In what can be described as a break from the norm, and a somewhat forward looking agenda, the Union Haddiema Maghqudin yesterday held an extraordinary general meeting to discuss climate change, with politicians from political parties adding to the mix.
The meeting was held at the New Dolmen Hotel in Qawra and brought together Rural Affairs and Resources Minister George Pullicino, Opposition Climate Change Spokesman Leo Brincat, the ever interesting Carmel Cacopardo from Alternattiva Demokratika, AN’s John Spiteri Gingell and the UHM’s own two Gejtus, President Gejtu Tanti and secretary general Gejtu Vella.
The debate was very interesting and perhaps the most salient point raised by all is that while ‘fixing’ climate change involved an expense, it will be much more damning and expensive to fix if we leave it till later. Another very salient point raised by Minister Pullicino is that people must realise that green energy is more expensive to produce than conventional type energy.
In his opening address, UHM President Gejtu Tanti said that a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showed that Southern Mediterranean states, in particular small islands, were to be hit hard by rising temperatures in the future.
He said that such evidence shows that the problem of climate change needs to be tackled on a local, continental and global level. He said that two areas that will be particularly hit hard will be agriculture and tourism. “However, we must also look on the bright side of life – European and US studies have shown that millions of jobs can be created in the fight against climate change,” he said.
Mr Tanti said that like the world has a black economy, fighting climate change will create a green economy, an economy that will present new opportunities.
The union president said that many countries were pumping billions of euros into the economy to alleviate the global financial downturn and the probability is that this cash will be pumped into the green economy to hit two birds with one stone. He said that to a certain degree, the last local budget was trying to do the same.
AD’s Carmel Cacopardo opened the session and said that it was extremely positive that the UHM was speaking out about environmental issues and not only those with a direct or indirect impact on employment.
He said that it was incorrect to say that the environment is only related to humans. “We live in society. Society is our way of fitting into an eco-system, but there are also flora and fauna. It is important for our starting point to not only look at the economy. Society needs to take the step to move to a green economy. We need to not only look at social and economic impact, but the environment must figure in all decisions. This is the only way to get to a level of sustainable development,” he said.
Climate change means a change in temperature and the world was going through the phenomenon of tropicalisation. “For example, in the Mediterranean, we are finding fish that were not there originally. That can also mean insects can spread disease to Europe,” he said. Mr Cacopardo said the snow on the Alps is melting, as are the ice caps while islands disappear and seasons change. He said Malta’s main contributors to climate change were energy generation, waste, transport and agricultural activities. He also hit out at the car registration tax and said that before anything else, Malta’s public transport system needed a radical overhaul that has been promised for years and never materialised.
In a pre-recorded video, Leo Brincat said that jobs can be created by going for a green economy. “Look at the proliferating solar water heaters and photovoltaic systems to take an example. We need more people who are qualified in their installation and maintenance,” he said.
Mr Brincat said that trade union involvement needed to be ongoing. “Many countries have found that implementation of climate change policies bring about investment. We need sustainability and that will lead to the creation of green jobs which will offset the losses of conventional.
He said that the Malta Labour Party was proposing a Climate Change Bill and wanted all stakeholders involved. He said that several countries were putting climate change at the top of the agenda, also making reference to pledges made by US President Elect Barack Obama. He said that climate change needed to be taken in the context of Kyoto targets.
Minister George Pullicino said climate change was mostly brought about by human activity. “Consumption of energy is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. If we act now, the ‘price’ we have to pay will be lower than if we do not act right now on a global level.”
He said the EU has set targets which state that members must reduce carbon dioxide emissions to 20 per cent of 1990 levels. “For us that means reducing carbon dioxide levels by 50 per cent of what we have today and that does not mean reducing consumption by half, it means producing energy without as many emissions,” he said.
Mr Pullicino said Malta needed to utilise new clean fuels. He also said Malta needed to meet a second target in 2020 – that of 10 per cent of energy generated to be clean.
He said that Malta needed a culture change in implementing energy efficiency in construction. “For clean energy, we need initiatives, enforcement and incentives,” he said. However, he warned people that everything came at a price and that clean energy was more expensive than conventionally generated power. “To have three per cent of our consumption being generated by wind, we need to spend e130m and to have the same percentage generated by solar power we need a e350 million investment.
He said that Malta needed a change of attitude whereby people would not leave lights on for no reason, with electrical appliances on in the background or even on standby. He also spoke about the new concept in utility bills where people will not subsidise others and will simply pay for their own consumption, explaining that a low income family, under the old system would be subsidising others.
However, he said that Malta was not at a complete loss on the environment, adding that just a few years ago 20 per cent of energy generation went towards producing water while it now stood at 4 per cent. He also said that Maltese technicians were working in Turkey and Tunisia to design and maintain reverse osmosis plants.