News & Events

Malta News - 26/09/2019

Youth protests during UN climate change meetings

Author: George Mangion
Published on Business Today 26th September 2019

All over the planet, a record number of youth campaigners are due to be joined by parents, workers, trade unions, businesses and organisations in a global drive ramping up pressure on political leaders to respond to the climate crisis.

Last Saturday, 21st September was the launching date for a UN summit convened by UN secretary general António Guterres.

He vowed, to “put climate action into higher gear” during a three-day event. Guterres said the leadership and initiative showed by youth around the world was “remarkable” and in Malta demonstrators were equally vocal.

One expects that youth leadership will have a strong impact on government to speed up measures to combat emissions. Big tech is also joining the protests with thousands of employees at Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon expected to participate in the strike. In total, more than 4,600 strikes are expected in cities around the world during a three-day UN summit in New York.

Labour MEP Miriam Dalli last week joined in the climate strike eagerly rallying leaders to meet the Paris Agreement goals. These included the quest to limit the increase in global warming by 1.5 degrees.

Many ask what is climate change?

It is a process which may be caused by a number of factors and can include geologic, oceanographic and atmospheric events. It does not exclude human-induced factors. One can generalize that a common cause for high emission of greenhouse gases result through human processes such as burning of fossil fuels.

There exists an undeniable fact pointing to the ongoing increase in carbon dioxide concentrations and other greenhouse gases, such as methane and nitrous oxide caused by daily activities – due to the explosion in car ownership, but more so due to cruise liners/container ships running heavy engines burning high sulphur fuel. The latter are seen increasing their presence in our ports, apart from three million visitors travelling by air, not to forget emissions from heavy industry involved in construction sector -now running on steroids.

Economists remind us that such heightened activity has a silver lining as it has contributed generously to recently acquired affluence. The sad truth is that this comes at a hidden cost. Not all governments shed tears for the lack of success in reducing national carbon footprint which undoubtedly is contributing to climate change.

Between 1990 and 2007, the globe experienced greenhouse gas emissions increased by almost 50%. It’s time to start reducing such emissions in order to mitigate the effect of climate change but it is unreasonable to expect that all governments can afford to dig deep into their pockets so as to convert to green energy.

There have been various conferences and press releases by the EU extolling the benefits of Renewable Energy Systems and directives were proposed by committees in Brussels to propose ambitious goals for Member States to step up their investment in Green energy.

The golden grail is reached if by next year the EU would obtain 20% of its total energy consumption requirements from renewable energy sources.

Malta has tried its best to speed up the use of PV panels in the domestic and commercial scene but so far not enough investment was done and unfortunately it is too late to reach the 2020 targets.

As a definition renewable energy includes wind, solar, hydro-electric and tidal power as well as geothermal energy and biomass. By the way, we cannot but recall US President Donald Trump’s intention to pull out of the Paris Agreement. Back home, we notice that concentrations of carbon dioxide in the Mediterranean have increased along with the atmospheric distortion which is giving us colder winters and higher humidity in summers.

All lines of evidence make it unequivocal that increase in carbon dioxide concentrations is human induced and is predominantly a result of accelerated fossil fuel burning.

It is a fact that greenhouse gases when controlled can serve a useful purpose that is to absorb infrared radiation from the Sun and re-emit it in all directions. This natural greenhouse effect, resulting in the creation of water vapour and carbon dioxide functions like a shield to protect the Earth surface from harmful sun rays. Pierce the shield and the surface temperature would be intolerable.

We also have the problem of a gradual rise in sea levels. It is estimated that over this century, we will encounter sea-level rise of between 0.18 and 0.69m. It goes without saying that any sea-level rise will adversely impact our economy.

One may observe that awareness in Malta of the benefits of using clean technology has attracted the massive investment by Shanghai Electric in loss-making Enemalta. It converted the BWSC plant to run on LNG. The private sector investment in Electrogas’s new generating plant running on LNG is also a blessing.

Sadly, Malta has so far been a laggard in solar energy generation. One may question if modern PV technology is becoming more effective. Recently, research in PV technology has been making giant steps by testing new prototypes made of semiconductor materials, such as silicon which due to their properties makes them highly conductive and in turn scientists are discovering ingenious ways how to capture the energy of the sun and convert it in electricity through an inverter. In Malta, simply fitting more panels on rooftops looks easy but the demographic and geographic characteristics of the island create issues of spatial planning, given that space is limited with a high population density reaching 8,155 people per square kilometer.

But it is not all doom and gloom. Having started from zero in 1995 there has been a huge leap in the number of rooftop installations to date. Official statistics indicate that PV has grown at an average yearly rate of 35% from 1995 to 2005 (1,8 kW to 40 kW) and of 63% between 2005 and 2010.

Ask any architect and he will point out that spatial planning is hindered by the limitation of open areas where to fit extensive renewable energy systems (RES).

These often clash with other planning needs and for this reason large-scale RES installations are not practical in Malta (unless experiments to link floating sea panels prove doable).

In conclusion, the environment minister while admitting defeat in the race for renewable energy – yet he courageously soldiers on. The impossible we do now – miracles have to wait while our youth have taken to the streets to voice their anger against perceived inaction to reach EU goals.

The urgency is growing as time is rapidly running out to curb emissions enough to stay within warming targets.

George Mangion

Author: George Mangion
Published on Business Today 26th September 2019
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