How we are tackling climate change in Gozo, Malta and the EU

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How we are tackling climate change in Gozo, Malta and the EUOn Thursday, the European Parliament’s this Time I’m Voting campaign went to Gozo with a public discussion on the EU’s Roadmap to fighting climate change.

The European Parliament Office in Malta said that the topic of the debate was chosen as a response to how climate change has markedly increased as one of the main concerns for the Maltese people.

This it said, is evidenced by the latest Eurobarometer EU-wide survey published last month- where it shot up dramatically to second spot after migration.

In the context of the European elections the citizens have a big role to play to push elected representatives to make sure fighting climate change becomes even more of a political priority – speakers and public concurred, the organisers said.

Ms Anna Zammit Vella, acting Head of the European Parliament Office in Malta, in her introductory remarks highlighted how three quarters of Europeans want the EU to do more to protect the environment.

She outlined Parliament’s action and the space it gave to the young Swedish green activist Greta Thunberg who told MEPs to ” panic ” about climate change , as well as to the debate of the Lead Candidates’ for the Commission Presidency of the day before, in which the lead candidates from the European parties political talked action: not on if, but rather how to tackle climate change.

Mr. Baptiste Chatain, European Parliament Environmental Policies Specialist, in a keynote intervention, said that a lot of change had happened in the five years of the mandate of the outgoing Parliament, mainly due to MEPs being more connected to the constituents.

“Today, 4 years after the Paris Agreement and two years after the IPCC report that showed the difference between a ‘+1.5°C world’ and a ‘+2°C world’, there is a greater sharing of goals as well as an ever-growing consensus. The result is that policies will get a lot more support in the EP today than they did five years ago,” he said.

But which economic model do we want for 2050? He asked. “Climate action is not punitive: the more science and data we have the more it shows that actually there are benefits too. It is about framing innovation policies and having investors in cars, appliances and other industries on board so that we make sure that money goes in the right direction.”How we are tackling climate change in Gozo, Malta and the EUMr Chatain reminded that the EU is only a fraction of the global scenario, and if we are to move towards more ambition for 2050, it has to do this through the exercise of climate diplomacy, and trying to pull others to tow the same line.

“While some would say that we should not move too fast, at the same time we should show we have the policies and that these policies do work,” he said.

“An example of this is the recent agreement in Parliament for the reduction of car emissions.” He also added that the more ambitious we are on cleaning the transport sector, etc, the better quality jobs we will have.

“Thus, it is also important that the EU also aims at giving European car manufacturers a competitive advantage. With regards to single use plastics, society is already ahead of lawmakers, and an example of this is the 2014 plastic bag ban, where people managed to make the switch without a problem,” said Mr Chatain.

This feedback teaches lawmakers that Europeans in different countries are probably ready to move towards more environmentally-friendly policies, he added.

Ms Kathiana Ghio, Deputy Head of Cabinet, Environment Commissioner, EC, observed that working globally is one of the main tasks of the European Commission and that tackling climate change only within the EU will not by itself tackle climate change.

On the issue of how to reconcile the EU’s macro perspective with people’s everyday lives, she emphasised that when taking the issue to the citizens, we need to ensure that our policies are tailor-made to the realities on the ground.

“It is imperative for the citizens to know that their country is part of burden-sharing exercise in reducing CO2 emissions, and that their daily actions – whether they’re driving their car, consuming food and products, or managing their garbage – impact this shared effort,” said Ms Ghio.

Professor Simone Borg, Malta’s Climate Change Ambassador, pointed to the EU plan to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, and outlined the 3 main pillars of climate action: mitigation (reducing emissions), adaptation to climate change and, most important and perhaps challenging of all, the governance of climate change issues.

“Being a very cross-sectoral subject, climate change does not just concern environmental issues and if we are to acquire a low-carbon economy and achieve net-zero emissions, we require a radical shift in the way we presently do things,” said the Professor.

With this aim, the EU has required all its Member States to each have a plan of how to achieve a low-carbon economy, while establishing also its own Energy and Climate Plan. This features targets for 2020 and 2030, which targets are a means to an end and are meant to put all the Member States on track to eventually become net-zero emitters by 2050.

The Professor pointed out that, “being a group of member countries, the EU has the strength of not just being a promoter of climate action, but also of being a union of states which help each other out so that the reduction in emissions is achieved collectively.”

At the same time, it has a most rigorous legal framework that imposes legal obligation on members to reduce emissions. It has addressed climate change mitigation in sectors like power stations, industries, agriculture, waste, and land, air and maritime transport.

Prof. Borg remarked that Malta is currently experiencing a works-in-progress attitude towards reaching its climate action targets, and that it has to be mindful that it has certain realities that other MS do not have – a small territory, the economies of scale, its isolation – which all contribute to making our choices more limited.

“Nonetheless, these same factors can be regarded as strengths too, such as working closer together because we are smaller. She mentioned how, in 2016, the Climate Action Board watchdog was set up, with the aim to sensitise the sectors and materialise stakeholder Dialogue,” added the Professor.

Prof. Borg gave examples of the rewarding experience of various sectors of Maltese society that embarked on their own climate action campaigns, from Ekoskola, to a campaign set up by the nursing department at UOM; from the various activities organised by the Malta Business Bureau and the Chamber of Commerce, to initiatives taken by certain hotels to make their tourist product eco-friendly and less energy intensive.

Birdlife Malta CEO Mr. Mark Sultana, remarked that the biggest challenge to politicians is to get people to take policies on board. “A clear example of this was the plastic bag ban loophole. In this sense, it is not just about policy, it is about explaining to the people why we are introducing policies.”

He emphasised the importance of explaining to the people the issue and the risks of climate change, the need for people to start voicing more their concerns with nature, and that a massive participation by the civil society in this regard would result in a stronger lobby power and the demand for politicians with a backbone.

He also pointed to the fact that we humans are part of nature and that messing up with nature is messing up with ourselves.

People are worried that if sea levels continue to rise, we will lose Ghadira, the Sliema waterfront and the Maltese wetlands. Mr Sultana mentioned how, despite the closing-down of the Marsa power station, today “we recurrently have 6 or 7 cruise liners docked in port, using the dirtier sulphur fuel in the Mediterranean than that used in the North Sea, which has lead to a worsening air quality. This, he said, is unfair, and that is why they were pushing against it around the EU.”

Mr Sultana continued by saying that the civil society organisations (CSOs) see the EU as a watchdog that makes sure governments do what they’re supposed to do, and that they want the European Commission to push harder. CSOs exist because there is a gap in government.

“When governments have conscience, there would be no need for such organisations,” Mr Sultana added.

He concluded by saying that, on the local level, the EU is inviting CSOs where the government is not inviting them, and that is the reason why we need the EU. With reference to the upcoming European elections, he concluded that CSOs are empowered by the vote and that we need to have a good turnout in the 2019 European Elections so we would have a stronger voice when we talk to the EU.

Concluding, Prof. Borg said that climate action is a join-the-dot exercise that is meant for everybody – from the grass-roots level to the decision-makers, and that it very much depends upon what we as civilians demand and do, and in our capacity as consumers, business people or tourists, to make choices.

“The more conscious we are of our choices and on how these can contribute to climate mitigation, adaptation to it, and to better governance, the quicker we can achieve net-zero emissions,” said the Professor.

Replying to a question from the audience, Ms Ghio said that the purpose of the European Commission’s long-term strategy is consultation. To that end, Commissioner Arias Canete and his team have been touring to see where the Member States want to go.

“On these lines, the June European Council will be decisive, as the EU will be working on the political priorities of the next legislature and, just like climate change was a political priority for the Juncker Commission, it is now up to the citizens, through this consultation process, to push their governments to make sure that climate change remains a political priority and, if anything, that it is strengthened through stronger links with biodiversity, where we are also entering into a crisis,” said Ms Ghio.

The EU Roadmap to Fighting Climate Change was organised jointly by the European Parliament Liaison Office and the Gozo NGOs Association as part of the European Parliament’s This Time I’m Voting campaign – www.thistimeimvoting.eu – in Malta www.diddarbasenivvota.eu/ – aiming to give citizens a voice on EU issues that matter to them – in the run up to the European Elections on the 25th of May.

Photographs by Alain Salvary

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