Waste, climate and shale challenges

Malta argued that a long term and sustainable vision for waste management and in particular recycling is necessary, particularly for a small country of its size

Three areas which definitely pose major challenges to the environmental scene these days are undoubtedly the waste, climate and shale gas sectors.

On waste policy the European Commission released a legislative package last July as part of a proposal on the Circular Economy with a view to paving the way for transforming Europe’s economy into a modern, performing, resource efficient and resilient economy. The Commission’s impact assessment on the process has shown that this will create some 180,000 new jobs and save some 447 MT CO2 equivalent by 2030.

This topic took up much time of our recent ministerial meeting in Luxembourg with a number of contrasting views that even led to articles appearing in the international media under such banner titles as Ministers battle over waste targets.

In fact the debate was a very sober but realistic one in which we ministers gave our views on the proposed legislation. The debate was based on three questions posed by the Italian presidency.

In summary these ran as follows:

• Do ministers consider the proposal’s overall level of ambition appropriate? In particular, do ministers believe that the proposed approach strikes the right balance between setting a long term vision for recycling and taking sufficiently into account national circumstances and current performance levels?

• Do ministers see the need to further develop any of the proposed measures (e.g. early warning systems, minimum requirements etc.) and if so, which ones do ministers believe need further acceptance?

• Thirdly, do ministers consider waste prevention and reuse issues to be adequately taken into consideration in the Commission proposal?

The outgoing Commissioner explained that the waste proposal is intended to move towards zero waste. He argued that there is no economic sense in burying or burning waste when it has value. In the proposal, there are measures and not just targets, which were agreed in the 7th EAP. These include reducing the amount of waste, maximum recycling and reuse, limiting the incineration to non recyclables and phasing out landfill of recyclable waste.

The fact that six member states have phased out landfill of municipal waste and several regions are at the 70% recycle target of 2030 was not enough to put minds at rest and win a consensual approach. Neither was the ‘reassurance’ that the Commission has taken the differences in progress into account and that the time needed matches the average.

On its part Malta argued that a long term and sustainable vision for waste management and in particular recycling is necessary, particularly for a small country of its size, with the territorial and geographical challenges inherent in our status as both the smallest member state and an island. In this context we support the objectives laid down in the Seventh Environment Action Programme, in particular the need to turn the EU into a resource efficient, green and competitive, low carbon economy and it is with such a vision that Malta is currently implementing its National Waste Management Plan, in order to achieve sustainable and lasting results through a resource management approach.

We made the point that we considered the EU proposal to be somewhat lacking with regard to waste prevention and reuse issues, given the more evident focus being placed on recycling. Having said that, we do believe that it may be somewhat too early to set further waste prevention and reuse provisions as some member states have only recently adopted national waste prevention programmes. In this context, we argued that prevention and reuse issues should be addressed following the implementation of the current waste prevention programmes.

On climate it gave us much satisfaction to back a Swedish proposal which won unanimous consent in the sense that we underlined the increasing evidence that actions to cut greenhouse gas emissions can also improve economic performance, spur investment, create jobs and have positive co-benefits in areas such as health and energy security in all types of economies. It was equally reassuring that in the conclusions of the European Council of the 23rd-24th October on the EU’s 2030 climate and energy policy framework, in particular the endorsement of a binding domestic emission reduction target of at least 40% by 2030 compared to 1990, we also confirmed that the EU and its member states undertook to communicate their intended nationally determined contribution to the 2015 agreement by the first quarter of 2015 in accordance with the timeline agreed at the Warsaw Conference last year. We also urged all other parties, in particular major economies, to communicate their intended nationally determined contributions by the first quarter of 2015 in a manner that facilitates transparency and clarity.

On shale gas, while many thought that the surge, particularly in the USA, would offer much stronger energy security, the same way that the EU climate and energy package did, one cannot dismiss too lightly the recent discovery that Russia has the largest reserves of shale oil in the world even though sanctions will and are stalling such projects with a number of international service groups backing away from the country. No wonder analysts are arguing that at present Russia’s oil industry was facing a creeping crisis of existential proportions.

On the other hand without the development of new resources – from the frozen Arctic in the far north to Siberian shale deposits – Russian oil production would soon fall dramatically.

What is not being excluded is a much talked about option of Russia considering the creation of a state owned oil services company to replace western companies. Particularly given the importance of its oil sector.

Meanwhile uncertainties on shale from a purely environmental angle continue to prevail.

Exciting times indeed and definitely nothing that can be taken for granted seems to be looming on the horizon.

What the net results will be may prove to be a totally different matter altogether.