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Sustainable development in Malta

Interview - September 25, 2014

The Upper Reach team interviewed Mr. Leo Brincat, Minister for Sustainable Development, the Environment and Climate Change of the Republic of Malta, and asked him about the current projects of environmental sustainability. Mr. Brincat spoke about the renaissance of green development, and the importance of getting private sector players and all major stakeholders involved with further sustainability.


Our biggest challenge presently is mainstreaming sustainability across society. This encompasses the political class, Government Institutions at a local level, etc. A few months ago, I even discussed the topic at a European Commission meeting. I was concerned because many people hardly knew anything about sustainable development issues. If certain stakeholders are not familiar with this issue, how can our average Maltese person know about it? We need to cascade information down the line, with an educational information campaign, to make every citizen aware that sustainability impacts their own ways of life in a positive manner.

Meanwhile, we are suddenly experiencing a strong wave of awareness among a number of companies involved in mega projects, including the construction sector. Recently we met QP Management, the project development side of the Corinthia Group, and I was impressed with their mission statement and commitment to sustainability. Sustainability was in their best interest as the Group felt it would improve their competitiveness and increase room for innovation.

Previously, sustainability was felt undermining innovation. Nowadays, there is a new generation of young leaders with new mindsets, running large companies. It would be healthy for the private sector to contribute to decision making in the public sector. We believe in this bottom-up approach on all levels, rather than a top-down approach. We resort to views of all the stakeholders to build our plans around them. We should do the same when it comes to sustainability. This doesn’t mean Government should abdicate its responsibilities, but rather, should only act as a catalyst or as a facilitator. If we manage to involve the private sector, change would be felt. It is in the own interest of businesses to start building a higher regard in energy efficiency and sustainability. It is about anticipating clients’ demands in the future.

Are you working in any way to incentivize these practices in the private sector?

Yes. One of the proposals of the Chamber of Commerce is a policy document published last week, to incentivize the green economy. There was a stage when it was considered to be lip service. However, the green economy has been featured very prominently. We had an Informal Council meeting recently in Milan, when for the first time, Ministers of the Environment and Employment of all the EU Member States sat together at the same table, to discuss the way forward with experts from the OECD, Eurostat, and other institutions. What was interesting is that, although it is difficult to find a common link, they all spoke the same language. All people at the table said the choice was between green growth and no growth at all. Some countries have no solution to address their problems, and this is the right time to think outside the box. That doesn’t mean ‘green’ is the magic formula. The fact that this language is not only used by politicians, but by decision-makers and important institutions with credibility is very encouraging. It doesn’t mean transformation will happen overnight- intensive educational campaigns must be sustained, but a number of countries have business councils concerned with sustainability. Even in Malta, a number of leading companies have people specifically assigned to manage sustainability issues. What in the past was considered CSR is today extended further into this particular sector.

Often the biggest criticism of sustainable development policies is that they are onerous and laborious. How is your Ministry working to implement agile and reflexive regulations and guidelines?

First of all, I have to separate the two responsibilities. On one hand, I am the Minister of the Environment, but also of Sustainable Development, and also Climate Change. It is quite interesting. As Minister for the Environment, I work hand in hand with the Minister of Planning. We have a process for simplification of bureaucracy where we are trying to find a way of enhancing efficiency without sacrificing sustainability. The current regulatory body is MEPA (Malta Environment and Planning Authority) which has been around for many years, but criticized by both developers and environmentalists. We are committed to have a separation of entities. MEPA, in the coming months, will be split into two authorities: a Planning and Development Authority, and an Environment and Resources Authority. We are working closely together to ensure a smooth transition in this separation of powers. We are determined to ensure there will be no fragmentation or complications. If it succeeds, we believe, circumstances will improve. Whether this process succeeds will not only depend on politicians but rather on citizens’ acceptance of these changes.
In the waste sector, our interest is to progress as much as we can, and we can only do so by adopting a can-do approach and engaging stake-holders. We must ensure that our plans actually can be translated into effective change. We are turning to stakeholders and asking them to give us their views and inputs even in the implementation process. The more engagement and involvement of stake-holders, the more focused are our decisions.

Are stake-holders responsive and receptive?

Stakeholders have been incredibly responsive and receptive. One issue highlighted in the Waste Management Plan is food waste. For this purpose, our Ministry has set up a Working Group involving no one from the public sector. Not one person is seated solely to serve the Minister’s interests. We did this to show we want stake-holders’ involvement. They have a time limit to come forward with a number of bullet points that will be incorporated into the educational campaign we will launch in connection to the plan.

Going back to the green economy, at a local level we launched a very intensive consultation process. We also brought people from the private sector in the UK to draw on their experience. In 2016, we aim to reach the stage of implementing our strategy with the help of the private sector and NGOs. We want as many people as possible involved. The ultimate objective is the creation of green jobs. The definition is hard to pin down, but I think that if people realize green jobs can be something that adds value, we will be heading in the right direction. We have commissioned the National Statistics Office to carry out a study of green jobs and to predict trends about sectors and segments where green jobs are likely to be created, so we can facilitate the process. We also issued an Expression of Interest where we invited all private stakeholders and experts to come forward with their own ideas of how to benchmark our proposals. We are setting a number of parameters in subjecting these specialists to an economic test, which they must all pass. With these processes going on, we are moving in a positive direction.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Malta joining the EU. What has been the biggest benefit of EU membership?

EU membership has always been beneficial, despite our party’s initial skepticism. It was a question of whether it was the right time to join. We celebrate today our 10th anniversary with pride, and look ahead at the new challenges and opportunities that the EU membership offers. For my sector, it is definitely a plus as our Ministry is one of the most EU-driven Ministries. Apart from our national legislation, we are bound by many pieces of EU legislation. This is an issue I always highlight for discussion. We don’t want to be rigid or doctrinaire. It is important to achieve EU standards, and not doing things for fear of penalization. It is like driving. If I am an erratic driver and love over speeding, but only drive with caution when I see the police, it doesn’t mean I am now a good driver. We should show commitment vis-à-vis the EU when we start owning our obligations, and understanding they are for our best benefit. This is where our commitment has to be.

When we interviewed Minster Scicluna he informed us that climate change concerns were first raised by Malta? Is this true and if so, how is Malta still the pioneer in this field?

I applaud Malta for having put climate change on the EU map. Although it was carried out by a different administration, I recently asked the President of Malta to host an event to pay homage to Maltese leaders responsible for this initiative that put Malta on the map. I was very pleased that the families of people involved in running the country at that time turned up with a sense of pride. Our pride was greater as it proved that climate change did not need to be a divisive issue.

In Malta, we don’t have the same debate as in the UK. The biggest challenge here is that all people are fully aware of the negative impacts of climate change, but some think it will act against us in the future, instead of now. We are a Mediterranean island, and we can feel the difference. We also try to deal with climate change at all levels. At the local level, we try to build up our capacity as much as possible. It is important to have the right people in the right places. We also work at the regional level as the Mediterranean region is the most vulnerable. It might not the best time to engage certain African countries because of political instability but it remains a priority for them. We know climate change is in the agenda of Morocco, which is strong on environmental issues. We try to work at a regional level with neighboring countries. We are working with other member states to forge a common position. This year is a year of summits for climate change. There is the Council of Ministers in October, in September Ban Ki Moon will organize a summit for world leaders prior to the UN General Assembly in New York. President Obama and the Chinese President have already confirmed their attendance. The fact that we can get two world leaders to commit to this summit shows we are moving in the right direction. In December, there will be an important summit in Lima. The ideal turning point will be the Summit of Climate Change in Paris 2015, which will impose legally binding obligations on member states for the first time. We are working in this direction, and when the EU crystallizes their position, it will be bound by all the EU Member States. There are two positions. Some people argue the EU should be more visible than the rest, and others say it is pointless if other big players are not supportive. I see nothing wrong with the EU being at the forefront. Although it is good for the EU to lead by example, in my personal opinion, the big players should also be engaged in the process (not only China or the USA, but other big countries like India). There is a positive shift in this direction. I received an invitation to a summit in New Delhi next year. In climate change issues, we seem to be accepting the importance of this issue. This awareness sends a positive signal.

At the national level, we are committed to ensure that climate policies are implemented. We will be the 6th or 7th state in the EU that will have its own climate legislation. In fact, the draft is being finalized, and I hope before summer is out, I can launch a consultation process, and launch it as a “Climate Action Bill” rather than “Climate Change”. We want to show that we can look at these issues in a different manner. There are other issues to address, like green finance or carbon pricing. If we are going to have a piece of legislation, and get stuck in the implementation, it would be worthless. Also, although Malta tends to be a noisy country, we are working on noise legislation. This should be somehow enforced. The previous government made a practical way forward, distinguishing between noise pollution and noise issues that are harmful for health. They also distinguished between cultural noise pollution and noise pollution. We will still consider all options because we want something practical, doable, acceptable by society, and implementable. I want to make sure that the provisions in the draft legislation are practical provisions.

You work closely with your UK counterpart. Can you outline some possibilities for future collaboration?

I have strong links with the UK because I was the International Secretary of the Labour Party. I attended most of the important annual general conferences. In my experience, the area where my Ministry collaborates most is climate change. The UK has many experts in the field. I am a very good friend of their Minister of Climate; a very focused and down-to-earth person. Whenever he speaks, it is with authority, and people listen to him with rapture. This is a politician who states what needs to be done in order to address climate change issues.

Energy efficiency is another issue where there is much to be done in the environment sector. When we were in the opposition, I had close links with the Environmental Audit Committee chairperson. We do not have such a committee in Malta, but we are attempting to emulate its perspectives without introducing institutional change. We want to make sure funds for environmental concerns are put for their best use, both in the environment and fiscal best interest. It would be a big mistake if we bypass any opportunity to work hand and hand with the UK government. There is much to carry out together, and our affinities should facilitate the process.