Somewhere in Bulgaria a solar farm or some other ‘mystery’ green project is being funded by Maltese taxpayers because the island is missing its emissions targets, The Sunday Times of Malta has learnt.  

The issue dates back to 2007, when the EU first launched its 2020 targets, which entail Member States substantially reducing their greenhouse gases.

It turns out that Malta has been lagging so far behind its greenhouse gas reduction targets that it has been forced to restort to a ‘flexibility measure’. This takes the form of a bilateral agreement to buy Bulgaria’s extra emissions-reduction points.

The Bulgarian government is bound to use the money it makes from selling its extra reductions on climate change awareness projects, research or green energy initiatives.

The Maltese government has refused to divulge how much taxpayers are forking out to buy Bulgarian reductions.

READ: Meanwhile, Malta's first solar farm is nearing completion

In fact, the government would not give any details on the agreement and did not make any reference to the Bulgarian purchases when replying to questions sent about the matter earlier this week.  

And, while government sources said the cost of this agreement could well run into “hundreds of thousands of euros annually”, a spokesman for the Environment Ministry would only say that a bilateral agreement had been reached which could not be made public.

In Malta, CO2 emissions from road transport in 2015 were 95.7 per cent above 1990 levels

The Bulgarian Environment Ministry did not reply to questions sent earlier this week.  

It would seem, however, that the Balkan State is making quite a killing off such sales.

A recent review of emissions trading in the EU found that the Republic of Bulgaria had raked in some €50 million from the sale of emissions quotas, mostly to the aviation industry, in the first half of 2015 alone.

Meanwhile, Malta’s poor emissions reduction efforts have been highlighted in a new European Commission report.

According to data sent to Brussels by the Maltese authorities earlier this year, “it is expected the 2016 target will be missed by a 16-percentage-point margin”, the report said.

Why is Malta doing so poorly? Mainly because it is hot and packed with cars. The report found the leading causes of emissions were the consistent increases in transport pollution and a strong rise in hydrofluorocarbon emissions over recent years, due to the replacement of ozone-depleting substances with fluorinated gases (F-gases) in refrigerators and air conditioners.

Malta had continued to see a significant worsening of emissions from traffic in recent years due to a rise in the importation of mostly second-hand vehicles.

“In Malta, CO2 emissions from road transport in 2015 were 95.7 per cent above 1990 levels,” the report pointed out.

The Environment Ministry spokesman said the government hoped to start addressing this problem through “traffic-easing measures”.

Waste, one of the major problems the island faces, is also a significant contributor to Malta veering from its targets, with the European Commission noting that “Malta’s share of emissions from waste was double that of the EU average in 2015”. The Environment Ministry spokesman said plans to switch from landfilling to an incinerator-like technology would seek to address this problem.

The gas-fired power plant which replaced the heavily polluting fuel oil plant during the last legislature would also go towards improving Malta’s situation, the spokesman said.

How to ‘buy’ emissions

The EU’s Emissions Trading System is the largest greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme in the world.

Launched in 2005 to fight global warming, it covers more than 11,000 factories, power stations and other installations across the entire EU. Under the rules of the complex system, Member States agree on national emission caps which have to be approved by the European Commission. Those countries then allocate allowances to their industrial operators, and track and validate the actual emissions.

READ: EU edges closer to a revised emissions trading scheme

Under the EU’s ‘cap and trade’ rules, a maximum is set on the total amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted by power plants. ‘Allowances’ for emissions are then auctioned off or allocated for free, and can subsequently be traded.

Member states must monitor and report their CO2 emissions, ensuring they hand in enough allowances to the authorities to cover their emissions. If emissions exceed what is permitted by the country’s allowances, then a Member State can purchase allowances from others. Conversely, if a Member State has overachieved, it can sell its leftover credits.

Countries can also bank extra reductions from a certain year and use them to make up for a poorer performance in another year. Malta has never performed well enough to be able to do this.

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