What can the EU’s smallest country do about climate change?

Yes, I know, you’ve heard it all before, just as everyone else has. 1.5oC. The Paris Agreement. 2030. Climate change. Global warming. Mass extinction of wildlife. Polar vortexes. That skinny polar bear. Greta Thunberg.

All this information, but what are we supposed to do with it? They’re just numbers after all, floating on our screens and in our minds, immeasurably large. They’re unquantifiable to the point where humans can’t seem to grasp the sheer numbers just by imagination. And along with them, images burned into our brains, the little visual clues of the unimaginable pain that future generations, even our own, are going to have to suffer through in the not too distant future.

But the real question posed by this article is: what the hell can we do as one of the smallest populations in the EU? And what impact will/could we have on the greater scale?

Tackling climate change is not going to be easy, especially due to the lack of action by past and current governments around the globe and in our own nation.

While yes, we have shifted our primary power source from coal to gas, which *is* cleaner to burn, the car density in our country has increased massively. And this isn’t just a local problem. Recent studies show that EU citizens are not inclined to give up going abroad or reducing their consumption of meat, both of which accounted for more than 60% of the participants’ emissions. People are more resistant to change their mode of transportation due to it being intimately linked to personal values, the same study suggests (see “People need forcing to become greener” in the further reading section). Because of this, it is up to governments to tackle this problem responsibly and as quickly as possible by introducing new laws and legislations that prevent people from going abroad too much (especially people who travel long distances mainly for work-related reasons every day or week), which can be done simply by raising the prices of airline tickets. Or, for a more long-term approach, using the educational system to teach the general population from a young age about how to decrease their carbon footprint. To target the older generations, short videos can published on websites, radio and TV in order to educate them on how to reduce their greenhouse emissions.

Figure 2: CO gas concentration in Malta throughout the years
Source for both figures: Air pollutant emissions data viewer, see sources below
Figure 3: Total greenhouse gases throughout the years, source: EU Environment Agency Twitter account

An alternative method for decreasing the greenhouse emissions in our country is already taking shape, and this is the usage of electric cars. While some people think that their usage will just shift the emissions from the cars to the power station, if solar panels are implemented properly and regularly cleaned (especially after it rains), this would result in a net negative carbon impact. If this is implemented properly, with the right incentives from the government (example by trying to lower the prices for the expensive electric cars) this could surely help with the reduction of emissions.

This next procedure is a more direct approach to dealing with this problem. Cars older than 20 or 30 years, unless antiques that are kept in fair condition, must be replaced with newer cars. Too many times have we seen a car rattling along the road, looking as if it could fall apart if it drives into another pothole. Too many times have we seen a car with visible emissions, black fumes suffocating the drivers behind it. This has to stop. Not only have cars within the last couple of years improved in safety quality (crumple zones, better seatbelts, faster time for airbags to come out), but they have become far more efficient to burn the petrol and diesel. By putting into practice incentives that are worthwhile, the government can attract people to swap their old cars for newer, more efficient ones. It should be noted that VRT tests should also become more regular and enforced appropriately, while both younger and older citizens that can drive a car have to take tests (such as eye tests, how quick their reflexes are) in order to get their licence (which should occur once every 3 to 4 years once a person is deemed a pensioner). These tests should be carried out free of charge so as to encourage people of these ages to take the tests, ensuring that road safety is not compromised for the sake of money. Drivers below a certain age, such as 22, and above the age of 60, should drive with an experienced driver to ensure they are doing so correctly. This won’t be beneficial to the drivers themselves, but also for the general population, since emissions would take a massive hit and safety on the road would increase tremendously.

Seeing that we are an incredibly small country with a high population density, it should be quite obvious that we should take pages out of other countries (with high population densities) that have taken measures to decrease their greenhouse emissions. One notable nation that comes to mind is Singapore. As of last year, Singapore has not only improved the public transport system, but has also controlled the amount of vehicles on the road in the country. They do so by “setting an annual growth rate and through a system of bidding for the right to own and use a vehicle for a limited number of years”. If a version of this law and regular enforcement occurs within our own country, this would also make a substantial dent on our carbon footprint.

 When all is said and done, we can’t just point fingers at governments, both national and international, as this will lead us nowhere, further cementing the doom of our planet. We can’t rely on the laws and enforcement of such laws in order to decrease our carbon footprints, as we know that the likelihood of this happening is extremely low. It is up to us, individuals, to make a difference. Many people I talk to are indifferent to this, and insist that one person can’t make a dent in such an issue, especially a global one such as this. With that attitude, we will surely perish. Not only as a country, but as a species, we have to change our fundamental beliefs regarding climate change. We need to take extreme, drastic measures to ensure that our planet is saved. And at this point, the economy and its growth needs to be disregarded in order to do so. It is far too late for us to continue discussing and arguing about what should be done while taking into consideration the impact it might have on the global economy. People need to strive to save this planet, and take any measures necessary in order to do so. This article, in of itself, is admittedly decades late. Panic and fear should be gripping the global community due to our imminent failure of saving this world. Rather, we rely on the politicians to set laws. If, and only if, our attitudes change towards this tedious goal, we should be able to save the planet.

Share this article to as many people as you can. The number of people that takes the salvation of Earth seriously needs to increase, and it has to do so at an extremely large and rapid scale. This is not the time for thinking anymore, we are way past that. This is the time for doing.

Further reading, additional links and sources:

People need forcing to become greener

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0262407919305779

Air quality in Europe:

https://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/air-quality-in-europe-2018 pages 28 – 30, 35 of document to compare Malta to other EU members

Interactive map showing the different greenhouse gases in EU:

https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/explore-interactive-maps/up-to-date-air-quality-data

Air quality deaths in Malta more than twice than previously thought:

https://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20190314/local/air-quality-deaths-in-malta-more-than-twice-than-previously-thought.704455

https://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20171016/local/maltas-air-pollution-among-the-worse-in-europe.660531

Air pollutant emissions data viewer (2016):

https://www.eea.europa.eu/data-and-maps/dashboards/air-pollutant-emissions-data-viewer-1

https://nso.gov.mt/en/News_Releases/View_by_Unit/Unit_B3/Environment_Energy_Transport_and_Agriculture_Statistics/Pages/Road-Traffic-Accidents.aspx

https://www.rt.com/business/407541-singapore-bans-new-cars/

https://data.gov.sg/dataset/annual-car-population-by-cc-rating

EU Environment Agency Twitter account

https://twitter.com/EUEnvironment/

Written by: Matthew Cassar

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