No business-as-usual please

The science about climate change is crystal clear. It is necessary to make a greater effort on a European level, indeed on a global level, to do as much as possible to reach zero carbon by 2030.

Unfortunately due to a lack of vision by ‘business-as-usual’ leaders and politicians, and the fetishisation of economic growth and industrialism, it is probably now too late in the day to reach that target.

It is a matter of urgency however, that, at the very least, each and every EU country, including Malta, commits with clear and legally binding targets, to reduce carbon emissions by at least sixty five percent (65%) between 2030 and at the latest by 2040, and zero carbon by 2050.

To this end, a sizeable part of the billion-euro EU recovery fund earmarked for Malta and other investment through, say, Malta Government bonds should be used to achieve this goal.

A Green Deal speeds up the shift to renewable energy rapidly and leads to improved quality of life for everyone. Instead of a proper plan, in Malta we have a National Energy and Climate Plan and The National Air Pollution Control Program with low and vague targets, and with no ambition.

True, these targets conform to international agreements and EU directives, however they are still weak and ineffective. Targets should be reviewed upwards immediately.

We need action to move quickly to a mix of different clean energy sources. We need energy from wind, including offshore and micro-turbines, mandatory solar panels on every building and factory, as well as energy from the sea by means of waves and floating solar panels.

The cumulative impact of small projects, such as micro-turbines, is huge.

The Government should commit to also buying renewable energy from the interconnector and enter into partnerships with our neighbour, Sicily, in renewable energy sources such that we can tap other sources of clean energy and at the same time increase employment in this area.

An imperative is investment to improve the electricity distribution system not only to reduce energy losses but also to make it possible to better transmit and distribute a larger volumes of renewable energy generated in residential areas.

Another interesting development in the energy sector is a submarine pipeline linking Gela in Sicily and Delimara.

It seems that the EU is not keen on financing a natural gas pipeline. So far so good. Natural gas is a fossil fuel which the fossil fuel industry is keen on locking countries into using for the long term.

The EU’s refusal to subsidise fossil fuels is a blessing in disguise. It is reported that to agree to finance such a project, the pipeline needs to be hydrogen-ready.

This would also eliminate the need for the gas storage tanker in Delimara. Brussels’ plans for the transition to a clean hydrogen-based energy sector should be seen as an opportunity.

One thing must be clear, the hydrogen strategy should not be allowed to become a greenwashing exercise to subsidise hydrogen derived from fossil fuel.

While certainly part of a diverse energy mix and a means to store renewable energy, the focus must remain on the expansion of renewables, and as regards hydrogen, only infrastructure which produces green hydrogen should be considered.

Efficiency in energy use and production should also play a big part in economic recovery.

The building industry should be redirected towards energy and resource efficient renovation.

Banks and financial services institutions should be obliged to show how their investment decisions will lead to a net-zero carbon economy, and industrial policy should be based on reaching ambitious climate and circular economy goals. Investments in renewable energies and a wave of renovation will create jobs, reduce fossil fuel emissions and protect the planet and our wellbeing.

As usual, we are already hearing a multitude of excuses and arguments in favour of preserving the ‘Maltese economic model’ based on tax evasion for the wealthiest multinational companies with only an address of phantom subsidiaries registered in Malta; so-called letterbox companies.

Finance Minister Edward Scicluna spoke of EU recovery money contingent on tax-justice measures and climate change mitigation and action as ‘prickly pears’.

He is joined by warnings about threats to Malta’s competitiveness – based on tax theft – by PN/EPP official and former candidate Peter Agius. What a disservice to the country.

It would be better if the need for reform is framed as an opportunity for a fairer economy rather than a threat. Making hay while the sun shines may have suited Malta well for a while.

However, preparing for an economy based on solidarity, ecological and social justice cannot wait anymore.

Whoever brings up excuses for not investing heavily in the necessary measures to change our societies and the way the economy functions, and allows polluters to carry on with business as usual, is irresponsible.

There is no other way out. Malta’s risible climate change targets should be scrapped and replaced with a clear and legally binding science-based zero-carbon action plan now.

We have to move to a new normal. Our economic and social model and the way we live must be based on respect for nature, our planet and ultimately, on respect for ourselves and for each other.

Ralph Cassar
Published in the Maltatoday – Sunday 19 July 2020