Can the Opposition be trusted on the environment?

Government has been described as ‘dragging its feet’ on climate change and that its emission reduction plan is not ambitious enough.

A closer look at the reality, in particular our context, could prove useful: to start off with, Malta, as the lowest emitter per capita, is an insignificant contributor.

This is not a coincidence, as the decision by the Labour administration to remove the power station that run on heavy fuel oil had a significant impact on our emissions.

In fact, not only is global climate change not caused by Malta (much less by Labour government), but even the European Commission acknowledged the efforts already made by Malta on climate change, as well as the difficulties we face.

Government has worked to ensure that Malta’s climate action remains ambitious, but also that the burden on the Maltese people does not remain disproportionate. The Opposition, on the other hand, seems to disagree with the European Commission itself and would prefer to intensify pressures on our country.

Commitment to addressing climate change is evidenced by Government’s recently-published Low Carbon Development Strategy which includes a number of tangible, costed, and yet ambitious schemes and measures, as well as other complementary strategies such as the Long Term Renovation Strategy which will cut carbon consumption in buildings. Together, these strategies and corresponding measures make up government’s plan to reach Malta’s 2030 targets and carbon neutrality by 2050. This is without mentioning ongoing work by government including afforestation initiatives, new open space projects, and various water, energy, and transport schemes.

The decision to remove the power station that run on heavy fuel oil had a significant impact on our emissions.

Indeed, the IPCC report on global change provided a backdrop for the Nationalist Party’s recent environmentalist streak. But looking at the track record of the Nationalist Government pre-2013 compared with that of the current Labour administration, paints an interesting picture.

We can look at two measures, starting with the overall greenhouse gas net emissions in thousands of tonnes of CO2equivalent. Between 2007 and 2012, despite a faltering economy and a much slower rate of population growth, Malta’s greenhouse gas net emissions rose from 3,133 thousand tonnes to 3,210 thousand tonnes. So, the PN administration raised emissions by 2.5%. During the same time, the EU managed to lower emissions by 15%.

It comes as no surprise that Malta was not hailed as the paragon of Europe’s climate change crusade.

The PN’s eco-warriors of the time presided over a stunning increase in per capita air emissions. In 2007 Malta was emitting 8,971 kilograms of CO2 for each of its inhabitants. By 2012 emissions were up to 9,542 kilograms for each Maltese citizen.

Why does it matter what happened before 2013? It was after 2013 that the environmental onslaught truly began, the commentariat retorts. Yet, that uncomfortable adversary of biased opinion, scientific evidence would beg to differ. 

In fact, between 2012 and 2018, greenhouse gas net emissions were down by a stunning 32%. And note, that the pandemic period is not included – so as not to reflect the impact of the lockdown. In fact, World Bank data indicate that pre-pandemic we had turned back the clock to the mid-1980s when it comes to emissions per capita. The key reason for this was the complete transformation of our energy sector. The very same transformation that the PN initially called an Alice in Wonderland proposition and now denounces as having been unnecessary.

Between 2012 and 2018, greenhouse gas net emissions were down by a stunning 32%.

Again — this is the same administration that chose to use heavy fuel oil to generate energy. A decision that meant that our country’s emissions of the dangerous air pollutant, sulphur oxide, rose by a fifth in just three years, while across the EU emissions of this dangerous pollutant were cut by a fifth. Malta in 2012 was emitting nearly as much sulphur oxide as Switzerland did, a country with twenty times our population.

We now emit less than twenty times the amount that Switzerland does.

Facts and opinions have a way of losing touch of one another. Take for instance, that other claim of the Opposition that the current administration is committed against trees. Since Robert Abela became Prime Minister, once again, Government departments and agencies have planted nearly 60,000 trees. In the last two years under a Nationalist-led government, only 6,000 trees were planted.

In 2020, in the middle of a pandemic, Ambjent Malta planted nearly 22,000 trees. That was nearly 7 times the number of trees planted in 2012. Besides Ambjent Malta, two other Government entities, Parks Malta and Infrastructure Malta planted another 16,000 trees. So, during 2020 Government entities planted 38,000 trees, or thirteen trees for every tree planted by the Nationalist administration in 2012. In fact, in just 2020 the number of new trees planted by Government exceeded by a fifth all the trees planted during the entire Nationalist administration between 2008 and 2013. In the first half of 2021, the current administration has already planted six times more trees than in the last year of the preceding Nationalist administration.  

Does this mean that Labour has an unblemished track record? The truth is that when it comes to the environment, more effort is needed. The transition to become a carbon neutral society is possibly the hardest challenge our nation has ever faced. It will dominate the agenda of future administrations, and the success of our nation will depend crucially on getting this right. 


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