PN seeks wider mandate for environment committee

MPs in environment committee can only convene under specific subject-matters as Opposition demands wider remit

PN Whip Robert Cutajar wants parliament’s environment committee  to have a wider remit
PN Whip Robert Cutajar wants parliament’s environment committee to have a wider remit

The Nationalist Party is requesting changes to the parliamentary rules governing the parliamentary committee for the environment, citing an inadequate framework for the MPs to debate matters of urgency such as the climate crisis.

Opposition Whip Robert Cutajar said the PN had made various appeals to widen the committee’s remit.

“This committee so far has practically only debated changes in local plans,” Cutajar said in a justification for a motion to enable the committee to debate all subjects falling under planning, environmental and climate change matters.

The committee met 32 times in the last legislature, and 39 in the 2013-2017 legislature when its chairmanship was held by the then-Labour MP Marlene Farrugia – Farrugia had used the powers of the committee to invite NGO representatives to testify before the committee over the siting of the American University of Malta in Żonqor.

Cutajar said the PN’s motion would free the committee from being regulated by current laws, and instead recognised under Standing Orders just as for most existing parliamentary committees.

Unlike other committees, the standing committee on the environment and climate is governed by three pieces of legislation, namely the Environment, Development Planning, and Climate Action Acts.

Each law refers to the committee in specific matters: the Development Planning Act, which sets up the House committee for the environment, states that MPs can discuss matters referred to it in terms of the Environment Protection Act and the Climate Action Act. In turn, these limit the discussions to changes in the PA’s local plans, and annual low-carbon and climate adaptation targets, and the draft Spatial Strategy.

The Environment Protection Act says that the committee can discuss local plans referred to the House, as well as the National Strategy for the Environment and the State of the Environment Report; and then any other document the environment minister “may deem necessary”.

On its part, the Climate Action Act obliges the minister responsible to table – once every five years at the least – Malta’s national low-carbon development strategy and national adaptation strategy, as well as report on an annual basis Malta’s progress in meeting those targets, referring the documents to the committee.

“To us it is unacceptable that such important issues, whose impact is directly on the people’s quality of life, cannot be discussed. The government seems comfortable in this business-as-usual situation so that certain issues do not feature more regularly in the House,” Cutajar told MaltaToday.

So far, the environment committee, chaired by Labour MP Deo Debattista, has met three times since the 2022 election, to discuss standalone crematoria and the PA’s proposals to declassify certain public domain sites.

In the last legislature, the PN proposed the creation of a parliamentary committee for climate emergency to scrutinise national binding targets for air quality and emissions reductions.

The Maltese government had announced in July it would be setting up a new authority to monitor the impact of climate change and coordinate actions to mitigate its effects. The announcement came in the wake of an emergency meeting of the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development after a week-long series of severe power cuts at the height of a summer heatwave.

Energy minister Miriam Dalli said that following a Bill regulating the creation of such an agency, the authority’s main objective will be to carry out a monitoring of the impact of different activities on climate change, and to present proposals on the actions that the country needs to take to address the global crisis.