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31 July 2014
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An Inconvenient truth

 - Sunday, 03 May 2009, 00:00 , by Steve Borg

On Tuesday, the government announced its intention to submit planning applications for three wind farms, subject to scientific studies on the proposed sites. The government’s apologists shall all raise their hands, clap them and nod with glee on how progressive this administration is and its foresight. Yet, let us go back in time to the late 1990s.

Some 12 years ago, Greenpeace Mediterranean and Friends of the Earth (Malta) published two salient documents that discussed the local environmental scenario and appealed to the Maltese government to immediately embark on a strategy that would embrace clean energy, including solar and wind sources. Nothing came of their proposals. These two documents were called “Towards Sustainable Europe: Sustainable Malta” and “Malta energy revolution: a critical analysis of the present and future energy situation in Malta”.

Their pleas fell on deaf ears. The documents must have fallen to the bottom of some government bureau, unread and forgotten, if not shredded and discarded. The first was published in December 1997. Within six months the Labour Party was out of office. Enter the Nationalist Party.

I am sure you remember the promises of djalogu (dialogue) solidarjetà (solidarity) and flimkien (together). The Nationalist Party knew quite well, even prior to EU accession, that environmental policies were ranked quite high in Europe. These waste policies are based on five points – reduce, reuse, recycle, recover and dispose. Rather than embracing the clean energy proposals, it simply ignored them. It seemed harder to convince them than selling snow to the Eskimos. The real comparative situation has now been exposed. Only last year EuroStat, the official statistics body of the European Union, published data that placed Malta at the bottom in the EU-27 group with zero per cent in renewable energy. Data that shames us Europe-wide.

In a few words, it confirms the fact that this new political talk about embarking on clean energy initiatives demonstrates that the government had no political foresight, no will and no long-term strategies where sustainable energy sources were concerned. They try to sell the idea that their drive towards recycling and clean energy is the talk of the town in Europe. I have known it for donkey’s years. Scandinavia and The Netherlands have been investing in the clean energy sector for decades. Local environmentalists, like Julian Manduca and Maggie Borg, were simply ignored.

One main strategy that should have been tackled years ago is the minimisation of waste generation. That is the most cardinal point. Waste management cannot succeed unless there is the direct involvement of all sectors of society, most importantly on what is produced locally or imported to our islands, and who manages the imported product at its end-of-life cycle in the post consumer phase. NSO statistics show that municipal solid waste has increased by an average 2.4 per cent since 2001.

It requires the responsible involvement of everyone and how we dispose of our daily domestic waste. EU regulations already bind Malta through the Landfill Directive 99/31/EC. It is quite obvious that landfills are not the answer for the waste we generate. Infringement proceedings will be initiated if Malta fails to comply.

We, as a people, do not recycle enough. Now the Nationalist Party shall try and accuse me of putting a spoke in the wheels of its recycling programme when I coordinated the Committee Against the Marsascala Recycling Plant as proposed. They are reminded that the main issue is the farcical consultation process, which had revealed that the government had already decided that the expansion and building of the new recycling plant should be in Sant’Antnin, Marsascala well before the Mepa board decision was taken on the full application permit.

The Church’s Environmental Commission spokesman, who called it a “disaster”, seven local councils, the Green Party and even Flimkien Ghall-Ambjent Ahjar, had criticized this process. I remind them of the “wrong” footprint specifications presented to Mepa and that the recommended alternative sites included one already scheduled by Mepa for ecological purposes. Such was the extent of the mockery made of public consultation and transparency.

My preoccupations include the management and disposal of hazardous waste. Suffice to remind readers that Malta does not participate in the pan-European Waste Electrical & Electronic Equipment (WEEE) forum that includes entities from 21 European Union countries, Norway and Switzerland. They discuss the EU Directive 2002/96/EC on electrical and electronic waste and how stricter measures can further help protect human health and the environment. In the light of all this, it reaffirms my fears that even this issue is not being given the attention it deserves. This week the EU announced that come July 2009, it might amend a new list of substances and components from waste electronic equipment. Malta needs to be constantly updated on new environmental policy by attending these forums.

Europe is currently experiencing a wave of outcry against incineration. Protests have taken place this month in Nottingham and in Szentgottard, Hungary, due to the cross-border construction of a waste incineration plant on Austrian territory. On 3 April, Raffaele Lombardo, the president of the Sicilian Government Council, had to postpone a decision on four incineration plants in neighbouring Sicily due to public outcry. The Sicilians are now also preoccupied with the Nationalist government’s plans to incinerate waste at Marsaxlokk.

Should we really be preoccupied with incineration? I quote from a fact sheet issued by Health Care Without Harm Europe (www.noharm.org/europe) which states: “A growing body of evidence strongly suggests that communities living close to incinerators suffer increased incidences of cancer and respiratory problems.” Their sources are taken from the European Journal of Cancer Prevention and the British Journal of Cancer. Crammed as we are, on this minute living space that is our island home, it is in our interest to safeguard our health and strive for clear air, void of toxins, dioxins and furans.

Let us go back to renewable energy. Malta has an EU obligation that by 2020 it is bound, through the Renewable Energy Directive, to produce 10 per cent of the energy it consumes. PN MEP candidate Alan Deidun expressed his opinion on the future of renewable energy in Malta on his official website stating, “another four per cent of energy can be gleaned from refuse/waste as a result of incineration”. He is naturally aware that this decision would come with site selection controversy, but continues that “due importance to Malta’s obligations in this sector, which if not met, would result in fines being incurred by the local taxpayer”. In a few words, he accepts incineration.

Fine. So, given that the Nationalist government had in practice ignored the pleas made by Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth to adapt clean energy sources, we risk being fined if Malta does not produce 10 per cent of renewable energy in 11 years’ time. Other than that, the EU has also imposed indicatory trajectory renewable targets starting from 2011-2012. And, given that waste generation has not been minimised, we therefore have thousands of tons of waste on our hands.

This is the inconvenient truth. For some, the only solution may seem to burn it in an “energy from waste” (EfW) exercise. The preferred chosen site is, we are told, the Delimara power station in Marsaxlokk. How lucky can the residents of southern Malta get? They may even get a reduced energy bill as a planning gain, Deidun informs us.

And yet here, as a prospective Member of the European Parliament, I question what Malta’s official policy on incineration is. Has this been discussed in the Maltese Parliament? What is the opinion of the non-government environmental organisations? I know of no national debate with civil society, nor a policy strategy discussed in Parliament on this subject. Is the move towards incineration a stopgap solution? The answers need to be addressed to the whole populace, irrespective of our own ideological beliefs. It is my obligation as a candidate to bring these issues to public scrutiny and debate. We all deserve an answer.

www.steveborg.net

Mr Borg is a PL candidate in the European Parliament June elections

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