Carbon-neutrality: no small feat | Aaron Farrugia

As a government, we are committed to ensuring that sustainability remains at the core of our plans in both economic and environmental strategies and measures – and that no one is left behind

Climate change has a negative impact on the socio-economic fabric of a country. This is not a theoretical statement anymore and its effects are being felt now.

Not only is the situation urgent, but it’s also very close to home – impacting our everyday lives. Wellbeing, in all its forms, has risen to the top of every country’s agenda and understandably so as the toll of ecosystem depletion manifests itself.

We have proven to be quite a resilient country, time and time again, despite our vulnerabilities. But until the primary metrics of progress remain the various economic parameters such as the increase in gross domestic product, we will remain hemmed into a dark corner. This is a short-sighted approach as we gradually compromise our resilience to shocks. In fact, the pandemic exposed some of our vulnerabilities – and it is time to act on them. Being vulnerable to the effects of climate change is simply a risk we cannot afford.

But we have been proactive. As a country we have already made significant gains in the area of climate. To this end it helps to understand some context: the text of the draft Council conclusions on which Heads of State and Government began their climate discussions in the afternoon of 10 December 2020 did not take into consideration Malta’s specificities in any clear form. It grouped the need to take into account all national circumstances when discussing the breakdown of the enhanced 2030 target in a general manner without recognizing the special situation of Island Member States.

Malta made it clear from the start that, whilst we acknowledge the need for the EU to step up its efforts and raise its 2030 ambition to an at least 55% reduction target, when it comes to determining national targets, this ambition must fully take into account the evolution of member states’ emissions mitigation potentials; that the approach must be socially just and cost-effective, and that no member state is to be unduly left behind.

As a small island state at the periphery of the European Union, Malta made the case that with the lowest emissions per capita across the EU, limited emissions-reduction potential, and unfavourable economies of scale, it is also imperative that the methodology for breaking down the 55% target recognised the situation of island member states.

Malta saw the successful introduction of the notion of ‘Island Member States’ when referring to the need to take into account the different starting points and circumstances of member states. We maintained that it was important to also introduce references to the emission reduction potential within the variables, as this is important for Malta given that it has a service-orientated economy, with no major polluting industrial outputs.

Overall, the achievements of these intense negotiations have put Malta on a path to ensure that the EU moves forward with an enhanced target for 2030 of 55% as opposed to the current 40%; to align itself with the EU’s commitment to reach climate neutrality by 2050, in a manner that takes due account of actual emission reduction potential, fairness, proportionality and cost-effectiveness, not just for continental Europe but all for member states, including the smallest island member state. This will allow Malta to design a decarbonization path that can target those sectors which have emission potential reduction, in a manner that benefits our environment and our economy.

The policy document which will lead us in this mission to decarbonize the economy is the Low Carbon Development Strategy. The Prime Minister’s economic vision for 2020-2050 gave maximum importance to the attainment of carbon neutrality by 2050 – suitably so, as the vision’s main focus is creating a better quality of life for all. His bold leadership here was evident.

Achieving carbon-neutrality is no small feat. Going for carbon neutrality means that some sectors need to restructure and reinvent themselves, and as government we need to ensure a just transition.

We need to start by recognising the negative impact of transport on our emission levels. As government we are already incentivising the use of electric cars, and surely enough we will step up our efforts in this crucial sector. This, while continuing to invest in improved transport infrastructure and looking at a mass transit system. Promoting more sustainable mobility would be beneficial for all. Renewable energy plants, as well as our shift towards better, cleaner and greener buildings and more intelligent planning will also help us in decarbonizing our economy, as will our massive investments in state-of-the-art waste management plants coupled with our Long-Term Waste-Management Plan.

The reality is that the economy and wellbeing of our society depend on a healthy environment. With the private sector, civil society, and the country on board with government’s plans, we will be able to make huge gains towards mitigating the effects of climate change. As a government, we are committed to ensuring that sustainability remains at the core of our plans in both economic and environmental strategies and measures – and that no one is left behind.

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