Climate change governance and political incompetence

It has been announced that an Authority on Climate Change will be set up by government. This has apparently been approved by Cabinet, earlier this week. No further details have so far been released.

It is not at all clear whether this authority will be expected to take charge of the action required on a national level in order to mitigate the impacts of climate change, or else, whether it will take the lead in the initiatives required to adapt to climate change.

Currently available on the website of the Ministry responsible for Climate Change one can peruse a draft document dated September 2023 and entitled Draft Energy and Climate Plan 2021-2030. As far as I am aware this document is still a draft. A definite version has apparently not been published yet notwithstanding that it should have been in effect 3 years ago! This draft document lays down national objectives relative to energy policy within the context of the climate change debate.

There is no Climate Change Adaptation Strategy available on the Ministry’s website. Some years ago (May 2012) a National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy was adopted and published, but apparently this has not been updated. It could, most probably, have been discarded; however, no information is available on the matter. Perusing my copy of the said strategy, I recollect that it was a reasonable first effort and was supplemented by an extensive 164-page report drawn up by the then Climate Change Committee for Adaptation. These documents were drawn up after extensive public consultation.

While energy issues are foremost in any Climate Change Adaptation Strategy, we need to go in considerable detail on other equally important aspects, such as the impacts of climate change on agriculture, water resources, health, civil protection, land use planning, tourism, coastal settlements, protection of the coastal infrastructure as well as biodiversity and the marine environment.

The debate on water resources has been ongoing and various policy initiatives have addressed the matter over the years. I am not sure as to what has been done by the Agriculture Ministry or the Health Ministry, but at the end of the day it is those same Ministries which need to initiate, implement and monitor the required action in their areas of responsibility.

Similarly, the Tourism Ministry seems clueless on climate change impacts on the industry. I have yet to come across a serious assessment of climate change on tourism in the Maltese islands and in particular on the potential havoc which tourism infrastructure will have to face as a result of an inevitable sea level rise.

What about inbuilding climate change considerations in land use planning policy and design guidelines? The 15-minute city initiative in Paris and elsewhere specifically addresses climate change in an urban policy context. Yet the Planning Authority in Malta is not bothered at all.

On the other hand, we need to realise that there have been various valid proposals over the years which have been discarded by government. One specific example which comes to mind is the proposal in the National Transport Master Plan which has pointed out the need to embark on private vehicle restraint.

The fact that to date we have an out-of-date Climate Change Adaptation Strategy and no effective coordination at Ministerial level on climate change impacts across all areas, signifies a failure of the Climate Change Ministry to implement its basic political brief over the years.

This is where the proposed Climate Change Authority comes in. It will most probably be considered essential to fill the coordination gap created by incompetence at the political level over the years.

The Ministry responsible for Climate Change specifically exists to coordinate, across government, issues of climate change through the various Ministries. This coordination has, unfortunately, over the years been inexistent. Hence the proposed solution to setup an authority to fill in the gap.

Climate change governance, over the years, has been characterised by political incompetence. The creation of an authority will just serve to shift the blame.

Carmel Cacopardo
ADPD Deputy Chairperson
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 14 January 2024