- Vincent Attard – President, Nature Trust Malta
- Lianne Mifsud – Executive Secretary, Local Councils Association Malta
- Professor Charmaine Gauci – Director General / Superintendent of Public Health
- Konrad Pulé – General Manager, Malta Public Transport
The panel “A breath of fresh air”, was part of the online event "Shaping Malta's Future: The New Norm" which was held in July 2020. The discussion tackled the environmental impacts of Covid-19 in Malta.
In essence, all panelists agreed that Covid-19 served as an “eye-opener to humanity” in recognizing the severity of the climate crisis caused by the excessive use of vehicles. By definition, pollution is the introduction of contaminants into the atmosphere which have adverse effects on all living beings. Pollution can take the form of land, sea, and air pollution. All three forms of pollution were discussed during this webinar with a particular focus given to land pollution in relation to traffic.
Positive environmental outcomes resulting from COVID-19
Malta witnessed a substantial improvement in the air quality resulting from the fact that social distancing measures were greatly encouraged. More specifically, employers and employees were engaged in remote working and students participated in online learning. All of this contributed to a reduction in travelling, resulting in less congestion and pollution and hence positively influencing public health. This all goes to show that nature has a way of dealing with environmental issues when given the necessary time to recuperate.
Negative environmental outcomes resulting from COVID-19
Despite the continuous pressure from public health authorities to make use of face masks, both Mr. Vincent Attard as well as Prof. Charmaine Gauci advocated the responsible disposal of such consumables. In particular, inappropriately disposed face masks have been a contributing factor which threatens the life of marine organisms and leads to contamination of the soil, sand, and sea. Such environmental issues might induce severe medical problems, including respiratory illnesses such as asthma, lung cancer, and poor quality of life.
The way forward – finding solutions
With reference to specific statistics obtained from a recent Grant Thornton survey, Mr. Konrad Pulé particularly focused on the 10% of respondents who are willing to engage in alternative modes of transport, rather than the 78% who are unwilling to do so. Moving forward, he suggested that the use of public transport, amongst alternative modes of transport, should be consistently incorporated in one's routine so that a balance is maintained. In agreement, Mr. Vincent Attard recognised the need to harmonise the necessary capital infrastructure as well as "free up some space" in line with the transport initiatives in place.
Additionally, local councils work tirelessly to introduce safe pathways to connect different localities with one another. In fact, Ms. Lianne Mifsud highlighted several projects undertaken by local councils whose objective is to take advantage of the relative closeness of certain localities while encouraging more sustainable and greener transportation methods. The panellists also stressed the importance of road safety. Moreover, Prof. Charmaine Gauci emphasized the role of education with respect to cleaner means of transport, as well as the need to educate the new generations.
Will we revert to the unsustainable norm?
Despite the positive effects on road transport which Covid-19 brought about, the return to the pre-pandemic unsustainable norm is unfortunately inevitable. Prof. Charmaine Gauci highlighted how “it is human nature to resist change”. Mr Vincent Attard also emphasised the increasing difficulty in altering the Maltese behaviour, yet still maintained that a push towards a cultural change would be feasible.
In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr. Vincent Attard argued that single-use plastics should be completely phased out, and that “all of us created the mountain [of waste]” and hence all citizens should actively contribute to minimise pollution and environmental degradation.