Where’s our green deal on Malta’s shrinking countryside?

Even well before 1964, the Maltese rural footprint has been misshapen and transformed. We have turned this exceptional island into a deleterious, urban sprawl that has taken away its beauty. It will take more than simple sweet talk to address this

There is little doubt in my mind that Miriam Dalli’s maiden speech was quite the ambitious and auspicious start in Maltese politics: she made climate change and the transition to carbon neutrality by 2050 her most noble aim. Which means, I will be 87 by the time everybody’s gone electric on our dirty roads, unless I should succumb earlier than this great appointment with carbon’s demise.

I still think however that, even though climate change and our race towards carbon-neutrality is indeed an existential quest we must embark on now, many of our politicians – Dalli, Aaron Farrugia, or Peter Agius – fail to appreciate a very immediate, challenging and pressing environmental target. And that’s the preservation of our rural footprint and the curtailment or the urban sprawl. In other words, halting the rampant destruction and decimation of our land as a result of short-sighted political decisions that have made planning laws a joke.

In the name of economic growth and labour supply we have justified the most horrendous mistakes in land use. Malta and Gozo are in a unique position even because we have very limited space that would otherwise force us to have the most beautiful of islands. Yet we have reduced village cores to blocks of white and grey apartments, skylines have been dented by high-rise and the serenity of our countryside has been conquered by cement blocks.

And when politicians have chosen to speak up about this, they have been relegated to the history books and rendered peripheral to the phalanx of ministers who were placed on finances and economy.

Certainly enough, Malta will not be spared the ravages of climate change, not just in the rising heat it will foist on us and the effects it will have on food production, but also the contribution it will have to rising migration as climate displaces people in hot countries and decimates their food supplies. In the meantime, the onerous obligations of the Paris accord require us to take on ambitious carbon-neutrality targets. However, politicians who think that all we have to do is secure a front row in the preparation for the industrial transition and digital shift just to hit the 2050 target should not fool themselves.

If we build over the Lunzjata Valley in Rabat, Gozo or bulldoze through Wied is-Sewda in Attard, nothing will bring back the lost footprint of our countryside, and with that, the loss of our biodiversity and trees, our own carbon sinks. The EU has no strong framework to stop governments from implementing policies that endanger our countryside, especially when in a country like ours, the Labour administration treats the protection of birds and vegetation with contempt.

Miriam Dalli is expected to be entrusted with a ministry that will probably include various aspects of Malta’s climate transition targets and the aspects of competitiveness that go along with it. Certainly, she will find herself working in a local scenario in which compromise is far less elegant than the European corridors in Brussels, and concessions to partisan interests may even endanger the noble aims of the climate transition.

Because beyond climate change, environmentalists and many people of simple, good will in Malta want an environment that is kept pristine for future generations in Malta.

What they care about is whether their valley will remain the valley they always knew, and if the coastline will remain the beautiful shoreline they always enjoyed. They will hope to see the flocks of migrating birds traverse over Malta and Gozo without being blasted from our skies and the sea they swim in clean and unpolluted and pristine.

And over and above, they want the political parties to not be manipulated by the big business lobbies or the vociferous and bellicose hunting lobby. And that is actually quite a tall order for any politician or big-majority party. Certainly enough, for politicians to grapple with the real environmental problems this country faces, they need to find the courage and energy to face up to this issue.

Even well before 1964, the Maltese rural footprint has been misshapen and transformed. We have turned this exceptional island into a deleterious, urban sprawl that has taken away its beauty. It will take more than simple sweet talk to address this.

It will require unusual political vision, courage and determination to swim against the tide.

Bernard’s day

Bernard Grech has been leader of the Nationalist Party for three weeks now. And beyond his public appearances, I have yet to see what he is proposing to change for Malta; who he has added to his team and who he also wishes to bring on board; but more importantly, what his priorities and concerns are. A day in politics tends to be quite long, and certainly there’s no mercy for procrastinators.

Many are simply waiting to see changes. One would have expected some major changes in his shadow cabinet by now. He cannot simply imagine that his chances of recovering the lost sheep in the PN will come about because of a simple change in leadership.

Tomorrow in his Budget reply, Grech must be ready to outline part of his vision for Malta, not just a partisan riposte to Abela.

Which leaves us with the probable reshuffle in the Abela Cabinet that will happen in the coming weeks. Two new members to the Cabinet, will surely be Clyde Caruana and Miriam Dalli. Caruana will clearly replace finance minister Edward Scicluna and Miriam Dalli is expected to be entrusted with am ambitious climate transition ministry.

But Abela’s reshuffle is a closely guarded secret, yet he will surely decapitate some ministers. He should be wary not to shake the system since this could eventually lead to a backroom revolt, and he should distinguish between popular ministers and capable ministers, while retaining the integrity of constituency ties to some form of executive representation.

What he certainly should do is not to surround himself only with young Turks with little experience and maturity and plenty of ego: a few ‘no’ people could set that balance straight. Abela should weigh the options with his closest advisers, which appear to be a small group that is rather fragmented.

It is only question of time before we know the end result. And when we do, it will be another opportunity to watch out for the political drama behind the scenes.

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