Cheap energy politics: why Malta falls behind on renewables

Maltese governments, despite their international posturing, shamefully negotiated a 10% greenhouse gas reduction by 2020 (by a PN administration), and now a miserly, minimum effort, minus 19% by 2030

The most important sector which needs urgent, focussed and targeted action from the climate emergency aspect, but also because of health and economic imperatives, together with transport, is the energy generation and efficiency sector. Reading the news of the Prime Minister declaring that Malta’s focus during its term on the UN Security Council will be climate change made me wonder whether I missed some grand policy declaration.

Whether I missed some grand, tens-of-thousands Euros in sound, light, stage and all, press conference. I thought I had missed Malta being declared a textbook example of action regarding climate change, renewable energy and sustainable mobility. But then I also saw a clip of Miriam Dalli addressing Parliament about energy, and her main focus was the blanket subsidies given to all and sundry. She subsidises waste and brags about it. The breathtaking, cheap politics by this ‘new and fresh’ minister is astounding. Sure she excels at posing and posturing at feasts, coffee mornings and sponsored dinners, but when it comes to energy and climate policy she really doesn’t give a hoot. Nor do her voters, to be honest.

Indeed Nationalist and Labour government’s forte was never change or reform. Nor was it ever leading and explaining how a shift to energy efficiency and renewables is healthier economically and environmentally. They hardly bothered explaining that uncontrolled wastefulness is a crime against all of us. Instead they brag about how cheap their electricity is, whatever the source.

We had Nationalist governments tweaking the rules, and choosing heavy fuel oil as a fuel, because it was cheap. Then we had a tit-for-tat about laying ‘interconnectors’ – first one, soon, a second one. The argument? Because it provides ‘cheap electricity’. Well, not anymore! We transitioned to gas twenty years late, and now they want a pipeline. Again, when it’s way too late, we are risking a lock-in into fossil fuels, which will become more expensive as they are phased out in other countries.

If they had even a very basic vision, a much larger portion of locally generated electricity would come from renewable sources today. We could have established a system of renewable energy community owned cooperatives by now. We could have all public buildings generating their own electricity. The Irish Climate Action Plan 2021 explains how the public sector is required by law (not just by media stunts such as the non-binding climate emergency vote in the Maltese parliament) to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions by 51% by 2030.

Indeed each and every public sector body will be assigned an individual target.

Instead Maltese governments, despite their international posturing, shamefully negotiated a 10% greenhouse gas reduction by 2020 (by a PN administration), and now a miserly, minimum effort, minus 19% by 2030. Just imagine if we had reached, 20% renewables by 2020. Just imagine the benefits on multiple fronts, of reaching 40% or 55% of locally generated renewables by 2030.

Where are the policies, with strict interim and legally binding targets? When will people be able to hold government to account, through the courts if need be, and at least make them stick to legally binding targets?

Indeed, the level of Minister Miriam Dalli’s rhetoric is so pathetic, and her politics is so provincial, that she even attempted to sell, to those dumb enough to believe her, the ‘deal’ exempting the country from an EU reduction in energy use by 10% (5% mandatory during peak hours) as some kind of achievement to be proud of. Proud of being unwilling to take advantage of a crisis to hammer home the importance of energy efficiency and reducing consumption? Proud of forcing us all to subsidise – not the basic use of households and businesses – but the waste and overconsumption of those who couldn’t care less?

Malta’s National Energy and Climate Plan is a risible non-plan. It talks about ‘promoting’, ‘striving’, and so on and so forth, without any ambitious targets and effective policy measures and legal instruments. It mentions ‘government leading by example’. Still waiting for the ‘leading’.

As regards renewable energy, a laughable 11.5% target by 2030 is set. The government is so disinterested that Dalli announced an equally miserly and laughable ‘maximum of €74 million in renewable energy over 20 years, through a new investment scheme for large-scale renewable’.

In the meantime hundreds of millions are somehow found to spend on petrol, diesel and gas. The plan speaks of research and innovation, but the Maltese public research budget in all sectors is notoriously low at 0.68% of GDP in 2020 (for comparison: Ireland 1.23%, Finland 2.94%, Cyprus 0.82%). And what can be more risible and pathetic than one of the measures to combat climate change mentioned in the plan is the…wait for it… building and expansion of new roads! But that’s an issue for another article!