Climate change is about all of us

Climate change affects us all. 

After the industrial revolution, carbon-based production and consumption patterns accelerated, but for decades humanity was unable to detect the slow onset of climate impacts.  More recent technical assessments by international experts have shown that human actions are causing the world’s climate to change, leading to the now evident extreme weather events ranging from unprecedented floods to extreme droughts that have killed thousands of people.  

The good news we’re being told is that humanity can do something about this – if it acts now.

As a country, we carry the honour of having, way back in 1988, been the first to put forward at the United Nations General Assembly the initiative for the “Conservation of climate as part of the common heritage of mankind”.

This led to the adoption of UNGA resolution 43/53 for the “Protection of global climate for present and future generations of mankind” as the precursor to the setting up of the International Governmental Panel on Climate Change and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – UNFCCC.

This is a legacy we continue to carry in honour.

Energy generation

In spite of our specific limitations of small size and challenging geography, Malta remains today the least emitting EU member state on a per capita basis. Investments in LNG power generation and renewable energy have brought about impressive reductions in carbon emissions which have gone down from  7.5 tons per capita in 2012 to about 4 tons per capita in 2020.

Investments in LNG power generation and renewable energy have brought about impressive reductions in carbon emissions.

In the same period the share of renewable energy has gone up from 2.9% in 2012 to 10.7% in 2020.  This is indeed impressive, especially when considering the rate of economic growth in the same period.

As a source, power generation, at around 34%, remains a substantial individual contributor to carbon emissions in Malta.

Power is essential for our factories, our offices and our homes.  Without power we would practically all lose our jobs. Technology developments have however, as yet, not come up with reliable and consistent low-carbon fuel stock to generate power. For many countries, LNG remains the preferred choice as a transition fuel till technology advancements provide dependable zero-carbon sources.

Nuclear power, chosen by some, is a no-go for Malta. Green hydrogen, that relies on renewable energy to drive the transformation of water into a power gas, is relatively an infant technology, but is vaunted by many as the best option to drive the high levels of energy needed to power development across the world whilst remaining on the pathway of carbon-neutrality. 

And herein lies Malta’s wisdom to have insisted upon and obtained a derogation to be able to avail itself from EU funding for the construction of a hydrogen-ready gas pipeline to Sicily.

Together with the existing and new interconnector being planned, the hydrogen-ready gas pipeline would bolster the reliability and resilience of Malta’s power requirements.

Together they will provide a stable baseload capacity that would then support further investments in offshore renewable energy opportunities that, being dependent on intermittent solar or wind power, cannot so far offer the highest degree of dependable consistency. 

In the meantime, EU-level large-scale investments and innovation are needed to drive the development of cheaper and more reliable offshore technologies that Malta could then exploit further. Meanwhile Malta continues, through ad hoc grants to households and industry, to push further the installation of solar panels and solar heaters, whilst exploring opportunities for offshore renewables with a specific project earmarked to cover total power needs in Gozo. 

The efforts and commitment continue.

Towards the end of last year Malta adopted the Low Carbon Development Strategy and the Long Term Renovation Strategy, both led by the environment ministry. These two strategies are major pillars of the country’s drive to combat climate change. 

Both strategies were developed, using Maltese and international expertise, to address local specific conditions, challenges and opportunities.  Between them they set-out a number of actions intended to reduce carbon from what are Malta’s main sources of fuel-based greenhouse gases emissions – road transport, buildings and industrial processes, waste and agriculture, in that order.

Between them these sectors account for about 66% of the country’s total emissions – with road transport alone eating up more than half of this (35%).  At EU level these constitute what is termed as the Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR) sector, under which Malta is committed to reducing emissions by 19% by 2030 compared to 2005, as part of the EU’s overall effort of reducing emissions by 55% under the Fit for 55 Package of proposed regulations. The 19% reduction target must be seen in the light of the following facts. 

Apart from already being the lowest emitter per capita, Malta’s marginal abatement cost of emissions is disproportionately high when compared to our EU counterparts. This stems from the fact that the opportunities for reduction are very limited. A largely service-based economy, lack of natural resources, absence of rivers and railways, lack of economies of scale and absence of UNFCCC-bankable carbon sinks, all make Malta’s position more challenging, driving up the cost of emission reduction efforts. By way of examples, railroads are used by larger countries to divert traffic from road to rail thereby reducing emissions. Likewise, central-heating systems drive heating costs and emissions down, whilst forests can be used to offset carbon emissions.

Road transport & buildings

When it comes to road transport our studies have indicated that the best approach to reduce emissions is to encourage the uptake of public transport whilst also increasing the use of electric cars. This is why as of October 2022, public transport will be free for all Maltese residents, whilst the grant for the purchase of an electric car has been increased to €12,000 which is by far the highest in the EU. 

In the meantime, the rollout of publicly accessible electric chargers is being accelerated to push further the uptake. The target is to have around 65,000 electric cars by 2030. Other forms of mobility are also being encouraged whether by ad hoc grants, such as for pedelecs, and creation of ad hoc infrastructure such as cycle lanes. Seaborne transfers across our harbours is also intended to reduce road traffic and related emissions, whilst a ship to shore facility will massively reduce emissions from ships berthed in our grand harbour.

Climate action is also intended for our buildings sector where incentives are planned to ensure that Malta’s building stock is gradually renovated towards energy-efficient and zero-carbon buildings. Whilst grants for solar panels and solar heating will continue, an emphasis shall be placed on ensuring that energy efficiency standards are reached. The strategies also contemplate grants to move away from fuel-based energy for cooking, heating, and cooling towards more efficient electric ones using modern environment-friendly technologies such as heat pumps.

In the meantime, Malta Enterprise continues to assist the industry to adopt more environmentally friendly equipment and practices.

Waste management

In the waste sector, Malta’s Waste Management Plan aims to ensure that waste generation is reduced whilst waste recycling and recovery is maximised and in the process reducing GHG emissions from waste. The €500 million investment by WasteServ under the ECOHIVE project will see the installation of a state-of-the-art Waste to Energy facility that will generate electricity from non-recyclable waste, whilst an Organic Processing Plant will transform organic waste into soil additives diverting it from the landfill thereby reducing methane emissions. Other waste projects such as a new Material Recovery Facility, a Multi-Material Recovery Facility, a Thermal Treatment Facility and a Skip Management Facility further corroborate the effort. In the agricultural sector, agro-environmental measures, as well as nitrate management plans, help minimise related emissions whilst a separate project aims to address the issue of animal farm waste.

A number of other strategies, such as the Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, the National Environment Strategy, the Construction and Demolition Strategy, the Single-Use Plastics Strategy and others, are aimed to complement Malta’s drive for carbon neutrality by 2050.  Reducing the impacts of humans on the environment is crucial and action is required at national, local, and individual level.

Government alone cannot get there.  All of us need to play our part.  Industry can adopt non-polluting technology and carbon-friendly practices whilst as individuals we can play our part by simple measures such as not wasting water, keeping appliances switched off when not in use, keeping our cars in good shape and tyres properly inflated, using public transport and walking rather than using cars indiscriminately. We can go further by installing solar panels, and moving away from fuel-based heating and cooking.

Caring for our environment is our duty, fighting climate change our obligation towards ourselves, our children and future generations.

Each of us, individually, need to make climate our collective battle.

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