Government at odds with Opposition over climate change emergency motion

Government MPs insist climate change emergency was already declared in 2015 with Climate Action Act

The government and Opposition have failed to see eye-to-eye on a motion to declare climate change a national emergency
The government and Opposition have failed to see eye-to-eye on a motion to declare climate change a national emergency

The government and Opposition have failed to agree on a motion which seeks to have climate changed declared as a national emergency, with the government presenting a number of amendments to it.

The motion, tabled in Parliament today by Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi, proposes the setting up of a parliamentary committee responsible for overseeing action on climate change and which would have the power to nominate a superintendent for the climate change emergency.

Government MPs, however, shot down several aspects of the motion, and insisted that a 2015 law - the Climate Action Act - had already created the framework necessary to address the climate change challenge. Moreover, government MPs said, Malta already had a climate action board and a climate change ambassador, Professor Simone Borg.

Parliament will be voting on the amended motion next week.

The Opposition, saying it was surprised that the government could not bring itself to support a motion which was for the benefit of Malta, said that the 2015 law in questioned made no mention of a climate change emergency.

Government MPs, including Byron Camilleri, EU Affairs minister Edward Zammit Lewis, however, insisted that the Opposition had completely failed to take note of the law in their motion, which they said was replete with mistakes, including scientific errors.

“Just four years ago, Parliament approved a law which was seconded by the Opposition in the second reading. The Opposition’s motion makes no reference to this law - Chapter 543, the Climate Action Act,” Camilleri said.

“The motion makes it seem like we didn’t already have this framework as a basis. I am morally convinced that those who drew up the motion made no reference to it not because of an oversight, but because they didn’t carry out appropriate research and didn’t even know about the law,” he said.

“The Opposition expects to tell the scientists on the climate action board that they know more than they do. [The Opposition] knows we are one of the few European countries to have a climate change ambassador - Professor Simone Borg. We already have a committee, a chairperson, a vice chair, and with representatives from environmental NGOs, from the university, from the Chamber of Commerce and from other ministries,” he emphasised.

“The Opposition wants to create a committee which is almost identical to the existing climate action board."

Zammit Lewis said the motion made certain basic mistakes, and underscored that what was needed now was action in the form of commitments, not another committee.

“The motion contains non-sequiturs.  And it confuses clean air and climate change, for example,” Zammit Lewis said, as he acknowledged that the government was worried about climate change, and that young people were right in saying that previous and current world leaders hadn’t done enough to address the problem.

Zammit Lewis, however, said one had to examine the issue within a context where 12 countries in the world - including the US - were behind most of the climate change problem.

He said that Malta still had to do its part, and was part of the EU commitment to become carbon neutral by 2050.

Zammit Lewis also remarked that, while Azzopardi was now bringing a climate change motion forward, he had previously been part of a government which had approved the use of heavy fuel oil.

“[Environment Minister Jose Herrera] will put in place commitments, not another permanent parliamentary committee. We don’t need another committee,” Zammit Lewis added.

The Opposition, reacting to these comments, said it was shocked at the government’s approach to the motion, especially due to the fact that a number of NGOs and groups, including BirdLife, Nature Trust, the University Students’ Council (KSU), and the Malta Youth Council, had welcomed the initiative and the request to declare a climate change emergency.

“If you are naysaying us, then you are naysaying all the NGOs which supported the motion,” PN MP Claudette Buttigieg said, as she read out a letter from the KSU asking the House to declare a state of climate change emergency in Malta.

“You ignored this letter… you might as well have passed it through a shredder,” Buttigieg said.

Environment minister Jose Herrera, who adopted a more conciliatory tone and said it was positive that the Opposition had the initiative to start a climate change discussion, subsequently presented a series of amendments to the motion as tabled, including a change in text to say that the motion would be reaffirming the government’s commitment regarding a climate change emergency as laid down in the 2015 law.

“In other words, I am saying I agree with Azzopardi and the Opposition that Parliament should re-affirm what is already part of the 2015 law, that there is a climate change emergency. We are not climate change deniers and there is an emergency in the world. We will put a programme into action, as it is not enough to affirm,” Herrera said.

“It would be a good step to declare an emergency, but the motion as presented does not provide tangible solutions,” the minister said.

PN MP and deputy leader David Agius, who along with fellow MPs Fredrick Azzopardi - who is currently receiving treatment in hospital - Robert Cutajar and Jason Azzopardi was involved in drawing up the motion, underlined, however, that the 2015 law made no reference to a climate change emergency and did not declare one.

He lamented that, before Herrera’s amendments on Thursday, the government had at no point approached the Opposition when the motion was first announced a week ago to discuss it.

“Let us find a way of reconciling the two motions today. We are extending a hand of friendship. All that remains is that the government accepts it,” Agius said.

The vote for the motion as amended by Herrera was deferred to Tuesday.