What on earth happened to Malta’s plan to ‘fully electrify urban traffic’ by 2050?

According to the latest National Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory for Malta 2013, road transport currently accounts for 16.9% of the total greenhouse gas emissions generated in Malta

OK, let’s try and work out the answer for ourselves. Back in November 2013, the (then recently-elected) Labour government published what it described – in all modesty, of course – as an ‘ambitious’ plan to achieve carbon neutrality in the automotive sector, by 2050.

The very sentence of this ‘National Electromobility Action Plan’ read as follows: “According to the latest National Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory for Malta 2013, road transport currently accounts for 16.9% of the total greenhouse gas emissions generated in Malta. This Government finds this figure alarming and unacceptable. It is the aim of this Government, therefore, to work towards making transport in Malta environmentally sustainable.”

The same document went on to tell us that: “The current Administration is also keeping in mind future EU-targets. The latest European Transport Policy White Paper […] suggests specific targets for the total phasing out of the Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicle from European urban centres by 2050.”

Later – almost 10 years later, as it happens – Energy Minister Miriam Dalli would reaffirm that ‘ambitious’ commitment, in an article published in March 2022. This time, the very first sentence was: “Malta has pledged carbon neutrality by the end of 2050. The switch towards electric vehicles (EVs) will play a crucial role in achieving this goal…”

Dalli even suggested that her government was well on its way to achieving that target: boasting that, “as of March 2022, Malta has 6,000 registered electric vehicles on its road, a far cry from the 2,000 vehicles registered just two years before. This is thanks to the government’s commitment to incentivise the uptake of electric cars through a series of measures, one of which is a substantial grant for individuals and companies who want to scrap their current car and purchase a Battery Electric Vehicle [BEV]…”

Then, in September that same year, the same Minister Dalli reassured the media that: “Government will continue to push the electrification of vehicles on the island towards the goal of zero-emission vehicles in Malta…”

Somewhat bizarrely, she also added that: “The government will continue with its commitment to STOP IMPORTING INTERNAL COMBUSTION ENGINES [my emphasis], and we have given the cut-off date in the PL manifesto which is in 2030…”

All of which brings us crashingly (if you’ll excuse the pun) to the question I asked in the headline. Sorry, but… what went wrong, exactly? How did the government somehow manage to spectacularly lose sight of all those lofty ‘pledges’ and ‘commitments’, a mere two years after Miriam Dalli actually made them? (And less than seven years before the expiry of its self-imposed target, of 2030?)

Because let’s face it, folks: Malta is nowhere near on course to achieve any of those objectives. Indeed, we are arguably even further off-track today, than we were in either 2013 (when the strategy was first launched) or in 2022 (when it was publicly reaffirmed, for the umpteenth time).

Let’s go over everything that happened since then, shall we? Starting with an NSO report published in February 2023, which revealed that:

    a) Malta saw 33 new cars on its streets every day in 2022 [!], with the total amount of vehicles on the country’s roads reaching 424,904;

    b) Twenty-three thousand new vehicles were registered in 2022, with 54% of them being passenger cars while 26% were motorcycles and e-bikes;

    c) The amount of passenger cars reached slightly over 317,000, which accounts for 74.7% of active vehicles;

    d) As at the end of December 2022, 249,458 motor vehicles or 58.7 per cent of the total had petrol-powered engines. Diesel-powered motor vehicles reached 155,960 or 36.7 per cent of the total. Electric and plug-in hybrid motor vehicles accounted for 2.7 per cent of the entire stock, with a total of 11,626 motor vehicles.

Now: given that there are 365 days in a year, ‘35 new cars a day’ translates into an annual total of 12,500 additional cars, added to Malta’s already severely congested road-network, in 2022 alone…of which a staggering 95.4% (yes, folks, you read right: 58.7 + 36.7 = 95.4) were ‘ICE’ vehicles: you know, the same ‘internal combustion engines’ that Miriam Dalli had earlier vowed to ‘STOP IMPORTING’, over the next seven years…

But wait, there’s more. This week, the NSO published yet another report about Malta’s automotive industry… and it turns out that:

    a) There were 436,000 licensed motor vehicles on Malta’s roads by end September, an increase of almost 4,000 over the previous quarter;

    b) 74% of all licensed vehicles were passenger cars, 14% commercial and agricultural vehicles, and 11% motorcycles, e-bikes, scooters, and quad bikes. Buses and minibuses amounted to less than one per cent.

    c) The increase in new registrations amounts to an average rate per day of 69 [!!!] vehicles. The majority of the new vehicles were passenger cars (56%) followed by motorcycles with 18%.

    d) Petrol-powered engines accounted for 58%, followed by diesel-powered engines, and electric and plug-in hybrid engines at 35.9% and 3.7% respectively.

It seems, then, that Malta has actually succeeded in beating its previous 2022 record of ‘35 new cars daily’… having licensed an astonishing ‘37.5 new passenger cars a day’ [56% of 69], by the end of September this year.

Likewise, the total number of licensed vehicles on the island has increased by 4,000, in just one quarter. Now: I stand to be corrected, naturally… but as far as I am aware, there are four (4) quarters in a year; which implies that – assuming that the current rate of car importation continues unabated, until December 31 – by the end of 2023 we will have around 16,000 MORE cars on the island, than we had the preceding year.

Meanwhile, the percentage of all those newly licensed passenger cars that are powered by ‘petrol engines’ has remained more or less constant, at 58%; as have ‘diesel-powered engines’, at 35.9%; while ‘electric and plug-in hybrid engines’ have admittedly increased a little… but only by a measly 1%.

In other words: ICE cars – and may I remind you once again, that the government of Malta is supposedly committed to ‘phasing them out’, over the next seven years – still account for a scarcely believable 93.9% (yes, you read right again: NINETY-THREE POINT THREE PERCENT!!) – of the total number of passenger cars imported to Malta this year.

So once again, I ask: has the government performed yet another U-turn… this time, on the subject of ‘banning the internal combustion engine by 2030’? Because it sure looks that way, to me.

Meanwhile, all that remains to be calculated is the amount of ICE vehicles that will still be driving around on Malta’s roads, by 2030: the year by which they are supposed to have been ‘phased out’ once and for all, remember?

If Malta persists in importing anywhere up to ‘16,000 new cars a year’ – and that’s a conservative estimate, by the way: given that the figure has consistently INCREASED, year on year, for the past few decades – we will be looking at anywhere up to 112,000 new cars on the road, by the end of 2030: for a total of 548,000 vehicles (which, in a population of around 550,000, works out at almost exactly ‘one car, per individual citizen’).

And if over 90% of all those newly imported vehicles remain – as the matter stands today – ‘ICE vehicles’, powered by either petrol or diesel... well, I’ll leave you to work out, for yourselves, the precise date by which Malta will eventually reach its ‘ambitious’ target, of ‘carbon neutrality in the automotive sector’.

I will, however, leave you with a small hint. It is certainly NOT going to be ‘by 2030’… or ‘by 2050’… or indeed, by any other time in the next three or four millennia, at the earliest.

No, indeed. According to my own calculations, it’s probably going to be a lot closer to… erm… ‘NEVER’, quite frankly…