Abela, Grech go head-to-head on climate change

Ministerial statements by the Prime Minister and Opposition saw the two confront each other on climate change and environmental credibility

Prime Minister Robert Abela and Opposition leader Bernard Grech went head-to-head on climate change during their ministerial statements in parliament on Tuesday.

Abela was first to address the chamber, having recently returned from the COP26 climate conference.

He said he was particularly struck by the words of the Prime Minister of Barbados, who said that a 2C temperature increase would be a “death sentence” for various coastal nations.

Abela warned that Malta would suffer from a rise in sea levels, and would drive displacement of many people.

While Malta has its own climate realities, Abela said that the Low Carbon Development Strategy, which allocated €200,000 for a climate fund, shows a clear commitment to reaching European targets.

In fact, Malta pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by 19% till 2030 and become carbon-neutral by 2050.

“When we had high energy prices, we were utilising a highly polluting energy source, namely heavy fuel oil. Now, the largest polluting source is transport,” Abela said.

While energy prices are on the rise, Abela remarked that the local burden was not shifted onto citizens and businesses.

Grech took the floor after Abela’s statement. He referred to an open letter penned by sixth form students and sent to Maltese representatives at the UN Climate Change. In their letter, the students warned that only a radical commitment from world leaders can tackle climate change.

“In invite them to turn their frustration into concrete action to make politicians and government take action before it is too late,” he said.

The Opposition leader emphasised on a two-pronged approach to climate changed based on prevention and mitigation.

He said emissions need to be lowered across the board, making the move to cleaner energy all the more vital. For this, the Nationalist Party proposed having an advantageous rate for those investing in solar panels and electric vehicles.

For mitigation, Grech said it is important to prepare Malta and Gozo for increased heat and other impacts from climate change. He noted how a 1-2C increase in temperature will cause thousands of trees to die. “We need to start thinking about this,” he said.

Grech said it is worth looking to other countries, such as the Netherlands, to learn from them on how to tackle the negative impacts of climate change such as rising sea levels.

He also warned on water scarcity, and how it plays into food security. “With climate change, water is becoming as precious as gold. We invested €60 million in EU funds to recycle water. But we still waste too much water that can be used for farming.”

Grech criticised the Prime Minister as lacking credibility on the environment. “We enjoyed hearing you speak so confidently in Glasgow, but we couldn’t take you seriously when climate is the last thing you think about in Malta.”

After Grech’s speech, several Opposition MPs asked the Prime Minister on the government’s environmental targets, including the 19% emissions target and free public transport initiative.

Abela explained that the free transport scheme alone will not lower emissions immediately. However, it forms part of a wider environmental package to help reach other eco-targets.

On the 19% emissions target, Abela made a clarification. The target will see Malta lower its emissions by 19% until 2030. However, MPs David Thake and Karl Gouder noted that this target is much lower than that of Malta’s EU counterparts, some of which are aiming for a 60% reduction.

Abela explained that there is an overall emissions target for the entire European bloc. To achieve this target, different member states have varied targets. “Our starting point is this: we are one of the countries with the lowest emissions per capita”.