Times of Malta, 3rd July 2008 – Editorial

Hard on the heels of its high-powered report on the environmental deficit and the reform of Mepa comes another thought-provoking study from the independent think-tank, The Today Public Policy Institute, on Malta’s energy security, its levels of traffic pollution and the dire effects on health.

As the price of oil heads inexorably upwards – and so does the surcharge – the urgent need to exploit renewable sources of energy and energy conservation are underlined. Malta has been utterly prodigal and idle in this field despite EU urgings. It now finds itself severely disadvantaged, facing dwindling and ever more costly fossil fuel resources as well as their toxic effects on health.

The report, titled Towards A Low Carbon Society: The Nation’s Health, Energy Security And Fossil Fuels, deals with the exploitation of renewable and alternative energy sources and energy conservation, proposes ways of reducing urban air pollution and describes the deleterious effects of air pollution on the nation’s health.

It addresses the pivotal question: What must be done to cut pollution from excessive burning of fossil fuel and to enhance Malta’s energy security? It highlights the urgent need to reduce dependence on fossil fuel for electricity generation because this, together with traffic, is a major source of pollution and carbon emissions. The need to obtain energy from renewable sources in conjunction with energy conservation are seen, rightly, as a package.

The adverse effects on health of air pollution from traffic are vividly exposed. Strong scientific evidence shows that individuals exposed to air pollution have a shorter life expectancy. Children are more susceptible to air pollution than adults. The prevalence of asthma among children and young adults has steadily increased over recent years, a sad indictment of government complacency in dealing with traffic pollution.

As to the vital issue of energy security and future energy generation, the report examines a number of measures for generating renewable energy and the urgent need to take steps to do so. It stresses the need for the importation of clean electricity from the European grid and the pressing installation of a cable connection to mitigate Malta’s overstretched and worsening generation capacity, which are now belatedly in hand. The need for increasing energy efficiency in buildings and the encouragement of energy efficiency in homes, offices and factories are also underlined.

The report is a call to action. There is an urgent need to replace fossil fuel burning plants with less polluting and more reliable energy sources. There is an urgent need to back these up with alternative and renewable sources of energy. There is an urgent need to instil a culture change in people to encourage energy conservation and healthier living through a combination of carrot and stick. The polluter-pays principle must be made to bite so that those who pollute more pay more. Action to deal with polluting vehicles is long overdue.

Ensuring water security and the achievement of energy security are probably the two most challenging issues confronting this country now and in the future. These, and the nation’s health, go to the heart of Malta’s future economic, social and environmental sustainability. The study should stimulate politicians to exercise the political will leading to action in these areas which has hitherto been lacking.