Malta’s infrastructural projects will provide “much-needed breathing room” for the country’s air quality issues but insisted he would avoid “totalitarian” measures geared at reducing car-use, Environment Minister Jose Herrera said when faced with questions concerning the growing problem.
Speaking to Lovin Malta, the minister rejected any claims that Malta has the worst air quality in Europe, insisting that in “some emissions we are faring so well that we’re selling credits and making quite a lot of money”.
However, with the current rate of 45 new cars on the road per day (“or more” as Herrera quipped) only expected to increase with massive infrastructural projects, Herrera was asked whether he was worried about what the future could hold.
He was quick to agree that traffic is the principal culprit behind Malta’s emissions saying that the increase was directly correlated to the increase in population.
“There is no quick fix. Is there any way you can reduce the population? Is there any way you can reduce the number of cars? We are not a totalitarian state, we cannot take measures as they do in Singapore or Beijing or Shanghai?” he asked.
The minister referenced policies like the introduction of high tariffs on cars, a limitation on the number of registrations, and car-free zones as examples of “totalitarian” initiatives.
“I don’t think that is the way forward in a democratic country where the people won’t accept these kind of measures.”
For Herrera, encouraging people to use public transport whether by land or by sea was the answer.
“We haven’t yet reached the levels of public transport. People are used to driving everywhere, myself included unfortunately, we’re a bit lazy. But we are taking measures, we are working assiduously to fix a date when we will no longer combustion engines.”
Asked how any of his proposed measures were in any way feasible given that petrol and diesel cars were exponentially increasing at an incredibly high rate, Herrera hedged his bets on “trends changing”.
“Trends will change, people find their level. First they exaggerate like there’s no tomorrow then people start reacting to the circumstances,” he said as he expressed his “surprise” at the success of recycling initiative.
“They realised there is no way out. They will realise that when you start driving your car taking an hour to get to work but public transport takes 15 minutes. There will be a time when people will adapt,” he continued adding that infrastructural work was necessary for progress.
It’s fair to say that the Minister clearly has his own driver.