Question Time: Banning petrol, diesel
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Question Time: Banning petrol, diesel

What groundwork needs to be done before new diesel and petrol cars are banned?

José Herrera, Minister for the Environment, Sustainable Development and Climate Change

Transport plays a major role in the improvement of every modern society, as a means for economic development and a prerequisite for achieving social and regional cohesion. Transportation, however, offers old challenges which remain, and new ones which have arisen. The future prosperity of our country will depend on its ability to remain fully and competitively integrated through efficient transport, yet also on the way it takes into consideration the impacts of the sector on both the natural and built environment.

It is a fact that the two main contributors for CO2 emissions for the past years have been clearly identified as electricity generation and traffic. As the government delivered the much needed shift in terms of electricity generation, the country will now address the traffic-induced pollution in order to implement yet another environmentally important change.

Different initiatives have been introduced to enhance transport’s environmental performance, in terms of making it cleaner and more energy efficient. But increased volumes mean that transportation, particularly when still depending on oil and oil products for the majority of its energy needs, will remain a major source of noise and local air pollution. 

That is precisely why, towards the end of 2017, the government decided that a cut-off date for the importation and registration of conventionally fuelled vehicles, as defined in the 2011 European Union white paper on transport, on the Maltese territory needed to be established. This is similar to what other EU countries are doing with respect to the phasing out of conventionally fuelled vehicles.

So as to assess and move forward towards the achievement of such target, as a minister I appointed a committee which is chaired by the Environment and Resource Authority and comprising members from the Ministry for Transport, Infrastructure and Capital Projects, Energy and Water Agency, Transport Malta and the Malta Resource Authority. 

The e-CAR committee has been assigned the task of: (i) drafting the consultation document on the cut-off date for the implementation of all ICE imports in Malta; (ii) conducting close consultations with policymakers and relevant stakeholders; and (iii) submitting recommendations to minister for Cabinet approval.

To this end a study has been commissioned to assist the committee in such an assessment through which informed decisions on a national level may be taken.

Work to date has involved the analysis of statistical information, together with national and EU-wide studies, where the natural progression towards having a larger fleet consisting of no ICE vehicles has been determined.

The next steps will involve the utilisation of such ‘baseline data’ to arrive, as committed, at cut-off dates for the importation of conventionally fuelled vehicles.

Peter Agius, European Election candidate, former head of the European Parliament office and speech writer for the President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani

The transition from diesel and petrol cars to renewable energy cars is in all our interest. As of today it is already perfectly feasible to drive electric vehicles in Malta, with plug-in stations increasing dramatically over the last years. A few pilot projects promoted by public authority and recently a main private enterprise for electric car sharing seem to be picking up. These are promising testimonials for the transition to come.

For that transition to take place as soon as possible while delivering benefits for all Maltese society it is imperative for Malta to promote a technology neutral environment. While the diesel and petrol engines have managed to become the worldwide standard, the next phase of road transport promises to include a wider variety of propulsion for our vehicles. 

Need to ensure a more direct benefit for the consumer

Hydrogen cars and solar-powered cars are, for instance, additional alternatives with electric to the diesel and petrol engine cars. Malta should be ready to welcome all of those options by facilitating the establishment of the infrastructure adapted for the different technologies.

European laws already provide the regulatory regime for these technologies. A notable case is the regulation on hydrogen-powered cars which I had the privilege of negotiating within the Council of the European Union way back in 2008. Most European countries now have hydrogen stations for the servicing and fuelling of hydrogen cars. An EU-funded €170 million project is presently underway to develop hydrogen refuelling stations all across Europe. Malta is not part of this project yet.

Another part of the groundwork we need to address with urgency is the need to ensure a more direct benefit for the consumer of renewable energies, more expediently. At present renewable energy cars sell for at least 25 per cent higher cost than a similar petrol car. That cost must be offset more quickly through savings in consumption. As things stand today, the electricity rates for consumers charging their car at home penalise them greatly due to the brackets of consumption charging the user at a much higher rate once he exceeds the basic limits.

A standard household for instance is allowed for 10,000 units at the basic rate of 12c per unit. Once that household gets an electric car, that allowance will no longer suffice to cover normal consumption, hence the charging of the car and general household consumption will both be charged at the next bracket and possibly the one after reaching the rate of 34c per unit. In this scenario the greener household would be penalised with a triple rate energy bill.

Lee Bugeja Bartolo, Democratic Party member

The country needs a holistic and long-term approach to replace internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles with electric cars. Electric cars still come with an expensive price tag on the market and the government needs to take a number of concrete measures to encourage electric car usage. 

A number of charging stations have already been introduced in Malta as required by EU regulations yet the encouragement to use electric cars and public understanding of the importance of this shift in technology is widely lacking. 

Norway leads by example in this regard with a total of 86,290 electric cars registered in 2018 alone, making it the country with the highest number of plug-in electric cars per capita in the world.  Some of the highly successful incentives the Norwegian government has taken include the exemption of purchase taxes and VAT, free municipal parking and access to bus lanes. 

Under the current administration, Malta has only seen an increase in the number of petrol stations which goes directly against the much-needed shift in mentality to consider clean transportation and a daily increase of fossil fuel-driven vehicles. According to Eurostat, Malta has been the country with the highest increase in CO2 emissions in all of Europe. 

The location of new petrol stations is highly controversial with a staggering 3,000 metres squared of ODZ land allowed for new petrol stations. The Democratic Party has repeatedly spoken out against the way permissions are being granted for the relocation of petrol stations.

While the government scheme offering a €7,000 grant when scrapping an ICE vehicle for the purchase of a new electric vehicle is highly plausible, there is not enough promotion of such scheme and the budgetary allocation is poor.

On the other hand, the green car-sharing Go To System launched by a private company last November is forward-looking and deserves praise. 

Infrastructure to encourage Maltese citizens to use electric cars is also lacking with only a couple of charging stations available at a select number of towns. The commitment towards electric car usage may be slow due to the other economic issues which are rather not dealt with by the government. Electric car usage would result in a decrease in dependence on fossil fuels and this might destabilise certain industries. 

It is no secret that the Maltese government makes significant income from diesel tax. Unless the environmental benefits are given equal importance to the economic benefits of a diesel dependent industry the situation will not change. Moreover the government needs to ensure that economics models dependant on diesel usage are revisited and adjusted as necessary.

Bad traffic management correlates to bad air quality and so far both Transport Malta and the Planning Authority have not ascertained that the main objective to this concern is to promote sustainable development compatible with good health. Public transport and smart driving can do a lot to mitigate these measures but we need to be more committed when it comes to such contingency planning. Ultimately it is public education that guarantees a dignified future for the country.

If you would like to put any questions to the parties in Parliament send an e-mail marked clearly Question Time to editor@timesofmalta.com.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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