Energy interconnection brings big emissions cuts for Malta as the EU loses ground

Malta on the spot for tax avoidance [Andrea Santoni/Flickr]

CO2 emissions in the EU rose by 0.7% in 2015, but Malta’s interconnection with Sicily helped the island cuts its carbon footprint by more than a quarter. EURACTIV France reports.

Carbon dioxide accounts for 80% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Europe. After reductions of 2.5% and 5% in 2013 and 2014 respectively, the EU’s carbon emissions climbed again in 2015, as the bloc’s economy began to recover.

Slovakia and Portugal saw the most marked increases in 2015, emitting 9.5% and 8.6% more CO2 respectively than the previous year. This increase affected most EU member states, and only eight countries managed to reduce their CO2 emissions compared to 2014 levels.

Among the best performers were Greece (-5%), Denmark (-9.9%) and Estonia (-16%). But Malta was the runaway winner with a CO2 emissions reduction of 26.9%. And this at a time when the small Mediterranean country’s GDP grew by 1.1%, the second strongest growth in the EU.

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Electrical interconnection

Until recently, Malta had produced all of its electricity by burning heavy fuel oil (HFO). But Valetta now aims to make the transition to a less polluting energy system, using natural gas and renewables.

Renewable energy installations, notably wind and solar plants, are increasingly common sights in Malta. According to the European Commission, these renewable energy technologies harness the island’s strongest assets.

But last year’s spectacular emissions reduction owed more to the completion of an electrical interconnector linking Malta with the Italian island of Sicily.

Inaugurated in April 2015, this interconnector allowed Valetta to close one of its two HFO power stations. The second is currently being converted to burn liquefied natural gas.

The interconnector has put an end to Malta’s energy isolation and allowed it to access the European electricity market. The Commission said the island’s interconnection has risen from 0% to 35% thanks to this new structure.

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Much progress to be made

With the apparent recovery of the EU economy, these results suggest that member states may struggle to reach their emissions reduction targets without fast, drastic improvements.

The EU has committed to reducing its carbon emissions by 20% by 2020 and at least 40% by 2030.

The Paris Agreement also includes a commitment to keep global warming to “well below 2°C”, an objective that will only be possible if all governments quickly implement extra, effective measures.

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After several years of CO2 emissions reductions, the initial results for the year of the COP 21 and the signing of the Paris Agreement look disappointing. Eurostat has estimated that the EU's CO2 emissions increased in 2015, compared to 2014.

This highlights just how far European countries have to go in order to achieve their climate objectives.

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