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NEWS | Sunday, 29 June 2008

Malta’s dependence on fossil fuels leading to increased health risk

Charlot Zahra

A wide-ranging report by an independent public policy think-tank has shown how the high level of use of fossil fuels in Malta for transport, production and electricity generation is leading to increased health risks for the Maltese population, including lung cancer and heart disease.
“There is strong scientific evidence which indicates that individuals exposed to air pollution from traffic and other sources have a shorter life expectancy than those living in less polluted areas,” the report, written by lead author George Debono on behalf of the Today Public Policy Institute (TPPI), said.
“The black smoke emitted by diesel-driven buses and vehicles is an abundant source of toxic particulate matter which may be responsible for increased cardio-pulmonary mortality and a higher incidence of lung cancer in coming years.
“Short-term exposure to high levels of air pollution is associated with an overall deterioration in respiratory symptoms, exacerbations of asthma, lung inflammatory reactions, cardiovascular system disorders and increased medication usage in susceptible subjects, such as asthmatics, the elderly and patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease,” the report added.
The TPPI report showed that children were more susceptible to air pollution than adults and the prevalence of asthma among Maltese children and young adults has steadily increased over recent years.
The report entitled “Towards a Low Carbon Society: The Nation’s Health, Energy Security and Fossil Fuels”, was presented by Martin Scicluna, Chief Executive Officer of the TPPI , to Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi on Friday.
The report has exposed the high levels of fossil fuel pollution in Malta, their effects on health and the urgent need to exploit renewable sources of energy and energy conservation.
It deals with the exploitation of renewable and alternative energy sources and energy conservation; the reduction of urban air pollution caused by road transport; the promotion of bicycle use; and the effects of air pollution on health.
The report addressed the key question: ‘What must we do to reduce pollution from excessive burning of fossil fuel and to enhance Malta’s energy security?’
The report highlighted the urgent need to reduce Malta’s dependence on fossil fuel for electricity generation since this, together with traffic, is a major source of pollution as well as of carbon emissions.
It also examined the need for energy generation from renewable or alternative sources of energy in conjunction with energy conservation matters.
As to the vital issue of energy security and future energy generation for Malta, the report examined a number of measures for generating renewable energy and the urgent need to take steps to do so. These include wind energy, photovoltaic energy, biomass and solar water heating.
It emphasised the need for the importation of clean electricity from the European grid and the pressing installation of a cable connection to mitigate Malta’s overstretched generation capacity.
The report also underlined the need for increasing the energy efficiency of our buildings and the encouragement of energy conservation in the home, and in industry and public buildings.
“The ‘polluter pays’ principle has to be applied, while making sure that the less well-off and low consumers are not put at a disadvantage by pricing policies.
“Energy pricing policies and water at a rate lower than its actual production cost sends the wrong message to consumers and does not encourage conservation,” the TPPI report insisted.
The report made a number of radical and far-reaching recommendations for reducing pollution from private transport by reducing dependence on the private car, encouraging a shift to more fuel efficient vehicles, improving public transport and encouraging the use of public transport, walking and cycling.
Moroever, the report is proposing the obligatory installation of Photovoltaic appliances and Solar Water Heating appliances on all new buildings.
“All in all, this is a report dealing with the nation’s health, future energy security and fossil fuels which should be vital reading for all policy-makers in Malta grappling with probably one of the most challenging issues confronting us in the twenty first century,” TPPI Chief Executive Martin Scicluna said.
The TPPI is an autonomous, not-for-profit, NGO whose mission is to promote wide understanding of strategic issues of national importance and to help in the development and implementation of sound public policies.
In pursuit of this mission, it sponsors or initiates research on specific national problems, encourages solutions to those problems and facilitates public debate on them. It is not affiliated to any political party or movement.
Its board is made up of the following individuals: Martin Scicluna (Director General), Sina Bugeja, Stephen Calleya, Juanito Camilleri, George Debono, Ranier Fsadni, Marlene Mizzi, Joseph Sammut, Jacques Sciberras, Father Peter Serracino Inglott, Joseph.V. Tabone and Joseph F.X. Zahra. MediaToday, publishers of MaltaToday, and sister papers Illum and Business Today, is one of the partners of the Today Public Policy Institute.

czahra@mediatoday.com.mt


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