The twenty-eighth Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 28) meeting at Dubai has finally concluded that we need to be weaned off fossil fuels. The wrangling on the contents of the final statement of the Conference is reflected in the said contents which, as usual, has too many loopholes, intended to keep everybody on board and happy.
The international community has been lauding the conclusions of one climate summit after the other, yet the situation on the ground keeps getting worse. When push comes to shove the willingness to act starts dissipating.
A fossil fuel phase out is inevitable. Its consideration has been objected to time and again. COP 28 had no option (at this late hour) but to bow to the inevitable, notwithstanding the various attempts by the petrostates to avoid it. As emphasised by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres “let us hope it is not too late.”
The year 2023 has been the year with the highest temperatures and extreme weather in recorded history confirming that so far climate action mitigation has been practically ineffective.
Where do we go from here? Beyond the nice, politically correct words expressed, implementation is now the key word.
I will limit myself to Malta, for the time being. Implementing the COP 28 conclusion of a fossil fuel phase out, as a minimum would signify that the state should (at least) not encourage fossil fuel consumption.
Government should now walk its talk and start implementation through the immediate removal of petrol and diesel subsidies as well as through a more focused energy pricing policy, limiting energy pricing subsidies to basic household consumption needs. We should not need any prompting for that.
If Robert Abela’s declarations in favour of island states which are threatened by the projected sea level rise are to have any meaning, he should ensure that his government takes immediate action.
I am aware that this is wishful thinking, as unfortunately Abela’s government speaks one language in international fora and a completely different one back home.
All governments, the Maltese one being no exception, are reluctant to face the reality that decisions leading to a different lifestyle are urgently required.
Life without fossil fuels means that we have to generate the electricity we require from alternative sources. It also means that we have to get our priorities right, signifying that we must also plan to consume much less energy.
Government, at times, assumes that a substantial part of our energy needs will be catered for through the two Malta-Sicily energy interconnectors, one in place and another one planned. Apart from serious issues of energy sovereignty, we have through experience learned that this alternative source of energy is susceptible to storm damage which is not always easily repaired. In addition, this does not factor in wilful damage as experienced in the Baltic quite recently where the damage done to an undersea gas pipeline is most probably the result of wilful damage.
In the years to come the electrification of transport, particularly that of private vehicles, will place a considerable strain on Malta’s energy consumption. This can be avoided if instead of a direct shift from fossil fuel transport to electric transport more emphasis is placed on the need for a modal shift.
A modal shift would signify that we address more of our mobility needs through public transport and alternative sustainable means. The smallness of the Maltese islands makes such a shift possible, practical and most rewarding.
Such a modal shift would definitely lead to a change of lifestyle. It will not however diminish our quality of life or standard of living. It will rather enhance it through cleaner air quality and safer streets.
It would be pertinent to remember that a sea level rise will play havoc with Malta’s infrastructure. In such circumstances Malta should be at the forefront in ensuring an early implementation of COP 28 conclusions.
At Dubai Robert Abela spoke in favour of urgent action to protect island states from sea level rise. At home, in contrast, he keeps dishing out subsidies which budget after the other encourage fossil fuel use.
We are clearly, fast approaching the end of the road. Much more needs to be done to translate the multitude of politically correct words into meaningful action. Robert Abela could start by being consistent.
ADPD Deputy Chairperson
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 17 December 2023