Malta will seek to tap its “immense” offshore potential as it works to diversify its energy to greener sources, Prime Minister Robert Abela told world leaders at the COP28 summit on Saturday.

In a brief speech at the high-level summit, Abela emphasised Malta’s achievements in tackling climate change but said the country “wants to be more ambitious”.

“Our onshore area is quite limited, but our offshore potential is immense,” he said, acknowledging challenges related to the sheer depth of the sea floor.  

Abela’s government is exploring the possibility of setting up offshore wind or solar farms and has issued an expression of interest to sound out the sector. Six firms have shown an interest in the idea, the energy ministry said earlier this month. 

Abela speaking at the COP28 Summit.

World leaders gathered in Dubai for the next round of climate talks began the event with a pledge to set up a US$30 billion private investment fund focused on climate change in vulnerable countries and “loss and damage” fund.

But that fund is voluntary, and critics say the headline-grabbing pledge risks distracting attention from the need to establish formal, binding emissions targets for all participants to agree on.

With 80,000 attendees, including 23,500 government representatives and 27,208 policy experts, academics and senior company executives, the COP28 is the United Nations’ largest-ever climate summit.

It has drawn criticism for being hosted in Dubai, an emirate built on the riches of fossil fuels, with the chair of the UAE’s national oil company, Sultan Al Jaber, appointed COP28 president.

Abela highlights Malta's successes

During his speech on Saturday, Abela highlighted Malta’s success in slashing energy emissions by 60 per cent since 2012 and noted that Malta is, on a per capita basis, the EU’s lowest gross emitter.

According to Eurostat data, Malta ranks second-best in the EU’s list of emissions per capita, right behind Sweden.

He also noted that the country had massively increased its output of renewable energy share "from 10MW in 2012 to 230MW in 2021." 

National Statistics Office figures show that in 2022 Malta generated 297 Gigawatt hours of energy from renewable sources, up from just 35 Gigawatt hours in 2013.

“We are punching above our weight,” Abela told the COP28 gathering, adding later that Malta “will always walk the talk”.

He highlighted the Water Services Corporation’s recent green bonds initiative as an example to emulate and called on world leaders to introduce reform to further unlock private investment for climate-related initiatives, and to ensure vulnerable countries have access to those financial markets.

Abela added that Malta would continue to support small island developing states and lead when it comes to promoting “the nexus between climate change and health.”

EU leads calls to triple targets

Earlier in the COP28 summit, EU Commissioner chief Ursula von der Leyen said 110 countries had endorsed the EU-led push to triple renewable energy and double energy efficiency by 2030.

The proposal has been endorsed by COP28 hosts the UAE, then the G7 and G20 groups of nations.

She said that was “fantastic” news and called on all leaders at the COP28 summit to include that pledge as a target in the final COP decision.

Meanwhile, a US-led group of countries has also called for nuclear energy generation to triple, as a way of rapidly driving down emissions.

"We are not making the argument to anybody that this is absolutely going to be a sweeping alternative to every other energy source," US climate envoy John Kerry said at the COP28 conference.

"But we know because the science and the reality of facts and evidence tell us that you can't get to net zero 2050 without some nuclear," he said.

The other signatories include Britain, France, South Korea, Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates, but nuclear powers Russia and China did not sign up.

But those initiatives are marginal when compared to the crux of the COP28 aim of sealing a deal that will commit nations to phasing down -- or phasing out -- all fossil fuels. 

A first draft of that deal submitted by negotiators ahead of the official opening of the summit included calls for explicit curbs on coal, oil and gas. But any effort to limit fossil fuel use will encounter strong opposition.

Still, observers say the inclusion of such language at the outset of COP28 was significant.

"It is more ambitious than anything ever tabled at COP27, so even having it among the options is a big step up," said Lola Vallejo, an expert from French climate think tank IDDRI.

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