphosate-based weed killer

Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide that is widely used in agriculture, public areas and private gardens. It is also used in genetically modified crops, which are specifically engineered to resist glyphosate-based products.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organisation, announced that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans”.  Environmental groups have since been calling for its ban.

Following WHO’s warnings, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) will undertake further studies to see if glyphosate can cause cancer, interfere with reproduction or damage the hormone system. The herbicide glyphosate can enter the body through food or drinking water. A new study has shown that the majority of Germans have been contaminated by the compound.

killed by public funds

Dead pollinators – bees – after spraying pesticides, especially for purely commercial purposes. 

According to scientists, heavy and repeated uses of glypohosate-based herbicides, contributes to many envirionmental and soil-ecosystem problems. Glyphosate results in the greatest public and worker exposure, either directly or through residues in food. And its impacts on biodiversity is also well known: it decimates and eliminates pollinators such as bees.

On the other hand, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) contends that glyphosate was unlikely to cause cancer in humans and proposed higher limits on the amount of residue of the weed killer deemed safe for humans to consume, a report which Greenpeace has referred to as “a whitewash”.

spraying pesticides 1

Whose responsibility is it: Ministry of Landscaping? Ministry of Health? Ministry of Environment? Ministry of Consumer Affairs?Ministry for Local Councils? 

The Swedish Environment Minister said: “We won’t take risks with glyphosate and we don’t think that the analysis done so far is good enough. We will propose that no decision is taken until further analysis has been done and the EFSA scientists have been more transparent about their considerations.”

Before the scheduled vote of 8 March, leaders from Italy joined Sweden, France, and the Netherlands against the widely-used herbicide.

Following such postponement, EU Member States were given till the 18 March 2016 to provide their opinion for the next meeting, scheduled for 18 May. But the Times of Malta (March 29) quoted a spokeswoman for the Ministry for Environment, that Malta did not submit such opinion by the 18 March, because discussions were still ongoing.

spraying pesticides 2

Workers are just a cog in the pro-business machine. As long as they deliver, it is not important to ensure that they wear hazardous clothing.

Following a number of articles and comments in the press, it is now more than obvious that in Malta the eagerness for monitoring and enforcing is at its lowest ebb, if at all. The professionalism of passing the buck is more pronounced.

As per Pesticides Control Act, 2001 and the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority Act, 2011, the competent authority for the authorisation and regulation of pesticides in Malta is the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority (MCCAA).

But, according to this newspaper, MCCAA refused to state it’s position and directed questions to the Environment Ministry. The latter is responsible for the protection of biodiversity, the Pesticides Control Board (PCB) which is chaired by a Ministry’s representative, and also for agriculture for which a parliamentary secretary is accountable.

Because of the impacts of pesticides on human food and animal feeds, representatives of the Food and Safety Commission and the Environment Health Department, both under the responsibility of the Minister for Energy and Health are represented on the PCB.

“I tend to start believing that Malta will not go to the next meeting on May 18 with an official public position”

One of the functions of the Food and Safety Commission is to effectively apply the precautionary principle when a significant risk to consumers is identified or reasonably suspected. Sitting on the fence is the Minister of Landscaping who is responsible for use of pesticides by his landscaping official public partner who seems to be immune to any regulation with regards to human safety and biodiversity.

One would tend to ask. “What would Malta have voted if the matter was not postponed?” In such a sensitive social and ecological matter, one would have thought that the decision was easy. But in all probabilities the pro-business vision is quite a high and a strong hurdle to overcome.

From past and present experience, considering the pro-business vision dominating every other sector, and the fortunate position in the EU’s alphabetical list, I tend to start believing that Malta will not go to the next meeting on 18 May with an official public position. The position will be reached according to the way the majority of the EU Member States vote: in other words, where the wind blows.

spraying pesticides 3

Commercial interests spray to their heart’s content: in public area, in public gardens, in street, outsides residential areas, close to public outlets. Anywhere as long as they make some profit out of it. Externalities will be paid by the general public and the environment. 

This despite the negative impacts that such a decision will undoubtedly have on society and ecology, which will be more acute locally considering the smallness of the country. Why does Malta have to be feel embarrassed by a vote in favour of society and the environment?

Miriam Dalli, member of the European Parliament Environment Committee, is quoted as saying that “ultimately we are speaking about the health of our citizens and this is another case where I stand firm in my belief that public health is not negotiable and must not be compromised by any commercial interest.”

One has to wait till the vote on 18 May to see what stand Malta will take: whether MCCAA will be on the side of commercial interests, or use the precautionary principle in the interests of social and environmental health.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

related articles

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/29/glyphosate-debate-goes-on/https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/glyphosate-debate-goes-on-2/

 


Glyphosate debate goes on

March 29, 2016

‘Malta unclear on carcinogenic pesticide’

In 2013, nine of 10 people tested in Malta had traces of glyphosate in their urine, which was the highest rate in Europe.

In 2013, nine of 10 people tested in Malta had traces of glyphosate in their urine, which was the highest rate in Europe.

Malta’s position on the use of the potentially cancer-causing chemical glyphosate in pesticides is still unclear ahead of a crucial vote in May, as the European Commission seeks to extend its approval for the next 15 years.

Labour MEP Miriam Dalli, however, has voted for a ban on the chemical in the European Parliament, despite the Maltese government so far refusing to state its position.

The government was requested to give the European Commission its suggestions on the proposal by last Friday, but an Environment Ministry spokeswoman told the Times of Malta that it had not done so, as discussions were still ongoing.

Glyphosate, a common ingredient in weed killers, is considered to be a “probable human carcinogen” by the World Health Organisation, and environmental NGOs have long called for its use to be suspended.

Tests carried out by Friends of the Earth Malta in 2013 found that nine of 10 people tested in Malta had traces of glyphosate in their urine, the highest rate in Europe.

The Commission’s European Food Safety Agency (EFSA), however, published a report in November stating that the chemical was “unlikely” to cause cancer, paving the way for re-approval. The report was heavily contested by France, Sweden and the Netherlands, who have all come out strongly against glyphosate use.

National pesticide regulators from all EU countries, as well as the Commission, met on March 8 to decide on the matter but could not reach the majority necessary for a decision, prompting a postponement of the vote.

The Commission proposal includes the authorisation of glyphosate for nearly the maximum period possible (15 years) but also increases the acceptable amounts of glyphosate residues in food by 66 per cent.

When contacted, the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority (MCCAA), the local regulator, refused to state its position and instead directed questions to the Environment Ministry. Informed sources, however, said the regulator had recommended that the government vote to ban glyphosate, although the final decision rests with the government.

A resolution passed on Monday by the European Parliament’s Environment Committee, of which Dr Dalli is a member, called for the blocking of the Commission’s proposal. The resolution will now be put before a plenary session in April.

Dr Dalli, who voted for a ban, said the EFSA report was based on unpublished studies which should be disclosed before any decision was made to ensure its conclusions were scientifically sound.

“Ultimately here we are speaking about the health of our citizens and this is another case where I stand firm in my belief that public health is not negotiable and must not be compromised by any commercial interest,” she said.

Asked if she believed the government should vote to ban the chemical, Dr Dalli said: “The government should analyse the proposal in great detail and keep as a priority citizens’ health to make sure that the decision is taken based on proper scientific evidence.”

Former environment directorate head Alfred Baldacchino told this newspaper the EU should apply the precautionary principle enshrined in its treaties, which states that potentially hazardous products should not be used unless they can be proven to be safe.

“This is necessary in the interest of biodiversity and of society,” Mr Baldacchino said. “If a harmful effect were to be proven further down the line, it would be too late to control.”

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/09/departments-passing-buck-over-pesticide-regulations/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/use-and-overuse-of-pesticides-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-1/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-2/

 

 


‘Departments passing buck over pesticide regulations’

March 9, 2016

‘Departments passing buck over pesticide regulations’

Philip Leone-Ganado

Pesticide spraying is having disastrous results on biodiversity and public health, says Alfred Baldacchino.

Pesticide spraying is having disastrous results on biodiversity and public health, says Alfred Baldacchino.

Government entities were passing the buck on pesticide regulation, causing fragmentation that was having disastrous results on biodiversity and public health, a leading environmentalist has warned.

Alfred Baldacchino told the Times of Malta that, since July 2014, he had attempted to raise concerns over the indiscriminate spraying of herbicides and insecticides with several government departments and bodies but none assumed full responsibility.

The Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, the Health Ministry, the Environmental Landscapes Consortium and the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority were all contacted, he said.

They either referred the matter to another department or did not respond, although the MCCAA promised to call an interdepartmental meeting between all the stakeholders to determine the way forward.

bee-dead-4Mr Baldacchino said the regulation provided by the MCCAA* was solely from a financial aspect, leaving no effective regulator for the impact pesticides had on biodiversity.

sprayer-8He warned that wild flower ecosystems, which provided a habitat for important pollinating species like bees, were being destroyed due to widespread pesticide use by the landscapes consortium and local councils.

Bees and other pollinating species are responsible for about 15 per cent of Malta’s 2014.05.23 - Calendula-suffruticosa-subsp.-fulgida3total agricultural produce but have been in decline for years. Some experts estimate that there are now 60 per cent fewer bee colonies than there were just 20 years ago.

pic-3“This should be a matter for the agriculture and environmental health departments,” Mr Baldacchino said. “I don’t know if the MCCAA has the expertise to handle the situation. The authorities are handing responsibility over to entities without the necessary competence, so everything stagnates.”

 

bexx-fuq-il-bankingi

Somebody must be responsible and paying for such spraying of chemicals.

Mr Baldacchino said the controls that should be in place in relation to councils of localities where the spraying of pesticide took place were ineffective in practice. Such controls should also cover the ministers responsible for local government, water and the environment, he added.

An official request he made to view the contract between the government and the landscaping consortium was blocked by the Infrastructure Minister, Mr Baldacchino said.

bexx-fl-ibliet-malta

Who is paying for such spraying of chemicals? Could it be the Minster responsible for Landscaping?

“The government’s pro-business vision comes at the expense of everyone and everything, including society, which is suffering from health problems, and our biodiversity,” he continued. “It seems that, as long as someone is profiting, there’s no will to address the problem.”

The EU has regulations on the use of pesticides and maximum levels of residues. Activists campaigning for the reduction of pesticide use worldwide say pesticides have been linked to a wide variety of health hazards, from headaches and nausea to cancer and endocrine disruption.

2015.05.23---march-against-Monsanto---Valletta

Maltese NGOs and the general public protesting against the use of toxic chemicals and the use of GMOs

Also, chronic health effects could occur years after minimal exposure to pesticides ingested from food and water. New research published in France this week showed that homes close to cultivated areas are exposed year round to a significant cocktail of pesticides, many of which are potential endocrine disruptors, substances that threaten developing foetuses and young children even at low doses.

“This fact illustrates the urgent need to change agricultural practices and to ensure that the spraying of synthetic pesticides is prohibited near areas where people live,” said François Veillerette, a spokesman for Générations Futures, the organisation that carried out the search.

* should read MELP – Malta Environment and Landscaping Projects (AEB)

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

related articles on blog:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2016/03/04/use-and-overuse-of-pesticides-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-1/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/prezz-qares-li-jkollna-nhallsu-jekk-neqirdu-n-nahal/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2011/10/02/roundabout-plants-described-as-invaders/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/bees-alert-its-goodbye-honey/

 


Use and overuse of pesticides

March 4, 2016

Reference is made to the letter on ‘The pesticide levels’, by Marcel Pizzuto, chairman of the Malta Competition and Consumer Affair Authority (Febr 4).

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20160204/letters/The-pesticide-levels.601173

We would like to bring the following to his attention and to the attention of everyone concerned.

We asked for a meeting with the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Roderick Galdes, regarding the use and overuse of insecticides, even in roads and roundabouts. These are affecting the population of honey bees and the flora they depend on.dead bee 3

We also wanted to bring up the subject that foreign honey products were being sold and labelled as products of Malta. This is unfair competition and affects local honey bees and honey producers.

We were met by the parliamentary secretary’s chief of staff on July 17, 2014, and told most of the matters did not fall under their remit. We were referred to the Customs Department. He undertook to assist in any way possible, but this did not lead anywhere.

dead bee 6So we met the Director of Customs on August 25, 2014, and explained to him the above. We were also told that some of the subjects were not under his remit and we were referred to the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.

dead bee 8On August 28, 2014, we wrote the permanent secretary at the Health Ministry about the matter. Since no reply or acknowledgement was received, we sent a reminder, dated September 28, 2014. All to no avail.

dead bee 11On September 15, 2014, we met the acting director general and his legal adviser at the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority and discussed the matters mentioned above.

Once again, we were told the subject did not concern the regulator but was more related to the Environmental Health Directorate at the Health Ministry.

dead bee 7But, during the meeting, the acting director general undertook to organise an inter-departmental meeting between all the stakeholders who apparently had some say in the matter to determine the way forward. An inter-departmental meeting had to be held with representatives of the Environmental Health Directorate, the Trade Directorate and the Agriculture secretariat.

                    “Nobody can be blamed for                                            thinking the worst under the circumstances”
We wrote again to the acting director general and to his lawyer (Consumer Affairs) on January 12, 2015, and copied the letter to, among others, the MCCAA chairman, the head of secretariat at Agriculture and the parliamentary Ombudsman, asking for a reply.

dead bee 7Two days later, we were informed that a reply was being prepared by MCCAA. A reply dated January 16, 2015, was indeed received. The letter only served to shed light on the fragmentation between government entities, leading to a failure to take concrete action.

dead bee 13Then, on January 20, 2015, we were informed that the matter was referred to the Environmental Health Directorate at the Health Ministry.

killed by public funds

The result of unnecessary spraying of herbicides and pesticides paid out of public funds.

On February 6, 2015, the attention of the negative impacts of weed killers were referred to the chairman of the Environmental Landscapes Consortium. We received a letter from the office of the permanent secretary at the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure, stating that “ELC feels that any complaints regarding the use of herbicides and weed killers should be addressed to the authorities concerned”.

Following our efforts, which we believe public entities should be doing in the first place, can the MCCAA chairman please inform us whether the regulator is really interested and willing to investigate unfair trade?

 

herbicide 2

Spraying of herbicides and pesticides in the countryside, also paid out of public funds.

Are any of the authorities in general (especially those responsible for the environment, health and agriculture) interested in the indiscriminate use of pesticides and the effect of this on the public’s health, which, in turn, affects our economy too (sick people are unproductive, apart from needing treatment)?

We would also like to highlight that, since our initial efforts, herbicides are still being sprayed uncontrolled, biodiversity, including bees, is still being decimated, and unfair competition – from products being sold as ‘local’ when they are anything but – is still ongoing.

dead bee 15We fully agree with the MCCAA chairman that: “Finally, one would have thought that before publishing such an article in the Times of Malta which could alarm consumers unnecessarily, verification would have been carried out to ensure that this was the result of an interview in order to ensure that a factual picture is given to its readers.”

However, this does not justify the blatant lack of concrete action by the government (collectively) to safeguard the environment, to safeguard our health and also to help preserve the business of genuine Maltese artisans. Nobody can be blamed for thinking the worst under the circumstances.

bexx-f'mater-dei

More waste of resources at the expense of the public and biodiversity – also paid out of public funds.

The problems we are highlighting require a concerted effort and concrete collective commitment if they are to be resolved. Maybe the MCCAA chairman is willing to take the initiative in this respect. This was mentioned at the meetings held on July 17, 2014, and September 15, 2014, but to no avail.

dead bee 16

If the documentation we have at our end would help the authorities in any way, we would gladly oblige.

Ivan Mifsud is a lawyer and Alfred Baldacchino is an environmentalist.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

ara wkoll:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-2/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2015/05/11/il-bexx-kimiku-is-sahha-tal-bniedem-u-tal-ambjent-1/

 


Effects of Ta’ Ċenċ development on Flora and Fauna

March 1, 2016

interview

http://www.independent.com.mt/img/logo.jpg

Effects of Ta’ Ċenċ development on Flora and Fauna

ALFRED E. BALDACCHINO, a noted environmental lobbyist and keen writer has been working hard on the envronmental protection front since the early 1970s. Following the proposed Ta’ Ċenċ development The Malta Independent contacted Mr Baldacchino to see what the avid blogger and environmentalist had to say about the new proposal, the effects it will have on the flora and fauna of the area, and the role of NGOs.                 ___________________________________________________

Q. What flora will be affected by the development?

natura-2000-logo_2_fs.jpeg (800×600)Ta’ Ċenċ is an EU Natura 2000 site. This embraces a Special Area of Conservation with regards to flora and fauna (except birds) according to the Habitats Directive and also a Special Protection Area with regards to birds according to the Birds Directive.

Ta’ Ċenċ was accepted by the EU Commission after Malta forwarded a list of flora and fauna which were of importance to the EU according to the habitat types and species listed in the Habitats and Birds Directives. This was accepted by the EU Commission, and these NATURA 2000 Standard Data Forms (MT0000034) are referred to in the report on an appropriate assessment based on terrestrial ecological resources and on avifauna published by Ecoserve in December 2015.

These EU Directives do not only protect the species per se but also protect the habitats important for certain species within the delineated boundary. The site is important as one holistic ecosystem. These EU Directives oblige Member States to see that all activities, within the delineated boundary, are to be either aimed towards the management of the site or else they, and even those immediately outside, do not impact any habitats and any species of the Natura 2000 site.

endemic-sub endemic flowers

Photos courtesy of Stephen Mifsud

The proposed development, will have a negative impact on most of the flora, whether  common, vulnerable, endemic or endangered. These will be somehow affected both during and after works, and also during the increased human activities, mainly commercial, subsequent to the works not relevant to the management of the site. Some of the important flora found in this EU Natura 2000 are the sub endemic Maltese waterwort, the sub endemic Maltese toadflax, the endemic Maltese cliff orache, the endemic Maltese hyoseris, and the endemic Maltese rock centaury. These besides other important threatened vegetative communities such a those dominated by the endemic Maltese salt tree, and others including garigue and rock pools all of EU Community Importance.

The Appropriate Assessment 2015, besides highlighting the above, also states that: “More accurate prediction of environmental impact would necessitate extensive experimental work on the ecological responses of the species concerned and establishment of a mathematical model linking cause with effect.” A proper Environment Impact Assessment as obliged by the Directive, will have to be undertaken if the development is to proceed.

Q. What fauna will be affected by the development?

All the fauna will also be affected both during and also after the completion of the works. The proposed development will greatly affect and damage the ecological set-up and the conservation of this EU Natura 2000 Site.

short toed lark - michael sammut

Ta’ Ċenċ is the stronghold of the short-toed lark, which is a summer resident to the Maltese Islands where it nests.

The Appropriate Assessment 2015 states that not only the sedentary fauna within this EU Natura 2000 will be affected, but also those which can visit and can leave the area. All the breeding birds in this EU Natura 2000 site will be affected, not only the sea birds colonies breeding on the cliffs but also those which breed or use the plateau for foraging, whether residents or migratory.

blue rock thrush - michael sammut

The blue rock thrush (the national bird of Malta) also breeds at Ta’ Ċenċ and besides the sea cliffs it uses the garigue plateau as its feeding grounds.

The Appropriate Assessment 2015 mentions 24 species of breeding or potential breeding birds recorded at Ta’ Ċenċ. These are either species of global conservation concern, or unfavourable conservation status whether concentrated or not in Europe. Eleven of these are all protected and either vulnerable or endangered and listed in the Maltese Red Data Book such as the corn bunting the short-toed lark, the blue rock thrush, and the barn owl, among others.  This is also confirmed in the Appropriate Assessment 2015.

Short-toed Lark nest at Ta' Ċenċ - Michael Sammut May 2015

The nest of the short-toed lark at Ta’ Ċenċ.  

The Appropriate Assessment 2015 stresses that “Development within these two zones (the hotel area including the interpretation centre, and the villa area) is likely to generate environmental impact that may affect significant resources within Ta’ Ċenċ SAC and this assessment accordingly focuses on processes in these zones.”

Q. How valid are the impact assessments which have been performed and what could they have done better?

The assessment which has been published in 2015 is just an Appropriate Assessment. It is not a proper Environment Impact Assessment which is required before every development in an EU Natura 2000 site, as obliged by the Habitats Directive and as also indicated in the Appropriate Assessment.

The Appropriate Assessment also states that the proposed footprints of the Hotel area, the villa area and the interpretation centre “will obliterate plant assemblages and sedentary or slow moving fauna, and displace more vagile (free moving) fauna from the habitat”.

An earlier Environment Impact Assessment on Ta’ Ċenċ was by made by John Azzopardi in 2005. John Azzopardi is a past Assistant Secretary of the then Malta Ornithological Society with over 35 years experience in field ornithology, and also a past chairman of the International Council for Bird Preservation (Malta Section) – today Birdlife International. In his study John Azzopardi  elaborates “that nocturnal seabirds may be disoriented by artificial lighting whilst travelling from feeding grounds to nesting sites. Possible effects of artificial lighting on nocturnal seabirds, include abandonment of nest sites and burrows (with subsequent vulnerability of chick to starvation or depredation), collision with structures during flight, reduction of reproductive rate and of recruitment rate, interference with navigation and direction-finding and interference with the food sources of the birds.”

According to the EU Habitats Directive, each EU Natura 2000 site has to have a management plan not later than six years after accession, in our case, 2004. Malta did not reach this deadline and was given additional time up to December 2015. By that time, the management plans for all EU Natura 2000 sites were finalised by Epsilon-Adi Consortium, and discussed at public meetings. These had to be approved by Government and sent by MEPA to be approved by the EU Commission.

The Appropriate Assessment 2015 mentions these EU obligatory Management Plans for the EU Natura 2000 sites, but indicates that no reference was made to them despite that these are public. One can either conclude that these have not been sent to the EU, or else that they have not been approved by the EU Commisison. I just cannot image how such a development can be considered by MEPA, when it failed to consolidate and get EU approval for the management plans, now overdue as obliged by the EU Commission. But MEPA is MEPA – no real concern for biodiversity and no interest in EU environmental obligations despite being the official Competent Authority for environmental matters.

Q. What is the role of the NGOs in all of this, and do you think they are acting accordingly?

I believe that every NGO convinced and proud of its statuary aims for the protection of biodiversity, in whole or in part, have to make its stand publicly known on this unique important EU Natura 2000 site. To the time of writing, only Din l-Art Ħelwa has publicly declared its disagreement with this proposed development so damaging to this EU Natura 2000 site.

http://www.independent.com.mt/articles/2016-02-29/local-news/Din-l-Art-Helwa-hits-out-at-Ta-Cenc-proposal-building-in-ODZ-land-unacceptable-6736154093

Sometimes environmental NGOs do surprise me by the stand they take or by their complete silence. The Malta Independent (25.02.16) carried a back page article with a declaration that “Proposed Ta’ Ċenċ development will not interfere with nesting habits – BirdLife Malta”.

Having been the Hon. General Secretary of the MOS (now BirdLife Malta) from 1974 to 1986 when bird protection principles were established with great sacrifices by many, I find it very difficult to believe this. IF this is correct, this is a stab in the back to all those who have and are still contributing to biodiversity and bird protection in Malta, and an insult to all the personal sacrifices by  many who contributed or are contributing, in one way or other towards bird protection.

GuideOne has only to take in consideration the various official publication of BirdLife Malta on the area. Ta’ Ċenc is regarded as the stronghold of the breeding Short-toed Lark, and important for a number of potential breeding species referred to in the Appropriate Assessment 2015, all listed as vulnerable or endangered in the Malta Red Data Book.

An international seabird conference was hosted by BirdLife Malta on 22 November, 2015, and attended by an international delegation of marine scientists, government authorities, and the European Commission representatives, (incidentally, though not much publicised, held at the Hotel Ta’ Ċenċ, Gozo). There it was agreed that “Important Bird Areas (IBAs) (such as Ta’ Ċenċ) represent the largest global network of important sites for biodiversity”.

The Maltese Environment EU Commissioner, Karmenu Vella who addressed the conference by video link is reported as having said that: “Natura 2000 sites (such as Ta’ Ċenċ) are the centrepiece of European nature legislation, helping in our efforts to halt biodiversity loss.

IBA booklet2In July 2004, Birdlife Malta produced a booklet, printed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB): Important Bird Areas of EU Importance in Malta. This is compiled by John J Borg and Joe Sultana, (the former one of the authors of the Appropriate Assessment 2015). Under the Important Bird Area of Ta’ Ċenċ, the authors list the following as threats for this IBA, now an EU Natura 2000 site: “A tourist complex is situated about 100 m from the cliffs with plans of extension. Uncontrolled recreation, mainly trekking and rock climbing, unsustainable exploitation (e.g. illegal bird shooting and trapping).”

RDBTaking the above, besides many others, in consideration, I find it very very difficult to believe Birdlife Malta statement regarding the non negative impact of development at Ta’ Ċenċ. Of course, one expects an official declaration by Birdlife Malta if this is not correct and is contrary to what Birdlife Malta have been working for, through popular and scientific literature, and publicly campaigning for bird protection since the birth of the society’s in 1962 when it was the Malta Ornithological Society –  MOS.

If such an official declaration is not forthcoming, then I have to regrettably believe it. However, I would then also expect a clarification by Birdlife International for this change of position regarding bird protection in Malta from their local partner, whom they support morally and financially.

I have to strongly disassociate myself from this declaration from Birdlife Malta that the proposed Ta’ Ċenċ development will not interfere with nesting habits, as reported in your paper, and hope that this is a very grave lapsus.

Do you think it is possible to have any sort of compromise with the developers where they can go ahead with development while safeguarding the natural surroundings?

Compromise is not a word in my vocabulary, especially when it comes to eliminating ecosystems, the more so when there are international obligations with regards to the protection of biodiversity of an EU Natura 2000 site. As stated in the Appropriate Assessment 2015 with regards to the obliteration of habitats: “No mitigation measures can be proposed for the actual area obliterated, since this impact is irreversible.”

Where biodiversity is concerned, there can be no compromises: in an EU Natura 2000 site, impacts are either wrong or not wrong. Compromises are reached only by those who have a pro-business vision willing and ready to accept the elimination of a living ecosystems, which after all also sustain us all. And such a compromise is reached only for commercial personal gain, naturally at the expense of society and the living environment.

scientific names

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

 

 

 


Unkept green pledges

January 17, 2015

times of malta

Saturday, 17th January, 2015

Unkept green pledges

 Alfred E. Baldacchino

Public awareness on environmental matters has never been so strong. Yet, the environment is still being decimated and abused with the blessing of government entities.

MEPA, the competent authority for environment, is under the responsibility of a parliamentary secretary, and falls within the Prime Minister’s portfolio. Projecting colourful fireworks’ toxic smoke, killing of species, and ODZ ‘tweeting’ are higher on the agenda than any tangible national policies for the good of society and the environment at large.

Once there was a party in government who in 1980 initiated regulations for the protection of biodiversity, and had a vision to green Malta and push afforestation. Surprisingly, that same party is in government today, albeit with different faces, different visions, and different principles. It seems that the complete exploitation of the environment, despite its social, ecological, economical, educational, scientific, psychological, and quality of life contributions, is a new principle. As are the dismantling of environmental regulations. Times change not only names, faces and logos, but also basic principles it would appear.

photo - unkept green promise

It seems that the complete exploitation of the environment is a new policy. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

An authority that is funded by the public turns a blind eye on social and ecological negative impacts. No finger is turned to stop the decimation and butchering of biodiversity. Spraying of chemicals to kill every living species growing for free goes uncontrolled. Millions of euros are spent to dump free natural sources in the sea. A directorate which once was responsible to see that these do not happen is in deep freeze. The mentality of pecuniary and materialistic greed at the expense of society and the environment rules the day.

EU funds are still used and spent without any ecological consideration. Commercial banks still sponsor without ensuring that some of the funds do not go toward the loss or destruction of biodiversity. Politicians are not concerned about loss of biodiversity with the funds provided.

The Environment Directorate is abused, gagged, and hijacked till hopefully it gives up its ghost. Mepa has become more of an environmental hazard than environmental protector. Can anyone be blamed for believing that government does not have any vision or interest in collective social and environmental gain?

The government’s manifesto, if electoral manifestos are anything to go by, clearly explains that a well-protected environment leads to a better quality of life. The new government had to seriously administer and be greatly committed to the environmental sector. It had to work with determination to make up for lost time, aware that there are a number of difficult decisions to be made, amongst them the upheaval of MEPA. It had to take this measure in the interest of our national environment so that it will be in a better position to address the challenge (electoral manifesto p. 93).

“Times change not only names, faces and logos

but also basic principles, it seems”

The separation of the environment and planning directorates within Mepa, was intended “to strengthen the environment’s autonomy” and “to give more importance to the strategic aspect and long term vision”, “to reach a better balance between conservation and the protection of the environment and responsible development.” (electoral manifesto p. 94).

Yet after 21 months in government, Mepa remains responsible for environment protection, playing havoc in this sector, not wanting to have anything to do with environmental protection. Mepa’s environmental management is far from the elected commitments made by the party in government. The procrastination in bringing about the promised demerger does not help to convince anyone that government is keen on immediately honouring its electoral manifesto even on such a delicate matter which will affect the future of the islands. Such a vacuum and delay is undoubtedly being capitalised, to the detriment of society and the environment. It is very clear that the official pro-business vision is sucking Malta’s resources dry. The Minister, who on paper is responsible for the environment, will eventually be handed a dead skeleton of environmental structures, impossible to resuscitate, if at all.

The ‘not-my-fault’ syndrome has unfortunately undermined any sense of good governance. Sometimes I ask myself whether the environmental remit has been politically omitted from the Environment’s Minister portfolio and divided and fragmented among other Cabinet ministries so that it would be easy to say that no one is responsible when environmental protection is everyone’s responsibility?

In the run up to the election, the Prime Minister said that if any voters were not happy with the way ministers were handling their responsibilities according to the manifesto, they should refer the matter to him directly. The letter signed by present and former presidents of Din l-Art Ħelwa regarding the pitiful state the environment was a first step. It was followed by a group of other environmental NGOs.

I would also like to bring to the Prime Minister’s attention, the manner the environment is being mismanaged and exploited. There is no doubt that the legacy this government will be leaving to future generations is indeed shameful and does not do any honour to any politician, if honour is valued any more these days. Ironically, the environment falls within the portfolio of the author of the electoral manifesto. He is definitely being advised by the wrong people, some say conveniently, though I do not agree with this.

The latest comments by the Prime Minister can possibly shows that he is not happy with this sad state of affairs. And rightly so, because there will definitely not be much hope for the environment in the future with the big irreparable negative impacts this will have on society, which will eventually have to pay the price for such political mismanagement.

Mepa playing havoc with environmental matters is definitely not in line with the electoral manifesto’s commitments. Not only will lost time not be recovered (electoral manifesto p 93) but such lost time is being extended and extended until there will be nothing left to recover.

Having hijacked the planning authority, the pro-business mentality driving force is holding society and the environment to ransom.

Environmentalists who have the real national interest at heart, consider 2014 as a very bad omen for the future of Maltese environment. Will this new year offer new hopes, new visions, new sustainable life for the benefit of society and the environment? The momentum of environmental degradation through the vision of exploitation at all costs raises serious doubts amongst those having the well-being of the country at heart.

I only hope 2015 will prove me wrong, not through political blah-blah but by genuine social and environmental tangible measures.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com