Green dream and black nightmare

August 10, 2012

Friday,  August 10, 2012

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Green dream and black nightmare

During his short term responsible for the environment, both as junior minister and later, as minister, Mario de Marco has published a number of laws and policies.

Some he moved through Parliament, such as the National Environment Policy (NEP) and the Sustainable Development Act. Other guidelines and policies were published by his environmental watchdog, the Malta Environment and Planning Authority.

These included the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan and the new guidelines for the management of invasive plants. These supplemented the guidelines on trees, shrubs and plants for planting and landscaping and the tree protection regulations.

The above are some of the Government’s publications: all official administrative and legislative tools which can definitely make any green dream a reality. But why are they ignored by Government itself? I cannot image that these have been published just for the attention of  the EU and its Member States. Or that these publications are meant to take the public for a ride? Then why are these ignored and not enforced?

Unfortunately, the enforcement and implementation of these laws and regulations leave much to be desired.

The three pillars for conserving biodiversity and ecosystem services as defined in the NEP are all addressed in the above. These provide direction to all players in this field, ensure policy integration and enable stakeholders to work in a coordinated manner to achieve the national objectives and key priorities.

All aim at improving the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity as well as easing pressures on biodiversity and promoting sustainable use.

Furthermore, these guidelines and regulations highlight the collaboration and commitment of all relevant stakeholders to achieve the strategic goals of the NEP and to empower people to actively participate in environmental management and take action on environmental issues.

An important policy in the NEP is that the government, in promoting environmentally-friendly actions, should lead by example.

Definitely not according to the guidelines and regulations referred to above!

Notwithstanding the above, the wave of criticism on the mismanagement of trees and the misuse of public funds in “landscaping” is gaining momentum.

Facebook groups have been set up, initiatives promoting the protection of trees have been taken and articles and letters in the press express the disappointment of such mismanagement. Yet, the government, through one, or at best, two of its ministers, still bulldozes on, irrespective of the people’s comments, criticism and suggestions. If, before the last election, the Prime Minster did not declare that the environment was one of the government’s three main pillars and if he did not lately say that he was ready to listen to the people in the national interest (even in the kitchen, if necessary, as I am told) one could comfortably say that the government does not have any special interest in the environment.

But, the way environment is being mismanaged makes one conclude that there is no such real interest and no such will. The social and ecological values are completely gobbled up by commercial interests with political blessing.

The Times (September 6, 2011) titled a report on the launching of the national environment policy thus: PM Launches Green Dream. There are many, many in this country who have such a green dream. Great things were conceived as little dreams. If Martin Luther King did not have a dream and persisted with determination there would not be a Barack Obama today. But to achieve a dream, one has to persist with determination in one’s vision and not ignore, or endorse, activities that are diametrically opposite to it.

The latest “landscaping projects” financed by the government are those of Mdina ditch, where about 400 trees were uprooted, surprisingly to make way for a garden. Trees at the Mellieħa old bus-terminus were all uprooted for others to be planted instead. Lately, the destruction of trees in part of Triq Diċembru 13, Marsa, hit the headlines. Some of the trees were removed on grounds that they are invasive!

Surprisingly, at the same time, another minister is endorsing plans and funds for the planting of Fountain Grass, Brazilian pepper tree, the Australian Pine tree (Casuarina) and the Hottentot fig – all aliens and invasive species.

Once again, the BSS (Bisazza Street Syndrome, which was conceived in Bisazza Street, Sliema) is again raising its ugly head with the same political players, leaving the Minster for the Environment speechless.

BSS did strike again with regard to the Rabat Road rubble walls (which now have been replaced by iron railings against all policies and regulations – Mepa please note). Now, BSS has infected the government’s so-called landscaping projects, defying, ignoring and ridiculing the above national regulations and policies, suppressing and pushing aside all active participation of the people.

What is very worrying is the fact that such “landscaping” is being done with public funds, some even with EU funds. And some are also completely against mitigation strategies regarding the government’s stand on climate change and water policy, which, incidentally, fall within the same ministerial portfolio.

The Prime Minister may have an admirable green dream. The majority of the people yearn for the fulfilment of such a conceived green dream. But, the government’s plans and projects are rendering the Prime Minister’s green dream a bizarre black nightmare, a nightmare that will haunt the political players all their lives and beyond. Not that anybody of them cares, I presume! But can the Prime Minister please intervene to achieve his and our collective green dream?

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

PS  – Photos were added to this post and do not appear in the original article in The Times

See also:

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/once-there-were-green-leaves/

https://alfredbaldacchino.wordpress.com/2012/05/25/environmentalists-vs-government-over-trees/

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The time for the green itch

November 5, 2011

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The time for the green itch

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Every five years or so there is an itch in the air – a political itch – that intensifies at the eleventh hour. The environment is not immune to this five-year itch. In fact, the last environmental itch centred around an environmental pillar. What a noble idea, I thought! But when the itch subsided, the mass media was inundated with criticism regarding official decisions and actions not exactly having the environmental-pillar base.

These included: the discharge of treated sewage water in the sea, declared as having “no economic value”; mismanagement of Natura 2000 sites, declaring part of Dwejra “to be just bare rocks”, building adjacent to a freshwater stream of EU importance; Buskett saved by the skin of its teeth from being turned into a public garden; planting and covering substantial areas with declared invasive imported species, despite international obligations and recommendations by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority; channelling scarce resource of rainwater along roads to the sea; compliance certificates issued to buildings that do not conform to the legal requirements that each should have a cistern of a capacity of at least three cubic metres for every five square metres of the floor surface of each room; over-extraction of the already precarious groundwater; disbanding the National Sustainable Development Commission; opposing an EU proposal for the listing of the bluefin tuna on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species; permitting buildings that make it impossible for neighbours to tap solar energy; negative impact of black dust politically regarded as an alien phenomenon; “cleaning” valleys by bulldozing their ecosystems… Space does not permit me to go on.

The virtual environmental-pillar was knocked out flat by the commercially-driven economic-pillar. It was not strong enough to withstand the official onslaught by those who have a collective responsibility to defend it. The environmental pillar is now dead and buried under commercially-driven decisions, perhaps at Wied il-Qasab Nadur cemetery.

Now it is time for a new itch: the green itch time. A draft National Environment Policy has been published for public consultation. What a noble idea, I think! The draft in hand encompasses legal international environmental concepts and principles, the great majority of which are already transposed in national legislation. These are juxtaposed in a colourful mosaic but, unfortunately, like all mosaics, hairline cracks abound, which, with some political acumen, can easily develop into loopholes. Some are already evident.

Such an essential document does not even have definitions of important concepts like “sustainable development”, “environment” or “precautionary principle”. International environmental legal obligations all have such definitions but do the political players have the same definitions in mind?

Some important concepts have also been mishandled. Can an environment policy disregard biodiversity as a resource? I cannot image that such omission is meant to cover the government’s stand against the listing of the bluefin tuna, an endangered international natural resource! The draft NEP lists a number of measures, all of which can definitely contribute to the sustainable use of the environment, though one comment betrays an inferiority complex.

Besides, a number of measures cannot be implemented within this legislature. Considering that some could be sitting on different seats, not necessarily of a different colour, following a musical chairs festival, one cannot exclude the possibility that such a policy will not necessarily be handled with care. The more so when some colleagues in the corridors of power do ignore national environment legislation, published over the signature of the Prime Minister himself. And the competent authority responsible for environment legislation habitually stands and stares, licking its wounds and cursing its impotency to take action.

I do, however, admire the tenacity and drive of Environment Parliamentary Secretary Mario de Marco but I cannot help feel that he is a lonely voice in a political wilderness, abandoned even by his environmental watchdog. A few days ago, another colourful environment document metamorphosed. This spelled guidelines for controlling alien species. A much-needed effort, though it retrospectively tackles negative economic, social and ecological impacts of introduced alien species and does not address the cause. They seem more like guidelines on how to control horses that have bolted after housing them in stables without doors.

This is why I have become very allergic to nicely-coloured printed documents that undoubtedly are attractive to the illiterate. Could be because I have not yet recovered from the decision to disband the National Sustainable Development Commission, flavoured by the now popular political dictum that one should not be judged by what one says but by what one does. These do not help at all to dispel any of my fears.

The eleventh hour is nigh. When the clock strikes one, will the environment policy slowly, silently, diplomatically, slide down in repose on the shelves of history, like the National Sustainable Development Commission did after all? National environmental legislation has been brushed aside; an environmental-pillar has been laid to rest; why not a policy? I am wishing, hoping and praying that I am wrong but I fear that Greenwich time will prove me right.