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Why energy policy is a top priority

The European Environment Agency has published the Air Quality In Europe – 2012 Report. The quality of the air we breathe will always be a matter of concern, both here and abroad. In recent times, at least, no other environmental issue has featured as prominently in the local media, particularly in the wake of further public concern about black dust manifestations, the source of which has been ostensibly identified as the antiquated Marsa power station.

The environment is not just a political issue, stuff for the grindstone of political party spin machines. The environment is a far more complex matter from the purely technical and analytical point of view. This complexity essentially arises from the milieu of components that make it up and that interact dynamically with each other: air, the oceans and freshwater bodies, biodiversity and ecosystems, the earth’s northern and southern ice caps and mountain glaciers and the vastness of land resources that encompasses the basic means of human sustenance that is agriculture.

Furthermore, and this actually militates against managing environmental resources in the most efficient of ways, there still seems to be a lack of awareness about the need to discuss environmental issues in synergy with the state of the economy.

Environment and the economy are two sides of the same coin.

What makes the atmosphere conspicuous is its small mass as compared to the other major non-living environmental systems.

The implication is very significant: that the slightest dose of pollutant emitted into the atmosphere will tend to exert the biggest effect both in terms of environmental impact and human health.

There is no doubt that, locally, there is increasing awareness about the direct link between air quality and human health.

Policymakers at the highest levels – and not just each and every one of us in our use of energy, judicious as it may be – will surely realise the liabilities a country like ours inevitably incurs in subscribing to the economics of polluted air.

Human-induced climate change or, rather, the phenomena that are thought to be somehow attributed to it, only serves to illustrate the sensitivity of the atmosphere.

Carbon dioxide gas has been there for millions of years and scientific evidence clearly suggests its levels have varied substantially over time. The 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report puts atmospheric carbon dioxide levels in the order of 380 parts per million (ppm), minute when compared with the levels of nitrogen, oxygen and argon that constitute the bulk of earth’s gas blanket.

Pre-industrial levels of carbon dioxide were in the order of 280ppm, which implies a steep increase to present levels given the relatively short 200-year timeframe since the beginning of the fossil fuel driven Industrial Revolution.

The scientific community in general is justifiably concerned about the consequences that present and future generations will have to face and global temperature anomalies coupled to models on sea level rise seem to substantiate their well-informed suspicions.

In the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg endorsed Barack Obama’s presidential re-election campaign in support of the President’s stance on climate change.

The EEA report mentioned above argues about the double advantage in taking effective action and implementing policy designed to cut down on a number of air pollutants such as tropospheric ozone and particulate matter, the latter being described as “climate forcers”.

Tropospheric ozone and particulates are partly the result of human activities. They contribute to a localised deterioration in air quality and, globally, there are climate impacts associated with these emissions.

The technical report purports the EU’s strategic approach that air quality and climate issues should be tackled together within the context of implementing a sustainable energy policy across the bloc.

Malta’s energy sector is back again in the limelight. Sadly, the Marsa power station has recently been reactivated in the aftermath of unexpected technical difficulties at the BWSC extension in Delimara, which, however, may have been optimistically almost solved.

The issues are various and not just about the timeframes about connecting Malta’s power grid with Sicily. Without sounding as if the Government’s efforts in the field should be downplayed in any way, arguing that Malta can afford to take lightly its renewable energy trajectory as set by the National Renewable Energy Action Plan under Directive 2009/28/EC on the lines of what is indicative rather than mandatory is surely untenable given the current state of play. The National Audit Office had already assessed that Malta’s failure to reach the 10 per cent renewables target by 2020 will entail considerable penalties.

The implementation of an energy policy that safeguards security of supply while ensuring that Malta abides by its emissions and climate obligations shall be top priority in the next legislature.

We simply cannot afford to miss.

[email protected]

The author specialises in environmental management.

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