Times of Malta, 4th July 2008, by Ivan Camilleri

Malta has broken more environment rules than any other new EU member state, according to a report card issued yesterday by the European Commission.

Brussels is not at all pleased with the way the environment is being handled by Malta and is expecting various initiatives to be taken in order to come closer to EU standards.

The report analyses the country’s progress on environment policy in 2007. It shows Malta is a laggard on a number of counts including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, measures on climate change, halting biodiversity and recycling of waste.

Until the end of last year, Malta was facing the highest number of infringement procedures for breaking EU environmental rules among the 12 new EU member states. Half of the infringements (12 out of 26) related to air legislation.

The report acknowledges the fact that Malta needed to start almost from scratch in the environment sector when it joined the EU and has already started putting in place important policies and infrastructure, such as sewage treatment plants, energy efficient incentives and new waste policies. However, much more needs to be done, the report insists.

One of the areas in which Malta has to work much harder is greenhouse gas emissions. As the EU works towards a reduction, Malta is moving in the opposite direction by registering rapid increases in emissions, caused by a higher energy demand.

“Greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise in recent years and reached 3.4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2005, an increase of 6.1 per cent compared to 2004. Under its existing policies, emissions are projected to more than double between the base year (1990) and 2010,” the report says.

According to the Commission, most climate-related action last year addressed energy consumption with subsidies for more efficient household appliances and renewable energy while the possibility of an offshore wind farm and a connection to the European energy networks to buy renewable-sourced electricity are being investigated. The Commission commented positively on these initiatives stating that, if implemented, they would “serve to diversify the energy mix”.

Protecting nature and biodiversity is also seen as another hurdle for Malta.

Apart from stressing the fact the Malta is the only EU member state still permitting spring hunting, which this year forced the Commission to take Malta to the European Court, the Commission states that it seems unlikely that Malta will meet its target of halting the decline in biodiversity by 2010.

“As part of Natura 2000 network, by the end of 2007 Malta had proposed 12 Special Protection Areas (SPA) and 27 Sites of Community Importance (SCI) covering respectively 4.5 per cent and 12.6 per cent of its area. The present coverage of SPAs in particular is insufficient and the European Commission has launched legal proceedings to require further sites to be designated.”

The same criticism applies to waste issues, particularly the need of recycling and reducing waste production.

The report states that in 2006, Malta produced an average of 652 kilos of municipal waste per capita, way above the EU average. “Malta performs badly in terms of municipal waste recycling: 86 per cent was landfilled (more than double of EU average) with only 13 per cent recycled or composted. Significant efforts need to be undertaken in order to change the situation and allow the country to comply with the targets of the Packaging Directive, the Landfill Directive and the requirements of the revised Waste Framework Directive.”

Malta has never reported data on the recycling rate of packaging waste and the European Commission has launched an infringement procedure for not respecting this mandatory reporting.

The EU executive said that all of these problems are accentuated by the fact that Malta is the highest breaker of EU environmental rules when compared to its new counterparts.