The Malta Independent 18 August 2019, Sunday

TMID Editorial: CO2 emissions - Why are we still the worst in Europe?

Thursday, 9 May 2019, 10:57 Last update: about 4 months ago

There is something seriously wrong when we boast of having become environmentally-friendly and to have cleaned our air with the advent of a new natural gas-fired power station, but the country’s CO2 emissions keep on rising.

Malta’s CO2 emission for last year, in fact, increased by 6.7 per cent last year, the second highest riser in the whole of the European Union, and the year before that the increase was of 12.8 per cent, which was the bloc’s biggest increase.

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There is clearly something wrong here and one shudders to think of what the situation would be if we were still burning heavy fuel oil in Delimara.

So if it is not coming from our electricity generation activities, where is all the CO2 coming from.

This appears to be something of a mystery.

Eurostat, the EU’s statistical body that released the figures yesterday, points out that CO2 emissions are influenced by factors such as climate conditions, economic growth, size of the population, transport and industrial activities.

And there is no doubt that Malta has been growing along all these lines in leaps and in bounds over recent years.  The economy began to grow again after the financial downturn, the population is increasing with foreign workers abounding, and transport is growing unabated with the numbers of new cars on the roads multiplying like rabbits.

Industrial activity we do not see growing quite as quickly, but Malta has one other extenuating factor: its shipping industry. 

Malta has one of the largest fleets in the world and while many of these ships flying the Maltese flag rarely visit Malta, we still have an awful lot of cargo ship and cruise ship traffic, which have been shown time and time again to have a severely detrimental effect on air quality and people’s health.

Could it just be that we are becoming, environmentally speaking, too big for our boots and have become victims of our own success?

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.

Then again, 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 in terms of climatic conditions, 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 pollution, another major pollutant tarnishing our air, must also be taken into account when reading reports that unintentionally make 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 special precautions against other controllable types of pollution, such as that from car exhaust when stuck in traffic and taking a better look at how we are using our energy mix from the three options available, from most polluting to the cleanest: BWSC, Electrogas and the interconnector.

This is not only about our battle against the rising tide of global warming.  CO2 emissions are indeed a major contributor to global warming and account for around 80% of all EU greenhouse gas emissions.

The fact of the matter is that people are suffering respiratory ailments and are even dying from air pollution-related illnesses.  That is why we need answers, now.

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