We need a Carbon Budget

Searching for the word “climate” through the 2021 Pre-Budget document published earlier this week entitled Towards a Sustainable Economy one finds the word three times: twice referring to the United Nations Agenda which has to be addressed by Malta as a prospective UN Security Council member, while a third reference is to policy documents under preparation in Malta. The word climate in the pre-budget document is not associated with any climate change policy implementation or action and its impact on the Maltese economy.

It is already five years since the Paris Climate Summit and its conclusions are still being “studied” in Malta. If we keep on procrastinating, achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 will be very difficult to attain.

When Parliament approved the Climate Action Act in 2015 it identified that one of the tools to be used in the politics of climate change was the formulation of a Low Carbon Development Strategy. Consultation on a Vision to develop such a strategy was carried out in 2017, but three years down the line the final policy document is nowhere in sight, even though the Minister for Climate Change Aaron Farrugia has indicated that it may be concluded towards the end of this year. 

A Low Carbon Development Strategy will identify those sectors which are of considerable relevance in developing a low carbon strategy. Some of them are major carbon emission contributors to be addressed. Other sectors are part of the solution as they provide alternative tools which serve to decouple the economy from intensive energy use, in the process reducing carbon emissions.

The Vision which was subject to public consultation three years ago identifies a number of sectors as areas for climate action, namely: enterprise, energy, transport, waste, water, agriculture, tourism, information and communication technologies (ICT) and finance.

The Low Carbon Development Strategy, when published, should address these areas of action. It would also be expected that such a strategy would also identify the manner in which we will be in a position to achieve our target of carbon neutrality. Such a strategy would also, for completeness be expected to be coupled with a carbon budget which would break down the general target into specific manageable objectives which could be achieved over a specific and reasonable timeframe.

At the Paris Climate Summit, together with all other countries, Malta made pledges to take action in order to lay the foundations for reducing climate impacts. If all the pledges made at Paris are honoured, however, we will still be very far off from achieving the target of not exceeding a two-degree Celsius temperature rise. Much more is required.

Unfortunately, Malta’s climate related policies are double faced. On one hand the Malta government publicly pledges action to address climate change. Simultaneously, however, it proceeds with massive road infrastructural projects which encourage more cars on our roads. On the other hand, plans for the electrification of our roads are apparently subject to an elephantine gestation period. In the meantime, car emissions compete with power generation emissions as Malta’s major contributor to climate change.

It is unfortunate that the Low Carbon Development Strategy and the associated Carbon Budget are taking too long to be formulated. It will take much longer to implement them as special interest groups will undoubtedly seek to protect their specific areas to the detriment of attaining our carbon-neutral objective.  

Malta should be at the forefront of climate change action. Parliament’s declaration recognising the existence of a climate emergency is not enough. Words must give way to action. As an island, Malta should be aware that a primary climate change challenge in the years to come will be a rising sea level as a result of which the coastline may recede inwards at a rate so far unknown. The coast, we may remember, is home to most of our maritime and tourism infrastructural facilities, all of which are under threat. Even residential areas close to the sea level will be impacted. This would include all sandy beaches and the residential/commercial areas at l-Għadira, Xemxija, Salini, Gzira, Msida, Sliema, Ta’ Xbiex, Pietà, Marsa, Marsaxlokk, Marsaskala, Birzebbuga, Xlendi, and Marsalforn. Impacts could also move towards inland low-lying areas such as Qormi.

If we take too long to bring our own house in order, it may be too late.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 13 September 2020

Sustainable Localities & Regionalisation

published on 21 June 2008


by Carmel Cacopardo


To what extent are our localities sustainable ? This issue was brought up in pre-budget public discussions organised by the Ministry of Finance. The idea was floated as to what extent is it desirable to attract business to non-traditional localities in view of the fact that in 2007 six localities (Valletta, Sliema, Birkirkara, Mosta, St Paul’s Bay and Victoria) attracted 30 per cent of the 56,811 enterprise units functioning within these shores.

It was stated that the benefits of spreading the enterprise units (existing and new ones) in non-traditional areas would include the reduction of travelling time between home and work. This may also, however, shift traffic congestion depending on the type of enterprise involved, the resulting intensity of activity and the localities affected. A need for infrastructural improvements could build up in the newly-identified areas relative to road network, supply of water and electrical power as well as waste disposal. Dependent on the type of enterprise attracted, the friction between competing land uses would also be brought closer to a larger number of residences, possibly squeezing out residents in the process.

The discussion as to what makes a locality sustainable is healthy as it focuses on the maxim “think global, act local”, signifying that, while environmental impacts are being felt at a global (or regional) level, they are, however, created at a local level where remedial action should be taken.

Localities in other countries address sustainability at a local level through implementing what is known as Local Agenda 21. As a result of the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 the United Nations approved a document entitled Agenda 21. A Blueprint For Action For Global Sustainable Development Into The 21st Century.

In this document the issues to be addressed in order to assist in the transition from the existing mess to a more sustainable state of affairs are explained in 40 sections, section 28 addressing the role of local authorities. It is stated that “Because so many of the problems and solutions being addressed by Agenda 21 have their roots in local activities, the participation and cooperation of local authorities will be a determining factor in fulfilling its objectives”.

The experience of local authorities in other countries provides many examples. It highlights the difficulty created by size and, consequently, points to the question as to whether in Malta we require another layer of democratic institutions, at regional level, to which a number of responsibilities could be devolved: some currently pertaining to the national government, others to local authorities. This would be in addition to local councils, complementing their functions and, thereby, reinforcing the devolution of public administration.

Regionalisation has already been referred to in the past months as one of the possible solutions to the management of waste on the island.

This argument cropped up when addressing the issue as to whether the Sant’Antnin recycling plant at Marsascala should process all the solid waste generated on the island or whether it should be one of a number still to be determined. Within that context the proposal was made that the management of waste should be regionalised thereby applying the proximity principle to waste management: that is managing the waste generated as close as possible to its source.

Regionalising waste management would create a more visible link between cause and effect, thereby contributing to a more effective management of waste in these islands. The regional authority would assume the role of the operator, with the central government taking on the role of the regulator.

Subsidiarity would also be given a realistic opportunity to succeed as the difficulties encountered by some local councils due to a lack of economies of scale could be effectively tackled in most if not in all cases.

A proposal for the identification of the regions is already indirectly available. This is contained in the seven Mepa Local Plans, namely: the Grand Harbour Region, the Southern Region, the Central Region, the North West Region, the North Harbour Region, the Marsaxlokk Bay Region, Gozo and Comino.

Regional government could devolve responsibility for agriculture, education, land use planning (local plan implementation), projects of a regional importance, the administration of regional sports complexes, regional health centres, inter- and intra-regional transport and social security from national government. Local government could shed responsibility for waste management, the cleaning of non urban areas and the maintenance and management of beaches, which could be a regional responsibility.

The sustainability of our localities is intrinsically linked to their further democratisation. Creating an additional democratic layer and assigning specific responsibilities thereto would help in the amelioration of the running of this country. It would increase accountability as well as ensure more value for the taxpayer’s money.