How can Malta plan for climate change?

Most of the world is shockingly unprepared – and unwilling – to combat climate change. But that is not to say a path ahead cannot be forged. Michelle Borg, from Malta’s Planning Authority, shares some insight into how the Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED) proposes measures to support Malta’s actions to mitigate and prepare for climate change through effective spatial planning


For most of 2020, climate change has been eclipsed by the coronavirus pandemic in news coverage worldwide.

Vulnerability to its impacts, however, is still very much a reality because the science remains unchanged: the entire world is warming at an alarmingly dangerous rate. As terrible as the pandemic is, the effects of climate change will be worse – sooner rather than later.

“It is difficult to think about climate change as a pressing issue because, especially in Malta, we can’t say that we feel its impact on a daily basis,” Michelle Borg, Green and Blue Development Unit Manager at the Planning Authority (PA) told BusinessToday. Having worked at the PA since its early days, Borg drives the integration of sustainable development within Malta’s spatial planning.

“When we do eventually feel the need to act, it may already be too late, which is why we need to plan. Effective planning is crucial because it provides a strategic direction to follow. Spatial planning originally emerged as a tool to help people efficiently plan their towns and cities,” Borg said.

“It has since also been embraced as a powerful instrument to support sustainability. Often, though, this is forgotten and other priorities overshadow the planning process. When dealing with climate change, this is problematic.”

Five years ago, the PA made significant headway towards establishing a strategic vision for how Malta can reduce its impact on climate change, as well as adapt to it. The 2015 Strategic Plan for Environment and Development (SPED) is a holistic blueprint for balancing the country’s socio-economic development with the protection of its natural surroundings.

“With the SPED, we wanted to offer a strategic vision for Malta’s sustainable development. We built on previous planning policies and documents – including the 1992 Structure Plan, Local Plans of 2006, the National Environment Policy and State of the Environment Report – with new emerging policies linked to low carbon economies to craft a philosophy that could be adopted in a more detailed manner by development processes and subsidiary, more specific policies and legislation,” Borg said.

Michelle Borg, Green and Blue Development Unit Manager at the Planning Authority
Michelle Borg, Green and Blue Development Unit Manager at the Planning Authority

“We identified climate change as one of the SPED’s main topics because, due to our small size and location, the Maltese Islands are vulnerable to the predicted impact of climate change and it will shape our future. Our vulnerability relates to our location in southern Europe and the fact that we are a highly urbanised small archipelago with very little space to manoeuvre.

“We are facing decreased annual rainfall that may lead to drought and yet more intensive storms and downpours that could trigger flash floods. So, we need to protect our freshwater resources, which includes recharging our aquifers. Changes in sea level, though, will affect our coastal areas and groundwater, which will impact the ecological and agricultural processes that our daily socio-economic activities rely on, not to mention economic activities located on the shore.”

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is vital in the fight against climate change, so the SPED’s primary objective in this regard is to support Malta’s actions to reduce emissions.

“In Malta, energy generation is key. Our switch from heavy fuel oil to natural gas has helped, but we’re still lagging in targets linked to land use, transport and waste. Importantly, if we made a concerted effort to support energy-efficient development, we’d be helping Malta reduce emissions.”

The SPED also identifies the integration of renewable energy infrastructure and materials into the design, construction and operation of buildings, particularly in Malta’s public, industrial and commercial sectors.

It also refers to the need to improve public transit and promote renewable fuel sources and zero-carbon modes of transport.

“Now that the plan reaches its five-year mark its review will start to ensure that it remains a strategic plan ahead of its time. It is also a time for the public to get involved in solidifying our strategic direction by actively participating in the various public consultation phases which will be rolled out in the months ahead.”

“All of us – collectively – can act to reduce and mitigate our effects on the environment, as well as enhance Malta’s capacity to adapt to climate change,” explains Ms Borg in her final remarks. “Climate change will impact our health, environment and economy. More than ever, we need to plan strategically and that is where a document like the SPED can serve its purpose, as a kicking-off point for Malta’s authorities and its residents. A comprehensive response, however, relies on this strategic vision being tangibly applied in daily life.”

Malta’s Strategic Plan for Environment and Development can be accessed via:

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