Malta has just become the latest country to declare a climate change emergency following a global wave of environmentalism spearheaded by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg.
But it should be more than just empty words. Normally reserved for natural disasters, civil unrest, or armed conflict, declaring an emergency carries with it serious implications, forcing the government to implement drastic changes to deal with the situation effectively.
The government has been rightly praised for introducing measures directed at combating climate change in its budget. However, any person on the island can tell you it’s far from enough to address the issue.
Here are a few things the government can do to prove it means business:
1. Stop hiding and commit to a closer date for carbon neutrality
Announcing a date for the country to achieve carbon-neutrality, as Malta’s government plans to do, may seem like a positive step. However, tying the country to a 2050 target date is easy to hide behind.
By then, politicians who failed to act and meet the targets will either be dead or retired, meaning the current crop will not be accountable and their successors with an easy target to blame.
If the government really believes that the climate is in a state of emergency, committing to a closer date for carbon-neutrality, like 2035 for example, would tie Muscat’s government and current politicians to actually work to realise their goal.
2. Impose severe consequences for failing to meet targets
And what will be the consequences be for failing to reach targets? With Malta already worryingly off several EU targets set for 2020, there is little to suggest that the country will meet the 2050 cut-off point.
Time and time again, countries, including our own, have signed declaration after declaration with little intention to implement its content. In the 90s we had the Kyoto Protocol, in the 2010s we had the Paris Climate Change Agreement. Despite being separated by decades, both have spectacularly failed to address the issue.
With politicians able to enjoy the photo-op and ride on the public perception of being eco-warriors, maybe it’s time to create real ramifications for signing a document that is never followed through.
Should governments be held accountable for failing to tackle an emergency? Can politicians be criminally liable for putting our lives in danger by failing to act despite being in a state of emergency?
If a government stood idly by as an invading force slaughtered their population, would they be guilty of war crimes by omission?
3. A radical change in transport
Transport is the leading cause of greenhouse gases in Malta. The idea of leaving the problem grow unperturbed is impossible if the government wants to address the climate crisis.
A potential bid to introduce a stylish emissions-free bus service is positive, but the Maltese public still has a massive over-dependence on private cars. With anything between 40 to 80 new vehicles added to Malta’s roads per day, people are starting to wonder when cars will outnumber people.
The government should heavily subsidise electric vehicles to ensure that they are by far the cheaper option to their petrol counterparts or even look at Vexit, a novel proposal to get the majority of people onto public transport.
A metro, while expensive, also stands a chance of solving the traffic issue and making serious headway in addressing climate change.
4. Widespread planning reform
And hey, why not make Outside the Development Zone actually mean Outside the Development Zone? Too often do we see lawyers and architects (in some cases lawyer -architects) slither through loopholes in the PA (that quite frankly seem to be there on purpose) to eat up what little agricultural land we have left.
The local plans of 2006 are also a major issue. Implemented by a Nationalist government (as the current government loves to note), the quite frankly inexplicable plans opened up rampant speculation from money-hungry developers, that went into overdrive during the recent construction boom.
With the government first announcing plans to change the local plans back in 2013, the question remains as to why are authorities are waiting idly by while the country is pillaged.
“Eq there are the local plans of 2006” is an easy statement to hid behind. A small recommendation, why not actually do your jobs and change the laws you love to criticise so much.
As seen with the fuel station policy, Malta’s planning authorities love to drag their feet when implementing crucial reform, whether that’s incompetence or intentional is up to you to decide.
Authorities managed to whip up reform to third party construction rights in a matter of weeks, while massive infrastructural works are done at rapid speeds. You continuously praise yourselves on your ability to get things done. It’s time to show it.
5. Impose massive fines for failing to follow regulations
The government is often an easy target to blame for our problems, but if we’re looking for a scapegoat for why it really is a climate crisis, we need only look into a mirror.
Maltese, whether we like it or not, have an unnatural disdain for the rules. Too often do we look for the easy solution regardless of the impacts it may have on the surrounding environment. So whether it’s dumping your shit in pristine valleys or leaving a plastic wrapper on the floor, you’re part of the problem.
A large number of businesses, residents and tourists have little respect for the communities beyond their own square metre, treating the world around them as their own personal.
Fines are having little to no effect, while enforcement remains non-existent. Raising both might finally get people to start obeying the rules.
We also need to start looking at the choices we make. We drive our cars for excessively short distances, refuse to use public transport, and avoid the concept of electric vehicles like the plague.
We all choose products that have severe effects on our environment and consume to a planet-ending degree. So rather than point our fingers at the government at every turn, maybe it’s time to start being the change we want to see.
6. Start using tax competition to bring green companies
Malta’s tax regime is under fire with the EU long-threatening to clamp down on the crucial industry. Igaming and financial services have become vital backbones to the Maltese economy, propping up a booming construction sector, but there’s a risk they could vanish in the years to come.
Admittedly, a competitive tax regime becomes harder to defend when you’re housing a gambling industry that is reaping massive benefits off the back of addiction and allowing wealthy individuals to avoid tax in their own countries.
The government has a unique opportunity to become a world leader in the green economy, creating massive tax benefits to companies which are not only looking at practical solutions to the current problem but are also set to be leaders in the global economy for decades to comes.
Let’s start being proud of our tax regime rather than having to defend it at every turn.
Our parliament, unlike many others, has recognised that we need to act on climate change. For that, we should be grateful. But actions, as the adage goes, speaks louder than words.
People experience the everyday realities of a country that seems to be getting hotter, with social media making people hyper-aware of the environmental issues of the country.
There is nowhere for the government to hide if it fails to act. The time for empty words is over.