Are we destroying the planet?

Last Updated on Thursday, 2 May, 2024 at 10:15 am by Andre Camilleri

The Commission is proposing carbon pricing for the aviation sector, which benefited from an exception until now. It is also proposing to promote sustainable aviation fuels – with an obligation for planes to take on sustainable blended fuels for all departures from EU airports.

To ensure a fair contribution from the maritime sector to the effort to decarbonise, the Commission proposes and has extended carbon pricing to this sector. The Commission did also set targets for major ports to serve vessels with onshore power, (Malta started implementing this facility in its harbours). The scheme reduces the use of polluting fuels that also harm local air quality.

Read the 24-page document styled Green Deal and notice how it draws a litany of vows to transform Europe into a vast economy. Many hoped this can both prosper and prioritise the health of the planet. The dream covers everything from housing and food to biodiversity, batteries, decarbonised steel, air pollution and, crucially, how Europe will spread its vision beyond its borders to the wider world. “Our goal” declared Ursula von der Leyen “is to reconcile the economy with the planet.”

Parliament finally adopted the EU Climate Law approved on 24 June 2021, which makes legally binding a target of reducing emissions by 55% by 2030 and achieving climate neutrality by 2050. On paper, this should allow targets to be more easily applied to legislation and create benefits such as cleaner air, water and soil, reduced energy bills, renovated homes, better public transport and more charging stations for e-cars, less waste, healthier food and better health for current and future generations – in short, a Utopia.

Malta has been lagging behind in several areas, and it was only two years ago that it issued a discussion paper regarding offshore sites identified in its Exclusive Economic Zone. Regrettably in 2023, the energy minister had a disastrous summer with complaints about power outages for long hours in practically every corner of the islands.

Officially, this was blamed on excessive heat which, according to Enemalta CEO, had rendered underground cables extremely hot; thus engineers were digging large tracts of roads to replace cables, so as to restore power.

Aside from pitiful power blackouts, the lyrics of a Green Deal sounds wonderful but smaller countries cannot afford to upgrade their systems unless much of the capital comes from private investors. One method of encouraging their participation is through the implementation of new financial regulations and tax incentives, as seen in the USA.

Last year, EU negotiators struck a provisional agreement on what financial products are deemed “green”. With the shift to green transport, Europe can create a market open for world leading companies. By working with international partners, such pioneers can triumph with a reduction in emissions, ambitiously also to include maritime transport and aviation around the world. Becoming the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050 is the objective behind the European Green Deal.

It goes without saying that the use of renewable energy has many potential benefits, including a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the diversification of energy supplies and a reduced dependency on fossil fuel markets (in particular, oil, heavy diesel and gas). Topping the charts among the EU member states, Austria (75%) and Sweden (71%), had more than 70% of electricity consumed in 2019, which was generated from renewable sources.

Energy Minister Miriam Dalli expressed optimism and stated that if EU funds do not materialize, the government would explore alternative financing arrangements to move forward with the investment in a hydrogen-ready pipeline to Sicily and Italy. This stand indicates that the government this year, wants to keep depending on LNG use at least in the short term. This summer, two heavy diesel generators sourced from Bonnici Brothers were temporarily employed under the technical oversight of a Saudi Arabian firm.

Back to the EU hydrogen strategy. This is not as revolutionary as it may seem. Its energy sector integration strategy recognises that the generation of energy through green hydrogen made by renewable electricity, like solar and wind power and hydroelectricity, which Europe is seeing as a top priority to reduce the use of fossil fuels. However, EU acknowledges that other forms of low-carbon hydrogen made by fossil fuel-generated electricity will play a role in the short- and medium-term.

The EU strategy also emphasises the need for significant support for research and innovation at an international level, both for technology development and cross-border trading of hydrogen. While green hydrogen is the best option today for the decarbonisation of the energy system, the risks associated with new technology must never be underestimated. Major challenges remain to translate this revolutionary concept into a commercial reality with proper regulation for the local market in anticipation of hydrogen trading. We are harming the planet but oligarchs tell us it is profitable.

George M. Mangion is a senior partner at PKF Malta

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