In an informal meeting of the European Union 27 leaders in Sibiu in Romania, the Union’s role in fighting climate change was discussed. Eight countries issued a paper ahead of the summit asking the Union to “commit to phasing our carbon emissions by 2050 and dedicating 25 per cent of the EU’s next long-term budget to projects fighting climate change”. 

Not surprisingly Malta was not one of the eight countries committing itself formally to this agenda that is of crucial importance to the world in general and to Europe in particular. A recent report by the green group WWF and the Global Footprint Network says that Europeans contribute disproportionately to depleting natural resources. 

Malta’s contribution to addressing the global warming problem does not do people who care about the environment proud. In 2018 Malta was among eight EU countries that posted an increase in carbon dioxide emissions. Eurostat says that CO2 in Malta rose by 6.7 per cent, the second worst increase in EU member states. 

Experts claim that traffic and transport are among the biggest contributors to CO2 emissions and it is unlikely that Malta will hit its greenhouse reductions targets by 2020. Resorting to “flexibility measures” by funding a green project in Bulgaria is little more than damage limitation aimed at politically minimising the negative effect on public opinion.

The failure to make progress in reducing carbon dioxide emissions should not be seen in isolation. It is just one indication of the failure of the administration to shoulder its environmental responsibilities. 

The constant encroachment on the little that is left of the countryside, the poor quality of air that is caused by the massive building projects and the proliferation of traffic, and the polluted urban environment in tourist areas are some other symptoms of failures in sound environmental management practices. 

Malta’s potential contribution to addressing global warming may be minuscule on a European level. But environmental protection failures are a significant obstacle to the achievement of a good quality of life for locals. The lack of political will to address environmental risks is a stain on the country’s reputation that can never be measured merely by economic statistics.

A ray of hope can come from the younger generations. EU youths are becoming more vociferous in demanding that their political leaders address the deterioration of the environment more effectively. Many fully understand the consequence of inheriting a world that is sick environmentally thereby posing a threat to their health and well-being.  

The Prime Minister’s comment that he would like to see Gozo be the first island to shift to electric cars could be a red herring. Addressing existing environmental issues with more determination would be a better starting point to improve Malta’s credentials in the protection of the environment. 

When political leaders fail to lead by example in the protection of the environment, it is the time for young people, civil society and environmental NGOs to make their voices heard. Short-term economic success should never be achieved at the cost of abandoning our environmental responsibilities.

The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, argues that the EU’s proposed 25-year Environment Plan should put environmental ambition and accountability at the heart of government. 

We should all work to leave our environment in a better state than we found it.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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