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Watchdog tasked to police government climate obligations

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A new Climate Action Authority will be obliged to monitor government actions and obligations to reduce carbon emissions, while acting as a science-based advisory body to ensure climate neutrality targets are met. 

The authority – financed by a budgetary vote of €1.75 million – will be tasked to implement climate change mitigation and adaptation measures, monitor their impact and coordinate proposals with both public and private entities, and regulate decarbonisation targets and a Climate Action Fund. 

Energy and environment minister Miriam Dalli opened a debate in the House of Representatives this week upon tabling the legislation. 

Among its responsibilities will be implementing European climate law and policies, as well as having an independent, national climate action council. The council will group climate experts on science, public policy, finance, the economy, and social fields, who will report annually on climate action progress to the ministry. 

The CAA will replace what today is known as the Malta Resources Authority. 

“We will support communities in the necessary environmental transition, without adopting a policy of impositions or punishment. We want this green transition to be one of collective commitment, and support society to alleviate the damage done to this world in the past, and leave the country a better place than when we found it,” Dalli told the House this week. 

Dalli said that in curbing emissions and taking measures by which the community will have to adapt to the consequences of climate change, a change in the way people live will be necessary. 

“This ecological transition is part of our country’s path towards a more sustainable future… the international reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change show how the impact of climate change is becoming increasingly evident and drastic.” 

As a party to the 2015 Paris Agreement, Malta has to submit plans on how it will achieve climate neutrality every five years. “The coming years are game-changers because all countries need to reduce their emissions as soon as possible,” Dalli said, who says climate action will also deliver cleaner air, sustainable agriculture, and more green spaces and cleaner seas. 

“To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we need to invest to have more sources of alternative energy. This government’s vision is decarbonisation and green transition, and it is one of the pillars of our country’s economic vision.” 

The Climate Action Authority will coordinate national strategies to tackle climate change by bringing together experts, stakeholders, and policymakers to shape climate action with evidence-based and research-based initiatives. 

“Our intention is for this authority to actively involve citizens, civil society organisations, and the private sector in the decision-making process, while ensuring that we also take into account different perspectives,” Dalli said. 

Ongoing decarbonisation 

Dalli said decarbonisation was crucial for Malta as a group of small islands with greater risks of experiencing the major consequences of climate change. “In this respect, the government is drawing up a plan on how best to meet these impacts, how to identify risks according to what science is indicating, and how we can benefit from new opportunities.” 

She said the key challenges from climate change would affect tourism, the economy, farming, energy and water demand, and public services buckling under rising temperatures and longer heatwaves, as well as the impact on marine life and biodiversity. 

For the first time in recent history, Malta experienced 10 consecutive days of a heatwave with temperatures reaching 42.7 degrees Celsius. “Never before have we had a heatwave of this kind,” Dalli said. “With this phenomenon, we have seen a much greater and more negative impact while energy demand increasing faster than predicted.” 

The percentage of renewable sources in Malta today accounts for 13.4% as opposed to less than 2% of all sources back in 2013. Before 2013, renewable energy systems accounted for some 10MW in generation. Today these total 230MW, and up to 800MW when added with clean energy generated by the Delimara plants and the Malta-Sicily interconnector. 

“We want this energy mix to be further diversified. Expected peak energy demand in 2030 was reached last year – seven years ahead of what was foreseen, with record demand of 663MW registered in July.” 

Dalli said the government will invest in a 50MW offshore renewable energy source – a floating solar farm. Some 64 submissions have been filed with the ministry in response to a call for offers. 

She said the share of renewable energies in Malta’s energy mix was increasing every year, together with a second subsea cable to Sicily, and a strengthening of the electricity distribution network.  

The government will be using large battery systems as storage for imported electricity, the first project – tagged at €35 million and financed through ERDF funds – being based in the Delimara plant, while another €12 million battery financed by Recovery and Resilience Funds based in the underground tunnels beneath the old Marsa plant. 

Dalli said other sources of renewable energy such as hydrogen are not viable on a commercial scale, but said the Maltese government will start work on a strategy to introduce the non-polluting fuel as an alternative to diesel and other fuel processes that cannot switch to electricity. 

Since 2022, the ministry has embarked on a €15 million upgrade of the energy distribution network, and in 2024 another €55 million that will include additional reserve generation capacity. In the last two years, 80 new substations have been built and another 66 modernised, with new distribution centres being built in Naxxar, Siggiewi, Rabat, Dingli and the Cottonera area. 

Dalli also said extreme weather events, now becoming more frequent, are also making water resources scarcer, more unpredictable and with increased risks of pollution.  

“Floods and sea-level heights can contaminate land and water resources with their own or other pollution and cause damage to water and sanitation infrastructure, such as wells, sanitation facilities, and wastewater treatment systems,” she said. 

The Water Services Corporation has reduced groundwater abstraction by 5%, while €1 million is being spent on the polishing of treated sewage water to be reused in agriculture – 350 ‘new water’ dispensers will be added across the island for farmers to use this water instead of groundwater for irrigation. 

At the same time, energy-hungry reverse osmosis plants, which convert seawater into potable water, have increased water production by 50% above 2020 levels. 

Dalli said reforms in waste strategy had also delivered over 20,000 tonnes of recyclable waste – the largest ever volume for the country. Mixed ‘black bag’ waste had also decreased by 23%, the lowest levels received by WasteServ in the last 20 years. Separated organic waste has also increased by 35% in volume from 2022 – converted into 4.1 million units of energy, or enough electricity for 570 households. 

The plan is to reduce waste that ends up in landfills to below 10%, with a waste-to-energy project that will take 192,000 tonnes of waste and converted into energy catering for 4.5% of national demand. 

Dalli said transport in Malta now accounts for 30% of national emissions, and said that after free bus travel and ferry services in the ports, more sea travel was envisaged to connect the northern part of the island. Charging points for electric cars are also expected to jump from 322 to 1,200. 

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