Better environment proposals - Michael Briguglio
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Better environment proposals - Michael Briguglio

Malta’s EU membership was beneficial to various aspects of environmental policy, yet our country remains a European laggard in so many environmental aspects. These include quality of air, waste management and usage of renewable energy.

Though Prime Minister Joseph Muscat promised to do away with the ‘cancer factory’ power station, air quality has deteriorated, mainly due to the increase in private cars and an unsustainable transport policy. Waste management seems to be driven by crisis management rather than long-term vision, and despite some small improvements, Magħtab is back to the bad old days of stenches. 

The government also has clearly not been forward-looking with regard to construction and demolition waste, which amounts to 85 per cent of Malta’s waste volume. While most of this is recycled and re-used in other EU member states, the government still lacks a coherent sustainable plan for Malta. 

Usage of renewable energy has increased slightly, but Malta is still below its 2020 targets and the country is dependent on gas from Azerbaijan, which is costlier than other options on the table. 

Personally, I have been active in the environmental field since the 1990s. As an activist I formed part of successful campaigns against overdevelopment from Tal-Virtu’ in Rabat to Qui-Si-Sana in Sliema. As an academic, most of my sociological research, including my doctorate, has been on environmental politics and policy with particular focus on Malta’s EU accession. 

As a politician and local councillor I was never for sale and I am on the side of residents in their daily struggles for a better quality of life. I am also involved in the Nationalist Party’s policy updates on the environment.

As part of my MEP campaign I am presenting a series of proposals in all sectors under EU competence which can be of benefit to Malta as an EU member state. 

As regards the environment, my main proposals are as follows:

I believe that small islands should have special clauses to protect the environment. For example, environment impact assessments (including social impact and traffic impact assessments) should also be applicable to small-scale development with cumulative impacts on localities.

This would be applicable in localities where neighbourhoods are witnessing rapid change via small-scale development which has big impacts, for example on parking, traffic congestion, skylines and streetscapes. Such development proposals should be properly assessed before being approved.

I also believe that Malta requires better monitoring of environmental standards so as to ensure a better application of EU directives. Concurrently, there should be increased efforts for EU funds to reduce pollution and to finance clean-ups and waste management.

Malta requires better monitoring of environmental standards so as to ensure a better application of EU directives

I also support efforts to ban the highly damaging single-use plastics: this requires thorough consultation to ensure that businesses and workers in the sector can shift to sustainable operations, creating green jobs in the process.

Small islands such as Gozo and Malta also stand to benefit if the EU introduces standards for the protection of trees and public spaces. This would enable residents, civil society and local councils to have further authority to protect their natural and public heritage.

As regards research and innovation, one should note that Malta is once again a European laggard. More national and European funds are required, for example in areas such as energy efficiency, energy conservation and the creation of green jobs. 

Suffice to note that Gozo has just missed an opportunity to join 26 other islands in the transition for clean energy with the support of the European Commission’s Clean Energy for EU Islands Secretariat. This was very disappointing: we should ensure that Malta applies for such funds.

It is also imperative to note that businesses interested in green transitions and the respective generation of green jobs require specific assistance and conditions given Malta’s reality as a small island. 

Once again, this requires determination and also the will to speak up for small island conditions which may be different to those of larger countries. It would also be helpful to have funding structures that enhance micro-investment for smaller initiatives in renewable and clean energy, thus making life easier for interested individuals, groups and local councils.

Michael Briguglio is a sociologist and Nationalist Party candidate for the European Parliament elections.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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