Friends of the Earth Malta (FoEM) welcomes the funds allocated in the Budget 2020 concerning environmental measures, however, FoEM is disappointed in the lack of holistic approach taken and with some aspects of the budget.
The Budget presented is a very populist one with superficial measurers, designed to please rather than geared at seriously tackling some of the most pressing environmental issues affecting Maltese communities. This budget emphasizes fixing environmental problems through changes in consumer choices rather than providing stricter policies and frameworks for polluting industries and developers – hence the positive outlook of this budget by developers and business entities.
Some of the measures that were bundled up under the climate change related actions include positive measures, but ones that will not fix the root cause of the issues. The reason why there is reliance on private cars in Malta is not because there are not enough bicycle racks, or that there is no free public transport for over 75-year olds, or because there not enough incentives for pedelecs. The transport system needs to be rethought with a primary focus on public transport and alternative mobility. However, in the same budget, the government commits to several road widening projects, that begs the question if the climate-measures are just there to compensate for the environmental degradation caused by the other measures. Switching to electric cars might be seen as a positive step in the right direction, and will no doubt have a huge impact on the quality of air we breathe, but it will not tackle the traffic problem and if seen from a global dimension this measure has repercussions, by using more natural resources to manufacture private-cars and also generating more waste.
This Budget makes no mention is made of green infrastructure and the need for greening within urbanised areas – This is a vital measure in terms of lower energy demand and climate change adaptation specifically through the use of green infrastructure on buildings. It also offers immediate contribute to greener neighbourhoods where people and nature thrive – recent studies have shown that reconnecting with nature can help lift depression, improve energy, and boost overall well‐being and mental health.
That being said, FoEM supports the laudable announcement related to the extension of public sea transport to other destinations such as Marsaxlokk and Mellieha are rather positive measures.
Investigating a shore-side power supply for cruise liners in a bid to combat Malta’s serious shipping pollution problem will also result in better air quality especially in the Grand Harbour area – FoE Malta encourages the government to take serious and immediate actions on this.
Government’s goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 is commendable and FoE Malta will look closely into the process that will lead to a national strategy over the coming months. However, considering the seriousness of the problem FoE Malta hopes that this strategy will be an ambitious one and reflects the global urgency of the matter.
It was also noted that the request made over the past years by FoE Malta and other environmental NGOs in relations to the capping of planning appeals fees has been heard and the fees have now been capped at €1000.
In relation to waste and single-use plastics, although one understands the complexities of setting up the previously announced bottle return scheme, it is disappointing to see that the system will only be rolled out nationwide by the end of 2020.
As for food and agriculture, as much as the budget document highlights the importance of local agriculture, this is hardly reflected in the measures announced and very little details are given, for example in relation to changes at the Pitkali. FoE Malta believes that this system requires a major overhaul to ensure that farmers are treated and paid fairly – something that will not be ensured simply though cosmetic changes to the venue itself.