Conscious of the need to avert global biodiversity loss, on May 3, 2011, the European Commission adopted a new strategy to halt the loss of biodiversity, known as EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020 (EUBS).

This was a response to two important strong political mandates adopted by the 27 European heads of state in March 2010. Furthermore, such a biodiversity strategy is in line with international commitments adopted by 193 countries (including EU member states in the conference of the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan in 2010). Malta is a party to both.

The EU is obliged to establish its own biodiversity policy in line with these international commitments, improving the state of Europe’s species, natural habitats and ecosystems, aware of the services biodiversity provides. The immense value of ecosystem services and the urgent need to maintain and restore these for the benefit of both nature and society are highlighted. 

Biodiversity is the variety of life on the planet, essential for our economy and for our well-being. It is about maintaining nature’s capacity to deliver the goods and services that we all need, and whose loss comes at a high price. Life on this planet - we call home – depends completely on biodiversity, a natural capital to be managed sustainably for the benefit of future generations.

The EU Commission co-financed a study on ‘The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity’. Findings include: the cost of biodiversity loss due to the current over-exploitation of global fisheries estimated at $50 billion; global business opportunities from investing in biodiversity could be worth up to $6 trillion by 2050; the €15 billion a year estimated economic value of insect pollination within the EU.

If one does not understand the economic and social value of ecosystem services and the need to restore them for the benefit of the economy, one can never honour the principles outlined in the EUBS. The economic benefits of biodiversity is not just protecting species and their habitats for their own sake.

Biodiversity is the variety of life on the planet, essential for our economy and for our well-being

It is not ħaxix ħażin (unwanted good-for-nothing vegetation) as unfortunately some Maltese politicians believe, or are made to believe.

For the effective implementation of the EBUS, the main policies need to be integrated to sectoral policies and be taken into account in wider policy concerns, something the Planning Authority is adamantly refusing to accept.

The EUBS lays down six major targets each with actions to be taken:

A full and swift implementation of the Birds and Habitats Directives. On paper Malta is in line, but implementation and enforcement - well, well, well, anything but; to establish green infrastructure and to restore degraded ecosystems. Definitely not on the radar of Infrastructure Malta and the Planning Authority (both in the same ministry); to reform the Common Agricultural Policy so that it increases its contribution to biodiversity conservation on farmland and to improve forest management (see below);

To reform the Common Fisheries Policy so that it reduces its ecological impacts, including its impacts on marine ecosystems. The political entity responsible for this is more concerned with animal rights and bird shooting. Perhaps biodiversity is not regarded as including fisheries and agriculture;

To combat invasive alien species including through preventing the establishment of these species and through control and eradication. Such a concept has not yet been conceived by some local politicians; and to step up its contribution to combating global biodiversity loss.

There are separate ministries responsible, directly or indirectly, to combat global biodiversity loss. But how are these contributing to such obligations?

Millions are budgeted per annum and used substantially, to import alien invasive species, some serving as carriers for other alien species and diseases; spray herbicide and pesticides on indigenous wild species, uproot indigenous mature trees and bulldoze other indigenous vegetation. Other funds pay official entities to ‘clean’ vegetation, from country lanes and rural areas. These funds are literally a waste of resources, when biodiversity is crying out loud to be managed, monitored, legally protected and discerned to honour such EBUS obligations.

Besides, the Public Authority involved in ‘planning’ regards biodiversity as the main enemy of the State, to be exploited to the fullest as long as commercial considerations are met.

Since the inception of the EUBS, two outstanding official government projects stand out: a quality garden of excellence at the Mdina Ditch; and the present widening of valley paths to ‘highways’ in Malta and Gozo.

The cherry on the cake is that these are subsidised by EU funds. And none of the EBUS targets and activities outlined in the EUBS are taken in consideration, but all managed and executed with a ħaxix ħażin mentality.

These two projects, besides others, cannot but show the complete resistance and ignorance of the concept that biodiversity loss is one of the main environmental challenges facing the planet (if we regard ourselves as forming part of the planet), despite the ‘economic value of ecosystem services and the need to restore them for the benefit of the economy’. 

And if this is not enough, some politician/s, tongue in cheek claim, that Malta is the best in the EU. Would be a perfect statement if intended to mean that nobody ignores the obligations of EUBS as we do.

Alfred Baldacchino is a former assistant director of the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s environment directorate.

aebaldacchino@gmail.com

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece