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MALTATODAY 11 September 2022

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8 NEWS maltatoday | SUNDAY • 11 SEPTEMBER 2022 Interesting, controversial and vague: THE National Strategy for the Environment issued for public consultation spells out a number of ambitious targets including reducing car use, introducing more urban greening projects and safeguarding ground water and mineral resources. The strategy largely lacks con- crete proposals to achieve these goals. One reason for this is that the achievement of these goals also depends on actions tak- en by different authorities. But the document does provide an interesting vision coupled with some innovative and possibly controversial, albeit half-baked, ideas. 1.Switching off public build- ings at night A binding national policy on light pollution will be prepared, based on the principle of using only as much light as is neces- sary. Buildings such as commer- cial outlets, offices and public buildings will be encouraged to switch off most lighting at night. Measures to mitigate pollution from light sources, such as the installation of full cut-off light- ing fixtures with specific colour temperatures in public areas and roads will be made manda- tory in public procurement. More 'dark sky areas' like the one in Dwejra where any light- ing is discouraged will be desig- nated. In rural areas preference will be given to retroreflective road markers, in a bid to sig- nificantly reduce light pollution without undermining road safe- ty. In reality guidelines on light pollution were already issued for public consultation two years ago with no action being taken in the meantime. The unapproved document had proposed radical solutions like switching off lighting, even on public monuments after 11 pm. Yet the current energy crisis which is forcing governments to ration energy use, may well provide the necessary impetus for action on this front. 2. Crowd funding to convert private properties into public areas Stakeholders, including the government, local private com- panies, and the resident com- munity itself will be encouraged to work together to acquire pri- vately owned land within built up areas to create green open spaces. This is being dubbed "as an investment for citizens and their wellbeing". This will be done through a "mechanism" which "could involve government funding, crowdfunding and fundraising" and the establishment of com- mittees within the locality. Local councils will have a ma- jor role in earmarking possible areas for such spaces and ena- bling and encouraging citizens to manage and maintain such spaces. Community gardening and tree planting by residents will be encouraged to contribute towards the stewardship of these green spaces. It is unclear whether these financial mech- anisms are being proposed in view of the current crisis trig- gered by rising energy subsidies, which is draining public coffers. Lacking in this proposal is any commitment to extend Urban Conservation Areas or to create green enclaves within the devel- opment zone enjoying the same protection as ODZ land. 3. Reduce licence fees for those who drive less One of the measures proposed to reduce car travel is that of linking reduced vehicle mile- age to reduced road licence fees. This is the only suggestion made in the document about using fiscal measures to encour- age environmentally friendly behaviour. The wording suggests the use of the proverbial carrot instead of the stick but represents a wel- come acceptance of the prin- ciple that taxation can actually change behaviour. 4. Walking buses for children In a bid to reduce school traf- fic the document envisages the establishment of "supervised walking school buses". Schools will be duly enabled and assist- ed in the implementation of such measures. Walking buses are a form of From switched off buildings to crowd funded open spaces. James Debono's 11 takeaways from National Strategy for the Environment which has been issued for public consultation.

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