Maltatoday, 20 July 2008
At the summit of the Mediterranean Union in Paris last weekend, the Prime Minister spoke about climate change and rightly noted that Malta was among the first to put this topic on the agenda of an international forum. Nobody mentioned that we are falling among the last when it comes to doing anything tangible about it.
The forum that the Prime Minister was referring to was the United Nations General Assembly, where Malta played a role in the discussion that launched the Convention on Climate Change around 20 years ago.
This participation in the UN convention was also mentioned by the Minister for Resources and Rural Affairs last week, at an informative seminar on climate change organised by AZAD. In his speech, Minister George Pullicino described the improved collection system and treatment of waste, as well as increased energy efficiency at our reverse osmosis plants, as some of Malta’s achievements on this front. Both these initiatives are to be commended.
The rest of the speech consisted largely of plans for the future – the planned generation of energy from wind, sun or waste, for instance, or planned improvements in the energy efficiency of buildings or in the production of bio-fuel from waste oil. All still lie in the future, although in the past we were apparently the first to mention the importance of climate change as a common concern for humanity, 20 years ago.
Today Malta creates less than 1% of its energy from renewable sources, and we are still far from achieving the 10% targeted for 2020, or the required reduction in carbon emissions. Only last month it was noted in an EU report on the environment that greenhouse gas emissions in Malta have registered an increase instead of a decrease, due to higher energy demand. Our pre-budget document states that, according to the latest figures, energy efficiency in the manufacturing sector has worsened.
Even if there were no EU targets to follow, Malta’s present energy system, with its resulting pollution, is unsustainable.
In 2002 the government had set up a National Commission for Sustainable Development, which included a wide representation of persons from government, public bodies, academic and scientific bodies, and civil society. In 2006 it produced a Sustainable Development Strategy for 2007-2016, which includes many recommendations linked to environmental challenges. How many of these recommendations have been taken up?
The Today Public Policy Institute has just published a report “Towards a Low Carbon Society”, with numerous good recommendations and analysis of this subject. In recent weeks, the government has appointed a new committee on climate change, tasked with formulating a strategy to achieve the necessary EU targets, and to put forward yet more recommendations.
A Eurobarometer survey published in March 2008 shows clearly that over recent years, environmental issues, including pollution but also the protection of beautiful natural landscapes, have become widespread matters of concern among the general public throughout Europe – and Malta is no exception here. We all realise that the sustainability of land use, and our quality of life together with the tourism product, are under threat if our environment is not safeguarded.
According to this survey, 84% of Maltese citizens said that protecting the environment was ‘very important’ to them. The government would do well to take this into account. Sustainable development targets depend on the active participation of civil society for their successful implementation.
So far the Maltese authorities show little concern for the wider picture. For example, issues such as density, traffic generation and the effect on surrounding viewpoints are regrettably not given enough importance when planning decisions are made, in which the wider context of individual sites is often ignored.
The massive quantity of property development that we are witnessing is also very energy intensive, and new buildings must put in place measures to help conserve energy. These are all important aspects of the environment in which we live – and our quality of life.
On a positive note, wind energy production is now coming under serious discussion, and the government has announced that new schemes to promote the domestic use of solar water heaters and photovoltaic panels are to be launched soon, using 2007-2013 structural funds. Among other initiatives, it also intends recruiting ‘energy efficiency officers’, who will be available to help people improve energy efficiency in their homes, conducted through home visits and energy audits, and an information campaign.
Apart from the obvious environmental reasons, the rising price of oil has provided another urgent incentive to move away from our dependency on fossil fuels and to focus on energy diversity. We expect the government to finally come up with some effective action as quickly as possible. Recommendations and talk are no longer enough.
Dr Petra Bianchi is Director of Din l-Art Helwa