The Malta Independent 22 September 2018, Saturday

TMIS Editorial: There’s something in the air (Part 2)

Sunday, 20 May 2018, 11:15 Last update: about 5 months ago

The Environment and Resources Authority has very kindly replied to this newspaper’s editorial last week, which questioned exactly how Malta could have seen the European Union’s highest increase in carbon dioxide emissions in the whole of the European Union over the course of last year.

But while the ERA fashions very understandable explanations about the overall situation of air quality in Malta, it did not even mention carbon dioxide once.

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Malta recorded the EU’s highest increase in CO2 emissions, at 12.8 per cent, during a year in which the country had switched over to imported energy through an interconnector to the European grid and which has transformed its generation from heavy fuel oil to the far more environmentally friendly natural gas.

Something is not adding up and the ERA’s replies to the questions raised last week have not addressed the central question being asked. How did carbon dioxide emissions grow by heads and shoulders over the growth rates among its European last year, when the vast majority of carbon dioxide emissions come specifically from the burning of fossil fuels such as natural gas and oil for energy production?

The question that was asked, and which is still being asked, is where is all of Malta’s carbon dioxide coming from? The only answers that spring to the unscientific mind are: either we have been making use of the Chinese-owned BWSC heavy fuel oil burning plant more often than is being let on, or the natural gas being imported into the country is of a significantly lower quality than it should be.

Again, this is what the unscientific mind makes of the situation, and that is exactly why we asked the questions that we did last Sunday.

But in answer to those questions, the ERA did not even mention the central issue, carbon dioxide pollution, one single time.

Instead, it focused on what was largely an aside, PM10 emissions. It was clarified that traffic is the primary source of manmade PM10 emissions in Malta, but that over the last five years none of the air monitoring stations across the country have exceeded the limit values mandated by national and European Union legislation.   

The ERA explains that in size and population density, Malta compares more to a major city within Europe than to a whole European state with expanses of open spaces. And, being a small island with significant exposure to sea salt aerosols, our geographical location in close proximity to North Africa and in particular to the Sahara need also to be taken into consideration.

Such unique circumstances, when it comes to PM10, must be taken into account when one reads reports such as that published by the European Environment Agency, making Malta appear to perform ‘worse’ than other countries which do not suffer from similar geographical specificities and climatic conditions.

But since we in Malta are facing these extra Saharan and sea spray-induced pollution risks, we must ask whether we should not be taking extra precautions against related types of pollution, such as that from car exhaust when stuck in traffic, which we are actually in a position to control – such as traffic congestion and how we are using our energy mix from the three options available, from most polluting to the cleanest: BWSC, Electrogas and the interconnector.

One explanation for Malta’s dramatic rise in carbon dioxide pollution could be that the government has been using the BWSC power plant more than we know which is far costlier than the natural gas fired power station and the interconnector – both in monetary terms as well as in terms of public health. In fact, before the new LNG-fuelled power plant had been commissioned, it had been reported that Enemalta had been making liberal use of the BWSC plant, even though it had, once upon a time, been dubbed a ‘cancer and asthma factory’ by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.

More answers than what have been provided are required from the environment minister and/or the ERA.

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