The accumulating environmental deficit

The environmental deficit is increasing at a fast rate. We are approaching the point of environmental bankruptcy, from which there is no turning back. This is the whole point of the nature restoration debate currently in hand at the European Parliament. We must act before it is too late.

It is not sufficient to just protect nature. We must also restore it. We must make good the accumulated damage caused to date, primarily by human action. Notwithstanding all the good intentions since the first EU Environmental Action Programme in the early 70s was gradually translated into a developing EU environmental acquis, 81 per cent of protected habitats are in bad state and over 1,500 species are threatened with extinction.

It is well known that the European Parliament is split right down the middle with about half of it being in favour of the constructive restoration of nature. The other half can be described as being supportive of the accumulated destruction as they couldn’t be bothered with supporting the required action. Next week, a definite decision could be taken as the EU Parliament is due to decide in plenary on the legislative proposal for nature restoration.

The legislative action being proposed by the EU Commission is not a very strong law. It is however a necessary first step in the long road ahead. It could be improved in the years ahead.

There is quite a lot to do. The havoc we see developing around us can still be reversed, even if it is getting more difficult by the hour.

We need to act within nature’s laws. The universal laws of nature are never amended: they have been consistent throughout the ages. They are not changed on the eve of elections. Nor do they offer a reprieve or probation for first time offenders. The punishment which nature unleashes, is non-discriminatory. In fact, nature rides roughshod over offenders and non-offenders alike!  We have seen this in floods and fires all over the globe. Occasionally, we have local examples too.

There are countless examples which we could list as being among the contributors to the present state of affairs. We read about them on an almost daily basis or watch reference to them on the different news channels.

We would do well if we start acting seriously on a local level about addressing Malta’s own contribution to the accumulating environmental deficit.

The current emphasis on green urban open spaces is good politics: all €700 million projected expenditure could be a positive step. It is however lost in the ocean of government indifference when agricultural land on the periphery of our urban areas keeps being taken up for development. Nor does the siege on Comino’s conservation status tolerated by the Planning Authority and the Environment and Resources Authority lead to any credibility to the open space initiative. Seen together, the green washing is too evident to pass unnoticed.

Unbridled development in our towns and villages, over the years has taken up a substantial chunk of urban green open spaces. Large gardens forming part of the essential urban ecology have been taken up and developed into residential blocks, encouraged by the continuous subsidies dished out to the construction industry as well as by a rationalisation exercise supported by the PLPN.

The conservative European People’s Party (EPP) has aligned itself with the climate-sceptic far-right in opposing nature restoration initiative forming an essential building block of the EU Green Deal. At the time of writing, it is not clear whether the campaign to derail the initiative will be successful. It is essentially down to the wire.

In the meantime, the environmental deficit keeps increasing, making matters worse.

Carmel Cacopardo
ADPD Deputy Chairperson
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 9 July 2023