Minister for Gozo Interview with Perche Bio
The Minister for Gozo, Dr Anton Refalo, recently sat down for an interview with Perche Bio, an Italian website that stresses on the importance of leading a sustainable lifestyle. As you might expect, ecoGozo was heavily mentioned during this interview.
You can find the first part of the interview hereunder. Alternatively, you can click here to read the full interview in Italian. The second part of the interview will appear on our website in due course.
Environmental pollution is an issue of growing concern all over the world and the need for areas that are pristine and untouched is rising. In Europe, an island is leading the way to show that it is possible to attain a clean environment, the Maltese Gozo.
What’s the EcoGozo project about?
EcoGozo is a Local Sustainable Development strategy for the island of Gozo. Through a holistic approach, this strategy seeks to achieve an enduring environmental improvement while fostering economic development and social progress on the island.
EcoGozo is a people’s vision and a people’s project. In launching ecoGozo, the Government has given a name, perhaps developed a brand, to a vision which the people of Gozo themselves have communicated to the Government over the years. EcoGozo is a vision the people of Gozo have for the transformation of their island into a sustainable reality.
EcoGozo is not just a project which the Government is implementing in isolation from the community. Various initiatives have been taken to involve both the individual and the many organisations operating in Gozo, particularly through the launching of specific schemes aimed at Local Councils, NGOs and Schools for the implementation of sustainable projects.
Action on ecoGozo is distributed under four main pillars: the Economy, Environment, Society and Culture and Identity.
What has been accomplished?
The ecoGozo Action Plan 2010-2012 has guided the Ministry for Gozo’s work on the eco-island in the past four years. Most of the recommendations/measures listed in this Action Plan have been completed while some others are still underway and nearing completion. Work on the implementation of these measures has translated into over 180 project or initiatives, involving the Ministry for Gozo, other Government Ministries and organisations, the voluntary and the private sector. It is estimated that more than 65 organisations have been involved in the implementation of these projects.
The Ministry for Gozo is currently drafting the second EcoGozo Action plan which is expected to be adopted in the forthcoming year.
Clean air is one of the major resources of Gozo. Are there incentives in place for eliminating or reducing diesel and gasoline-driven means of transport?
Improving air quality is in fact a Government’s priority in order to ensure a better quality of life.
This Ministry is taking part in ‘Demo EV’, a LIFE + project, through which a total of 90 electric car charging points have been installed in the Maltese islands, 15 of which were installed in Gozo. These will be free for use for the duration of the project for any electric vehicle user. In addition, Gozitans had the opportunity to participate in the project by volunteering to make use of an electric vehicle for a trial period of 2 months. In an effort to lead by example, one of a fleet of electric cars in the project was transferred to the Ministry for Gozo for its use. Two Local Councils in Gozo have so far followed suit. Two eco-trucks and an eco-cab were purchased by Għajnsielem and Għarb Local Councils to be used in their respective locality. Both projects were financed through the Schemes for Eco-Gozo projects by Local Councils. In the mean time Transport Malta, in conjunction with the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure, has launched a scheme in the form of a grant to incentivise the purchase of Battery Electric Vehicles and Battery Electric Quadricycles.
Shouldn’t all Gozo’s public transport go electric?
Through the new public transport system, a fleet of buses which produces much lower emissions was introduced and increase in the use of public transport has been registered. One of the buses deployed in Gozo is a hybrid electric/fuel driven vehicle. Having one day all Gozo’s public transport going electric, would be ideal.
Electrification of transport is matter of factly a priority for government and is currently studying a number of options and holding talks with the new public transport operator in this regard.
Is the purchase of electric cars and bikes encouraged and how?
The scheme mentioned earlier launched by Transport Malta is aimed at reducing the number of old motor vehicles from the road and thus reducing pollution. Malta has committed itself with the European Union to have at least 5,000 electric cars in circulation by 2020, as part of its efforts to meet renewable energy targets. The initiative is meant to reduce car emissions, which account for 16.9 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions on the island.
Subject to various conditions, the grant is divided in three. A grant of €4,000 will be given to persons registering an electric car and €1,500 to those registering an electric quadricyle. The grant shall increase from €4,000 to €5,000 in case of persons registering a Battery Electric Vehicle while at the same time de-register another internal combustion engine propelled vehicle which is at least 10 years old from the year of its manufacture.
This is another initiative of the Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure and Transport Malta aimed to promote electromobility in Malta, following the publication of the Malta National Electromobility Action Plan (MNEAP) and the setting up of the Malta National Electromobility Platform (MNEP).
Besides promoting sustainable mobility, the scope of these initiatives is to assist the government in addressing Malta’s National environmental targets, which range from climate change and energy targets as well as the improvement of air quality. These grants will also facilitate the new technology to achieve a level of market penetration, assisting both the car manufacturers as well as potential owners who would like to purchase the new technology being put on the market.
The presence of pesticide residues in food is emerging as the number one enemy of people’s health worldwide. What’s being done to promote organic farming in Gozo, taking into account that, the plots of land being so small, organic farming will not be possible unless all or most farmers adopt it.
Sustaining the agricultural sector is of vital importance for the preservation of the rural character of Gozo’s countryside. The Ministry for Gozo has invested heavily the creation of a Centre for Innovation in Rural Sciences and Environmental Management in Gozo. It aims to host and promote environmentally-friendly practices in the agricultural section, and the introduction of new systems in agriculture. Some research and educational work at this centre has already taken off. Over the past years, farmers were also provided with frequent educational and information campaigns (including courses) on the safe use of pesticides and their possible adverse effects on soil and the water table. Moreover, the Ministry for Gozo in collaboration with the Malta Organic Agricultural Movement has also provided local operators with information on organic agriculture and its value for sustainable development.
Agriculture in Gozo faces numerous constraints, among which stiff price-based competition and economies of scale. It is unfortunately a sector in decline, although Government sees strategic importance in reviving this sector, both as a contributor to the economy, but also as an important agent of environmental management and resource protection. Action to raise environmental and quality standards need to be staggered in order to dampen shocks to the sector. For these reasons, the Ministry for Gozo is working on leading the agricultural community to adopt practices which limit the use of chemicals in Agriculture through Integrated Resource Management and other similar practices. Once these targets are reached, one will then start to focus on higher targets, among which, Organic Agriculture.
Are there incentives in place to compensate for the losses farmers may incur?
The Maltese Rural Development Programme 2007-2013 contained various measures that supported farmers to adapt and address the challenges and threats that they encounter to manage their farms and land. Such measures provided millions of Euros for the adaptation to climate change, market structures, ageing farming population, new obligations and standards and geo-physical limitations amongst many other factors. This support comes from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.
Under the new rural development programme 2014-2020 it is planned that additional aid is introduced in the form of new measures such as an agricultural insurance scheme which would help compensate farmers against the loss or damage of their crops and farm structures. Furthermore, farmers are also benefitting from direct payments under Pillar 1 of the Common Agricultural Policy which in part can cover additional costs incurred by farmers to sustain their operations.