The Malta Independent 19 April 2024, Friday
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Institutional fragmentation obstructs good governance

Carmel Cacopardo Sunday, 25 February 2024, 07:50 Last update: about 3 months ago

Some seek to deceive themselves and others when they proclaim their conviction that there is no conflict between the economy and the environment. The current state of affairs in all areas of environmental importance is precisely the result of this conflict.

This conflict is continuously manifested through various natural phenomena: nature’s retaliatory actions to the mismanagement of the earth’s resources. Currently climate change tops the list of nature’s defensive actions in the ongoing conflicts resulting from the impacts of the economy on the environment.

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The impacts of climate change effect all of us, but most of all they effect the vulnerable among us. Whether it is floods or drought, extremes of temperatures or rising sea levels, at the end of the day it is the vulnerable and the poor who shoulder most of the burden which results when the earth cries. “Cry of the earth, cry of the poor”, we were told many years ago by Brazilian Franciscan liberation theologian Leonardo Boff. Environmental degradation and social injustice are intertwined.

Emissions to air, sea or land: all of them have an impact, generally a cumulative one, which contaminate in various ways the air we breathe, the sea and its resources and all sorts of natural resources all around us. These impacts generally take time to leave their mark and as a result of this time lag, generally, they are ignored until it is almost too late to act.

Parliament is currently debating the setting up of a Climate Change Authority. Concluding the debate at second reading stage, Environment Minister Miriam Dalli emphasized that climate action requires everyone’s contribution. Yes Minister, that is correct: however, it also requires consistency on the part of the executive. One cannot advocate addressing climate change at the same time as dishing out fossil fuel subsidies, as government has been doing for quite some time.

To address climate change we require a behavioral change. Having public transport available at no cost was a courageous step which seeks to address this behavioral change through encouraging a modal shift in our mobility requirements. On its own, however, this is definitely not enough.

In order to facilitate this modal shift to take place, it is essential that, simultaneously with free public transport one should discourage the use of private transport. Removing the fossil fuel subsidies the soonest would be a step in this direction.

Likewise, the heavy investment in road infrastructure aiming to facilitate traffic management also encourages more traffic on the road. It has been proven by studies carried out in a multitude of other countries that infrastructural interventions in the road network will, in the end, increase traffic congestion because they end up generating more traffic. This is actually happening around us too!

A stronger push towards a behavioral change would address both our deficits: our fiscal deficit as well as our environmental deficit.

The electrification of transport would definitely help in reducing climate change impacts. It will not however contribute to the modal shift in addressing our mobility requirements.

The fact that in most cases travelling distances in Malta are small should facilitate the effort. As emphasized by the National Transport Masterplan we ought to realise that fifty per cent of trips with private cars in the Maltese islands are for distances having a duration of less than 15 minutes. Further, these trips cover an average distance of 5.5 kilometers. This signifies that half of the trips with private cars cover mobility needs within areas which are within easy reach of either local public transport or else can be covered by walking or cycling. Addressing adequately just this statistic could reduce substantially cars from our roads without in any way impacting our mobility needs. In addition, substantial emissions contributing to climate change would also be reduced.

This is what we call a low-lying fruit in the management and implementation of environmental policy. It is an objective which is not so difficult to attain. Yet it is unfortunately ignored.

A positive step taken by the Robert Abela led administration is the apparent shelving of the proposed undersea tunnel between Malta and Gozo. Studies carried out have clearly shown that the economic viability of the tunnel was dependent on increasing by about three times the car movements between Malta and Gozo. As a result, additional environmental impacts would have been created!

I speak of an “apparent shelving” as the matter is not yet clear. Government has not made any statement on its intentions even though it is clear that it has had second thoughts on the whole matter, as it is no longer “a priority”.

The fragmentation of the institutions intended for environmental governance does not lead to good governance. It rather obstructs it. It would have been more appropriate if the functions assigned to the proposed Climate Change Authority had been assigned to the Environment and Resources Authority. The consolidation of environmental functions would be appropriate in view of the smallness of our territories. It would also be more effective.

 

An architect and civil engineer, the author is a former Chairperson of ADPD-The Green Party in Malta.  [email protected] ,   http://carmelcacopardo.wordpress.com

 

 

 

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