Budget 2011 – The Budget jury gives its verdict

October 27, 2010

Tuesday, 26th October 2010 – 11:47CET

The Budget jury gives its verdict – Environmentalist

 

Alfred E.  Baldacchino, 64 Now a pensioner, Mr Baldacchino used to be an assistant director at the planning authority’s Environmental Protection Directorate and has a master’s degree in environmental management and planning. He lives in an Attard maisonette with his wife with whom he has two children, now married. He drives a five-year-old OpelCorsa – “the cheapest possible on the market”, and his income falls in the €7,501 – €14,000 bracket.

Mr Baldacchino said although the environment was addressed, there were some disappointing inclusions or omissions and some were “worrying”.  One such point was the announcement of the roads linking Mellieħa to the Red Tower and the Red Tower to Ċirkewwa. Apart from passing from “virgin natural environment, one of them has to pass through two Natura 2000 sites”.  He was also disappointed to see that the environmental deficit was not so strongly addressed. “No plans for the collection, management of run off and protection of underground water;  no management plans for Natura 2000 sites, either terrestrial or marine, no plans for job opportunities in the environment fields, no plans and measures for the negative impacts of climate change.”

He also saw as disappointing the fact that only slight importance was given to the economic opportunities in the environmental fields and only small limited incentives were given to photovoltaic panels and solar heaters.

“The Budget also ignores present economic burdens borne by society because of unsustainable mismanagement, such as in the field of water,  particulate matter, disappearance of biodiversity and toxic waste, be it liquid or solid,” Mr Baldacchinosaid.

Mr Baldacchino said environmental investment was still minimal compared to other fields such as health, industry, education, infrastructure, development, commercial activity and economic gain. He added this was a “clear indication” the environment was still regarded as being a mere appendix, “notwithstanding the fact that its mismanagement has such a great negative economic and social impact”.

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The Nadur cemetery – where the dead will haunt and curse the living

June 21, 2010

Sunday 08 February 2009

Alfred E. Baldacchino

On 6 November 2006, Mepa approved the development of the Nadur cemetery (PA 2407/04) despite the repeated advice of its own technical and professional officials that such a project was objectionable in principle. Some wrongly believe that it was the technical and professional staff who recommended such a project. Mepa also waived the study of an environment impact assessment (EIA), despite the fact that this is an ODZ (Outside Development Zone) development, and based its decision on a hydrology report by a geologist, on the grounds that the project is unlikely to have any adverse impact on these resources. In so doing, Mepa thus completely ignored the precautionary principle adopted by the Environment Protection Act 2001 as a guiding principle.

The Malta Resources Authority, through its Water Directorate, did not object to this development either. Work started in summer 2007. An appeal was lodged according to the provision of the Development Planning Act. The sittings for the hearing of such an appeal were convened on 9 January 2008, on 12 March 2008, 2 April 2008, 18 June 2008, 24 September 2008, 29 October 2008, 3 December 2008 and lately postponed to 4 March 2009. Despite the deliberations that were made and the documents presented, no decision was ever taken.

In the meantime, work on the site continued unhindered, the footprint was excavated, foundations laid and building progressed. Protected carob trees were uprooted this year and “planted” elsewhere (see photo). One would have thought that this would never have been possible considering that the environment is one of the pillars of the government of the day, and considering the negative impact that this project is having on the economic, social and ecological environment. Could this possibly be a subtle strategy to enable the finalisation of the development before the appeal is decided? And can anyone be blamed for concluding that this is an insult to the intelligence of the people.

No public consultation was ever made on this ODZ development. Yet a number of letters were officially, personally and publicly written to the Prime Minister, who is also responsible for the environment. A number of social entities, and members of the general public have expressed their disapproval, both on this development and on the way it is being handled. Maltese farmers have also publicly supported the Gozitan farmers in their efforts to save their livelihood. The national authorities, whether political, administrative or religious are completely numb, which can also make one conclude that these are four square behind such an unsustainable project with all the resulting negative impacts also pointed out publicly. Such an absurd situation has to be urgently addressed in Mepa’s promised reform, not only with regard to this particular issue, but also to other issues where an appeal is lodged. It must be assured that when an appeal is made against a development where the damage would be irreversible, work on the project has to be immediately frozen until the appeal is decided. This would benefit the social, economic and ecological environment in toto.

When the dust settles and the Nadur cemetery opens its door to its permanent residents (I am convinced that the appeal would still not have been decided – irreparable damage has already been done), the damage would not only be irreversible but also persistent. Who will then stand up and publicly say that he is accountable for such a scenario? Will it be the Diocese for Gozo, one of whose officials is the applicant? Will it be the minister responsible for MRA who has not lifted a finger to protect and save the irreplaceable priceless aquifer and the lives and ecosystem it sustains? Will it be the minister responsible for agriculture who is responsible for the well being of agriculture and the community dependent on it, which is already being affected by what has been partially done so far? Will it be the minister responsible for Mepa who has ignored inside technical and professional advice and issued the permit?

The bending over backwards to accommodate the dead at the expense of the living is indeed unbelievable! “Our lives end the day we become silent about things that really matter. And in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends” (Martin Luther King). That is why the Nadur cemetery will deliver financially to the very, very few, in the name of the dead at the expense of the social, economic, and ecological environment. And those who will be laid to rest at the Nadur cemetery will haunt and curse the living.


Environment: a new beginning?

March 7, 2010

 

  Thursday, 4th March 2010

 Environment: A new beginning?

Alfred E. Baldacchino

 

The Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism, the Environment and Culture,  Mario de Marco made his first public statement on the environment following the latest adjustments to his portfolio (The Times, February 19). This, I am glad to say, provides a lot of food for thought and hope for the ever-increasing number of citizens who are convinced that the environment is the platform on which all decisions have to be based. “And so it should be,” said Dr de Marco, adding that decisions and actions have to take into consideration the economic, social and ecological aspect. “It places sustainable development even more at the centre of the government and as the building block on which all policies, not just environment policies, are built.” Very well said. Expectations that the dormant National Commission for Sustainable Development will be given the breath of life must now be very high.

Dr de Marco may still be trying to find his feet under the added weight of his responsibilities but his first official comment on the environment augurs well for the environment and he should not only be congratulated but also encouraged and given all possible help. His understanding of the interdependence of the biotic (life on earth) and the abiotic (the physical environment such as water, air, light and land) is indeed a very good start. It is an understanding that is so conspicuous by its absence in so many decision-making public bodies.

Admittedly, the “task at hand is by no means an easy one”. If I may borrow a slogan from the party in government, that “together everything is possible”, then, if all the social entities are involved and are made to feel they belong and are part of such a vision, the task may not be as difficult as one thinks. These social entities include, among others, the political, religious, commercial, educational, judicial, medical, trade unionist, scientific and non-governmental bodies.

Dr de Marco also correctly made emphasis on the EU environment legislation, with its obligations with regard to the biotic and abiotic environment, and the need for this to be the platform for implementing such a vision if “we want to bring our environment up to European standards”. We are more than capable as a nation of meeting the environmental challenges… when there is the will.

Dr de Marco wrote that the Environment Protection Directorate will be strengthened, a very urgent and long overdue measure following the depletion and mutilation of the Environment Protection Department after its “merger” with the Planning Authority. I wrote and even publicly stated during the public discussion meeting with the Prime Minister on December 14, 2009, that it is a big mistake to leave the Environment Protection Directorate “merged” with the planning authority. From past experience and public knowledge, since this “merger” in 2002, not only has the EPD been emarginated, bruised, maimed, exploited and raped but also the environment in general. This is why the separation of the EPD and the Planning Directorate is a sine qua non. It has been stifled (not because of Hexagon House conditions) for far too long now.

This does not mean that the EPD should necessarily be an authority on its own but it can be part of or a directorate within another authority; for example, the Malta Resource Authority, naturally within the portfolio of the minister responsible for the environment.

The vision, the understanding, the legal framework and the need of action plans to bring the environment up to EU standards are all outlined in Dr De Marco’s contribution; a very big step forward, in such a short time. Dr de Marco concludes that “we now have a clear idea of where our problems lie”.

Having been deeply involved for so long in the protection of the environment on a national and international level, the greatest problem in achieving such a vision is the lack of a political will. Without such a will, it will be completely impossible to achieve Dr de Marco’s aim of bringing the environment up to EU standards.

Dr de Marco deserves all the possible help and all the necessary resources to achieve such an official vision. There is no doubt that a lot of pieces have got to be picked up from the floor and put together again and others have to be resurfaced, having been thrown overboard. I would like to wish him all the best of luck and success in achieving this, not only for the benefit of the present generation but also for future generations from whom we have temporarily borrowed such an intricate web of life.

Shall we see a new beginning for the environment? If there is a will, there is a way. Time will tell.

 aebaldacchino@gmail.com


Two EU Natura 2000 sites threatened by a TEN-T road at Ghadira

February 21, 2010

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Two EU Natura 2000 sites threatened by a TEN-T road at Ghadira

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The recent proposal to build a road at Ghadira is indeed alarming. The reasons advanced to justify such a road sound more like the environmental joke of the week, rivalled only by the same Minster’s environmental statement that the second class water produced by the drainage purification plant has no economic value. No scientific reports or studies were published with regard to the proposed road. Everyone would have loved to see these, rightly so because of other international obligations. The statement by the Minister concerned, as reported in the press, could lead one to think that the plans to build such a road were hurriedly drawn up before the deadline to apply for EU funds expired, not primarily for the sake of the road, but to obtain and utilise funds. Once this news and maps have been officially released by the DOI, one presumes that Cabinet has approved it.

The green and red arrows are inserted by the author, the former indicating the amount of sound and light pollution, disturbance and impact of the new road, and the latter indicating the area that will be at the mercy of strong easterly winds. These were inserted on the original photo montage issued by the DOI showing the new road and the removal of the existent road.

As an EU member State, Malta is bound by the EU legal obligations of the treaty it signed on 1 May 2004. One such legal instrument of this treaty is Council Directive 92/43 EEC of 21 May 1992 on the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora, or as it is better known, the Habitats Directive. According to Government Notice 112 of 2007, Malta proposed the Ghadira Reserve as a Site of Community Interest (pSCI), which means a site in the biogeographic region (i.e. the Mediterranean) that contributes significantly to the maintenance or restoration, at a favourable conservation status, of a natural habitat type listed in Annex I, or of a species in Annex II of the Habitats Directive, and which may also contribute significantly to the coherence of the EU Natura 2000 network, and/or contributes significantly to the maintenance of biological diversity in the biogeographic region concerned. The Għadira Reserve, together with the other Sites of Community Interests proposed by Government Notice 112 of 2007 (among them also il-Qammieh) was approved by the EU as Special Areas of Conservation. According to the Habitats Directive, a Special Area of Conservation means a site of Community Importance designated by the member State through a statutory, administrative and/or contractual act where the necessary conservation measures are applied for the maintenance or restoration, at a favourable conservation status, of the natural habitats and/or the populations of the species for which the site is designated. Moreover, the Malta Government also declared Ghadira Reserve, through the same Government Notice 112 of 2007, as a Special Protection Area (SPA) under the Council Directive 79/409/EEC of 2 April 1979 on the Conservation of Wild Birds, better known as the Birds Directive. Today, Ghadira Reserve forms part of the EU Natura 2000 sites. According to the Habitats Directive, Natura 2000 sites are a coherent European ecological network of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). This network enables the natural habitat types and the species’ habitats concerned, to be maintained or where appropriate, restored at a favourable conservation status in their natural range. The Natura 2000 network also includes the Special Protection Areas (SPAs) classified by the Member States according to the Birds Directive.

L-Għadira Natura 2000 site as per G.N. 112 of 2007

Il-Qammieh Natura 2000 site as per G.N. 112 of 2007

As indicated above, the boundary of the Ghadira SAC touches the boundary of another SAC – il-Qammieh, also proposed by the government through Government Notice 112 of 2007, and now endorsed by the EU. The two site plans published with the G.N. 112 of 2007 are being included. Therefore, the new road will cut through two SACs, both forming part of Natura 2000. And such a proposal for such a new road has to follow the procedure of the obligations of the Habitat Directive. Article 6 of the Habitats Directive obliges Member States to “…take appropriate steps to avoid, in the Special Areas of Conservation, the deterioration of natural habitats and the habitats of species as well as disturbance of the species for which the areas have been designated, in so far as such disturbance could be significant in relation to the objectives of this Directive.”

Furthermore, Article 6 of the Habitat Directive obliges that: “Any plan or project not directly connected with or necessary to the management of the site but likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects, shall be subject to appropriate assessment of its implications for the site in view of the site’s conservation objectives. In the light of the conclusions of the assessment of the implications for the site and subject to the provisions of paragraph 4, the competent national authorities shall agree to the plan or project only after having ascertained that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned and, if appropriate, after having obtained the opinion of the general public.” (my emphasis)

Malta is also a Contracting Party to the Ramsar Convention – the Convention on Wetlands, which is an intergovernmental treaty providing the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. On accession, Malta designated Ghadira as the suitable wetland in its territory for inclusion in the List of Wetlands of International Importance. As a contracting party, Malta is obliged to formulate and implement its planning to promote the conservation of the wetlands included in the List and, as far as possible, the wise use of wetlands in its territory.

A number of environmental NGOs, and a substantial number of the public who really and sincerely have the environment at heart, not for any personal gain, have expressed their concern saying that there is no need for such a road. Indeed a comment by one NGO – Din l-Art Helwa – expressed fears that this would open virgin land to speculation. I cannot for a moment imagine such a road with no adjacent “landscaping”, with bungalows and possibly a high-rise tower similar to the one at Mistra. The present four-carriageway road is quite good and adequate enough. The removal of this road would threaten and possibly eliminate the Ghadira Reserve – a Natura 2000 site.

If one were to look at old maps of the area, the present Ghadira Special Area of Conservation was once a salt pan because the sea had access to the deepest inland part of the area, which is below or at sea level. When the strong easterly winds blow, the big waves are kept at bay by the road. It would take only one such strong storm to sweep over and eliminate the Natura 2000 site, including the adjacent surrounding agricultural land. I witnessed such storms twice during the habitat engineering works at Ghadira in the early 1980s. The negative impact of the removal of the present four-carriageway road, would be augmented by those from the building of the new proposed road at the back of the Natura 2000 site, with sound and light pollution, other disturbances and the alteration of the hydrology of the area, besides obliterating pristine natural habitat. These would render the Ghadira Natura 2000 site a mere glorified duck pond, and would also negatively impact il-Qammieh Natura 2000 site too. In brief, the proposed new road does not have any economical benefits, it does not benefit the social environment and it negatively impacts the ecological environment. It is not sustainable, but is merely a “free market concept” without any social or environmental considerations. In the run up to the last general election, and in the first public meeting after the general election, the Prime Minister repeated, wrote and stressed, that the environment is one of the three pillars of his government. I have been trying hard to find a reason, following such a commitment, why the Prime Minister, who is also the Minister responsible for the Environment, as well as the chairman of the National Commission for Sustainable Development (NCSD), is finding it difficult to activate such Commission, which was set up in 2002, in terms of the Environment Protection Act (2001). The main remit of the NCSD is to advocate a national sustainable development across all sectors, to review progress in the achievement of such sustainable development and to build consensus on action needed to achieve further progress, besides being an obligation as a member of the European Union. This lack of action with regard to the NCSD is also further surprising when during a business breakfast organised by the Nationalist Party, The Times (10 September) reported that “Dr Gonzi said the time had come for the pendulum to swing towards the environment. He argued that the country is at a crossroads in terms of how it views the environment and stressed that a strategic decision on sustainable development needs to be taken now.” I am informed that during another recent business breakfast held on 20 November, a member of the NCSD Commission remarked that the Commission has not met for the last two years! The workings of such a Commission would definitely put an end to such environmental antics. It would also be of help to the Prime Minister and his government in honouring their commitments with regard to their environment pillar, both to the local community, to future generations, and also its international obligations. It would also help the people of Malta to avoid embarrassment vis-à-vis their international obligations, especially those of the European Union environment acquis. Present and future generations will doubtlessly ask why EU funds were spent in a way that threaten two Maltese EU Natura 2000 sites. They will also ask why more natural protected environment of international importance was taken to build a road when a four carriageway one existed and was adequate. They will, without doubt, ask which Minister was responsible who approved such a project when historical, archaeological sites and other roads are crying for maintenance and restoration. Certainly they will ask who the Minister was who had the responsibility to protect their environment, which they had lent us, and more so since it was one of the main pillars of his government. Those responsible may not be here to answer such questions.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


In search of tiger’s documents

January 11, 2010

Tuesday, 15th September 2009

Talking Point

In search of tiger’s documents

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Following the red palm weevil, the Geranium bronze butterfly and other alien species, which got a foothold on these islands, now a Bengal tiger has surfaced on a rooftop! Without doubt, this felid was brought to Malta, either imported from a country outside the European Union or transported from one of the EU member states.

The Bengal tiger hunts medium to large prey such as wild pigs, deer, antelopes and buffalo. This second largest wild big cat can reach a length of three metres from head to tail and weigh about 250 kilogrammes. It can jump a horizontal leap of 10 metres and a vertical jump of five metres. It is estimated that there are fewer than 3,000 wild Bengal tigers, each having a minimum territory of 20 square kilometres.

Because of widespread illegal trade in wild animals and plants, which, incidentally, is second only to international drug trafficking, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) came into force in 1973. The Bengal tiger is listed in the convention’s Appendix I, which includes the most endangered animals and plants threatened with extinction. International trade in such species is prohibited. In exceptional cases trade may take place provided it is authorised by the granting of both an import permit and an export permit. This means that:

If the Bengal tiger was legally imported from outside the EU, the Maltese Cites management authority, which is Mepa, had to issue an import permit after the scientific authority had given its advice that the import will not be detrimental to the species involved. An importation and export permit from country of origin had to be surrendered to Mepa.

If the Bengal tiger was transported to Malta from within the EU, then two EU wildlife trade regulations, (EC) 338 of 1997 and (EC) 865 of 2006, which implement the provision of Cites, come in play. The object of these regulations is to protect species of wild fauna and flora and to guarantee their conservation by regulation trade therein. The introduction into the Community of specimens of the species listed in Cites Appendix I is subject to the completion of the necessary checks and the prior presentation of documents at the border Customs office at the point of introduction, which member states have designated and notified the EU and Cites secretariat accordingly.

If the Bengal tiger was imported legally, then Mepa, which is the management authority both for Cites and also for the EU regulations, should have all the documents at its finger tips. If it does not have any, then the Bengal tiger was imported into Malta, and into the EU, illegally.

The importation and exportation of wild flora and fauna is not just the responsibility of Mepa, which is just concerned with the ecological aspect. Nonetheless, the importation of living species can have a social and an economical negative impact, something the local administrative entitles are finding it so difficult to apprehend. Poisonous species like snakes and spiders are of concern to the Ministry for Social Policy, responsible for health. Dangerous animals, like felids, chimpanzees and also reptiles, also fall within the wing of the ministry responsible for veterinary services.

The Veterinary Service Act designates a “border inspection post” for carrying out veterinary inspections by veterinary officers on imported live animals. The EU and Cites both have been notified of these specific posts. This means that the Bengal tiger had to enter Malta through one of these designated posts, accompanied not only by the Cites/EU documentation but also by a veterinary health certificate issued by the country of origin. The Animal Welfare Act, administered by the veterinary services within the Ministry of Resources and Rural Affairs, is also responsible for the monitoring of ill treatment of animals and aggressive animals that may present a danger to the safety of man or other animals and which are classified as such by the minister. These animals shall not be bred, imported or sold in Malta.

In another section of the press, the Director of Animal Welfare is reported as having said that the Bengal tiger is being taken good care of, has an air-conditioned room, is fed chickens and there are no indications that it has bothered anyone from the surroundings. Yet, no mention has been made of any veterinary health certificate that had to be surrendered to the veterinary services at the border inspection post, more important as felids are included in the Fourth Schedule of the Veterinary Service Act.

So while a search for the importation and veterinary documents is being conducted, the Bengal tiger is comfortably in an airconditioned room, eating chickens. And during such search for the legal documents, will it come of age and start searching for a mate? Will it do the Houdini act? When pigs can fly in Malta, why cannot their predator fly too? Will it be infected by some endemic virus and be eaten by rats overnight? Time will tell. In the meantime, the search from all sides goes on. But the most important question, considering the above legal provisions, is: But how on earth did such a blessed tiger manage to surface on an urban rooftop?

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


MEPA’s reform and the environment

January 9, 2010

 Saturday, 1st August 2009

 Mepa’s reform and the environment

Alfred E. Baldacchino

The Blueprint For Mepa’s Reform identifies four pillars to achieve such an aim. This was awaited by many who yearn for the real, honest and professional protection of the Maltese environment. How far does this blueprint succeed in ensuring such a vision?

A number of functions were regarded as not being core to Mepa’s mandate and, as such, they were assigned to the responsibilities of other government entities. Yet, the most important functions that should have been assigned outside Mepa is environment protection. Perusal of the reform document leads to the conclusion that Mepa is regarded as just dealing with development and the issuing of development permits. The environment, on the other hand, is just an appendix to give its views, when asked, or when convenient.

As emphasised in my letter (The Times, June 30), because of its international responsibilities and obligations, the environment has no place in an uthority whose first and only importance is development. This does not mean that the environment has to be a new authority; it can be merged with the Malta Resource Authority. There are a number of reasons which justify this, even in the Blueprint For Mepa’s Reform itself:

1. The second sentence on the first page states that Mepa, as it is known today, resulted from the former Planning Authority being given the role of competent authority for environmental protection under the Environment Protection Act (EPA) in 2001. This is a totally incorrect statement because Mepa is formed by the former Planning Authority and the former Environment Protection Department. These are two different directorates. Whether this statement is a lapsus or whether the cat has been accidentally let out of the bag only the drafters of the report can say. But it vindicates those who say that the PA and the EPD never merged but the latter was taken over by the former. And when such a report is drawn on this assumption, than the whole reform is derailed.

2. In outlining the duties of the EPD, the report adds: This directorate formulates strategies, regulations and guidelines, monitors their adherence and regulates activities that may negatively impact the environment through a licensing and permitting system. This is also not completely correct. These are but a mild fraction of the duties of the EPD. The international duties such as those arising from international conventions and those of the European Union are but a few others. Far from just an input to development planning.

3. The Prime Minister said he definitely does not agree that the environment becomes a separate authority because: If the environment and the planning authorities do not agree, who would be the Solomon to decide. Shall we bring in a third authority? And this is the very reason why the environment and the planning authority should be different and separate. Every time the environment and the planning directorates do not agree it is always the development function that has the upper hand. This is even highlighted in the Mepa auditor’s Baħrija report dated July 20, 2009, which clearly states that the DCC did not even consult the EPD, despite the fact that the two Directorates are within one authority, again vindicating my reasoning in my contribution to The Times of April 22, 2008. No Solomon was needed to solve this issue: the EPD was just bypassed. And I am sure this is not what the Prime Ministers means and wants, yet, it is what is often being done.

4. The Prime Minister also stated that there is no point in Mepa having a minerals section when this is a resource and this is now being transferred to the MRA. I am also sure that the Prime Minister fully agrees that biodiversity (species and their natural habitat) are a very important national resource. With the same reasoning, shouldn’t this also be under the responsibility of the MRA?

5. The Planning Authority never had any international experience or responsibilities especially in environmental matters. After eight years of being exposed to such international responsibilities through the Environment Protection Directorate, the Planning Directorate is still very sceptical and still has not grasped the onus of such responsibilities. The authors of the Mepa reform report seem to be more familiar with planning and development matters than with environmental responsibilities. The proposed amalgamation of the Environment Protection Act with the Development Planning Act would mean laying environmental matters, with all the international and EU responsibilities, at the feet of development planning. Such a concern has already been expressed by the EU in one of its reports regarding the unhappy situation of the Environment Protection Directorate within Mepa. This proposal would be very costly, from a human resource, financial and political viewpoint.

6. The aura that surrounds the Mepa reform is mainly based on the economic aspect, leaving the social and ecological aspects aside and it is easy to see that the reform is only directed towards the old Planning Authority – development. The Cinderella at Mepa is fading into history books. Such a scenario would completely eliminate any basis for sustainability. I am sure and I honestly believe that the Prime Minister will take these points into consideration.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com


A way paved with good intentions

January 4, 2010

Monday, 16th November 2009

A way paved with good intentions

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Early next month (December 7-18), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meets in Copenhagen.

Climate change was mainly brought about by man’s way of living, where economic importance by far superseded social and environmental considerations. The prevailing global mentality is that there cannot be prosperity without growth, ignoring the relationship between growth and the growing environmental crisis and social poverty.

While global economy doubled during the last 25 years, 60 per cent of the world’s ecosystems have been degraded because of increased resource consumption. The uneven distribution of the benefits of such growth shows that a fifth of the world’s population shares just two per cent of global income.

Sustainable economy can lead to prosperity without growth, if one redefines prosperity and what this contributes to people’s well being. The root of all evil, the denominator to modern life, is money, which has replaced all other principles and concepts for the responsible sharing of the planet that sustains life. The concept of modern economics is the highest financial return in the shortest possible time, a question of numbers and metrics.

Man has now, rather belatedly, realised that he has come to the crossroads of his existence on this planet. The mishandling and depletion of resources and the subsequent natural phenomena will sooner rather than later lead to scarcity of free commodities, which man has always taken for granted, such as air and water. A very high price will have to be paid for their availability. But what about other living species (in the ecosystem) that are dependent on such resources? How will these and the poorest of societies pay?

The Copenhagen meeting is being seen either as an extension to the Kyoto Protocol, which the US and Australia initially refused to ratify, or as a new protocol calling for deep cuts of emissions. The US is still unwilling to stake out a position, while developing nations maintain that talks are pointless. India and China are major developing nations whose national emissions are skyrocketing.

The 192 countries expected to be present for this meeting will all speak from platforms that most suit their agenda. Already, about 50 African countries have boycotted a preparatory meeting in Barcelona in November, claiming that the industrialised countries had set carbon cutting targets too low for reducing global green house gas emission. Africa is already the worst sufferer from drought, agricultural damage, rising sea level threatening coastal areas and the spread of tropical pests and diseases. The increase in extreme weather conditions, the number of epidemic diseases and humanitarian disasters are inevitable. The scarcity of resources will fuel more conflicts. It is becoming obvious that the world’s poorest nations are faced with a Hobson’s choice: No climate deal or a bad climate deal.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that by 2080 up to 3.2 billion people – one third of the planet’s population – will be short of water, up to 600 million will be short of food and up to seven million will face coastal flooding.

The UN Secretary General admitted that the Copenhagen pact could more likely be an agreement on principles rather than specific targets agreement for cuts. This is mainly due to a lack of political will. Some environment ministers are pessimistic because each country will remain stubborn and various parties will not compromise. Those in advanced countries are not willing to accept the necessary rethinking, restructuring, and changes in lifestyle.

One reason being projected at such international meetings is that measures needed are necessary to save the planet. But since when planet earth depended on one of the species in its ecosystem to save it? Planet earth has seen similar and worse scenarios. The present natural phenomena, which we are being subjected to, are just hiccups for planet earth till it adjusts the ecological web, which man has torn apart through greed and egotism. These are just eye-openers for the selfdeclared most intelligent species, who generally is still very sceptical of the fact that homo sapiens is part of such an ecosystem. The main aim of such international meetings should be to save homo sapiens and not to harness or save planet earth, which without fear or favour will take the necessary corrective measures.

Even the world’s main faith representatives (including Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism) met in Windsor Castle, England, to give their religious input in the fight against climate change. Under the banner of Faith Commitment For A Living Planet, this Alliance of Religions and Conservation aims at unveiling programmes that could motivate the largest civil society movement the world has ever seen. “It’s much more about the moral idea of ‘Nature is God’s Nature, so we have to be kind to it’.” That is, if today’s monetary culture leaves any room for morality.

In Copenhagen, there will be three platforms to choose from: Economical, social and ecological and it is expected that the economical one will be quite overcrowded. Such meeting must focus on opening the door to common good and closing the door to common disaster for man. Indeed, the path to Copenhagen is paved with good intentions. But, as I write, my subconscious keeps reminding me that so is the way to hell.

aebaldachino@gmail.com

Article © Allied Newspapers Ltd., printed on Monday, November 16, 2009.