The Environment Directorate within the Malta Environment and Planning Authority has just launched its latest report on the state of Malta’s environment. The Environment Report highlights the situation in a number of environmental areas including air, waters, climate change, biodiversity and policy responses to environmental issues.
Results published in the report show that Malta has managed to achieve positive results in a number of key areas. For example, The Environment Report shows that an impressive 99 per cent of bathing sites around Malta and Gozo conform to the EU’s bathing water standards (as outlined in the EU Bathing Water Directive). This is a particularly positive result, considering the socio-economic importance that bathing enjoys as a popular activity amongst locals and tourists alike.
The report also takes the relationship between the economy and the environment into consideration, showing that, the overall trend since 2000 has been towards a relative decoupling of energy consumption from economic activity, indicating that Malta’s economy is becoming more energy efficient. There has also been an increase in material efficiency.
Initial estimates show that Malta’s domestic material consumption - which measures the quantity of material consumed by the national economy - declined between 2004 and 2006, indicating increased efficiency in the use of materials used for economic activities.
More encouraging trends relating to the conservation of Malta’s biodiversity are also presented in the report. Malta currently has over 40 Special Areas of Conservation (SACs); the terrestrial SACs cover over 13 per cent of Malta and Gozo’s land area, while the two marine sites cover 11 square kilometres of the Islands’ territorial waters. Furthermore, by end 2008 Malta also had 73 designated Areas of Ecological Importance and/or Sites of Scientific Importance scheduled under the Development Planning Act.
However, while the results in a number of areas are certainly encouraging, the report also highlights a number of issues that need further attention. It delves into a number of key environmental challenges in areas such as waste management, further protection of Malta’s biodiversity, water management, the control of traffic emissions, as well as the ongoing pressures on land.
In this respect, The Environment Report reveals that while Malta’s population has largely met its basic material needs, the population continues to place unsustainable demands on the environment in certain areas, putting strains on natural resources and processes.
With regards to air quality, the report states that the most significant air pollutants are particulates and ozone, the concentrations of which exceed EU standards in certain areas.
During the press conference organised to launch the report, Mr. Austin Walker, MEPA Chairman, explained that “there is a need for environmental stewardship across the board. We all need to take ownership of the environmental situation. This amongst other things translates into more effective integration and co-ordination amongst responsible entities.”
With regards to climate change, The Environment Report highlights the need to sustain efforts towards decoupling of economic activity from greenhouse gas emissions. It states that it is important to initiate both supply-side measures, such as investing in a range of cleaner and more efficient energy technologies, as well as demand management measures.
The report also highlights that there is significant potential for improving the overall efficiency of land use in the Maltese Islands, particularly given current over-supply in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors. The potential of using incentives to achieve this merits investigation.
The Report states that in order to reduce wastage and raise efficiency levels of water use, improved water demand management is required. In particular, water pricing needs to be extended to private water supplies, in order to improve demand management over the whole spectrum of water use, with the wider sustainability goals in mind.
Waste generation and its management were also dealt with in detail. The Report highlights that Malta will need to continue to invest mainly in its regulatory and operational infrastructure, on the basis of new policy instruments, programmes and actions, and to allocate sufficient resources for implementation.
The Report concludes by stating that while Malta has already made significant progress in upgrading its environmental policy capacity, its institutional capacity still needs to improve in terms of human resources and funding, as well as public and private sector investments to upgrade operations and infrastructure.
In his address, Parliamentary Secretary Dr. de Marco stressed that ‘the environment is a crucial contributor to the Maltese economy’. He added that it is important to understand that this activity in the environmental field is an opportunity to reap economic benefits: ETC research shows that green jobs contribute to approximately two percent of GDP and between 2.5 and 3 percent of Malta’s employment, and principally in the area of waste management. He stated that ‘if Malta can make itself more efficient and greener, this should help its economic development too.’
Dr de Marco added that that ‘through the MEPA reform government has shown that the environment is a major priority. Government, has not only changed and updated the old legislation pertaining to the environment but has also started the process of establishing a national environmental policy within the next 18 months to have a holistic framework enabling Malta to go a step further than just adopting EU directives. Government has also committed to further strengthen the Environment protection directorate within MEPA with another 45 new employees - nearly a 50 percent increase - to make it more effective and increase cooperation with the planning entity.”
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