Updated 9.50pm with Herrera reaction

Malta is being forced to spend €180,000 a year on emission reduction credits from Bulgaria to compensate for not reaching its own targets, Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi said on Monday. 

Speaking in Parliament, Dr Azzopardi said environment minister José Herrera had signed a €1.4 million, seven-year deal "in secret" two years ago, with Cabinet approval, covering the years 2013 to 2020. 

The Times of Malta reported last week that Malta was purchasing “annual emissions allocations” (AEAs) from Bulgaria, under a European system which allows countries producing less emissions than the maximum allowed to ‘sell’ their remaining allocation to other countries exceeding their own maximums.

The environment ministry, however, would not disclose the cost of the agreement. 

In 2013, Malta had purchased about 82,000 credits at an undisclosed price. This had since gone up to 135,000 in 2015, the latest figures available.

Read: The Bulgarian solar farm paid for by Maltese taxpayers

Quoting from an European Commission report regarding the Paris Climate Agreement, Dr Azzopardi said that Malta was the only EU country to have had to purchase AEAs.

Malta was thus effectively “paying to be allowed to dirty the air even more than it had agreed to,” the MP said.

This, he went on, was despite pre-electoral claims that the construction of the ElectroGas power station would see Maltese emissions reduced by 1.2 million tonnes, thus enabling Malta to meet its emissions target.

The report attributed the missed targets to road emissions and increased HFC (hydrofluorocarbon) emissions from the rising demand for air-conditioning. It encouraged Malta to set targets and implement measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport by 2025.

"Waste separation scheme designed to fail to justify incinerator"

Turning to the waste collection scheme inaugurated last week, Dr Azzopardi took Dr Herrera to task for the way in which the tender for collection had been awarded.

The Opposition MP said that, in order to make sure that the government’s preferred bidder won the contract, remaining prospective bidders had been discouraged from competing by an unreasonable insistence that the distribution of 165,000 waste separation bins - which was the responsibility of the winning bidder - had to be completed in 80 days.

To this end, the Department of Contracts had been told to notify interested parties that this condition had to be respected. However, the successful bidder had not managed to distribute the bins in time, and was having to resort to assistance from Scouts and Girl Guides groups.

Dr Azzopardi questioned whether any penalties were being levied from the contractor, since the tender obligations had not been fully respected.

The MP also alleged that the separation scheme had been “designed to fail” in order to justify the construction of an incinerator, asserting that there was not enough demand for the huge amounts of organic waste that would be collected and that these would end up in landfills anyway.

He warned the government that these “tricks” were causing disillusionment with environmentally-friendly schemes.

'Emissions targets were never attainable' - minister

Dr Herrera said that the targets negotiated by the Nationalist Party would never have been attainable, and that the PN government had already known in 2012 that AEAs would have to be purchased.

The environment minister admitted that Malta emitted the most greenhouse gases per capita on absolute terms, arguing that the country’s dependence on a service economy limited opportunities for emissions to be reduced since transport was the largest source of these emissions. However, he said that the decision to close the Marsa and Delimara 1 power plants was a responsible step forward, and contrasted it to the PN’s choice of heavy fuel oil.

The only way to reduce certain types of emissions was to stop use of fossil fuels, he added, and action was already being taken towards the phasing out of internal-combustion engined vehicles, the main source of such emissions. He attribute this year’s higher emissions to the country’s reduced reliance on energy purchased through the interconnector, and increased local generation of electricity.

The Minister also questioned why the PN was "trying to discourage people" from participating in the waste separation scheme, which had already yielded impressive results. He clarified that the target was for 60 to 65 per cent of waste to ultimately be recycled, with the remainder to be incinerated. 

Dr Herrera concluded by insisting that the Government remained committed to an effective reduction in emissions. To this end, the Climate Action Fund was more than doubling from the previous year in order to allow for more research into emissions reduction and the effects of climate change.

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