An environmental manifesto
With the general election looming and all political parties gearing up for the impending Day of Judgement it is generally felt that now is the time for politicians to state clearly and unequivocally their solemn commitment to protect, conserve and enhance the natural environment of the Maltese islands for its intrinsic values, as well as the well-being and enjoyment of all citizens.
It is abundantly clear that the countryside is unable to withstand further inroads for development, consequently zero-tolerance – so often bandied about before the last election, reminiscent of Neville Chamberlain’s waving the hollow “peace in our time” promise after Munich – should be solemnly entrenched in an environmental manifesto to be endorsed by all parties.
It is well to put on record that we have registered progress in many environmental sectors. Furthermore, we have given a lot of attention to protected areas like nature parks and sites of special interests, all of which are highly laudable initiatives. Unfortunately, away from these areas the natural environment is increasingly under threat.
Our land and our shores are more under pressure than ever before and need to be accorded the highest priority during the next legislature.
All those who have committed themselves to a lifelong mission of environmental protection feel that our landscape is an essential part of our national identity and this continuous nibbling of our dear land will eventually reduce Malta to a bleak and desolate wasteland.
But the real irony is that the genuine drive to recover that which is lost threatens that which still survives.
Apart from other considerations we see in the countryside a deep spiritual resource. Overwhelmingly, the most popular use of the countryside is quiet enjoyment. We just want to walk and watch its beauty and the blue sea unfold. We want a place where nothing much happens, nothing much changes.
Perhaps it is not too late to salvage all that is left and put our country on a pathway to a greener and healthier and, in the long term, a more secure future.
Various well-meaning intellectuals have along the years sounded the environmental alarm.
Quentin Hughes, an affable intellectual who contributed immensely to the architectural history of Malta, in 1969 stated that it “is falling prey to industrialisation, that contentious edict of modern economics, and in doing so is surely destroying her most valuable asset: a unique architectural landscape”.
Six years ago, respected anthropologist Jeremy Boissevain’s cri de coeur was even more incisive as he lamented: “One problem in particular has struck most forcefully. This is the massive destruction of the environment since you became independent. Your countryside and architectural heritage… have been and still are being raped.”
This apocalyptic scenario has recently seen a glimmer of hope as we could notice veritable progress in various environmental sectors such as cleaner seas, recycling of waste, energy-saving initiatives.
However, when it comes to the natural environment we still witness the rapid erosion of our countryside and coastal zone, the illegal closure of paths as evidenced along Dingli cliffs from Ġebel Ciantar to Il-Qaws, the non-availability of a definitive map that clearly indicates what is public land and what is private, a survey map that all civilised countries publish and update every year and the unencumbered accessibility to all coastal zones.
How do our political parties measure up on their natural environmental commitment? Do they agree to an independent environmental watchdog in line with recent Rio+20 Conference recommendations, namely the setting up of a Regional Environmental Ombudsman accountable to the United Nations?
Completely in line with a Green manifesto, political parties must commit themselves that any plan regarding infrastructure must contribute to the conservation and enhancement of the natural environment and should not be used to override proper environmental protection. Nor should palliatives be used to camouflage any development outside development zones.
No euphemisms should be used to sanction abusive development as we have witnessed under the irrational rationalisation schemes.
In conclusion, I would like to refer all our political parties to the valid recommendation relating to the natural environment as stated in a government-appointed national commission document published in March 2006 entitled: A Sustainable Development Strategy For the Maltese Islands 2006-2016.