The government, through its Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism, Environment and Culture, Mario de Marco, has just announced another survey of people’s attitudes to environmental issues.

Just over two years since the government scraped home to victory in the general election on a commitment to eliminate the environmental deficit, it still seems to be in the throes of trying to find out what national policy it should adopt to achieve this aim.

Since then, there have been a number of detailed surveys and reports conducted, covering broadly the same ground and highlighting for policy-makers the key issues concerned. Apart from The Environment Report 2008 and the subsequent parliamentary debate in 2010 and the 2008 Mepa Public Attitude Survey, the independent think-tank, The Today Public Policy Institute, also published two reports relevant to this exercise.

Above all, however, the government itself had produced in 2007 an excellent Strategic Plan For Sustainable Development For 2007-2016. This document had undergone a most comprehensive public consultation lasting several months and the feed-back not only informed the final plan produced but is also still largely relevant today. In essence, it covered the very issues of the recently-published Issues Paper and established priorities for action. Indeed, because the Sustainable Development’s Strategic Plan also included the economic and social factors, it could be said to be more significant since the economic and social consequences are inextricably linked.

The questions that must be asked, therefore, are two. Do policy-makers require any more information before they are able to draw up a sensible National Environment Policy? Does the country actually need a National Environment Policy?

The answer to the second question is straightforward. Yes, most emphatically, Malta does need it. The sooner the better. Dr de Marco has given his policy team 18 months to complete it. Given that focusing on the issues will only constitute the first phase of this exercise, with further exercises still to come, it is unlikely there will be a properly articulated National Environment Policy much before the end of 2011 or even early 2012.

For a Prime Minister who promised he would make the reduction of the environmental deficit one of his top priorities, waiting four years into this Parliament for a policy would seem a rather leisurely approach.

As to the first question, it seems on the face of it, that policy-makers already have most of the information they require to get on with finalising the basic issues to be addressed. While in a democracy it is important to ensure there is proper consultation before policies are drawn up and implemented, it is imperative the time taken does not give rise to a feeling of an over-kill on a subject, such as the environment, where the ground has already been well-ploughed and the fundamental issues, including EU obligations, are well known.

The need now – as ever – is for action. The drawing up of a policy is the relatively easy part compared to what needs to be done. It is the implementation that will be difficult. The government cannot keep postponing that reality, especially as the next election looms in 2013. Thus, perhaps Dr de Marco could look again at the time-scale he has set with a view to resolving this issue sooner.

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