Climate change – beyond the empty rhetoric – Ralph Cassar

Unfortunately, if there is one issue which shows the huge chasm between nice words and real, focused action, this issue is climate change. I remember campaigning about the issue more than twenty years ago.

Apart from AD, only environmental NGOs, ridiculed by the Nationalist government of the time, gave a fig about the issue. Fast-forward to 2019: I am not surprised that although PN and PL pay lip-service to the issue, their record and their actions reveal a lack of interest, a lack of knowledge and a preference with business as usual. The PN are trying to imitate their counterparts in the European Parliament and Commission; PL do not seem to want to implement in Malta what some of their colleagues preach in the European Parliament and Commission.

I was left with my mouth open on reading Jason Azzopardi and his colleagues’ motion about climate change. They mixed up carbon dioxide, the ever-increasing amounts of which is causing climate change, to particulates emitted by cruise ships. The issue of particulates could be addressed by a shore-to-ship electricity supply. To reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide of which Maltese registered ships contribute a massive 5% of global emissions, a move away from heavy fuel oil is sorely needed. They mix up the renewable energy 2020 target for Malta saying it is 20% rather than the 10% their own party in government agreed to.

Most of his intelligible proposals are included in the Climate Action Act of 2015. The problem with this Act is that Government is not implementing it. Because even Labour comes first for rhetoric. Labour, in fact, is doing the opposite of what climate action should entail. It is increasing space on the roads for cars and it failed to guarantee a long period of stability in building heights, leading to some people ending up with their investment in renewable energy installation go down the drain.

It has no real programmes, incentives and disincentives to move to a circular economy and it seems to be happy with the ridiculously weak targets, negotiated by the Nationalists, of a 5% increase in greenhouse gas emissions on the 2005 level and 10% of energy coming from renewables. Even this target of a 5% increase of carbon dioxide, it seems, will not be reached.

The conversion of the fuel of the Delimara power station from heavy fuel oil to gas meant a huge reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, however the transport sector, burning petrol and diesel like there’s no tomorrow means that despite the necessary shift to gas, carbon dioxide emissions are on their way up again, up to 28% more than the 2005 levels. The main culprit: governments’ (yes it’s in the plural!) transport policies. You do not need more proof of shoddy transport policies than the Gozo tunnel white elephant, promised in the electoral programmes of PLPN.

Whether it’s a bridge or a tunnel makes no real difference; it still goes against basic principles of sustainability and climate action.
Another proof is when PN and PL take it in turns when in opposition to whine about the prices of petrol and diesel, which apart from carbon dioxide, directly related to climate change, emit toxic fumes and insidious particulate matter, instead of supporting the real solution: reducing cars on the roads by decreasing space for them and giving it over to alternative modes of transport and public transport.

What is not said is that the excise duties on fuels is a huge source of revenue for government without which our public services would disappear. When in opposition PL and PN take it in turns to call for even cheaper fuel and more pollution.

Are there any preparations for the phasing out of petrol and diesel? Will the duty free fuel for the largest polluters, even in terms of carbon dioxide, that is ships and aviation stop? Is there a plan to replace the revenue from the duties on fuels with revenues from other sources? Will Malta, represented in turn by PL or PN, stop opposing a socially just financial transaction tax on financial speculation? Or do they want to risk a financial disaster when Malta is forced to stop the importation of fossil fuels? This is what a climate emergency means. We must act urgently and decisively now. A climate emergency demands a change in our economic system – in Malta, in Europe and around the world.

On the European Union front, it was the Greens who proposed a detailed Green New Deal proposal in 2009. The other groups, the conservative European Peoples’ Party at the forefront, preferred to wait and see, to bend over backwards to please the huge business lobbies. They keep on thwarting real and effective reduction targets.

On climate change, the PN’s European family is a ‘dinosaur’ according to a ranking by Climate Action Network Europe published in April this year. The report reveals which political parties, both European and national ones, act to protect Europeans against climate change. The European People’s Party scored just 14.3%. Liberals score a disappointing 38.1%, the Socialists’ score goes up to 61.3%, with the Greens topping the league with 84.9%.

Now it is obvious that some compromises have to be reached for votes to pass through the European Parliament since no group ever had the absolute majority of seats. But even accounting for ‘loss of marks’ due to compromise positions, a 14.3% score is abysmally low. I will not hold my breath for real change, although fortunately the Green Group is in a position, now more than ever to demand more action. It will be the EU which sets emission and zero-carbon targets. The conservatives must not prevail. To keep within a rise of 1.5⁰C above pre-industrial levels and avoid a runaway climate, by 2030 we need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions massively, at the very least a 55% reduction. We must build a socially just net-zero emissions economy.

In Malta this means strengthening the electricity distribution system to be able to distribute more energy generated by households.
We need to give back roads to people instead of making more space for cars. Polluters must pay.

New sources of finance for a transition to a sustainable, fair and circular economy are required, a Robin Hood tax on financial speculation where the rich corporations, the biggest carbon emitters pay for the transition to a net-zero carbon economy. An economy which is labour intensive, in which good decent work is promoted and incentivised over profits at all costs.

The capitalist mantra of anything goes as long as profits are made must be resisted. We do not need shoddy motions or new laws which remain on paper. We need people who care and know what they’re talking about.

We need system change, not climate change.

Ralph Cassar
Published in the MaltaToday – Sunday 20 October 2019