Times of Malta, 28th June 2008, by Matthew Xuereb

A public policy think-tank report on the nation’s health with regard to the environment and pollution has recommended that the polluter pays principle is implemented in the country’s best interest and that of its citizens.

The report, entitled Towards A Low Carbon Society: The Nation’s Health, Energy Security And Fossil Fuels, was penned by George Debono, who practises what he preaches by using a bicycle as a means of transport.

The comprehensive and wide-ranging report drawn up by The Today Public Policy Institute, exposes the high levels of fossil fuel pollution in Malta, their effects on health and the urgent need to exploit renewable sources of energy and energy conservation.

The report stresses the need of truly implementing the polluter pays principle, introducing taxes for who pollutes the most.

“The only way to get things moving is to use tax methods. The social dimension to pollution is that those who earn more, pollute more, while those who earn least suffer from other people’s pollution. The taxes must be painful if we want to achieve results,” Dr Debono said.

He continued: “It is scandalous to see all these buses emitting thick, black smoke. Although there is a European directive, we are still not building our houses with at least some form of energy conservation. Theoretically, they should not even have been granted a permit. SmartCity, Mater Dei Hospital, the Portomaso Tower, Fort Cambridge are not energy efficient. If you build a house properly, you could save up to 40 per cent of your energy bills to keep it warm in winter and cool in summer but little do people know this or even give it any consideration”.

The report deals with the exploitation of renewable and alternative energy sources and energy conservation, with the reduction of urban air pollution caused by road transport, particularly the typical Maltese buses. It also looks into the promotion of bicycle use and the effects of air pollution on health.

Dr Debono said the report addresses what people can do to reduce pollution from excessive burning of fossil fuel and how to enhance Malta’s energy security.

He said the report highlights the urgent need to reduce Malta’s dependence on fossil fuel for electricity saying this, together with traffic, is a major source of pollution and carbon emissions.

Asked whether he really felt that the government will implement the recommendations in his report, Dr Debono expressed his hope that the report will spark debate, adding that “the recommendations will sooner or later become a necessity”.

Asked whether he believed there was enough awareness about the environment and these problems, Dr Debono replied in the negative.

“There is a lack of awareness among politicians and among the government officials especially with regard to what can be done and what is being done in other countries. Who is ever going to raise the price of fuel so that people leave their vehicles at home and use a clean public transport system instead? Who will ever remove the monopoly of buses? There is also terrible lack of awareness among people. We are carbon gluttons as the Maltese are lazy. There is a petrol binge on Sundays because people have nothing better to do, so they go for a drive. This is what requires a mentality change and we need a profound change in attitude towards these things,” he said.

Dr Debono and the think-tank’s director general, Martin Scicluna, yesterday presented a copy of the report to Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi who acknowledged that the issues the report dealt with were challenges the country was facing.

“We urgently need to come up with practical and viable solutions, including conservation of energy. We require a culture change and even a change in our lifestyle,” Dr Gonzi said.

The Prime Minister said the government had targets that it plans to reach. He mentioned the changes to the car registration tax, which the government intends to launch shortly and which will be based on the polluter pays principle. The government is also working on other green schemes in order to reach the commitments the country had made with the EU.