The Driving Forces upon the Environment in Gozo and Malta
|Email item||Print item||
The following details are the main points covered in the Malta Environment and Planning Authority’s newly launched report on the state of Malta’s environment:
» Malta’s population has largely met its basic material needs. However the way these needs have been transformed into demands is often placing unsustainable strains on natural resources and processes in Malta. Future food and fuel consumption patterns require more consideration in terms of sustainability.
» The number of vacant properties has continued to rise, with 22.4 percent of all dwellings lying permanently vacant in 2005. Urgent measures, including economic instruments and re-orientation of the construction industry towards rehabilitation, are needed to address this issue in ways that do not place undue pressures on affordability and availability of housing, and take into account social and economic implications.
» Tourism is an important economic sector in terms of GDP but puts signifcant pressure on the environment due to additional consumption of resources, increase in waste generation and land take-up for tourism infrastructure. The tourism industry will need to focus on ensuring a quality product that prevents undue pressure on Malta’s natural resources such as by attracting more tourists in the shoulder months and penetrating those niche markets that are generally more sensitive and supportive towards conservation.
» Malta’s environmental targets and objectives related to air pollution and climate change can only be met by decoupling its growing total energy demand from economic growth. The Islands remain far from reaching EU renewable energy and energy effciency targets. In order to reach these targets Malta will need to reduce consumption and develop widespread use of alternative technologies. In this regard, the preparation of plans in the energy sector, on renewable energy and on energy effciency, are welcomed.
» Malta’s continued rise in vehicle numbers is a matter of concern due to the environmental and social impacts of private motor vehicle use, and the high percentage of imports of older and more polluting second hand vehicles is also of concern. The renewal of Malta’s car feet with smaller and more effcient vehicles is urgently required. There is an urgent need to make public transport alternatives at least as reliable and attractive as private car use.
» Although it is small in terms of employment and contribution to GDP, the agriculture sector is a major environmental player. Agricultural practices may have serious impacts in terms of pollution on the countryside. However good farming practices can positively infuence countryside and landscape quality, and sustain key environmental resources such as biodiversity, soil and water.
» Malta’s most signifcant air pollutants remain particulates and ozone, the concentrations of which exceed EU standards in certain areas. In the case of particulates, the relative contributions of the various local sources, such as traffc and power generation emissions, mineral extraction and construction dust, as well as transboundary sources, need to be quantifed in order to ensure an effective policy response. Ozone is an air pollutant formed through chemical reactions of primary traffc and power generation emissions. However it is principally of transboundary origin.
» Due to increasing traffic, nitrogen oxide concentrations are on the rise and may be a problem in localities where heavy traffc and poor ventilation prevail.
» A decreasing trend in national annual average sulphur dioxide concentrations was registered between 2004 and 2007, when concentrations fell by 38 percent. This may be attributed to the use of low-sulphur fuels.
» National benzene concentrations continued to fall in 2007, due to use of cleaner fuels. » A number of measures have been taken to address air pollution. Further improvements in air quality will be achieved through accelerating the introduction of more environmentally-friendly transport systems and the use of cleaner and alternative energy sources.
» Malta’s greenhouse gas emissions increased by 49 percent between 1990 and 2007, and derive largely from the energy (including transport) and waste sectors.
» In order to address the uncertainties associated with the impacts of climate change in Malta, studies based on climate projections and national impact scenarios relating to the Islands are required, particularly since Malta’s small-island characteristics make it especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, sea-level rise and extreme events.
» There is a need to sustain efforts towards decoupling of economic activity from greenhouse gas emissions. In this respect, it is important to initiate both supply-side measures, such as investing in a range of cleaner and more effcient energy technologies, including renewables and high-effciency cogeneration. as well as demand management measures. These would include measures such as energy effciency in buildings, and in the transport sector.
» Climate change adaptation needs to be addressed through the development of a wide- ranging adaptation plan that addresses actions across sectors as diverse as land-use, health and tourism, as well as impacts across a range of social groups.
» Climate change measures will need to be mainstreamed across all policy sectors, so that sectoral policies are assessed for their impacts on climate change and their effects on vulnerability, but also to plan for climate change adaptation through increased resilience.
» The important role of development planning as a tool for mitigating and adapting to climate change needs to be recognised further. In this respect, mitigation and adaptation measures will need to be integrated within development plans and related subsidiary policies and regulations.
» There is signifcant potential for improving the overall effciency of land use, particularly given current over-supply in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors. The potential of using incentives to achieve this merits investigation.
» While tall buildings may increase the effciency of land use, their impact on the Maltese landscape is becoming a matter of concern.
» The rural environment remains largely dominated by agriculture, which has an important stewardship role in ensuring countryside quality. However it faces various threats such as land abandonment, loss of rubble walls, dumping, agricultural land reclamation, blocking of countryside access and the inappropriate design of rural buildings. the cumulative effect of development in rural areas should be closely monitored and further efforts made for it to be strictly contained. The Rural Development Plan’s agri-environmental measures exploit the synergies between agriculture and environment and should be sustained and resourced in the future. A high quality rural environment has a major role in improving quality of life.
» Many historical buildings and areas have been given statutory protection, and as of mid-2008, 62 Urban Conservation Areas had been designated, whilst more funds have been directed towards the restoration and management of heritage sites. Despite these efforts, heritage remains under threat from factors such as inappropriate design of new and restored buildings, which undermines street character, and demolition. Much conservation effort remains limited to Urban Conservation Areas, which face increasing tensions at their fringes. If not scheduled, buildings of historical value outside Urban Conservation Areas remain unprotected and archaeology remains threatened. More resources need to be allocated to the scheduling process.
» Malta’s soil resources are important for the maintenance of ecosystem health, agriculture and hydrological processes. However soils are threatened by a range of factors including contamination, soil sealing and erosion. there is a need for Malta to update national legislation and build capacity in this area for monitoring and enforcement.
FRESH WATER SUPPLY
» Malta’s groundwater resources are being over-exploited due to widespread unauthorised abstraction, with resultant sea water intrusion. since this is already impacting the ability of Malta’s groundwater resources to meet the needs of the population in terms of water quality, legal measures need to be taken to address the situation.
» Contamination of groundwater bodies with nitrates is of major concern.
» Improved water demand management is required in order to reduce wastage and raise effciency levels of water use. In particular, water pricing needs to be extended to private water supplies, in order to improve demand management over the whole spectrum of water use, with the wider sustainability goals in mind.
» While three new sewage treatment Plants are being developed, the obstacles with respect to re-use of treated effuent, related to effuent quality and the requirement for an effective and effcient distribution system, need to be addressed so as to permit re-use of such water resources.
» There needs to be better and more innovative management of urban and rural run-off water, through environmentally sustainable measures that respect natural processes within valleys.
COASTAL AND MARINE ENVIRONMENT
» Malta’s coastal and marine environment is under considerable pressure from activities in sectors such as housing, tourism and recreation, shipping, fsheries and aquaculture, and waste, but is also threatened by climate change.
» There is a lack of information about the status of Malta’s coastal and marine environment, including that of the priority species and habitats within them.
» Malta’s bathing waters were 99 percent compliant with EU bathing water standards in 2008.
» Malta has so far designated two Marine Protected Areas. these designations will yield results once the respective management plans have come into force. Further designations are required to ensure that coastal habitats and species of ecological importance are protected.
» The trend towards improved beach management and Blue Flag certifcation can have positive environmental benefts. Blue Flag standards are also needed for natural sandy beaches. The focus on artifcial beach creation and beach replenishment has still left knowledge gaps as to their long-term ecological effects, and the potential for beach replenishment needs to be investigated in the context of climate change adaptation.
» The next step forward for the protection of the coastal and marine environment is to formulate a national vision for marine areas, which integrates environmental protection with the sustainable use of coastal and marine environments, in the form of a marine spatial plan that builds upon the recommendations of various sectoral plans addressing Malta’s sea space.
RESOURCES AND WASTE
» Malta has a relatively low consumption of material resources per capita, although certain natural resources such as land, water, limestone and renewable energy are not being utilised effciently. Malta’s domestic material consumption fell between 2004 and 2006, despite GDP increase, suggesting that economic activity is becoming less resource-intensive. Material productivity also increased.
» There have been signifcant improvements in the availability of waste data, although in order to obtain a better picture of waste generation there is need to improve data quality for certain waste streams.
» New legislation has been enacted to control waste management through registration, permitting and reporting activities, which have also promoted waste recovery, including recycling. new facilities for waste management have also been commissioned.
» In order to achieve targets related to the EU waste acquis, and signifcantly reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, there is need for new and improved incentives to encourage waste separation and recycling, as well as recovery operations.
» New littering legislation with higher penalties has been enacted. However, certain areas of Malta remain characterised by high levels of littering and dumping, and more enforcement is required to address this issue.
» There is a need to address the construction, demolition and excavation waste issue from a long- term perspective, in order to reduce the environmental damage and resource depletion associated with these activities. Planning conditions with respect to excavation and demolition methods, quality standards, and pricing measures that internalise environmental costs, and encourage re-use, are also required.
» In order to meet EU targets Malta will need to continue to invest in the regulatory and operational infrastructure on the basis of new policy instruments, programmes and actions and allocate suffcient resources for implementation.
» The status of 29 percent of Maltese habitats and 36 percent of Maltese species listed in the Habitats Directive is still unknown. In addition, 64 percent of habitats and 44 percent of species have an inadequate or bad conservation status. Stringent measures are required for these to attain favourable status, while further surveys are needed to assess those with unknown status.
» Invasive alien species represent a serious threat to Malta’s biodiversity. Action plans are required to eradicate such species and prevent further introductions.
» In order to identify actions to address the principal threats facing Maltese habitats and species of importance, further baseline studies and monitoring are necessary.
» 28 Maltese sites have been included in the EU Natura 2000 network under the Habitats Directive, which, apart from the one marine site, cover 13 percent of land area. these sites are considered 93 percent suffcient in affording protection to the Maltese terrestrial habitats and species of community interest. 13 additional, but often overlapping sites covering 5.2 percent of land area have also been included as Natura 2000 sites under the Birds Directive.
» Management of protected areas is being addressed by Government and by MEPA in partnership with non-governmental organisations. Structural funding has been allocated to accelerate this process.
» Malta’s principal environmental health challenges are respiratory diseases that may be related to air pollution. Noise is also an area of potentially signifcant environmental health impact, although there is as yet little public awareness of its effects on human health.
» In order to better understand the relationship between environment and health in Malta, there is a need to develop an environmental health information system based on integrated health and environmental data and bio-monitoring.
» Most environmental health issues originate in other sectors, and there is therefore need for an augmented inter-sectoral approach to fnding and implementing policy solutions. » In order to ensure the implementation of the EU Thematic Strategy on pesticides in the Maltese context, there is likely to be a need for a national policy on the sustainable use of pesticides.
» The importance of education in raising awareness on the link between environment and health has to date been underestimated. Preventative measures should also be highlighted; these should include exercise and healthy lifestyles, as well as the provision of urban green space and other recreational facilities.
RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ENVIRONMENT AND ECONOMIC ACTIVITY
» The environment is a crucial contributor to the Maltese economy: it is directly used to produce around one-ffth of employment and one-sixth of value added, while also providing amenities for recreation, residence and location of economic activity and absorbing the by-products of production and consumption.
» Activities dependent on direct extraction of environmental resources tend to be labour- intensive, and are growing relatively slowly. A more sustainable economy will need to develop sectors that are less dependent on direct use of environmental resources.
» Land is one of the key resources for Malta’s economy: consumption of residential services is equivalent to over one-ffth of household consumption based on market transactions, while the accumulation of value of vacant properties amounts to over one-third of the total savings of the economy.
» Although Malta has made signifcant progress in upgrading its environmental policy capacity, its institutional capacity still needs to improve in terms of human resources and funding, as well as public and private sector investments to upgrade operations and infrastructure.
» Government environmental expenditure amounted to €81.8 million in 2007, up by 31 percent from the 2004 level, and equivalent to 1.5 percent of GDP. Waste management, including wastewater treatment, absorbed almost 90 percent of this expenditure.
» Green jobs contribute approximately two percent of GDP and between 2.5 and 3 percent of Malta’s employment, and are principally in the waste management and water areas.
» Environmental policy continues to rise in importance on the national agenda, and public opinion polls continue to indicate high levels of concern about environmental issues; yet this level of concern is not often translated into individual action.
» Although there has been an increase in holistic and participative initiatives to promote environmental education, there remains the need for a national environmental education policy to guide the formal, non-formal and informal educational sectors, and including making environmental education mandatory in the national curriculum.
» With some 50 economic instruments related to the environment, Malta is currently making notable use of environmental-economic instruments, but with varying degrees of success. A more coherent approach contextualised within the country’s overall environmental management strategy and overall package of environmental-economic instruments is recommended.
» Given that the current level of Green Public Procurement (GPP) is negligible, the formulation of a National Action Plan for GPP is welcomed. However, in order to promote sustainable consumption and production in Malta, this needs to be formally approved by Government and mainstreamed into the work of the various entities.
» There is still signifcant potential for use of voluntary schemes such as EMAS and eco-labelling by business and public organizations. These schemes could be exploited better if organisations were incentivised to apply for the schemes, and if they were provided with active technical support.
» The National Sustainable Development Strategy represents an important road-map for achieving sustainability in Malta. Ownership of the Strategy by all policy sectors is crucial and these now need to take up the priorities of the strategy, particularly in terms of new policy, legislation and practices in key sectors such as energy, transport, land use planning, and tourism. Administrative mechanisms are necessary to ensure this takes place.
» Further development of participatory approaches and the strengthening of civil society in general would help signifcantly with the ongoing democratization of Maltese society with respect to decision- making that affects the environment.
The full Environment Report details can be viewed and downloaded in various forms on the following link – www.mepa.org.mt/ter