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Malta and the environment: current initiatives

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The Maltese environment is not exactly pristine (to put it mildly), with rampant urbanisation, pollution and uncontrolled dumping of litter among the current prevalent environmental issues. For this reason, it is very easy to obtain the impression that nothing is being done to alleviate these concerns. However, whether or not you are aware of them, several environmental initiatives have been proposed, be they still in the planning stage or are already being implemented.

A recommendation has been made by the Commissioner for the Environment and Planning, David Pace, which involves the undertaking of a “marine subject plan”, in order to assess and regulate development of the coastal zone. This has been welcomed by Maltese NGO Din l-Art Helwa, which reminded the current governmental administration that the 2012 Environmental Policy did in fact include a Maritime Spatial Plan. Incidentally, the government still has not replied to the Commissioner’s recommendation.

The government has decided that no changes will be made to the National Energy Policy, which is sorely needed to rapidly implement the administration’s baby – the Delimara power plant project. This decision has been taken mainly because it requires a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), which would involve months of public consultation. In addition, SEA is not being carried out for land reclamation purposes, unless it decides to accept David Pace’s suggestion of the marine subject plan mentioned above.

Recent concerns have included the issue of sulfur dioxide contamination in the areas surrounding the Marsascala recycling plant. The Ministry for Sustainable Development released a statement on this issue, reassuring that air quality assessment is in fact being carried out, by means of a mobile air monitoring station that is being utilised by the Malta Environment and Planning Authority (MEPA). Incidentally, the two main functions of MEPA – Environment and Planning – are to be split as a response to reports that the two bodies often contradict each other.

With regards to EU-related schemes, the Calypso project, funded by the EU, is coordinated by Prof. Aldo Drago of the Physical Oceanography Unit at the University of Malta. Its main aim is the development of an HF radar observing systems, which has the ability to monitor the coastal areas of the Maltese Islands – this includes the tracking of oil spills off Malta’s coast.

Last July, the EU approved a project submitted by the University of Malta, which has been called “LifeMedGreenRoof”, which involves the construction of two green roofs on campus. The main aim of this initiative is to show that green roof technology is safe. The term “green roof” refers to building roofs covered completely or partially with vegetation, which serve to reduce flooding and absorb rainwater, increase biodiversity, provide insulation and lower energy consumption urban air temperatures. Another Maltese EU-approved project was MEPA’s ‘LIFE Bahar for N2K’, the aim of which is to ‘identify and designate new marine Natura 2000 sites and expand existing sites containing marine habitats’.

The LIFE programme is the EU’s sole endeavour whose focus is strictly the environment – namely policy and legislation. It was launched in 1992, and as can be seen above, is responsible for the launching of several environmental initiatives in the Maltese Islands.

In the 2014 budget, government introduced the Wild Birds Regulation Unit and a sponsorship for the UN Environment Programme / Mediterranean Action Plan (UNEP/MAP) meetings, and updated the National Sustainable Development Strategy and Waste Management Plan. Government has also stated that a budget will be provided to a new Environment Upgrade Campaign, and has turned its sights on rendering public buildings self-sustainable.

One only hopes that the “new” government continues to build on these encouraging projects, and take into consideration the long-term benefits of environmental sustainability, as opposed to taking the usual Maltese tradition of “developing” every piece of non-urbanised land.

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