Malta is set to acknowledge a climate emergency following the approval of government amendments to an opposition motion in parliament calling for the action.
A final vote is set to be taken on Tuesday after the government voted against the motion as presented by the Opposition.
A Nationalist MP pointed out later that the government amendments did not clearly state that a climate emergency will be declared.
Environment Minister Jose Herrera told Parliament that the PN's motion was a positive one and the government wanted to reaffirm its commitment towards a holistic policy which would include an eventual stop to the importation of vehicles using polluting fuel.
However, he said a climate emergency had already been indirectly acknowledged in legislation on climate change unanimously approved in 2015.
The legislation had set up a board to see to action that was needed regarding climate change and Malta was also one of the few countries which had a climate change ambassador, he said.
Dr Herrera said the government will organise a conference on climate change in mid-2020 and will continue to implement several measures to mitigate the effect on the climate. It would also evaluate the possibility for schools and government buildings to be carbon neutral by 2030 and set up programme for schemes and initiatives addressing the climate problem.
Winding up, Nationalist MP David Agius said that nowhere in the 2015 legislation mentioned by the minister was climate emergency taken.
He said it was disappointing that, apart from Dr Herrera, all government speakers before him had not seen the Opposition's motion as a positive one. He noted, that while the Opposition had presented its motion a week ago, the government had only presented its amendments five minutes ago.
Labour could not rise above politics, not even in this matter, he said.
Moving the motion earlier, Nationalist MP Jason Azzopard called on the House to agree to declare a climate emergency and on a structure to tackle it. The Opposition, he said, was proposing the setting up of a Parliamentary committee with a government majority to see to the targets that had to be met by 2030. The cost of inaction, he warned would be higher than that needed for the action to reach targets.
Dr Azzopardi said he wished to see Malta become a role model for the Mediterranean to become an emission controlled area. He recalled that in 1988, Malta had convinced the UN to declare climate change as a common concern of mankind.
Replying, government MP Byron Camilleri agreed that climate change was real and decisions had to be taken immediately.
However, a law on climate action approved unanimously by the Maltese Parliament only four years ago had established a committee of experts while the Opposition wanted a committee of politicians.
European Affairs Minister Edward Zammit Lewis pointed out that targets will not be met because when Dr Azzopardi was part of cabinet, it approved the use of heavy fuel oil days before a ban on its use was called by the European Union.
Opposition MP Godfrey Farrugia noted that climate change would affect 500 million people.
By 2040, it was calculated that the temperature in the Mediterranean would be be 2.2 degrees higher than the norm. So it was important to agree on policies that gave climate and nature importance.