The current EU Cohesion Policy framework makes environment and sustainable development one of three horizontal themes that should be integrated across all priorities, measures and projects in Structural and Cohesion Funds programmes. This means that programmes should be designed in such a way as to ensure that the environment is not harmed but turned into an opportunity for regional development.
This integration has been approached in different ways in different Member States, however, typically, two approaches are followed. A plan or a programme could include measures to finance projects that are of direct benefit to the environment. This is known as vertical integration. The second approach, which is complimentary to the first, involves environmental objectives as a cross-cutting issue throughout all measures within a programme, and is known as horizontal integration.
As a national environmental regulator and land use planning agency, MEPA works to encourage the incorporation of environmental objectives within government socio-economic development programmes, as well as to ensure that any development or activity which does take place conforms to the laws and policies that regulate development and the environment.
In relation to Structural Funds for example, MEPA provided advice and input that fed into the design of the 2004 – 2006 Single Programming Document and of the 2007 – 2013 National Strategic Reference Framework and Operational Programmes. In the 2004 – 2006 programming period, Malta had the highest ratio of Structural Funds allocated to environmental projects (41%) amongst the new EU member states. In the current programming period (2007 – 2013), environmental and energy-related projects are allocated 33% of the funds.
The authority works closely with the various stakeholders, including with the Planning & Priorities Coordinating Division within the Office of the Prime Minister and with the Rural Development Department at the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs to ensure that the programmes administered by these entities maximize opportunities for the environment.
MEPA also works to ensure that projects are designed to incorporate sustainable development principles from early stages in their design. In this regard, MEPA provides advice and guidance to the applicants on how to make their proposals more environmentally friendly.
Certain plans and programmes must undergo an assessment of their envisaged environmental impact by following what is known as the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) procedure. The procedure provides an opportunity to substantially improve the overall sustainability of programmes by incorporating environmental objectives from the earliest stages of planning.
At a project level, MEPA is responsible to ensure that Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) are properly carried out whenever a project is considered to have significant environmental impacts.
Between 2004 and 2007, MEPA took part in an interregional cooperation project part-funded by the EU Interreg programme and titled Greening Regional Development Programmes (GRDP). The main aim of the project was to develop methodologies and tools to promote environmental integration and some of the deliverables produced through this project have received a wide acclaim throughout the EU.
Since 2008, MEPA is a partner in another Interreg-funded project titled “Regions for Sustainable Change”, whose main objective is to help the regions to mitigate and adapt to climate change by integrating climate-related objectives in all dimensions of the regional economic development.
MEPA is also a member of the European Network of Environmental Agencies, which works to promote the integration of environmental and climate change objectives in EU Cohesion Policy funding.