Malta’s CO2 emissions

2 min read


Jordan Flagel

Sustainability & Environmental Specialist, certified GRI professional for sustainability reporting

Malta is an incredible mix of history and modern-day intrigue. Since the days of the Phonecians more than 5000 years ago, the tiny 316 km2 island nation has been conquered, occupied, and changed hands from the powers in all corners of the Mediterranean and beyond. The Maltese language reflects this, with deep similarities to both Italian and Arabic (and a little French as well). English is also an official language and is spoken by almost all residents of the country, a legacy of British colonialism that lasted up until only half a century ago. Present-day Malta, a member of the European Union, is a place for fun, leisure, and enjoyment not only as one of the most popular destinations for European tourists, but also for the Maltese population who seem to enjoy life with an intensity only known to those who call a beautiful island home. However, because this particular island has no rivers and few natural resources, the country is heavily reliant on importing energy in the form of fossil fuels – for everyday life and especially for desalinating water. Still, CO2 emissions in Malta are relatively low per capita for a developed country – and overall emissions are incredibly low overall due to the country’s size. This article describes all aspects of CO2 emissions in Malta and elaborates on various factors that will determine the future of the country’s carbon footprint.

CO2 emissions in Malta per capita

As stated above, CO2 emissions in Malta are relatively low per capita, which is even more meaningful since there are less than half a million people in the entire country: overall emissions in Malta are some of the lowest in the entire world for a developed country. Still, there are many areas that need improvement when it comes to Maltese energy usage and access to clean energy, with some areas already showing improvement in recent years. 

How much GHG does an average person emit in Malta? This number is not only the sum of emissions from individual commuting, shopping, or energy use. In terms of calculating the average emissions of a citizen, first we need to calculate the total emissions of a country (including the entire amount from industry, transport, and production) and divide this figure by the number of its inhabitants. 

According to the World Bank, per capita CO2 emissions in Malta peaked in 1993 at 7.5 tons per person. Data shows that there was a sharp decline between 2013 – 2016, with emissions going from 6.5 to less than half at 2.9. This is reflective of some behavioural and structural changes in the country, such as a significant increase in solar usage to take advantage of Malta’s abundant sun. However, there was a significant increase in CO2 emissions per capita – and overall – between 2016 and 2017, which was the highest in the entire European Union by percentage. 

What creates CO2 emissions in Malta?

In Malta, carbon dioxide emissions have been largely attributed to transport and traffic. This is due in large part to the way the country is set up, with limited public transport options (no metro train and a bus system that is notorious throughout Europe for its difficulties) and desirable locations all over the island that are most commonly accessed with personal vehicles. Despite the sharp decrease in emissions that continued to 2016, Malta has hit a snag with regard to CO2 reduction targets since then. In 2017 there was a 12.8% increase in emissions, which was the largest increase across all the EU. However, if post-COVID trends hold steady, there will be a noticeable decline in these numbers. 

CO2 emissions in Malta’s transport sector

How are goods moved in Malta?

In Malta, all goods are moved within the country by truck or other transport vehicles – the country has no rivers for shipping and is much too small to fly anything within its borders. However, even though Malta is often thought of as a single island nation, it is in fact made up of three main islands, with the island of Malta being the main area of commerce and with the vast majority of the population – but the island of Gozo still has a population of around 32,000 and provides agricultural goods to the main island as well, such as some highly respected wines. Goods are moved by ferry boat or other water transport between these two islands, making it the only other way goods are moved within country, though within each island trucks are still the only method of transport.

How do people travel across Malta?

The only ways to travel across Malta are by bus, car, bike, walking, or, if you are going between islands, by ferry. Personal car travel is by far the most common, and Malta is known for having countless traffic circles that are constantly full of drivers aggressively entering and exiting the roundabouts. Bicycle travel is not very common, especially in the more urbanized areas that are not conducive at all for cycling, though there are good paths and good roads near many seaside areas that are frequently used by cyclists. As stated earlier, there are no train options in Malta, and boats can be taken between islands but not within islands as there are no rivers or inland waterways – the country is simply too small. 

Is cycling popular in Malta?

Cycling is not particularly popular in Malta because it is relatively difficult to do it safely and easily in most parts of the country. However, the good news is that cycling’s popularity is on the increase in Malta. This is true of cycling as a sport, as a means of commuting, and as a way of exploring the island. Maltese authorities, especially the Malta Transport Authority, have worked hard to make this activity more accessible and safer in recent years and the results are beginning to show. 

Is cycling completely CO2-free? Unfortunately not. A bicycle doesn’t run on petrol, but we do need to provide our bodies with calories to get it moving. Food, its packaging, transportation, and refrigeration – all of these, unfortunately, leave a carbon footprint. Additionally, the production of a bicycle also leaves a carbon footprint. Nonetheless, the bicycle remains the greenest (and healthiest!) mode of transportation mankind has yet invented. How much CO2 do we save by cycling? Over a distance of 10 km compared to a car ride it is already about 2.6 kg CO2! Just imagine how huge a cloud of gas would have to be to become that heavy! Visualizing it helps to realize how huge the real savings are.

Public transportation in Malta

How popular is public transport in Malta?

The use of public transport amongst commuters remains low, in spite of measures meant to boost bus use, a survey has shown. The survey, carried out by sister newspaper Illum and published today, indicates that only 13.6% of respondents chose buses to travel. Despite measures such as free bus rides for students and the elderly, the use of buses decreased when compared with a previous transport survey the newspaper carried out in August 2019, in which 16.8% had said they chose public transport. Private vehicles were by far the most popular modes of transport, with 75.3% of respondents said they opted to use their own cars to travel. The survey showed that bus use is least popular amongst the younger and middle-aged generations, with only 5% of those aged 18 to 35 and 6% of those in the 36 to 50 age bracket who said they preferred to use public transport. Comparatively, 87.5% of young people and 84.3% of those middle-aged said they opted to use their cars to get around. The survey from August last year had also painted a slightly more positive picture of public transport use, with 7.3% and 9.6% of the two age groups respectively having said they choose to hop on a bus. Buses were most popular with those over 65, with 31.6%, and those between 51 and 65, with 17.2%, the survey showed.

Cars in Malta – how important are internal combustion engine vehicles?

The country has a car ownership rate of 766 motor vehicles per 1,000 people. As of 2020, the number of registered cars amounted to 394,955, giving an automobile density of 1253.8 per km². Malta has 3,096 kilometers of road, 2,704 km (87.3%) of which are paved and 392 km are unpaved as of 2008.

How many electric cars are there in Malta?

In 2013 there were only 36 electric vehicles in the entire country of Malta. By 2019 there were 852 – and by 2021 that number has jumped to over 4,000. And this increase should continue climbing in the near future: Malta has increased EV grants for the purchase of electric vehicles to 12,000 euros for 2022. A total of 1,200 new charging points are also set to be installed over the next three years. Malta’s Prime Minister Robert Abela has said Malta will become a leader in decarbonization, and the island nation was one of nine European countries that called for the EU to phase out internal combustion engines. 

Energy sources in Malta – what runs the country?

Malta relies heavily on fossil fuels for energy, all of which are imported from other, larger countries. However, solar capacity has been increasing in recent years, with the possibility for even more progress to be made as other technologies improve access to clean energy for areas with geographies such as Malta.

Malta energy mix

In 2018, Malta got about as much power from renewables (6%) as it did from coal (7%) – but the remaining 87% was comprised of natural gas (43%) and oil (44%), according to IRENA. In 2020, the renewable capacity grew significantly to 24%, with all but 1% of that mix coming from solar (the 1% is bioenergy).  

Maltese RES: What are the most popular renewable energy sources in Malta?

Solar is not only the most popular renewable energy source, it is really the only one that contributes any meaningful amount to Malta’s electricity grid. The country has zero wind capacity installed and has no potential for hydro with no rivers. Malta has planned to install 15 megawatts (MW) of onshore wind power and 95 MW of offshore wind by 2020, but this never came to pass, even before the COVID-19 pandemic made it even more difficult to source and build wind farms. 

Industry in Malta – an overview

What are the main industries in Malta? 

The main industry in Malta is the service industry, with small-scale agriculture and limited throughput production adding to the local economy but not creating many export products. Industry accounted for 12% of energy usage in 2018, with transport consuming 23% as well. 

What can be done to lower CO2 emissions in Malta?

Malta had done a surprisingly good job of reducing emissions before an increase late in the last decade erased some of those improvements. However, with more solar capacity installed and a vigorous push to electrify the entire transport system of the island, there is hope that it will reduce even further than the previous trend suggested. And since Malta has such a small population, the country’s overall contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions will remain small even if they do not reach the targets and goals that they set. 

Reducing CO2 is a task we must undertake together, across all regions and borders – and Malta has the potential to be a real leader on this issue. Global success in achieving climate goals depends as much on the government as it does on businesses and individuals – without multifaceted cooperation, we have no chance of reducing our emissions.

How can I reduce emissions on my own?

You can always offset them by purchasing TerGo packages, each of which is created by planting trees to absorb and store CO2 through our partner project in Belize. By purchasing TerGo packages you will not only reduce your carbon footprint, but will also contribute to the creation of better jobs in Belize, helping to support local farmers while funding the restoration of biodiversity in one of the most naturally beautiful countries in the world. 

You can find more tips, interesting facts and valuable articles on our blog!