Malta’s energy and climate ‘non-plan’ | Ralph Cassar

Malta’s 2030 National Energy and Climate Plan does not commit the country to any real and meaningful change, and is replete with vague non-commitments

With the threats of climate change, from the threats to food security, more frequent extreme weather events, its effects on health and wellbeing crystal clear by now, it is pertinent to point out the ‘do as little as possible’ stance of the Maltese government.

Miriam Dalli’s description of government’s vision as ambitious is simply not true. One might of course argue that tiny Malta has little to no effect on a global phenomenon, however the fact remains that as the EU moves faster to a zero-carbon future, with all the obstacles and spokes in the wheels by the parties and government’s wedded to the status quo, Malta will be in no position to continue with its business-as-usual, don’t rock the boat stance. Non-action now will mean much more difficult decisions tomorrow.

The issues which need clear targets and brave political decisions are precisely those issues, which government after government failed to tackle: transport and mobility, energy efficiency standards and meaningful renewable energy targets for the services, industrial and construction sectors, and planning policies and economic policies which brings about a real social and ecological transition. Governments in Malta do not lead, but serve the interests of those who profit from a business-as-usual scenario.

Malta’s 2030 National Energy and Climate Plan is no plan at all. It does not commit the country to any real and meaningful change, and is replete with vague non-commitments. Phrases which give away government’s non-commitment include: ‘such and such a policy might be considered’, government is ‘assessing policy options’ and ‘the way forward is being explored’.

The risible 2030 targets speak for themselves. The targets are weak, unambitious and will be reached without any real policy innovation and change. One target is ‘to increase by 11.5% the share of renewable energy in gross final energy consumption in 2030’. Another is ‘to increase by 14% the share of RES in the transport sector’, and ‘to reduce GHG emissions by 19% compared to 2005’. This means that combustion of fossil fuels as a source of energy will continue to affect us economically, because all fuels are imported, pollution in heavily congested areas will continue, the destruction of more land for roads will continue, while government will brag that it has reached its targets. Sure, its weak, unambitious and ‘do nothing’ targets.

Just by way of example, the plan says that the proportion of heat pumps installed will increase without any policy measures to encourage or require their use instead of other wasteful heating and cooling equipment. In so many words government is depending on a ‘do nothing, don’t bother anyone’ approach.

The plan goes on to tell us how wave and offshore wind is limited by intensity of commercial activity, and shamefully mentions marine protected areas as an obstacle to sea-based renewables. There is no plan to reassess commercial activity at sea and reassign some areas to activities related to renewable energy. Schemes and policies for photovoltaics on commercial buildings are being ‘considered’, according to the plan.

In the case of the construction industry it is crystal clear that government will not lift a finger to push towards carbon-neutral buildings, to require compulsory installations of solar water heating and photovoltaic systems, not even on large projects, let alone retrofitting of older buildings.

Micro-wind turbines in industrial areas? Compulsory installation of RES, with the right incentives and disincentives on commercial and industrial roof space? Of course not! That’s too ‘Green’ and progressive, for this ‘market-friendly’ government. Neither is there an indication of a serious commitment for energy efficiency, and zero-carbon targets for the services and industrial sector.

No sticks, but no carrots either. Financial incentives for industry and the services sector should be tied to clear, measurable commitments to zero-carbon.

Don’t laugh, but other measures touted as contributing towards Malta’s climate target are road projects. Not the reassigning of road space to favour public transport, a Bus Rapid Transit system, bicycles and pedelecs. Not a programme of lining unbearably hot streets with trees, removing some parking spaces in the process and extensive pedestrianisation, but widening roads for vehicles to purportedly move faster. This is the joke the Maltese government has presented as a climate friendly policy. Incompetence and risible. How do they manage to hold a straight face while explain these hillbilly Trumpian policies to their peers?

In the meantime in its most recent country report, the European Commission found that Malta’s roads give preference to private transport, which has resulted in significant road congestion problems, noise, air pollutants and increased greenhouse emissions. It says that “the lack of soft mobility infrastructure (such as pavements and cycling lanes) discourages the use of alternative modes of transport and exacerbates congestion in Malta.” Fine. But the European Union – dominated unfortunately by neo-liberal EPP and Renew commissioners, governments and MEPs – should stop spending money which perpetuates this issue, through spending on more roads and only finance renewable, sustainable mobility, and the social and ecological transition.

It is in our interest – health wise, in economic terms, socially and ecologically to make meaningful, real strides towards a zero-carbon economy. Procrastination and lack of ambition and leadership means that once again Malta will be the laggard of the EU.