The government and the opposition on Tuesday reached consensus on a motion in parliament declaring a climate change emergency and calling for action about it.
The consensus on an amended text was reached minutes before a vote was due on rival texts.
The motion was moved on Thursday by shadow environment minister Jason Azzopardi. It had originally called for the appointment of a National Climate Emergency Committee and a Superintendent on Climate Change.
The role of the committee would have been to propose climate change targets, monitor the ongoing situation and publish technical, legal, and scientific reports. The superintendent would ensure that such targets, set by law, were observed.
The government had moved a substantially different counter-motion. It underlined the work done by the government, particularly the enactment, in 2015, of the Climate Change Action Act and the appointment of a Climate Action Board and an Ambassador for Climate Action. It also underscored actions such as the use of gas at the power station and plans to phase out fossil-fuel cars. The government was urged to continue such measures.
Prior to Tuesday’s debate, the Opposition had made several calls for talks on a compromise. Environment Minister Josè Herrera had a meeting with the National Youth Council on Tuesday afternoon after 32 youth organisations backed the call for a climate emergency declaration.
Dr Herrera then withdrew the government's counter-motion and moved a new set of amendments which were seconded by Dr Azzopardi.
This evening #MALTA declared #ClimateEmergency. I presented amendments on behalf of @MaltaGov to include tangible actions. #maltabudget2020 includes 35 measures on #ClimateChange | By mid-2020 Govt. will declare date when importation of internal combustion engines will be banned— José Herrera (@JoseHerreraMP) October 22, 2019
Apart from unanimously declaring a climate emergency, MPs voted to call on the government to take new measures in response to climate change, and to maintain current initiatives. The motion also bound the government to declare a cut-off date for the import of internal-combustion-engined vehicles by mid-2020, and to draw up a programme by the middle of next year indicating further measures in connection with climate action including reports from the Climate Action Board.
The parliamentary Environment and Development Planning Committee will furthermore be renamed as the Environment, Climate Change and Development Planning Committee.
Earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat reacted to the opposition
motion, stating that the government amendments were in part being made to correct “factual inaccuracies.”
Dr Muscat said that a climate emergency had already been declared by the government in 2015 through the Climate Action Act.
He pointed out that Malta was already a signatory to the Paris Agreement, which had resolved to keep the global temperature increase to a maximum of 1.5°C.
Dr Muscat said the government would spend millions on shore-to-ship links so that ships would switch off their engines while in harbour.
'A victory for Malta'
In a statement, the PN welcomed the agreement, pointing out that this came after a week of insults since it moved the private member's motion.
The PN said its initiative had found unprecedented backing from civil society, including 31 youth organisations which on Tuesday morning had added their appeal for parliament to recognise the climate emergency.
The PN praised the National Youth Council for having, on Tuesday afternoon convinced the Environment Minister to change the government's own counter-motion so that an agreement could be reached.
"This was not a victory for the Nationalist Party, but a victory for civil society. No one lost, and the country had won," the party said. "The House of Representatives has been a catalyst for positive change."