The Malta Independent 16 October 2019, Wednesday

Is Malta taking climate policy seriously?

Michael Briguglio Thursday, 3 October 2019, 07:45 Last update: about 13 days ago

The climate strike held in Malta on 20 September demanded that the Maltese Parliament declares a climate emergency and acts upon it immediately. The strike was held in support of the global climate strike, with local representatives of Friends of the Earth and Extinction Rebellion playing a leading role in Malta’s civil society activism in the area.

If parliament really wants to act on climate policy, I would expect it to discuss and legislate on matters such as modal shifts to alternative transport, prioritization of renewable energy, removal of subsidies to fossil fuels, stopping support for dirty lobbies and environmental enforcement. Budget 2020 should set the ball rolling for a green new deal.

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What is Government actually doing in this regard? Energy Minister Joe Mizzi recently stated that Malta is committed to continue to improve energy efficiency. He mentioned plans for a national strategy on energy and climate and referred to the challenges with one-size-fits-all European energy policies. Fair enough, but Government should be put to task over the policy process.

It is important to note that the EU policy framework allows for member-state differences within a general EU framework. For example, the EU 2020 renewable energy target is set at 20%, but it is expected to be achieved through different targets set at Member State level – Malta’s is 10%.

Malta’s share of renewable energy was a ridiculous 0.195% in 2008, climbing up to 7.17% in 2017. Grants, feed-in tariffs and the provision of higher blends of biofuels for road transport are in place, and over 22,000 households make use of PV systems, according to Government.

Latest official figures show that the current share of renewable energy in Malta is as follows: PV Systems 47%; Biofuels 20%; Heat pumps 16%; Solar water heating 9%; Waste-to-energy (electricity) 3%; Waste-to-energy (heat) 2%; Imported biomass 2%; Bioliquid used in industry 1%. Interestingly both micro-wind energy and renewable electricity in transport are currently estimated to produce 0% of Malta’s targets. In itself, this fact requires critical engagement.

In the meantime, last 2 November, Joe Mizzi told Parliament that Malta’s EU target will be reached. He referred to collaboration between the Malta Chamber of SMEs and the Water Services Cooperation for the installation of solar farms and he added that the country faced challenges when it came to water and electricity resources because of its high population density. Mizzi also mentioned government’s efforts to have a gas pipeline and the fact that heavy fuel oil was replaced with gas as Malta’s main energy source.

As regards the latter, by 2020, the EU is also planning to have 20% less greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990 levels. Here, Malta’s national target is 5% more compared to 2005. In the meantime, the country’s emissions during 2005-2014 remained constant, with highest being in 2012, then declined between 2014 and 2016 but increased again in 2017. Let’s hope this does not represent a new unsustainable trend.

At an event held on March 2018, Malta Business indicated that the business sector needs to invest €30-64 million to meet the 2020 renewable and energy efficiency targets. During the event, Frank V. Farrugia, president of The Malta Chamber, said that “the 2020 EU targets for both renewable energy and energy efficiency, and the even more ambitious indicated 2030 targets, will create business opportunities for business operators. We believe that there are considerable opportunities for business involvement in energy, and that a favourable policy environment can be of strategic business value."

On the other hand, Malta’s draft National Energy and Climate Plan is estimating that the share of renewable energy sources will increase by just 1% and 2.5% between 2021 and 2030. The report confirms what many have been saying, namely that Malta’s current planning polices do not encourage use of renewable energy sources such as PV installations on roofs. The report also does not look favourably at wind energy options. Should the country be so sure to strike off such a source of energy?

Here it is important to mention that in March 2018, former CEO of the Energy and Water Agency Daniel Azzopardi had stated that Malta’s energy and climate plan for 2021-30 will be subject to an impact assessment and determine cost effective ways to decarbonise the Maltese economy. 

Assuming that the impact asessment has not yet taken place, I hope that it will encourage wide participation of stakeholders from sectors such as academia and civil society. I also hope that it will give due importance to Malta’s reality as a small island state and that it will incorporate social, environmental and economic factors.

In this regard, I recently attended a session entitled 'Islands as Lighthouses' during the EU Sustainable Energy conference in Brussels. Here, various opportunities and challenges faced by small islands were highlighted. For example, big grid regulations that may suit countries such as Germany and France may provide challenges for small islands in relation to economies of scale and competitiveness. Such factors are in turn subject to factors such as population increases for example during tourist seasons. To mention one example, Olund, a small island in Sweden has an energy economy of scale problem when population during the year is just 25,000, but in Summer it is more energy efficient with a population of 250,000. But is this sustainable?

The session highlighted the need for appropriate financial instruments for small-scale contexts.  It also referred to the need for public tendering for innovative solutions that focus on goals/aims rather than too many specific technicalities. The latter could work against innovative solutions in small islands and could also be lopsided towards certain commercial interests.  Such matters are all relatable to the Maltese context.

If the Parliament of Malta is truly interested in taking up climate challenges in sectors such as energy and transport, it should give time and space for evidence-based discussions and solutions within appropriate committees. Scholarly research in the natural and social sciences, evaluation of good-practice in other small-scale situations and similar matters should be discussed in safe spaces which focus on informed constructive discussion rather than sloganeering and partisan rhetoric.

The provision of such a policy process would resonate with what civil society representatives said in the paper entitled ‘Civil society perspectives on green jobs in sustainable energy: The case of European Malta', which was published in peer-reviewed journal Energy & Environment (SAGE), and which I co-authored with Maria Brown.

Findings of this study reveal a broad consensus within civil society that the policymaking process in the field of sustainable energy should incorporate different voices from civil society – such as employers, trade unions, environmental non-governmental organisations - and experts. The study shows how the sharing of knowledge, good practices and effort coordination are lacking in this field.

As a small island EU member state Malta has double duty to act on climate change. Amid calls for the declaration of climate emergency, what better time that now for Malta to have a comprehensive policy-making process in the field?

 

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