Read the full article about the event here.
The latest IPCC report is a damning indictment of decades of inaction by our politicians on the climate and ecological emergencies. Despite an acknowledgement of a state of climate emergency in October 2019 and lots of nicely worded speeches, there has little to no progress on the issues that really matter. Tokenistic gestures, greenwash, and projects with dubious intentions continue to predominate, propelling us entirely in the wrong direction. We are thus protesting and asking the government to accede to the following demands:
Rapid Decarbonisation: full decarbonisation by 2030
The science is clear. The window to limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees is rapidly closing and the action needed is nowhere in sight. NGOs, academics, and experts have already outlined how rapid decarbonisation would be achieved. What is currently lacking is the political will to enact this.
As Extinction Rebellion Malta, we are endorsing the recommendations put forward by Moviment Graffitti, Friends of the Earth Malta and Birdlife Malta in their feedback to the Malta Low Carbon Development Strategy and ask that the government take on these recommendations (these can be found here: https://foemalta.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Low-Carbon-Strategy-Consultation-Feedback.pdf). To these, we also add that: we need a systemic review of the planning process and a reconstitution of the planning boards so that they act in favour of local communities and the environment, rather than against them. This may mean the suspension and review of all current permits and planning policies by an independent body and the expansion of ERA’s remit and powers to include a veto on all planning decisions. Local councils should also play a greater role in the decision-making process, as such decisions ultimately affect their communities. The process by which this can be achieved has been described in greater detail in Moviment Graffitti’s ‘Reforming Planning and Construction in Malta’ document (https://admin.movimentgraffitti.org/kosmos/pages/GuMRmJd6N718.pdf).
The construction industry’s use of high amounts of concrete should also be closely scrutinised, as concrete has a high carbon-intensity, is being used indiscriminately in both public and private projects, and has a production process that cannot be easily decarbonised. We thus encourage possible incentives for the use of alternative materials wherever appropriate, as well as the recycling of construction waste (described in further detail here: https://foemalta.org/press-releases/wastemanagementplan2021).
We also reiterate the concerns of other NGOs on the disingenuous claims of ‘reducing’ the emissions of the energy sector through the construction of an interconnector and a hydrogen-ready pipeline. An interconnector may simply function to export our emissions to other countries, while most methods of producing hydrogen still rely on fossil fuels. We thus reiterate that a rapid uptake of renewable energy sources remains the safest and most efficient way of reducing emissions in a meaningful way. This should be done in a way that does not compromise the quality of the land or sea.
In its current form, the Low Carbon Development strategy will not limit global heating to 1.5C and constitutes a complete abandonment of current and future generations to a climate insecure present and future.
Reversal of Biodiversity Loss
The IPCC and IPBES have made it clear that the climate and ecological crises need to be tackled together. Biodiversity loss severely compromises the integrity of the ecosystems we depend on, and also encourages the emergence of pathogens that can become new pandemics like the one we are currently experiencing.
While there have been attempts at rehabilitating spaces in both urban areas and rural areas as dedicated green spaces, many of these interventions are either inappropriate or remain insignificant in the context of overdevelopment and the continual loss of land to new roads. We thus demand that green areas be mandated as a requirement for developments exceeding a certain size, as well as making sure that plans from fifteen years not be used to dictate today’s planning policies. We also demand that any new dedicated parks act as stores of biodiversity designed in consultation with relevant experts (particularly ecologists), rather than using sanitised designs that require the destruction of existing flora and its replacement with concrete paths and infrastructure. These should be open for public consultation, to allow for communities to submit their feedback with designs revised accordingly. Dedicated green spaces, however small or large, should be integrated into all projects, as this can potentially form wildlife corridors for important species in decline, such as pollinators.
Malta’s dwindling groundwater resources as lower rainfall will mean that Malta will not continue to support its indigenous ecosystems. Measures for adaptation as well as to reverse the catastrophic effects of widespread soil sealing need urgent consideration. Based on this, the government should restore/incorporate and use wells and reservoirs, as well as put an end to financially speculative construction as well as road construction projects. Further soil sealing must be immediately halted and compensated by greater water catchment within urban areas. This will allow for the collection of rainwater as well as help alleviate flooding.
Rubble walls should be built or reconstructed according to traditional methods, as these help to safeguard biodiversity.
Government should also remove subsidies on animal products (meat, dairy and fish) as their production process (according to industrial methods) leads to land and water degradation, biodiversity loss, and often also deforestation in other countries, due to globalised supply chains. Such measures should be complimented by incentives for regenerative practices and greater financial support for small-scale agricultural holdings. The Common Agricultural Policy should also be withdrawn at a European level, as it is incompatible with the promises made in the Paris Agreement and the need to halt biodiversity loss (see: https://withdrawthecap.org/40-reasons-why | https://www.birdlife.org/worldwide/news/open-letter-eu-commission-president-withdraw-common-agricultural-policy ).
An end to ‘business as usual’ and Shift to a Wellbeing Economy
We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis. Therefore, we need to do everything in our power to mitigate catastrophic climate breakdown.
In their current form, our current economic and political systems are set up neither to protect the environment nor to improve our collective well-being. We have seen this locally in a mentality that pursues unsustainable economic growth, regardless of significant environmental and social costs. We are thus advocating for the adoption of ‘post-growth’ approaches to economic policy, including concepts such as doughnut economics and a well-being economy, as well as abandoning the pursuit of GDP growth in favour of pursuing well-being indicators directly. Such indicators may include those that measure: life-expectancy, education, inclusive mobility, access to green spaces, access to healthcare (including mental health services), biodiversity, access to community centres, availability of public housing, wealth inequality, gender inequality, overall happiness, and many others. Improving such indicators would mean giving due consideration to measures such as: a Universal Basic Income, a 4-day working week, job guarantee schemes, and a democratically determined maximum income. These would have the effect of reducing inequalities while alleviating environmental pressures (a more detailed rationale for such measures can found here).
Other measures worth considering include:
- Phasing out environmentally damaging practices and prohibiting them altogether
- Sustainable practices and initiatives should be incentivised. This would mean that environmental-forward start-ups should be given greater financial support and complimented by similar government initiatives such as more environmental awareness campaigns on publicly owned broadcasting services.
- Higher carbon taxation and tightening of the European Emissions Trading Scheme with a descending cap on emissions. The ETS system should be expanded to encompass strict binding annual national carbon budgets in line with the 1.5 degree target.
- Adoption of the measures outlined in Friends of the Earth and Moviment Graffitti’s Waste Management Plan. This can be found here: https://foemalta.org/press-releases/wastemanagementplan2021/
- Mandatory sustainability reporting for large businesses. Businesses should be obliged to follow the principles of Corporate Social Responsibility
As plastic is harmful to biodiversity, government should draft a plan to phase them out entirely. The current single-use plastics ban should extended to encompass other non-recyclable types of plastic, including plastic bags given out at supermarkets and greater accessibility to drinking water that is not packaged in plastic bottles. This can be through communal drinking water points as well as improvements in the distribution and purity of the existing tap water supply.
Such measures would also help the government achieve its declared commitment towards creating a circular economy and achieve the sustainable development goals. However, it also presents an opportunity to reframe economic priorities so that they benefit people and planet. New economic frameworks (such as doughnut economics) embed the economy within the environment, rather than view it as something external to human society. Such a paradigm shift is nothing more than an acknowledgement of reality, as our societies are dependent on our environment for food, water, resources, and our overall wellbeing.
Promoting Sustainable Mobility and Moving Away from Car Dependency
As mentioned in the NGOs’ policy recommendations, there is an unequivocal need to shift away from car-dependent transport strategy. Simply electrifying the existing fleet will lead to massive environmental pressures elsewhere as the production of their parts is an intensely polluting process.
All new road project should be dropped with the emphasis shifted to improving cycling, public transport and pedestrian infrastructure. The ‘Slow Streets’ initiative is a good step forward but this initiative should be extended to secondary roads that connect towns and villages as this is where commuting by bike can be dangerous. Walking and cycling links to bus stops (including bike racks, particularly in key commute nodes) should also be thoroughly considered. As village cores were not designed to accommodate vehicular traffic, these should be pedestrianised.
Public transport also needs major investment with the reintroduction of and increased night routes, more dedicated bus lanes, and increasing frequency for some routes. Bus network revision also may be needed, as some areas (e.g. west of Malta) are still not properly catered for. Bus routes need to be efficient.
In light of its abuse, the Development Notification Procedure allowing Infrastructure Malta to go ahead with the asphalting and widening of country roads without going through the full standard planning application process should also be repealed.
Unnecessary flights in-person business trips should be systemically discouraged and replaced by digital alternatives. Flights to Sicily should also be banned, as these can be done by ferry.
Solidarity with Most Affected Peoples and Areas
In the same way that not everyone contributed equally to the climate and ecological crises, not everyone will be affected by it in the same way. Climate justice must also be accompanied by social justice, otherwise it would not be worth pursuing.
To this end, we are endorsing the demands of Fridays for Future International for the global climate strike next week that calls on rich countries to act on their pledges made in the Paris Agreement and to address the present and historic injustices that have left Global South countries significantly more vulnerable to climate and ecological breakdown (these can be found here: https://fridaysforfuture.org/September24/). Climate breakdown would also be catastrophic for Malta, with desertification and rising sea levels threatening to make the country unhabitable.
We also have an obligation to make sure that no one in our own country is left behind. To this end, we would like to see a just transition to a low-carbon future, but also greater investment in public services that would protect those who are most vulnerable in society. We would also like to see residents and citizens empowered to have a greater say on decisions that directly affect them. To this end, we would not only like to see more resources and powers given to local councils, but also the implementation of our sixth and final demand.
A Citizens Assembly on Climate
Citizens’ Assemblies around the world are tackling issues which politicians are unwilling or afraid to touch. Citizens’ Assemblies have to power to create legislation to be approved by government and constitute a much-needed exercise in democratisation. They are structured to help decide the solutions, and how we will collectively accomplish the systems adaptation needed to face the crisis, on the timeline the science tells us is necessary.
A Citizens’ Assembly brings together everyday people from all walks of life to investigate, discuss, and make recommendations on an issue. Members of the Assembly are selected in a lottery process to ensure they aren’t beholden to any political party or special interest, and to ensure they actually reflect the whole country. This means that anyone can look at a Citizens’ Assembly and see people who look like them, live like them, and share their concerns. With the aid of skilled facilitators, this representative group of everyday people works through information from a wide range of experts and stakeholders. They talk through different views and opinions and find common ground. There are currently Citizens’ Assemblies on the Climate and Ecological Emergency taking place in France, the UK and Canada.
Citizens’ Assemblies (CA) differ depending on topic, location, and participants, but generally adhere to the following process:
- Select a clear topic and question that is suitable for deliberation.
- Establish a media budget large enough to ensure all people in the country are aware of and engaged with the CA – this puts pressure on the government to follow the CA’s final recommendations.
- Select coordinators. This should be an independent organisation with experience in organising deliberative processes like citizens’ assemblies.
- Decide on the number of citizens necessary for a fair and representative CA.
- Choose demographics for a representative CA. For example:
- Level of education
- Create a media strategy to ensure everyone is aware that it is happening. For example, invite journalists, create a website, create a social media presence, etc.
- Citizens are chosen using a random selection process, followed by a sorting process to ensure that the sample accurately represents the population as a whole (this is called ‘sortition’)
- CA begins:
- Integration stage
- Education stage
- Deliberation stage
- Recommendations stage
- Voting stage: Recommendations approved when, for example, 80% agree
- Publicly announce and publish results:
- Publicly list details of those in government who are responsible for action
- Hold regular CA reunions to maintain pressure on government.