When it comes to human-driven climate change, Malta’s track record has always been a mixed bag. On the positive side, Malta was the first country to place climate change on the international agenda by proposing a UN resolution approved in December 1988; it was quick to sign the Paris agreement in 2015, and unanimously voted in parliament to declare a climate change emergency. Malta was one of the first countries, way back in 2011, to appoint a climate change ambassador (Prof. Simone Borg).

On the negative side, however, Malta is depressingly last among European countries in relation to 2030 greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, with a yawning gulf of -61.2 per cent from 2030 targets registered for Malta, with the second worst country, Luxembourg, having to cope with a more congenial -25.3 per cent figure. Our country has consistently failed its annual emission abatement targets since 2013.

Given the current dire situation, the Ministry for the Environment, which also incorporates the climate change portfolio, recently launched the Low Carbon Development Strategy consultative process, which should steer Malta towards achieving the much-touted carbon neutrality status by 2050 but, more importantly, to bridge over the current gap from the 2030 emissions targets.

The EU has set itself the highly ambitious target of reducing its greenhouse emissions by 40 per cent by 2030, although this figure might be revised upwards even further through the Green Deal philosophy. Five key stakeholder groups, consisting of civil society (eNGOs but also the MDA), employer associations, local government (through the local council community), line ministries and the interests they represent (tourism, industry, and so on) and academia are being consulted prior to the strategy’s proposals being projected to the public domain.

By virtue of its highly-technical nature, the climate change domain is riven with all sorts of acronyms. For instance, reference is made to two parallel tracks when it comes to climate change obligations EU MS need to comply with – the ETS and the ESR.

An emissions trading system, also known as emissions trading scheme and abbreviated as ETS, is a market mechanism that allows those bodies (such as countries, companies or manu­facturing plants) which emit (release) greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, to buy and sell these emissions (as permits or allowances) among themselves.

Malta is depressingly last among European countries in relation to 2030 greenhouse gas emission reduction targets- Alan Deidun

The EU ETS is the first international trading system for carbon dioxide emissions in the world and applies not only to EU member states but also to the other three members of the EEA – Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. It covers over 11,000 heavy energy-using installations (power stations and industrial plants) and airlines operating between these countries, which are collectively responsible for close to half of the EU’s emissions of CO2 and 45 per cent of its total greenhouse gas emissions.

For Malta, the only emissions that can be addressed through the ETS are those being generated by the energy sector, for which Malta has registered considerable slashes through improvements in the efficiency of its energy generation and through its reliance on interconnector-mediated energy imports.

The Effort Sharing Regulation (ESR) establishes binding annual greenhouse gas emission targets for member states for the periods 2013-20 and 2021-30. These targets concern emissions from most sectors not included in the EU’s ETS, such as transport, buildings, agriculture and waste.

The lion’s share of ESR emissions in Malta (46 per cent) emerge from the transport sector, followed by waste (17 per cent, major source of methane) and industrial processes (17 per cent, major source of fluorinated gases so commonly utilised in air-conditioning and refrigeration systems), with other sectors (agriculture, construction) presenting an even smaller profile.

Given the status of the transport sector as the top emitter of ESR emissions locally, it will be inevitable for a locking of horns between the environment and transport ministries, especially in view of the ever-burgeoning private car fleet and transport infrastructure on these islands. The energy performance of buildings is yet another critical sector where Malta has fared badly in recent years and where some urgent remedial action is necessary.

Ironically, despite Malta getting the wooden spoon when it comes to 2030 greenhouse emissions, per capita it features the lowest figure for such emissions, with such a descriptor registering a significant decline from 7.53 tons carbon dioxide equivalent per capita in 2007 to 4.53 tons in 2017. This makes the adoption of further emission abatement measures by the public at large an even more arduous task.

Despite the odds stacked against the implementation of any meaningful emission abatement strategy, there are slivers of hope. For instance, a decoupling of sorts has been registered between GDP increments and levels of emissions. Between 1990 and 2017, Malta’s GDP saw an overall increase of 304.7 per cent between 1990 and 2017, whilst GHG emissions per unit million GDP in 2017 were 74.7 per cent lower than in 1990, hinting at a reduction in the emissions-intensity of the national economy and that dampening our greenhouse emissions does not need to be a spoke in the economic growth wheel.

From his first six months in his new green portfolio, it emerges that Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia is definitely not one to shy away from walking the talk. Thus, all those who are aware of the insidious nature of human-caused climate change and its impacts on small island states like ours are urging him to take the fight at cabinet level and to wrench the wooden spoon off Malta’s clutches when it comes to 2030 emission targets.

EU-imposed targets prescribe a reduction in ESR-emissions of 19 per cent by 2030, given that the tolerance of annual increases in emissions for Malta will expire this year. Hence, the strategy being peddled by the Environment Ministry needs to come on stream in December 2020. We are definitely in an emergency when it comes to human-driven climate change and Farrugia needs to take the heat.

alan.deidun@gmail.com

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