Malta’s climate change battle: a holistic effort is a must

“It is essential that citizens understand the impact which our ‘norm’ consumption behaviour has on climate change and the dire need to change it”.

These are the words of Malta’s Climate Change Ambassador Prof Simone Borg, as she speaks to TheJournal.mt about Malta’s Climate Change goals and wider role in climate diplomacy on an EU and global scale. Prof Borg calls for holistic cooperation to support Malta’s and the EU’s climate change goals.

As an EU member, Malta contributes to the EU goals and targets in terms of climate change emissions. The main element from the package for Malta regarding climate emissions is the Effort Sharing Regulation national target which binds national governments to reduce emissions from sectors that do not fall within the Emissions Trading Schemes today. The Emissions Trading scheme applies to emissions from power generation and aviation.

Prof Borg says that Malta’s shift from Heavy Fuel Oil to gas in energy generation reduced our overall emissions significantly. The Effort sharing sectors include road transport and domestic navigation, fuel use in buildings, industrial processes and f-gases, waste and agriculture. These targets are primarily based on the country’s GDP which puts Malta at a disadvantage in view of its low emission per capita while its GDP per capita is on the higher end.

“Malta fully supports the EU goal of increased ambition to reduce emissions by 55% by 2030 and has even successfully highlighted the challenges it faces in attaining a reduction in emissions and this has been duly recognised in the ‘Fit for 55’ proposal published by the Commission.”

Malta’s shift from Heavy Fuel Oil to gas in energy generation reduced our overall emissions significantly.

Prof Borg says that this process is a continuation of a series of measures that EU member States have been taking for the past two decades. Only this time, member States are committed to fulfil the goal of the Paris Agreement requirement for increased ambition and collectively achieve climate neutrality by 2050. To do so, the EU’s road map is a staggered set of emission reduction targets for all sectors. This means that all sectors will have to become more energy efficient.

She explains that while the 55% reduction is a collective target, individual EU member States have to devise a plan to reach their own targets, and Malta has just launched for public consultation its Low Carbon Development Strategy which identifies those most cost-effective pathways to mitigate emissions from Malta. Within this context, the government is committed to support society in this transition.

Prof Borg considers that although challenging, decarbonisation is doable for Malta and we must keep in mind that we are not starting from scratch.  

“First of all, the public sector has a dedicated team of highly trained people within the Ministry responsible for climate change, that works in liaison with other Ministries. This has been a process that spanned decades. Malta has in fact been submitting its inventory on GHG emissions since the early 1990s. It also regularly issues its National Communication on Climate Change to the UN.”

Malta has been instrumental in highlighting the need to focus on adaptation within the EU. The Low Carbon Development Strategy is the most recent policy document following a National Action Plan in the mid 1990s as well as a Mitigation Strategy in 2009 and an Adaptation Strategy published in 2012. Malta adopted a Climate Action Act in 2015 which established a Climate Action Board and a Climate Action Fund. The House of Representatives unanimously declared a Climate Emergency in 2019 reaffirming its commitment to continue initiatives to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change.

Asked about the impact a small country like Malta can have, Prof Borg said that small island states are recognised as being the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in fighting climate change.

“For example, Malta has a higher marginal abatement cost to decarbonise than the EU average. It is in fact the lowest emitter per capita in the EU due to its service-based economy and this means that the potential to reduce further is low compared to other States even within the EU that still use coal and that have heavy industry.”

Prof Borg believes that notwithstanding these challenges, the Low Carbon Development Strategy, purposely targeting a reduction of -19% by 2030 in these Effort Sharing sectors, is ambitious. It is the EU prescribed target for Malta and primarily targets emissions form road transport and energy-efficiency in buildings.

This transition to decarbonisation is a shift in the economic model of all states. It entails behavioural changes in our daily lives, in the way we commute, the way we use energy in our homes and commercial operations and the way we consume in a sustainable manner.

Further to this, Malta is continuously seeking to open opportunities for alternative and cleaner sources of supply such as the acquisition of the recent derogation as well as the recent announcement to invest in the second interconnector. Malta has also increased its renewable energy generation despite all the restrictions of space due to our small size.

Malta has also increased its renewable energy generation despite all the restrictions of space due to our small size.

Prof Borg adds that we are on the right track, but there is still more to be done: 

“We know that there is still more work to be done. The major emitting sector in Malta is transport and through the Low Carbon Development Strategy, Malta identified a package of transport measures that need to be taken by 2030 in order to reduce emissions, attain our 2030 EU targets and move towards climate neutrality.”

As small states play a huge part in climate diplomacy Malta has been very active in supporting small island states’ vulnerability to climate change:

“The effects of climate change on small islands are already visible and reflect what will happen if we do not take action. If we do not listen to science. Malta together with other small island States, in fact is backing a campaign at the international level called Science not Silence. Malta will be focusing on Climate and the Ocean as a global security threat in its United Nations Security Council bid. Malta is a negligible contributor, but it must play its part. We owe that much to present and future generations.”

Asked about whether mitigation measures would mean that consumers would end up paying higher prices, Prof Borg said that the plan to combat climate change is ambitious and requires efforts from government, businesses and individuals.

“Government takes the lead through its commitment to provide the necessary support through incentives to help households and businesses in reaching this common goal. Support includes grant schemes and other incentives through significant investments. Malta echoes the EU Green Deal in taking policy measures for decarbonisation that leave no one behind.”

“Malta also supports the EU stand that the fight against climate change is global because if the burden is placed solely on the European consumer, it would be impossible to reach targets.”

Prof Borg also points out that since Malta is an importer of technology, it depends on what other States put on the market and it is also very restricted in terms of options for renewable energy because of our geophysical realities.

“Still one cannot deny that in certain sectors like transport and buildings we could have been more ambitious but these sectors are dependent upon the behavioural choices of consumers as well,” said Prof Borg.

 

Climate change has been a major focus of Prof Simone Borg’s career as a diplomat, lawyer and academic. She graduated as a lawyer and became a career diplomat around the same time Malta’s initiative on Climate Change at the United Nations became the driving force behind the 1992 Convention on Climate Change. It was her area of legal research as a student and was already involved at the very beginning when the United Nations accepted Malta’s request to discuss climate change as an issue of political and legal concern. This was followed by the setting up of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to carry out scientific research on climate change as well as an intergovernmental negotiating committee to negotiate the 1992 treaty.

 

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