The Malta Independent 14 November 2019, Thursday

A greenwash budget

Astrid Vella Sunday, 20 October 2019, 09:22 Last update: about 26 days ago

​In recent years politicians have embraced environmental buzzwords, hence the Budget 2020 talked of the circular economy, turning carbon neutral, green businesses etc... However when a document that dictates government policy for a year proposes half-baked solutions for the smaller issues while rewarding construction, the most damaging sector, and skirting round very damaging issues for fear of offending sacred cows, it boils down to greenwash. 

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Therefore while Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA) welcomes several proposals in the 2020 Budget, it maintains that seen holistically, the 2020 budget falls far short of ensuring a healthy and sustainable environment for all.

Malta’s carbon emissions shot up by 28% since 2005 as a result of increased car use, yet the Budget insists that government will be announcing a date for ending the importation of petrol and diesel cars next year! FAA welcomes the attempt to achieve cleaner air quality in Malta, however the installation of 200 charging points for electric cars and reduced electricity tariffs for home charging are distant measures when a great many don’t have garages and electric cars are still generally unaffordable.  In the immediate term, increasing the tax on high-emission, high engine capacity cars could have subsidised incentives to purchase the more reasonably-priced hybrid cars, which are an excellent transition option to reduce pollution.  Is the government reluctant to penalise the fast car fraternity?

Extending free school transport to all students and free bus passes to citizens over 75 is a welcome incentive but falls far short of motivating the Maltese public towards public transport instead of private cars. Increasing the road network is not going to lead Malta towards a greener and healthier society yet the budget fails to strengthen public transport with a sound transport plan including small electric busses to provide frequent, clean and reliable transpot. Government owes it to the public to carry out a serious study to identify the overall cost of private car use. This will be an eye-opener, and may make individuals re-think their daily commute. More cars left at home will mean fewer cars on the road and more efficient public transport.

Schemes to buy bicycles, scooters and pedelecs are to be extended, but such schemes can only be effective if the infrastructure for safe use of such transport is a priority, not merely an afterthought once vehicular transport needs have been satisfied. 

​Sea ferries from St Paul’s Bay, Marsascala, Marsaxlokk, St Julian’s and Mellieħa are needed, ​however they will only move small numbers and are very weather dependent. ​FAA​ asks if all ferry berthing rights will be been allocated to one company, like the monopoly in Valletta's harbours, eliminating options which make sea transport a more viable and attractive option.

While the increase in cruise ships stopping at the Grand Harbour was quoted with pride, no real measures are being taken to curb the unhealthy air pollution belched by ships’ engines onto the residents of the highly-polluted Inner Harbour area.

The budget fails to include measures to ensure construction quality or aesthetics, or to implement the 2012 EU requirement for energy-efficiency in all new buildings. Incentives for solar panel batteries are dampened by the fact that many panels are being rendered useless, overshadowed by tall buildings. Yet instead of reining in over-development that is causing so many problems, the taxpayer is to subsidise the purchase of new construction machinery with grants of up to €200,000, while property purchases are again incentivised, sacrificing Malta's long-term well-being in order to enrich developers.

A limited subsidy for NGO appeals against planning decisions is welcomed, but FAA maintains that in a transparent, well-governed planning system such appeals should be the exception to the rule, as opposed to the current situation where NGOs regularly have to appeal against abusive permits. FAA would welcome a strong drive toward enforcement and penalties against cowboy developers, so that NGOs do not need to battle against a Planning Authority that fails to ensure a better environment for the islands’ residents.

The elephant in the room remains the unregulated extraction of ground-water, which continues unabated, depleting our water table without any effort to eliminate the practice.

The Budget refers to a plan to create a public garden in mid-air, over the Santa Venera tunnels exit, an extremely ambitious and costly project. Yet at a time when government is boasting of a budget surplus for the fifth year in a row, it ignores the 18,000 people who have petitioned for the government to buy back Manoel Island and to turn it into a wooded heritage park on the lines of Central Park– a health-giving green oasis in an unbroken sea of traffic, cranes and development.

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