Our Brussels correspondent Denise Grech, meets MEP Miriam Dalli over a coffee.
Here’s how it went…
Q: We’ve just entered a new legislature. What do you want to achieve in the first 100 days?
A: I managed to bring together my personal priorities and what I was pushing in Malta during the campaign with my priorities here in the EU. I am now vice-president of the Socialists & Democrats and I am responsible for what falls under the Green New Deal.
That would include reduction in CO2 emissions, it would go into road transport – to start looking into maritime and aviation. It also looks at a just transition, so making sure that this shift in our economic model protects workers and prepare students for new jobs. It also includes what we are calling the farm to fork strategy to make sure that we can address issues that affect public health. We are talking about a climate law or having a strategy for carbon neutrality by 2050. All these issues that for me were important and which I worked on during the last five years and which I believe will remain a priority. I always look at climate change as the greatest challenge we have.
But for me climate change is not just an environmental issue. I see climate change as going beyond that. It is a challenge that all scientific studies show is happening. Scientists are telling us that we have a 10-year window and I believe that we have to take measures now so that they won’t be more expensive in some six years’ time- when we would have to take certain measures because we are constrained to do so.
What I will be doing in the next 100 days is to bring the group together, to make sure that we are prepared and plan for where we want the group to go. For me, personally, I want Malta to have the first foundations to start getting ready for this transition. Any change will have a cost but if we start changing things now I think we can balance out that cost.
I know that people think we cannot make a difference because we are a small country, but every little helps. It’s an area where we can be frontrunners compared to other countries. Our small size can actually help us. We can be a pilot project for new technologies.
Q: I know had run into problems convincing car manufacturers to accept legislation to reduce emissions. How will you convince different sectora to accept climate laws that could affect their business?
A: It’s not easy, but I understand that human beings are intrinsically resistant to change. So when I started to work on car legislation, obviously, the car manufacturers and the industry and workers came out against it. But it takes discussion. So it took a lot of meetings, roundtables, discussions… and nowadays, when I met a worker representative of BMW, workers realised that things can no longer be business as usual. The amount of car models that I’ve seen that are either plug-in hybrid or electric in the past 10 months shows that the transition can happen. If we want things to change, we can either wait for the market to change- which doesn’t always happen- or we need clear policy direction. And sometimes, the industry itself requires policy direction because it helps give them stability and clarity.
Is every industry happy that we want things to change? Initially, no. Yesterday, I had a meeting with European steel manufacturing industry representatives. They explained how they are trying to reduce CO2 and their ideas. They also had their proposals on how to protect their industry while they are plan to move to a carbon neutral steel production.
Q: But is there enough innovative technology to ensure that this change will not happen 30 or 40 years from now?
A: When you push for certain policy, then companies automatically realise that they need to invest in certain research and innovation. That’s when new technology starts to come forward. If, up to a year ago, we used to think that hydrogen can only be used for certain machinery, now we are seeing that it can be used for a variety of things. In the past year, there have been enormous advances.
Q: In Malta, you’ve been appointed to head the commission that will lead the changeover to electric vehicles. What’s the plan and what are the next steps?
A: By the middle of next year, we will announce a cut-off date for the importation of cars that run on petrol and diesel. There were some people who thought we meant that cars running on petrol or diesel will be stopped by the middle of next year. That’s not the case. It’s a transition. The environmental aspect is one thing, but we also need to look at the economic aspect and the social aspect. The reality is that nowadays, zero and lower-emission vehicles are a lot more expensive than conventional cars.
But we’ve seen studies that show that there will come a time when both types of cars will be at a similar price range. Many studies show this will be around mid-2020s. That’s not far. And I am convinced that more models will come out. The amount of low-emission vehicles that came out in 2019 was triple that of 2018. In the next three years, they will continue to increase. It is a question of demand and supply but at the same time you have a policy that will change things.
Back to Malta. We have to look at price, we have to look at how long a car is being driven for… I understand that certain people may be comfortable with cars and we cannot force them to buy other ones if the ones they have are working – but it’s a transition. And like any transition, it has to happen slowly. That is why we need to start thinking about this now.
There’s also the aspect of infrastructure. People say there aren’t enough charging points. That’s true, but if we think about this now, we can plan more charging points so that people can charge in their own homes. We want to see that there is enough production of electricity.
Q: But how can we make sure then that the electricity is coming from a clean source?
A: That’s a transition as well. We switched from fossil fuel oil to LNG. It’s still a fossil fuel, but it’s the cleanest of fossil fuels. I don’t think that should be our final aim. We need to go for a mix that is cleaner but that can’t take place from now until next year. It needs a period of time. Those cars that wok with electricity, even if that electricity is coming from a fossil fuel, are still cleaner than an internal combustion engine.