The PN tabled a motion in Parliament last Thursday that seeks to declare climate change a national emergency. But Labour disagreed on the particulars. Both claim the high moral ground. Jessica Arena dissects the issue.

The motion, put forward by Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi, proposed the setting up of a parliamentary committee that would enforce legally-binding targets to reduce emissions by specific deadlines, 2030 and 2050, in line with what is expected from other EU member states.

According to a European Commission report on the Paris Climate Agreement published last year, Malta was the only EU country that still falls short of its reduction targets and resorted to buying emission credits from other member states. The commission encouraged Malta to implement measures that would cut transport emissions by 2025.

What is a climate emergency?

Since 2016, some cities, towns and villages abroad have made a climate emergency declaration or set climate action plans. This has usually meant setting local goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a chosen target date, with the overall goal being to mitigate the risks and impact of climate change.

On May 1, the British Parliament became the first country to declare a national climate emergency. A month later, Pope Francis also declared a climate emergency, saying there should be a radical energy transition away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy.

What do the two parties say?

With their motion, the Opposition wants not only to declare a climate emergency but to set up a parliamentary committee with a superintendent that would serve as a watchdog and make sure the country will consistently work towards meeting its emission reduction goals.

Dr Azzopardi argues that while the declaration itself is meant to raise awareness and recognition, an emergency cannot be solved until there is acknowledgement that it exists.

“The motion is more than a declaration, it wants the government to commit itself to legally binding goals till 2030 and 2050, as Denmark, the Netherlands and Finland have done,” he told Times of Malta.

“It also calls for a parliamentary committee to be set up to monitor progress and get scientific advice, expert opinion and civil society involvement, unlike the present committee. The Superintendent for Climate Change that we are proposing should be a Parliamentary official, which would provide security of tenure and independence, who would be able to goad government inaction.”

The government’s counter-motion says it had already indirectly acknowledged the existence of the climate crisis through the 2015 climate change legislation it had unanimously approved, and which the Opposition’s motion fails to recognise.

The government holds that the 2015 legislation already provides the necessary framework to reach its emission reduction goals through its climate action board and climate ambassador.

Environment Minister José Herrera told Times of Malta that he agreed that the climate emergency declaration should be made and that the government would be reaffirming it as a fact.

If they agree on the principle, why the parliamentary hang-up?

Dr Herrera says “simply making a declaration is not enough”.

“The budget we have proposed includes 35 measures that either directly or indirectly will help to mitigate the adverse effects of climate change.”

The main measure, he says, would be the announcement of a cut-off date for the ban of importation of combustion engine vehicles. Transport is the main contributor of carbon emissions in Malta, accounting for some 40 per cent of all carbon emissions on the island.

“Our soft measures will be targeting industry and also to help better establish the concept of circular economies. The hard measures are to specifically address the use of cars and their contribution to emissions,” the minister says.

However, Dr Azzopardi says that the 2015 legislation does not specifically declare a crisis or emergency with regard to climate. Neither does it mention what reduction percentages should be reached by specific target dates, and the wording of the legislation does not make these targets legally enforceable.

Is there a way to reach common ground?

On Friday afternoon, the Nationalist Party held a press conference in which it appealed to the government to reach an agreement on a unanimous motion that would declare a climate emergency with legally enforceable emission reduction goals.

PN deputy leader David Agius said the government should set aside its pride and work with the Opposition to make a declaration as a united Maltese Parliament.

Dr Azzopardi said that the motion was not put forward to critique the government but that this was the last generation that could work to avoid the irreversible damage of climate change.

Opposition leader Adrian Delia yesterday denounced the “aggressive” tone with which government MPs attacked the motion “as if it were not a national issue”.

“This has nothing to do with partisan politics. If there’s an increase of two degrees Celsius it’s everyone’s children who will be affected. If our motion needs to change, we will change it, so long as the emergency is declared. I appeal to the government to work with us on this,” Dr Delia said.

Yesterday, a letter from Climate Action Network Europe was sent to Dr Azzopardi and Dr Herrera, as well as to both party whips, welcoming the decision to put the fight against climate change at the top of Parliament’s agenda and urged Malta to go beyond the bare minimum needed to reach its 2030 targets.

“The vote on Malta’s climate emergency proposal must not only mirror the urgency supported by science, but also the will of millions of citizens that have and will continue to take to the streets in demand for immediate action. It is a very strong mandate for you to act,” Wendel Trio, Director of CAN Europe, wrote.

The vote on the amended motion is set to be held on Tuesday.

What are other countries doing?

Tamara Gerbens

The British parliament passed a motion for the declaration of a climate emergency last May, after several towns and cities set ambitious carbon-neutral targets. The UK declaration’s targets are to reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 and increase biodiversity. The declaration functions more as a pledge than a plan, since the government is not legally compelled to act.

Ireland followed suit, becoming the second country to make such a declaration, but similarly does not propose a detailed action plan.

In Denmark a petition was launched urging the government to adopt a climate emergency motion. The three demands focus on following through on the climate law that commits the country to carry out the Paris Agreement commitments and financially contribute annually to vulnerable developing countries to adapt to climate changes.

Canada declared a national climate emergency last June. The motion supports Canada’s commitment to meet the Paris Agreement emissions targets and states the need pursue clean growth methods to reduce greenhouse gas-emissions.

France adopted the declaration soon afterwards and committed to expanding renewable energies that should make the country carbon-neutral by 2050. The French government aims to reduce its share of emissions from electricity generation from a current 70 per cent to 50 per cent. Originally, this was planned for 2025 but has been extended by 10 years.

A motion to declare a national climate emergency in Australia was voted down in Parliament just days ago. The majority voted against, criticising the symbolic meaning and lack of practical implementation possibilities. However, 64 local councils in Australia have declared a climate emergency.

The same criticism arises in Switzerland, where the climate emergency declaration is adopted by many cities and municipalities in the country but not nationwide. Some of the world’s biggest school strikes occurred in Switzerland, where students demand their government declare the state of emergency and implement policies to be carbon-zero by 2030.

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