Initial reactions from environmental organisations to the National Strategy for the Environment (NSE) warn that without legally-binding targets and efforts to improve law enforcement, the exercise will result in nothing more than greenwashing.
The consultation document published by the government on 7 Sept focuses on eight strategic goals related to “Clean Air, Quality Neighbourhood, Thriving Biodiversity, Zero Waste, Resilient Land Resources, Flourishing Seas, Sustainable Water Resources and Enabling Change”.
Flimkien Għal Ambjent Aħjar (FAA) drew attention to a wide range of issues, from construction and development to air pollution to the marine environment, saying the issues “need to be tackled now”, not in 2050 – the timeframe considered in the NSE.
“An extremely ambitious document which proposes a great many positive goals, but few realistic and credible means of reaching them,” FAA’s Astrid Vella told The Shift.
She added that the strategy’s good intentions are open-ended and lacking deadlines, citing proposals for transport as an example where the document states: “The feasibility of large-scale mass transportation systems, such as underground metros, will continue to be assessed”.
Vella said: “We have been discussing mass transport systems for ten years, are we to continue discussing until 2050?”
Din L-Art Ħelwa also pointed out that such documents are not legally enforceable policies or plans: “There is very little that can be done to ensure that we achieve anything.”
While pointing out that consultation meetings were still to be held, Alex Torpiano told The Shift that “many eNGOS feel that Malta has seen too many strategy documents which contain worthy objectives that Malta wants to achieve, but with little commitment actually to do anything to achieve them.”
Extinction Rebellion also expressed concern, saying the document lacks the clarity and depth needed to make it viable: “This strategy comes off as nothing more than a PR exercise”.
“The fact that this strategy is not legally-binding makes it so that ERA has no motivation to enact it, which will likely result in the entire project becoming shelved like so many other major environmental projects that were pushed aside in recent years,” the group said, proposing short and medium-term legally binding targets.
Nature Trust pointed out that two years since ERA published such a strategy in 2020, little has happened. ERA had promised that the Wellbeing First scenario would be the foundation for adoption across the government’s strategic policies.
“Two years on, this is a far cry from reality,” Annick Bonello said, stressing the lack of enforcement in different areas. “Most of the mess is being cleaned up by eNGOS and groups (both on land and at sea).”
Several other environmental organisations that spoke to The Shift said they were still analysing the document, but there was a broad consensus on the problems being faced that have been plaguing the country for decades with no concrete solutions in sight.
“The most important issue remains that of implementation. The strategy refers to dozens of laws and policies that are systematically ignored by the Planning Authority and the Environment Resource Authority (ERA). What will change with this one which never once touches on the subject of implementation and enforcement?” FAA stressed.
“The elephant in the room that’s not mentioned is the urgent need to reform the Planning Authority, ERA and the Lands Authority, which are facilitating the over-development leading to Malta’s congestion of buildings and cars, the destruction of trees and the encroachment of public spaces. Once those authorities are re-established from scratch with a zero tolerance for abuse and revision of Annex 2 heights plus EIA regulations, much of the rest will fall into place,” the organisation added.
“Malta needs drastic measures to be taken now, not in 2050.”
Consultation on the NSE is open until 22 October.