All current environmental problems relate to population increase in Malta

The State of the Environment Report 2018 shows significant improvement in land and marine biodiversities, air quality, and a decrease in environmental infringements but warns that increase of private car use and the creation of waste remain glaring threats

The increasing use of private cars is one of the current and future threats listed in the State of the Environment report
The increasing use of private cars is one of the current and future threats listed in the State of the Environment report

Malta is setting positive trends in the environmental sector but the problems it faces now and in the near future are associated with rapid population growth, according to the State of the Environment Report.

Tabled in Parliament recently, the report was drawn up by the Environment and Resources Authority and it covers seven years of data.

At a seminar on the report held on Tuesday in Għajn Tuffieħa, European Environment Agency expert Kees Schotten praised Malta for its strategy. "At the European level we want to do what Malta is already practicing, to go from a problem-oriented report to a solution-oriented report," he said.

Claire Cordina Borg, Unit Manager at ERA quoted statistics from 70 sets of indicators. "40% of species and 43% of habitats of community importance have a favourable conversation status," she said and mentioned how this was an improvement on previous years.

Marine quality

Very few contaminants were found in inland surface waters during the seven-year period, with 93% of all samples being of bathing water quality, she said.

The majority of natural coast water bodies are considered to be in a good ecological status, showing a generally low level of nutrients.

Mercury was the common contaminant detected in all sampling stations, usually due to naturally occurring background levels of mercury in the Mediterranean. 

Environmental health

The EU's Schools Indoor Pollution and Health Unit (SINPHONIE) observed how pupils within classrooms facing roads are facing an increased risk of exhaled carbon monoxide levels and facing increased incidents of recurrent wheezing.

In 2015, the stock of licensed motor vehicles reached almost 350,000 with an estimated 1.24 inhabitants per vehicle. "There continues to be an urgent need to make public transport alternatives a reliable and attractive alternative to private car use," the report said. 

A growing population is cause for a growing waste problem
A growing population is cause for a growing waste problem

Consumption and waste

In 2015, Malta's production of waste was at an all-time high and in a seven-year period produced 155,481 tonnes of waste. In 2015 alone, Malta produced 16,569 tonnes of hazardous waste.

This amount has increased over a short amount of time. The debilitating factor is the fact that Malta only recycles 7% of all its waste.

Malta also saw an all-time high in the consumption of billed electricity in 2015, owing to a significant increase in population. Between 2008 and 2015, billed electricity consumption increased from 1,665.2 to 2,032.9 gigawatt hours, an increase of 22.1%.

Land development

2008 was the year where most planning permits were approved for apartments, maisonettes, and terraced houses. The figure was close to 7,000.

In 2015, however, 35.6% of the permits were granted on virgin land. "The cumulative impact of development on the limited virgin land is cause for concern," the report said. 

The year 2015 also registered, however, the highest number of converted dwellings since 2000. The exemption of stamp duty for first time buyers could partly explain such an increase and points towards a positive reorientation of the construction sector towards rehabilitation.

In 2015, the percentage of total virgin land stood at 35.6%.

Surface sea temperatures have increased in line with the Mediterranean's warming trend
Surface sea temperatures have increased in line with the Mediterranean's warming trend

Climate Change

According to the report, Malta's number of infringements had decreased considerably since 2009 with only two active infringements in 2015.

As of 2016, 3,481 jobs were all related to the green economy, making up nearly 2% of total employment.

Despite these efforts, a stronger warming trend of +0.38°C per decade was observed for the annual mean minimum temperature. Warmer nights are becoming increasingly common.

Even surface temperatures of Maltese waters are increasing by +0.35°C per decade. "The presence of alien marine species has also been mainly attributed to the general warming trend of the Mediterranean," the report said.

Over the period 1981-2015, the total yearly precipitation showed a negative trend with a rate of decline of -6.3mm per decade.

Despite the general consensus being that this was a positive report evincing positive trends, the report also showed that Malta continues to suffer the effects of the exacerbation of environmental health due to increased cars on the road, the creation of unsustainable amounts of waste and the loss of virgin land due to an expanding and needy demographic.

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