Minister Miriam Dalli maps out our energy future

A reality check makes us notice how unbridled growth damages the island and only benefits the rich anyway, as inequality continues to escalate

Energy Minister Miriam Dalli
Energy Minister Miriam Dalli

There have been a lot of comments about the effect of climate change in Malta. Never had we faced  the rainy and wintry weather currently manifesting itself in June. A lot of discussion has been on going in the media about what can tiny Malta do to de-carbonize; let alone reach net zero by 2050. Party apologists remind us how the economy is doing well, with low unemployment and inflation that is better than others’.

Basically, they all attribute the cornucopia of well -being to  improvements reported by NSO and Central Bank of GDP. Recently, the finance minister reminded us how at the present rate of GDP increase (around 4.1%) there have be more workers and he quoted a simulation package shows the population to reach 800,000 with 18 years.

What has not been valued is the degradation to the ecology if the we continue to grow at such an exponential rate. Some merely decry the use of gdp as the primary gauge of a society’s success, pointing to how it fails to measure ills ranging from environmental degradation to slumping mental health and people at the poverty risk. If only, policymakers at Castille stop caring about ever-higher output, stop its propaganda over increasing ownership of luxury yachts ( notice crowded marinas ) ,the import of expensive EV cars ,use of private jets and expansion of Dubai style towers.

The mirage of the golden triangle is now a reality. Stop and envisage the Villa Rosa complex by Anton Camilleri planned with a number of high rise towers. Not far away is another tower financed by Paul Xuereb .These architectural marvels are embracing the Joe Portelli’s Mercury Towers, now in its final stages, Tigne Point , Gap towers and the  sprawling Pender Gardens. These exclude a crop of new mixed development projects complements the exisiting hotels and luxury residences at the Hilton Portomaso, the Intercontinental, the Hyatt, the Radisson, The Westin and Corinthia Resort.

Yes, we are all trying to grow the pie, the idea is to take what there now is and share it with the top echelons of society to make more millions. Copying Dubai, we import an increasing cohort of low-skilled and low-paid TNC’s. The acme of affluence is the latent desire to work less and earn more possibly advocating a four-day week.

A reality check makes us notice how unbridled growth damages the island and only benefits the rich anyway, as inequality continues to escalate. Back to de-carbonization, importers of cars try to persuade us that emissions can be cut, while economies keep growing. Certainly, this is “a fairy tale” designed to prolong the neo-liberal world order. It is better —necessary, even — to force the patient to start a diet now, and get rid of any aspirations for later  growth. How, exactly? “We need to determine democratically what kind of production Malta needs to be doing,” and de-scale MTA’s policy.

This means  trimming down the attraction of an army of sea and sun cohort -now reaching three million visitors (each approx spending a mere €120 daily).  As part of Europe, we need to cut the carbon we  spew into the atmosphere by over half by 2030 compared with 1990 — it is busily enacting law after law to reach the target — and to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Already, some emissions are coming down even as the economy is growing.

That is a remarkable pivot for a country whose prosperity was built through burning coal, oil and natural gas. Remember ,how Donald Trump had ridiculed ‘climate change ‘and walked out of the Paris agreement signed in 2015. Unbelievably, this report reads like an indictment of humanity's stewardship of the planet.

Many recall reading how in the past scientists believed that limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius above mid-19th century levels would be enough to safeguard our future. This target was enshrined in the 2015 Paris Agreement, adopted by nearly 200 nations who vowed to collectively cap warming at "well below" two degrees Celsius - and 1.5 degrees if possible. 

Stark reality shows that when analysing current trends, the target seems to be heading for three degrees Celsius at best. How can we define climate change. Simply put, this will fundamentally reshape life on Earth in the coming decades, even if humans can tame planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions, according to a landmark draft report from the UN's climate science advisors obtained by AFP. 

Back to Malta and one may ask what did the Labour Party do in the past decade to invest in Renewables (apart from the scandalous Montenegro windfarm). Almost nothing. Many studies show how renewables can be a partial solution to reach carbon neutrality. Renewables could supply four-fifths of the world’s electricity by 2050, massively cutting carbon emissions and helping to mitigate climate change.

But solar and wind power have to be fully integrated, with sustainable bioenergy, hydrogen fuel cells (apart from the innovative use of ammonia as a fuel and important fertilizer) providing another key part of the mix.  In simple terms, it means the world needs to start taking collective action to promote renewable energy before it is too late. 

How is Malta faring in this quest? During the past decade, our energy policy focused on sourcing our electricity by burning fossil fuels and importing power over the first interconnector from Italy. Little is known whether Enemalta imported electricity from Green sources in Italy. 

So far, we do not have a natural gas network with mainland Europe consequently LNG is supplied to the Electrogas power plant via an FSU , although use of Green Hydrogen in future niche applications may start to develop if the Malta-Italy gas /hydrogen pipeline is successfully implemented. As a general comment, one may say that clean energy has far more to recommend it than just being "green."

Everyone now acknowledges that the Green sector creates jobs, makes electric grids more resilient, expands energy access in developing countries, and helps lower energy bills. If our population continues to grow then perhaps this is a Godsend that only Green energy provides.

In 2019, Malta was at the bottom of the table in terms of the share of electricity coming from renewable energy. Eurostat reveals we are much of a laggard. Imagine, if within the next decade Malta can generate over 2GW in green electricity from an offshore location with the possibility of exporting surplus to requirement via a gas pipe to Italy. As stated by Miriam Dalli, our banks are sitting over €25 billion of idle funds. Who will fire the starting gun to create our own hydrogen production in offshore waters?

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