Environmental credentials

For the first time we have an autonomous Authority to focus on environmental protection. The environment is no longer subservient to development within the same authority; it has been put on equal footing.

This Government is being hit hard over its environmental credentials. I am sure this is happening for the wrong reasons. Looking at what has been said and written; one would think that this Government set out on a mission to push for economic growth at the expense of the environment. But how true is this? Is our environment really going astray? Is this vital sector being neglected? Or, could this be another carefully devised plot by the Opposition to obfuscate what is really happening? I believe these are legitimate questions, which might best be answered by taking a closer look at what appears to have gone unnoticed.

The old Marsa power station was closed in March 2015, a milestone that was considered impossible only a few years before.  This was part of the Government’s plan to transform our energy sector from one dependent on inefficient and pollutant heavy fuel oil-fired generators to ones using much cleaner and more efficient natural gas.

June 2015 saw the government launching a photo-voltaic panel funding scheme.  This scheme, which is the first under the EU’s 2014-2020 financial framework, commits €15 million in EU funding that could benefit up to 7,000 families. Moreover, the Government is committed to allocate the sum of €200 million of EU funds to projects that will strengthen the environment.  These funds will be directed towards waste management, treatment and conservation of water, conservation of valleys as well as schemes for the generation of clean energy.

In August 2015 the government rolled out a renewable energy road map, setting out the strategy of how to achieve 10% of our total energy needs form clean sources by 2020. This plan puts greater reliance on solar energy, with photovoltaic systems taking centre stage, while other sources will include waste-to-energy and bio-fuels. In total, €34 million of EU funds are being allocated to renewable energy.

Wasteserv has inaugurated three new projects in the space of a few months.  In December 2015 it opened the Waste Transfer and Materials Recovery Facility in Tal-Kus, Gozo.  The €10 million facility, which is a first for Gozo, sorts and stores waste before it is transferred to Malta.  The plant will annually diminish 900 kilograms of CO2 emissions, as well as save 15,000 cubic meters of landfill volume yearly.  Next was a €12 million autoclave, for disposing of animal-related waste, inaugurated in January. This equipment reduces Wasteserv dependency on the Marsa incinerator and cuts down on pollution and bad smells.  Then in February a new Mechanical and Biological Treatment plant was launched. The plant is able to treat 66,000 tonnes of mixed household solid waste, 47,000 tonnes of bulky waste and 39,000 tonnes of animal manure. It is also expected to convert organic waste into compost, drastically reducing the amount of waste going into landfills. 

A water polishing plant at Ta’ Barkat in Xghajra is to be completed later in the year.  The water currently produced by the sewage plant is of little use because of its high salinity.  The new plant will turn 12,000 cubic metres of treated sewage into 9,600 cubic metres of high quality water.  Some of this newly treated water will be used for agriculture, thus reducing pressures on our water table.

The Environment and Resources Authority has finally been set up. For the first time we have an autonomous Authority to focus on environmental protection. The environment is no longer subservient to development within the same authority; it has been put on equal footing. Long overdue policies have been introduced to protect Outside Development Zones (ODZ) from inconsiderate development. For instance, the Rural Policy will assist the agricultural industry and seek to better reflect the existing and genuine needs of farmers. The new policy document clearly states that any proposed development having a negative impact on the conservation value of any scheduled or protected areas will be refused.

One would not be too surprised to see all these efforts being recognised by International Institutions. In fact the 2016 Environmental Performance Index, which ranks countries‘ performance on high-priority environmental issues, published by researchers from Yale and Columbia Universities together with the World Economic Forum, classified Malta in ninth place of 180 countries. According to the index, Malta excels in water and sanitation, air quality, biodiversity and the natural environment.

New Eurostat figures show that Malta’s carbon dioxide emissions fell by more than a quarter in 2015, the largest decline across the EU. The 27% decrease can be largely attributed to the closure of the Marsa power station.

I doubt that anybody believes that Joseph Muscat has in some way influenced Yale or Columbia Universities, or got Eurostat to play his trumpet. This government may be continuously attacked over the environment, but if I had to choose between the Opposition, or International Institutions who have come up with solid evidence, I know who I would believe. For me actions speak loader than words.

Alex Muscat