A look inside Malta's new, national environment policy

For the first time ever, Malta will be endowed with policy linking various aspects of environmental protection - but to what extent will it redress the environmental deficit?

The National Environmental Policy sets clear timeframes for the implementation of some 200 measures aimed at addressing Malta’s various environmental challenges.

But the most ambitious measures contemplated – like the commitment to create more than 2,000 new green jobs or ensure that 50% of government tenders are awarded according to EU green procurement standards by 2015 – go beyond the timeframe of this legislature.

Some of the measures contemplate new plans, strategies and policies on various issues ranging from aquaculture to vacant properties.

A system of investigative air quality monitoring to address complex air quality issues such as the ‘black dust’ saga which dates back to the 1990s, will be put in place by 2013. 

The document also fails to mention controversial issues like the proposed incinerator at Marsaxlokk, an issue which will be probably tackled in the revision of the Waste Management Plan which according to the NEP has to be conducted a year after the next general election. 

And surprisingly the controversial Delimara power station extension is also listed among the 200 measures implementing the plan.

Better late than never

Some of the measures contemplated in the plan are long overdue. For example, the plan sets a 2011 deadline for the approval of a policy on tall buildings, despite the fact that MEPA has already approved a number of these buildings including an 11-floor development at Mistra.

The commitment that no development will be allowed in ODZs, except in cases where it cannot be located in development zones, might be worth reminding but this principle has been part of the structure plan since 1992 structure plan. More significantly the policy commits the government not to extend development zones till 2020.

The long-standing problem of water scarcity is mentioned but addressed through the implementation of a water policy, which has yet to be approved and which is unclear on the controversial issue of giving ground water a price.

The scarcity of mineral resources, the subject of a MEPA subject plan dating back to 2002 is finally addressed through measures like factoring the environmental cost in the price of stone. Aadequate statistics on minerals extraction and stocks have to be in place by 2015.

Surprisingly no measure is contemplated to enact solar right legislations to ensure that neighboring development does not hinder access to the sun.

This problem was recently highlighted in a Malta Resources Authority report, which blamed planning policies permitting penthouses for limiting the use of photovoltaic.

Another problem raised by ramblers over the past decade is the right of passage through the countryside. The document promises a review of laws on the right of way in the countryside by 2016. A review of existing beach concession is also on the agenda for 2014. But the document fails to address the problem posed by squatters in areas like Armier.

Carrot and stick

When it comes to fiscal measures the document comes across as rather vague, giving leeway to the Finance Minister to devise the sticks and carrots required to make markets respond to environmental policy.

The plan states that by 2013 (election year) the government will ‘evaluate current subsidies and taxation policies and their impact on the environment and propose any necessary revisions.”

The only commitment taken by government is that such taxation will be revenue-neutral and won’t penalize vulnerable groups.  This commitment is important to ensure that eco-taxation serves the purpose of changing behavior rather than generate a new revenue stream for government.  But as often happens in fiscal matters the devil lies in the detail.

The Policy also calls on government to examine the reasons for the high levels of vacant property in the Maltese islands, and “propose related policy options and measures”.

While falling short of more radical proposals like taxing vacant property, the document does propose fiscal measures aimed at channeling the construction industry towards redevelopment and the rehabilitation of village cores.

One innovative aspect on the plan is its emphasis on directing Malta’s construction industry towards redevelopment and the rehabilitation of village cores.

The plan contemplates that by 2013 the government will present a basket of financial incentives to encourage the restoration of historical buildings, including scheduled buildings and those found within UCAs. Fiscal incentives will be considered to be given to owners of scheduled properties and those in certain areas within Urban Conservation Areas, to upgrade their properties.

The document also proposes the issue of emergency conservation orders to oblige owners to restore dilapidated facades.

Power station extension

Surprisingly the Delimara Power Station extension, which has to be completed by 2012, is also listed among the 200 measures contemplated in the NEP.

The plan refers to the fact that the Delimara Power Station has a conversion efficiency of 46%, which is double to the 23% efficiency rate at Marsa.

But the document fails to mention the new environmental problems created by the new power station, which will produce 27 tonnes of hazardous waste as a direct result of its use of heavy fuel oil instead of diesel.

One strange omission from the plan is the lack of any reference to the closure of the Marsa power station, which has already expired the number of hours allowed by the European Union.

The document speaks of the need for technical and feasibility studies to determine the most cost-effective way for Maltato be integrated into the European gas market.

But like the draft energy policy which has to be approved by the end of the year, it fails to give a target date for the changeover from Heavy Fuel Oil to gas.  

According to a cost benefit analysis conducted by experts the changeover to gas will cost EUR 272 million.

But the document does make some firm, albeit post-electoral commitments on energy conservation.

By 2018 all new public buildings will be near zero-energy use,a  criterion that will apply to all buildings by 2020.

Beyond EU requirements

As pointed out by the Green Party in its first reaction to the plan the document is mostly "a collation of the accumulated responsibilities” many of which emanate from EU membership.

But on several instances the document does go beyond the requirements of EU directives.

EU policy, and specifically the Environmental Noise Directive, covers environmental noise, i.e. the background noise in the general environment, rather than ‘neighbourhood’ noise from domestic and other sources, which is addressed at a national level under public health and police law.

The government is now committed to review noise legislation related to neighbourhood noise to assess scope for legal consolidation and the

introduction of objective noise standards by 2012.

For example: while EU directives simply address the noise pollution caused by cars and airports, the NEP seeks to address noise pollution within localities. And while EU air pollution directives mainly address air pollution from particulate matters, the plan seeks to address problems caused by dust. 

Another aspect not catered by EU directives is the need to improve and increase recreational areas and beaches-a measure which would alleviate pressures on ecologically sensitive areas.

In line with this policy government plans to develop five recreational parks by 2016. Smoking in places where children congregate will be banned by 2014.

At a Glance: Significant deadlines for measures contemplated in NEP

2011

- Eco-certification in MTAlicensing of hotels

- Prepare action plan on environmental noise

- Prepare policy on pesticides and herbicides

- Enact a planning policy on High Rise developments

- Set up cabinet committee on environment

2012

- Prepare a Green Economy Action Plan and Green Jobs strategy

- Review legislation on environmental noise

- Prepare strategy and planning policy on aquaculture

- Finalise National Energy Policy

- Extend Delimara Power station

- Full compliance with Energy performance directive on new buildings

- Set up Advisory Council on the Environment within OPM

2013

- Evaluate current subsidies and taxation policies

- Start Investigative Air quality monitoring

- Management plans for Natura 2000 sites

- Basket of financial measures to encourage rehabilitation of old buildings

2014

- Improve environmental performance of commercial vehicles

- Smoking restrictions in recreational parks

- Blue Flag status for at least 3 beaches

- Assess present beach concessions

- Update Waste Management Plan

2015

- Green job sector to increase by 50%

- 50% of government tenders to comply with EU’s criteria on green public procurement

- Ensure adequate statistics on mineral extraction

- Pilot project for management of marine protected area around Comino

- A rural tourism policy for Gozo

- Tax on sale of buildings to reflect energy performance

- Establish an Environmental Pollution Emergency Response Team

Post 2016

- Provide areas for family recreation in all five regions by 2016

- By 2018 all new public buildings (of specific dimensions and uses) will be near zero-energy use

- 10% share for renewable energy by 2020

- Zero energy use by all new buildings by 2020

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All this hot air, from politicians, should be enough to run the power station. But on reflection, all this hot air is full of shit so it is not quite environmentally friendly.
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What’s the point of having an environment policy when the government appointees on MEPA boards are given a free hand to disregard policies at will? This environment policy is just another expensive PR exercise; it’s just pure waste of time and energy. You’d have be an idiot to believe anything this Prime Minister proposes; look at what’s happened to the MEPA reform! Fundamental policies are disregarded daily. The PM has developed the art of empty words, fancy documents and false assurances to perfection.
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Let`s see if this government means buisness. Hondoq application will be in front of the Mepa board soon hopefully it should be refused
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The place above appears to be Ramla Bay from the Nadur site. What a beauty. You can have a all the policies and laws in place, but those who have money will always circumvent the law and Mepa and break the law. At the end its up to the people to fight developers and MEPA together. MEPA is a place full of cronism and tete with developers. The change always must come from the top. And the people must be forceful and vocal in fighting illegal development.
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So many environment policies, plans, surveys, strategies, actions plans, monitoring policies, etc, etc. All very nice and very, very expensive.......but when it comes to the nitty, gritty, it seems that certain ''gifted'' individuals always seem find there way around all this bureaucracy (with some hmmm.... inside information) and get away with the most blatant ''fouls''. Do i expect thing to really change.......frankly no. They say ''il passat mhux garanzija tal futur'' but i beg to differ.....