Urban open spaces and climate change

After a free-for-all building spree during which the development of multiple private gardens in our towns and villages were targeted, mostly successfully, our towns and villages have been promised open spaces. This, it is being stated, will bring nature closer to people! A shining sun which will hopefully produce less hay!

The implementation of the first such proposal for an open space is nearing conclusion. An open space in the Tar-Rabbat Housing Estate in Ħamrun has been partially built-up to produce an artificial garden on concrete stilts! The area below the concrete stilts is being reserved for parking of cars! This is definitely not an open space.

The open spaces which we need should not add to the concrete jungle which has developed unabated around us over the years. The open spaces should be free from any form of construction and should be the opportunity to squeeze out cars from the urban environment, preferably relegating them to the periphery of our towns and villages. The open spaces are meant to re-introduce nature into our lives, even if in a very limited way.

Our urban areas have been left to develop on their own for quite too long. As a result, they have been guided by business-friendly or market-friendly authorities, producing the mess of an urban jungle we have to face every day. This is a mess resulting from political decisions which have ensured that profits repeatedly have a priority over people and their quality of life.

The availability of funds to introduce open spaces in our urban areas is a unique opportunity to redesign the urban environment such that it becomes people-friendly. It is also an opportunity to bring urban planning in line with the requirements of climate change mitigation policy.

Earlier this month the latest report on climate change was published by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC). The document, almost 3000 pages long, emphasises that without profound changes to our lifestyle the Paris 2015 Climate Summit objectives will not be attained.

As islands, Malta and Gozo should be at the forefront in the international climate change debate. Climate change is already here. Extremes of temperature, long periods of drought or sudden floods are no longer a rare occurrence in the Maltese islands. We have experienced this repeatedly over the past years.

A sea-level rise will impact our coastal areas. Large stretches of our coastline are developed and used for residential purposes or else they are utilised for the maritime and tourism industries. A sea level rise, dependent on its extent, would severely impact all this activity. It is in our interest that any sea level rise resulting from climate change would be minimal, if at all. This can only happen if the climate mitigation targets agreed to at the Paris Summit are adhered to the soonest.

One of the ideas doing the rounds in the climate change debate is to rethink our urban design strategy as one of the basic tools with which to combat the climate crisis. The idea crystallised as “the 15-minute city” by Carlos Moreno, an architect advising the Paris Mayor, entails turning current urban planning on its head to ensure that all our needs are available not more than 15 minutes away on foot or by bike! Consequently, our dependency on the car would be done away with, as a result even claiming back our streets. The open spaces initiative could fit in perfectly within the parameters of the “15-minute city”.

Can we reassess the nature and quality of our urban lifestyle within this framework?

The Covid-19 pandemic has given most of us a taste of working from home. If this could become a permanent feature of our urban lifestyle, some of us would not need not travel to work every day. This would address and potentially reduce our addiction to the car. Over a period of time this would impact our carbon emissions.

Our contribution to climate change mitigation as a result of which we can accelerate our path to carbon neutrality could be achieved without impacting our mobility. Through a judicious use of public transport, and the facilitation of other sustainable mobility options our mobility can in fact be substantially improved as a result.

Come October all public transport will be free of charge. Hopefully it will also be reliable and efficient. If adequately planned this could be a turning point in climate change mitigation measures as over a period of time it can lead to a reduction of cars from our roads. Initially such a reduction would necessarily be of a temporary nature. Eventually we can move towards a permanent change.

Within this context open spaces adequately planned have a pivotal role. They improve our quality of life by bringing it closer to nature in our 15-minute cities.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 24 April 2022

Climate Change and the 15-minute city

The latest report on climate change was published by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) earlier this month. The full document is almost 3,000 pages long!

The current international debate on climate change is focusing on whether the objectives of the 2015 Paris Climate Summit are achievable. It is clear to all that, without profound and imminent changes in our lifestyles, these objectives will not be achieved.

The clear objective agreed to in Paris is to reduce carbon emissions in order to achieve carbon neutrality soonest. This would ensure that the global mean temperature does not surpass the pre-industrial temperature by more than 1.5ºC. This would in turn tame the climate over time.

As an island, Malta should be at the forefront in the international climate change debate. We will be severely impacted like all other countries. In fact, we are already at the receiving end of the impact of extreme weather conditions at an increased frequency. Long periods of drought are more frequent. Likewise, we have experienced more than a fair share of floods, which have caused considerable damage all over the islands.

As islands, sea-level rise will add to our problems in Malta and Gozo in a manner which is dependent on the rate at which this will take place. A substantial part of our essential infrastructure lies along our coast. This will potentially be severely impacted as a result of a sea-level rise. Just think about the impacts on the tourism infrastructure, for example.

One of the ideas doing the rounds in the climate change debate is to rethink the way we plan our cities as one way in which to combat the climate crisis. The idea crystallised as ‘the 15-minute city’ by Carlos Moreno, an architect advising the Paris mayor, entails turning current urban planning on its head to ensure that all our needs are available not more than 15 minutes away.

Moreno speaks of a social circularity for living in our urban spaces based on six essential functions: to live in good housing, to work close by, to reach supplies and services easily, to access education, healthcare and cultural entitlement locally by low-carbon means.

Can we reassess the nature and quality of our urban lifestyles within these parameters?

COVID-19 has given most of us a taste of remote working. In a limited way, this could become a permanent feature of our urban lifestyles. Some of us need not travel to work every day. With proper planning, remote working could reduce a substantial number of cars from our roads permanently and, consequently, the associated carbon emissions.

In the Maltese islands, distance should not be an issue: almost everywhere is within easy reach. Our National Transport Master Plan, in fact, advises us that 50 per cent of trips carried out by our private vehicles are for short distances, having a duration of less than 15 minutes. Achieving 15-minute cities should not be that difficult if we put our heads together to address it.

Our contribution to climate change mitigation, as a result of which we can accelerate our path to carbon neutrality, could be achieved through a substantial reduction of cars from our roads. We can achieve this without impacting our mobility. Through a judicious use of public transport and the facilitation of other sustainable mobility options, our mobility can be substantially improved as a result.

Come October, all public transport will be free. Hopefully, it will also be reliable and efficient. If adequately planned, this could be a turning point in climate change mitigation measures as, over a period of time, it can lead to a reduction of cars from our roads. Initially, such a reduction would necessarily be of a temporary nature. Eventually, we can move towards a permanent change.

Real change takes time to achieve.

Giving shape and form to 15-minute cities could be the next realistic challenge in our climate mitigation road map. All that is required is the political will.

published in The Times of Malta: 21 April 2022

Tibdil fil-klima u l-aċċess għax-xemx

Huwa essenzjali li nnaqqsu l-gassijiet serra jekk irridu nindirizzaw b’mod effettiv it-tindil fil-klima. F’Pariġi, fl-2015, kien hemm qbil li kien meħtieġ illi t-temperatura globali ma kelliex tiżdied iktar minn 1.5 gradi Celsius biex ikun possibli li l-bidla fil-klima tkun taħt kontroll.   Tlett xhur ilu, f’Awwissu, l-Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tal-Ġnus Magħuda (IPCC) infurmana li ż-żieda fit-temperatura diġa qabżet il-grad Celsius, u li din qed tkompli tiżdied.  

L-impatt ta’ dan jidher fil-maltemp estrem li qed niffaċċjaw kontinwament. Bħall-għargħar fi Sqallija u l- Calabria iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa u fil-Ġermanja u pajjiżi oħra iktar kmieni.  Il-ħerba li qed tiżviluppa hi enormi. Jekk ma nieħdux passi deċiżivi, dak li qed naraw mhu xejn ħdejn dak li ser jiġri.

Huwa kruċjali li l-ekonomija tagħna tkun waħda li ma tkunx dipendenti mill-karbonju, jekk irridu naslu biex nindirizzaw it-tibdil fil-klima.

Il-qalba tal-power station ta’ Delimara minn waħda li taħdem fuq iż-żejt maħmuġ (heavy fuel oil) għal waħda li taħdem fuq il-gass kien pass tajjeb li jħares il-quddiem, pass li aħna bħala partit dejjem appoġġajna. Imma dan mhux biżżejjed. L-użu tal-gass hu fih innifsu pass ta’ transizzjoni.   Li jkollna l-parti l-kbira tal-elettriku (jew kollu!) iġġenerat minn sorsi rinovabbli jkun ħafna aħjar milli nagħmlu użu mill-idroġenu – li qed jissemma bħala l-fuel tal-futur!

Neħtieġu iżda li ntejbu is-sistema nazzjonali tad-distribuzzjoni tal-elettriku biex ikun possibli li z-zoni residenzjali jikkontribwixxu iktar fl-isforz nazzjonali biex niġġeneraw l-enerġija rinovabbli.  Investiment f’sistema ta’ distribuzzjoni iktar effiċjenti hi kruċjali. F’dan għadna lura, għax mhiex prijorità.

Id-dritt tagħna għal aċċess għax-xemx għandu jissaħħaħ. Ma jistax ikun li dan id-dritt jibqa’ dipendenti fuq proċess tal-ippjanar tal-użu tal-art insensittiv u żvilupp bl-addoċċ. Iż-żieda fl-għoli permissibli tal-bini meta kienu approvati l-pjani lokali tal-2006 wassal għal impatt negattiv f’enerġija rinovabbli li ntilfet. Hu prezz li għadna nħallsu u ser nibqgħu nħallsu għall-futur immedjat. Għax baqa’ ftit biex neħilsu minn dan il-piż.

Li ninvestu iktar fil-ġenerazzjoni tal-enerġija mix-xemx jirrendi. Huwa ukoll sostenibbli meta nħarsu fit-tul. Jelimina ukoll id-dipendenza fuq it-tieni interconnector minn Sqallija li dwaru l-Gvern qiegħed iħejji l-pjanijiet tiegħu. 

Bħalissa l-prezz tal-enerġija fl-Ewropa sploda. Dan wassal biex l-użu tal-enerġija permezz tal-interconnector eżistenti bejn Malta u Sqallija ġie ristrett.

Bħala riżultat tal-qalba tat-trasport bl-art minn karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petol jew dijżil għall-elettriku, id-domanda għall-elettriku ser tiżdied skond kemm jiżdiedu l-karozzi tal-elettriku.  Nistgħu nlaħħqu ma’ din id-domanda mingħajr ma nkunu dipendenti fuq is-swieq enerġetiċi kontinentali?

Jekk jirnexxielna nżidu b’mod sostanzjali l-ġenerazzjoni ta’ enerġija rinovabbli nistgħu bla dubju nindirizzaw parti minn din iż-żieda fid-domanda għall-enerġija. Il-bqija hu possibli li nindirizzawha billi ninkuraġixxu bidla fil-mobilità tagħna.

L-informazzjoni bażika dwar dan diġa nafu biha. Qegħda fil-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Trasport li jiġbdilna l-attenzjoni li nofs il-vjaġġi li nagħmlu bil-karozzi privati tagħna huma għal vjaġġi qosra, li jdumu inqas minn kwarta. 

Il-politika tal-Gvern kif imfissra fl-aħħar baġit ser tintroduċi transport pubbliku b’xejn minn Ottubru 2022. Dan jeħtieġ ftit iktar attenzjoni, għax il-prezz li nħallsu għat-trasport tal-linja qatt ma kien l-ostaklu għall-użu tat-trasport pubbliku. Hi l-effiċjenza u l-frekwenza tiegħu li jeħtieġu titjib. Jekk dan ikun indirizzat jista’ jagħmel id-differenza sostanzjali fl-użu tat-trasport pubbliku.

Dan hu x’joffri l-futur: nindirizzaw it-tibdil fil-klima permezz tal-politika tat-trasport u l-ippjanar aħjar fil-qasam tal-enerġija. Fuq kollox billi nħarsu id-dritt tagħna għal aċċess għax-xemx. 

In-natura tipprovdilna soluzzjonijiet sostenibbli għall-parti l-kbira ta’ dak li neħtieġu. Jiddependi minnha jekk ngħarfux nagħmlu użu minnhom sewwa!

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 31 t’Ottubru 2021

Climate Change and solar rights

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is necessary if we are to address climate change effectively. In Paris, in 2015, it was agreed by all that limiting global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius is essential if we are to address climate change adequately.  Three months ago, in August, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) informed us that this increase was already 1.09 degrees Celsius, and rising.

The impacts of this increase are manifested in the extreme weather which we are currently witnessing, such as the floods all over Sicily and Calabria earlier this week, and in many other countries earlier. The resulting devastation is shocking. It will however get much worse very soon if we do not act decisively.

Having policies encouraging a low-carbon economy is crucial if we are to adequately address climate change.

Obviously solar rights must be entrenched: they should no longer be at the mercy of unbridled development and an insensitive land use planning process. The increase in permissible building heights introduced when the 2006 lot of local plans was approved had a heavy price-tag in renewable energy sacrificed. We are still paying this price and it will be quite some time before we recover from this irresponsible impact.

Switching over electricity generation at Delimara from one dependent on heavy fuel oil to one running on natural gas was a step in the right direction which greens always supported. It is however not enough. Natural gas is a transitional fuel.  Having most or all of our electricity generated from renewable sources would be a much better option, even better than making use of hydrogen, which is being considered as a future fuel. We need however to upgrade the national electricity distribution grid in order that it would be possible for residential areas to contribute much more to the national effort in renewable energy generation. Investing in an efficient distribution system is crucial. Yet it lags behind. It is not part of the priorities in hand.

Investing heavily in the generation of solar energy is more rewarding. It is also sustainable in the long term.  It would also do away with being dependent on a second energy interconnector with the Sicilian mainland, as government is currently planning.

Currently energy prices on mainland Europe are on a steep rise. This has resulted in a policy of restricting the use of the existing energy interconnector between Malta and Sicily.

As a result of the electrification of land transport, the demand for electricity is bound to increase in proportion to the uptake of electric cars. Can we cope with this increase in demand without being at the mercy of the mainland energy markets?

If we go for a substantial increase in the generation of renewable energy, we can definitely address part of the shortfall. The rest can also be addressed by actively encouraging a behavioural change in our mobility patterns.

The relative basic information is contained in the Transport Masterplan which points out that 50 per cent of the trips we make with our private vehicles are for short trips having a very short duration of under fifteen minutes.

Government policy as accounted for in the last budget will introduce free public transport as of October 2022. This needs fine-tuning, as existing fares have never been an obstacle to use public transport. It is the frequency and efficiency of the service which deters use. If this is adequately addressed it could be a gamechanger in increasing the attractiveness of public transport and consequently its increased use.

This is the possible future linking climate change and transport policy through adequate energy planning and the entrenchment of our solar rights.

Nature provides sustainable solutions for most of our needs. It is up to us to use them properly!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 31 October 2021

Facing the inevitable

With temperatures on the increase all around us, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report published Monday, running into over 4000 pages, underlines that it may get much worse very soon.

The Climate Change 2015 summit in Paris agreed on the need to spare no effort in ensuring that the global temperature did not increase by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius over that recorded in the pre-industrial age. The voluntary targets which the different countries committed to post-Paris are nowhere enough to limit global temperature increases not to exceed the Paris targets. The latest IPCC report states that we are on target to exceed the 1.5 degree Celsius much earlier than expected.

We can feel the excessive heat.  We have seen the raging fires all around the world. We have seen the storms across various parts of Western Europe triggering havoc all around. We have not been spared in the past and await the first major storm of the season, hoping against hope that the resulting floods will not flush damage through our communities.

It will be much worse. We will not be spared

As an island state Malta should be at the forefront of the climate change debate. Unfortunately, our country is among the laggards, continuously seeking to avoid or minimise the action required at our end.

Maltese governments have ensured that we do not meet EU targets for renewable energy generation, reducing them by half from 20 per cent to 10 per cent of the energy generated. After a policy announcement in favour of transport electrification way back in 2017, four years down the line we are still without clear targets. The change will now have to be adopted at a quicker pace, and one which we are not yet prepared for.

The EU has recently unveiled a proposal intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 55 per cent, compared to 1990 levels, by the year 2030, an intermediate target to carbon neutrality by 2050.

One of the measures proposed would require raising the share of the renewable energy generated to 40 per cent of the final energy consumption, meaning that Malta, within nine years, would be required to quadruple the renewable energy which it generates. This would be quite tough, in view of having repeatedly been successful in wriggling out of our commitments.

A de facto ban on the purchase of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035 would accelerate our path to the electrification of transport. That is a target to be achieved within 14 years. Locally, however, it will not solve much, unless it is coupled with a substantial decrease in private car usage.

If not coupled with a planned decrease of the number of cars on our roads, electrification of our roads will result in a substantial portion of the renewable energy generated being used for transport. This would further embed our dependence on fossil fuels when we should be moving in a diametrically opposite direction!  

The EU proposal to tax shipping and aviation fuel will have a considerable impact on islands and the peripheral states of Europe. It makes sense when applied to the European mainland which is more dependent on railways, a suitable alternative. In respect of islands and the peripheral states like Malta it will be certainly painful, even though it will, when applied, contribute substantially to achieving carbon emission reduction targets.

Tourism would be hit considerably but, so far, it seems the ministry for tourism is still considering a return to business as usual after COVID-19. Can we please smell the coffee?  

The aviation and maritime sector are significant contributors of greenhouse gas emissions which have, so far, avoided being addressed due to very effective lobbying over the years. The EU proposals would ensure that this will no longer be the state of affairs, dependent, that is, on the taming of the lobbies!

We have a duty to act the soonest to address this climate emergency. The small size of our country does not exempt us from our responsibilities towards the future.

published in The Times of Malta : Thursday 12 August 2021

Il-kosta: fi stat ta’ emerġenza

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, l-International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tal-Ġnus Magħquda, ippubblika rapport dwar l-ibħra u t-tibdil fil-klima. Ġejna avżati għal darb’ oħra bil-konsegwenzi tat-tibdil fil-klima u l-impatti li ser jirriżultaw bħaż-żieda fil-livell tal-baħar.

Ir-rapport ifakkarna ukoll fil-ħtieġa urġenti li jkunu indirizzati b’mod adegwat l-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju sa mhux iktar tard mis-sena 2050.

Il-Kummissarji Ewropej Miguel Arias Cañete (Azzjoni Klimatika u Enerġija), Karmenu Vella (Ambjent, Affarijiet Marittimi u Sajd) u Carlos Moedas (Riċerka, Xjenza u Innovazzjoni) kienu sodisfatti bir-rapport, għax jikkunsidraw li dan hu tfakkira lill-komunità globali biex din taġixxi u tindirizza t-tibdil fil-klima u l-impatti tagħha fuq l-ibħra malajr kemm jista’ jkun. Fi stqarrija tal-Kummissjoni Ewropeja li t-tlett Kummissarji ħarġu nhar l-Erbgħa emfasizzaw li l-konklużjonijiet tar-rapport huma ċari: “iż-żieda fit-temperatura globali ikkawżata mill-bniedem qed tkun il-kawża ta’ tibdil drastiku fl-ibħra. Mhux biss qed togħla t-temperatura, imma l-ibħra qed isiru iktar aċidużi u fihom inqas ossiġnu. Il-livell tal-baħar qed jogħla ħafna iktar milli kien antiċipat.”

Il-Kapitlu numru 4 tar-rapport għandu jkun ta’ interess partikolari għal Malta. Huwa intitolat “Sea Level Rise and Implications for Low Lying Islands, Coasts and Communities”.

Il-medja globali taż-żieda fil-livell tal-baħar qed tiżdied b’rata li qed taċċellera. Mill-osservazzjonijiet li saru jirriżulta li din żdiedet minn 1.4 millimetri fis-sena fuq il-perjodu 1901-90 għal 3.6 millimetri fis-sena tul il-perjodu 2005-15. Ir-rapport jirreferi għal diversi studji li saru biex ikun imkejjel kemm tista’ tkun din iż-żieda fil-livell tal-ibħra fil-futur. Lil hinn mill-2050 hu diffiċli li jsiru projezzjonijiet u dan minħabba li x-xenarju dwar l-emmissjonijiet u t-tibdil fil-klima assoċjat mhux magħruf biżżejjed. L-anqas mhu magħruf kif ser tkun ir-reazzjoni tas-silġ akkumulat fl-Antartiku f’dinja b’temperatura għola. Bl-informazzjoni li hawn il-projezzjonijiet li saru jindikaw li l-livell tal-ibħra jista’ jiżdied b’madwar 110 ċentimetri sa tmiem dan is-seklu. Mhux eskluż li meta jitlestew studji addizzjonali li għadhom għaddejjin din iż-żieda tista’ titla’ sa 200 ċentimetru.

Dawn il-projezzjonijiet huma ibbażati fuq osservazzjonijiet xjentifiċi flimkien mat-tagħrif akkumulat minn studji dwar l-impatti tal-klima fuq l-ibħra, iż-żieda fit-temperaturi globali flimkien mar-ritmu li bih qed idub is-silġ akkumulat. Minkejja din l-inċertezza dwar dak li ser jiġri kif jidher mill-varjazzjoni mhux żgħira fil-projezzjonijiet dwar kemm u meta jista’ jogħla l-livell tal-ibħra, id-deċiżjonijiet ta’ ippjanar konnessi ma dak li hu meħtieġ biex tkun protetta l-kosta huma meħtieġa li jittieħdu illum.

Dan jinkludi d-deċiżjonijiet meħtieġa dwar infrastruttura ta’ importanza kritika kif ukoll xogħolijiet għall-ħarsien tal-kosta li hu meħtieġ li jkunu tlestew qabel ma jibda jseħħ ix-xenarju li l-baħar jogħla fil-livell b’mod sostanzjali.

L-għoli fil-livell tal-baħar hu ta’ theddida għall-komunitajiet residenzjali mal-kosta kif ukoll għall-parti l-kbira tal-infrastruttura turistika u marittima.

Iż-żoni kostali tagħna huma żviluppati b’mod esaġerat u fihom hemm jgħixu numru mhux żgħir ta’ nies, b’densità esaġerata.

Il-faċilitajiet u l-infrastruttura turistika huma ikkonċentrati tul il-parti tal-kosta li hi kważi fil-livell tal-baħar b’mod li l-inqas żieda fil-livell tal-baħar jista’ jkollu effett diżastruż. Għal stat gżira bħal Malta l-infrastruttura marittima hi kruċjali: anke din qegħda fil-livell tal-baħar. Bħala konsegwenza ta’ dan l-iċken ċaqlieq fil-livell tal-baħar jista’ jkollu effett diżastruz fuq il-gżejjer Maltin jekk ma nippreparawx ruħna sewwa mhux biss għall-iktar possibiltajiet realistiċi imma anke għall-agħar possibilitajiet.

X’ser nagħmlu? Qegħdin nippreparaw ruħna għal din l-emerġenza li qed tiżviluppa wara biebna?

It-tweġiba ovvja hi le: ma jidher xejn li jindika li qed nippreparaw ruħna. Il-problema ewlenija għalina hi li anke b’zieda żgħira fil-livell tal-baħar il-faċilitajiet mal-kosta jistgħu jisparixxu. Neħtieġu viżjoni ċara fuq kif ser naffrontaw it-tibdil fil-klima.

Il-Ministeru tat-Turiżmu iktar hu interessat biex joqgħod jilgħab bir-ramliet artifiċjali li malajr jitkaxkru mill-mewġ mal-ewwel maltempata qalila kif ġara fil-Bajja tal-Balluta riċentement. Man-natura ma tilgħabx! L-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar, min-naħa l-oħra iktar hi interessata li taqdi lil dawk li jridu jistagħnew mil-koxxa u fl-ebda ħin ma bdiet tagħti kas tat-tibdil fil-klima fid-deċiżjonijiet tagħha.

Neħtieġu kosta ħajja u vibranti. Nistgħu nipproteġu ‘l kosta billi nħejju ruħna għal din l-emerġenza tal-klima li qed tiżviluppa quddiem għajnejna. Jekk ser nibqgħu ma niċċaqilqux it-tort ikun tal-ġenerazzjoni tagħna u ta’ ħadd iktar.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 29 ta’ Settembru 2019

Our coastline: in a state of emergency

Earlier this week the UN International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its report on the oceans and climate change. We are once more warned of the consequences of climate change and the impacts of rising sea levels, as well as of the urgent need to have decarbonisation in place by not later than the year 2050.

EU Commissioners Miguel Arias Cañete for Climate Action and Energy, Karmenu Vella for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries and Carlos Moedas for Research, Science and Innovation have welcomed the report, considering it a wake-up call for the global community to tackle climate change and its impacts on oceans as soon as possible. In an EU Commission press statement issued on Wednesday, they emphasised the fact that the conclusions of the new report are clear: “human-induced global warming is drastically changing our oceans. They are heating up, becoming more acidic, contain less oxygen. Sea levels are rising much faster than anticipated.”

Chapter 4 of the report should be of particular interest to Malta. It is entitled “Sea Level Rise and Implications for Low Lying Islands, Coasts and Communities”.

Global Mean Sea Level is rising at an accelerating rate. From observations made it results that this has increased from 1.4 mm per year over the period 1901-90 to 3.6 mm per year over the period 2005-15. The report refers to various studies regarding the projected sea-level rise. Beyond 2050 is unchartered territory due to the uncertainties in emission scenarios and the associated climate changes and the response of the Antarctic ice sheet in a warmer world. The relevant projections, however, still point towards a possible sea-level rise of 1.10 metres towards the end of the century. It is not excluded that this projection may be increased upwards to as much as 2 metres, once additional studies are concluded.

These projections are based on scientific observations and the accumulated knowledge from studies on the impacts of climate change on the oceans, notably the increase in global temperatures as well as the resulting melting of glaciers and ice sheets.

Despite this uncertainty associated with such a wide range of the projections made, decisions on coastal adaptation planning are required to be made today. This would include decisions on critical infrastructure and coastal protection work which need to be put in place in anticipation of the most likely scenarios.

Rising sea levels are a threat to coastal residential areas as well as to most of our tourism and maritime infrastructure.

Our coastal areas are over-developed and densely populated. Tourism facilities and infrastructure is concentrated along the low-lying areas of the coast. For an island state the maritime infrastructure is crucial. As a consequence, sea-level rise may, even in the medium term, have a devastating impact on the Maltese islands unless we are adequately prepared – not just for the likely scenarios but also for the worst case scenario.

Where do we go from here? Are we prepared for this developing emergency which is unfolding before us?

The answer is an obvious “no”. We are not prepared. There are no signs that any sort of preparation is in hand. The basic problem we have to face is that even in the medium term our coast may be wiped out together with all its infrastructure. We lack a clear vision of how to deal with climate change.

The Tourism Ministry is only interested in playing around with artificial sandy beaches which will be quickly vacuumed up and reclaimed by the sea during the first storm – as was clearly demonstrated in Balluta Bay during the last stormy season. The Planning Authority is bent on facilitating “making hay while the sun shines” and has at no point factored climate change in its policies and decisions.

A healthy and vibrant coastline is essential and we can only protect it by being prepared for the developing climate emergency. If we do not we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 29 September 2019

Ġustizzja klimatika: s-sehem tagħna

L-istat attwali tal-emerġenza klimatika li qed tiżviluppa madwarna hu l-effett akkumlat ta’ snin ta’ emissjonijiet ta’ karbonju. Kontinwament qed inżidu ma dawn l-impatti akkumulati tant li l-projezzjonijiet tal-Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) jindikaw illi l-miri tas-Summit ta’ Pariġi dwar it-Tibdil fil-Klima li sar fl-2015 mhumiex ser jintlaħqu bil-kbir.

L-emissjonijiet globali tal-karbonju tant żdiedu li flok ser nillimitaw iż-żieda fit-temperatura għal grad u nofs Celsius fuq it-temperatura tal-era pre-industrijali, resqin lejn żieda ta’ madwar id-doppju ta’ dan sa l-aħħar tas-seklu kurrenti: ċjoe żieda ta tlett gradi Celsius.

L-istati z-żgħar li huma ġżejjer joqgħodu fihom iktar minn 65 miljun persuna. Ilu ż-żmien issa li dawn ġew meqjusa bħala l-iktar vulnerabbli minħabba l-impatti tat-tibdil fil-klima. Kull stat gżira qiegħed fuq quddiem nett biex ikun minn tal-ewwel biex ilaqqat dawn l-impatti, u dan minkejja li storikament, fil-parti l-kbira tagħhom dawn kienu fost l-anqas li kkontribwew għat-tibdil fil-klima. Prinċipalment qed nirreferi għall-istati gżejjer żgħar li hemm fil-Paċifiku li ġeneralment mhumiex ‘il-fuq mil-livell tal-baħar. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan il-fatt dawn ser ikunu fost ta’ l-ewwel li jlaqqtu d-daqqa tal-għoli tal-livell tal-baħar, bla dubju wieħed mill-konsegwenzi ewlenin tat-tibdil fil-klima.

Meta nitkellmu dwar l-għoli fil-livell tal-baħar ma nkunux qed nitkellmu b’mod tejoretiku dwar il-futur. Fl-Oċejan Paċifiku din hi r-realtà tal-lum.

Ħarsu pereżempju lejn il-gżejjer Maldives, magħrufa għall-bajjiet ramlin bojod li ma jispiċċaw qatt u li matul l-2018 żaruhom miljun u nofs turist. Il-Maldives huma fost iktar pajjiżi ċatti fid-dinja. 80% tal-art mhiex iktar minn metru ‘l-fuq mil-livell tal-baħar.

L-ebda parti tal-gżejjer mhi iktar minn tlett metri mil-livell tal-baħar. L-istudji li saru jindikaw li sa mis-snin ħamsin il-baħar madwar il-gżejjer Maldives għola bejn 0.8 u 1.6 ta’ millimetru fis-sena. B’din ir-rata hu stmat li sa tmiem dan is-seklu 77% tal-gżejjer Maldives ikunu taħt il-livell ta’ wiċċ il-baħar.

Il-ġzejjer Maldives, ċentru turistiku rinomat, jistgħu jkunu ‘l-bogħod wisq għal uħud biex jifhmu is-sinfikat ta’ dak li qed iseħħ fil-present. Imma hi ukoll esperjenza li mhux ser iddum ma tinfirex mal-erbat irjieh tad-dinja .

It-tibdil fil-klima jeffettwa direttament lill-komunitajiet mal-kosta kif ukoll l-infrastruttura kollha żviluppata mat-tul kollu tal-kosta. Il-gżejjer kollha, waħda wara l-oħra, ser ilaqqtuha.

Malta mhix ser tkun xi eċċezzjoni. Il-gżejjer Maltin, bħall-gżejjer kollha, ser jintlaqtu sewwa minn dawn l-impatti klimatiċi.

Probabbilment li din hi r-raġuni għaliex, skond Eurobarometer, il-Maltin huma l-iktar imħassba fost l-Ewropej u jqisu it-tibdil fil-klima bħala materja ta’ serjetà kbira.

Naħseb li wasal iż-żmien li din li tidher li hi sensittività għall-impatti tat-tibdil fil-klima nittrasformawha f’azzjoni konkreta.

Nistgħu per eżempju nistabilixxu l-mira li nnaqqsu nofs il-karozzi privati li għandna llum fit-toroq tagħna fi żmien għaxar snin? Ovvjament ma jkollniex bżonn it-toroq kollha li qed jippjanaw li jibnu kieku kellna nippruvaw inwettqu mira bħal din.

Dan jista’ jsir bla wisq diffikultà meta nqiesu li nofs il-vjaġġi li nagħmlu bil-karozzi tagħna fil-gżejjer Maltin huma vjaġġi għal distanzi qosra (twal inqas minn ħames kilometri) u li jdumu mhux iktar minn kwarta. Li jonqos hu ftit rieda politika. Flok ma noqgħodu nistennew lil ħaddieħor, f’pajjiżi oħra ‘l-bogħod, biex jieħdu azzjoni ħalli jonqsu l-impatti fuq il-klima wasal iż-żmien li naħsbu ftit dwar dak li nistgħu nagħmlu aħna stess u ngħaddu biex nagħmluh.

Il-problema tal-gżejjer Maldives hi il-problema tagħna wkoll. Konna fost dawk li taw kontribut biex inħolqot il-problema u jeħtieg ukoll il-kontribut tagħna għas-soluzzjoni tagħha.

Din hi t-triq li twassal lejn ġustizzja klimatika.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 15 ta’ Settembru 2019

Climate Justice: our role

The current state of the developing climate emergency is the cumulative effect of years of carbon emissions.

We continuously add to this accumulated impact to the extent that projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicate that the targets of the Paris 2015 Climate Change Summit will be substantially exceeded. The current global carbon emissions are such that instead of limiting temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius above the temperature prevalent in the pre-industrial era, we are moving towards double this increase by the end of this century, that is 3 degrees Celsius.

Small island states, home to more than 65 million people, have long been recognised as being especially vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change. Each island state is on the frontline of such impacts even though, historically, most of them have been the lowest contributors to climate change. I am referring mostly to the Pacific small island states which are generally low-lying and as a result, the first port of call of the rising sea level – one of the major consequences of climate change.

Rising sea levels is not the theoretical future. In the Pacific Ocean it is the real present. Consider, for example the Maldives, known for its extensive sandy beaches frequented by around 1.5 million tourists in 2018. The Maldives is also considered to be the flattest country on earth, with 80 per cent of its land area no higher than one metre above sea level and none of the rest no more than 3 metres above sea level. Studies indicate that, since the 1950s, the sea level around the Maldives has risen between 0.8 and 1.6 millimetres annually. At this rate it is estimated that, by the end of this century, 77 per cent of the Maldives current land area will be below sea level.

The Maldives, a tourism haven, may be too far away for some to grasp the significance of what is happening right now. It is, however, experiencing what will soon be the reality around the whole globe.

The coastal communities and the coastal infrastructure will be the hardest hit by climate change and al islands, around the world will be hit.

Malta will not be an exception; along with all other island states, the Maltese Islands will have to bear the brunt of this impact of climate change.

This could be the reason why, according to Eurobarometer, the Maltese are among the most concerned Europeans and consider climate change a very serious issue.

Isn’t it about time that this “apparent” sensitivity to the impacts of climate change is translated into concrete action?

How about, for example, setting a target of reducing the number of private cars on our roads by 50 per cent over the next ten years? We would obviously not need all the new roads being built, should we start seeking the best way to achieve such a target.

Given that it is estimated that 50 per cent of our private car journeys all around the Maltese Islands are for short distances (less than five kilometres) and of a duration that does not exceed 15 minutes this target would be easily achievable if there is some political will. Instead of waiting for others in faraway places to take action to reduce the impacts of climate change, it is about time that we start planning what we can do ourselves, and then proceed with doing it.

The problem of The Maldives is our problem too. We have contributed to its creation and consequently we must also contribute to its solution.

This is the path of climate justice.

Published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 15 September 2019

L-emerġenza klimatika

Li niddikjaraw li l-qagħda tal-klima tnissel sens ta’ emergenza hu pass pożittiv. Li nagħrfu dan ifissser li qed titnissel kuxjenza illi ma baqax wisq żmien biex nieħdu l-passi li hemm bżonn.

Ir-Renju Unit, ir- Republika tal-Irlanda, Franza, il-Kanada, l-Awstrija u l-Argentina flimkien ma bosta bliet u awtoritajiet lokali madwar id-dinja, iddikjaraw li għandna Emergenza Klimatika. Dawn jinkludu lil New York u San Francisco fl-Istati Uniti, Sydney u Melbourne fl-Awstralja, Pariġi u Mulhouse fi Franza, Seville, Zaragoza, ir-reġjun tal-Catalonia u l-Gżejjer Canary fi Spanja, Milan, Napli u Lucca fl-Italja, Basel-Stadt fl-Isvizzera, Bonn, Cologne u Düsseldorf fil-Ġermanja, Auckland u Wellington fi New Zealand, Amsterdam fl-Olanda, Varsavja u Krakow fil-Polonja, u Bacolod fil-Filippini.

Id-dikjarazzjoni dwar l-emerġenza klimatika, li kienet waħda mit-talbiet tal-grupp ta’ attivisti ambjentali Extinction Rebellion, kienet bla dubju pass importanti, imma hu ferm iktar importanti dak li jrid isegwi din id-dikjarazzjoni. Jekk il-kliem tad-dikjarazzjoni ma jkunux tradotti f’azzjoni, id-dikjarazzjoni l-anqas biss tiswa’ l-karta li hi stampata fuqha!

Il-punt bażiku li jista’ joħroġ mid-dikjarazzjoni tal-emerġenza klimatika hu l-għarfien li l-azzjoni dwar it-tibdil fil-klima għandha tkun prijorità politika. KuIl Gvern għandu jagħti kaz ta’ dan fil-ħidma kollha tiegħu.

L-aħħar rapport tal-IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) ippubblikat fl-2018 jagħmel enfasi li minkejja l-wegħdiet mill-komunità internazzjonali fis-Summit ta’ Pariġi dwar it-tibdil fil-klima, it-temperatura globali tidher li ser taqbeż bid-doppju l-massimu li nagħtajna parir li m’għandux jinqabeż: mexjin lejn żieda ta’ 3 gradi Celsius iktar mit-temperatura pre-industrijali . Din iż-żieda astronomika antiċipata hi l-kawża tal-emergenza. L-impatt kumulattiv tal-azzjoni dwar il-klima madwar id-dinja s’issa jindika li l-miri minimi mhux ser jintlaħqu.

Bħala riżultat tat-tibdil fil-klima partijiet mid-dinja, gradwalment, mhux ser jibqgħu abitabbli: zieda fit-temperatura, intensifikazzjoni tal-maltempati, nixfa banda u għargħar band’oħra. Dan kollu ser iħarbat il-ħajja kif nafuha sal-lum.

Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa, l-European Environment Agency (EEA) ippubblikat rapport qasir intitolat Climate Change Threatens the Future of Farming in Europe fejn kien enfasizzat li t-temperatura fin-Nofsinnhar tal-Ewropa ser togħla tant li sal-2050, mir-raba’ jista’ jkun li  l-prodotti li nieħdu jonqsu bin-nofs. Fl-istess ħin iż-żieda fit-temperatura fit-Tramuntana tal-Ewropa ser tagħmel dik iż-żona iktar addattata għall-agrikultura.

B’mod partikulari, emfasizza Euractive, l-vitikultura fir-reġjuni madwar il-Mediterran li huma storikament marbutin mal-inbid tonqos sostanzjalment bħala riżultat tas-sħana eċċessiva li qed tiżviluppa.

Din hi l-emerġenza rejali. Minkejja kollox baqa’ ftit taż-żmien biex dan inkunu nistgħu nindirizzawh. Jeħtieġilna imma illi nieħdu iktar ażżjoni bis-serjetà biex nindirizzaw il-kawżi tat-tibdil fil-klima. Qed ngħixu stil ta’ ħajja insostenibbli li jagħti l-impressjoni li għada mhux ser jasla.

M’għandniex bżonn wisq iżjed rapporti. Nafu x’qed jikkawża t-tibdil fil-klima imma ma hemmx biżżejjed rieda politika għal azzjoni. Li nipposponu l-problema f’ħoġor il-futur mhi ser isolvi xejn għax anke għada jista’ jkun tard wisq.

Huwa għal dan l-iskop li jinħtieġ li nirrikonoxxu l-fatt li qegħdin fi kriżi klimatika: hemm ħtieġa li niffukaw l-azzjoni tagħna u nikkommettu ruħna li l-azzjoni dwar it-tibdil fil-klima hi prijorità.

Li neliminaw iż-żieda fil-produzzjoni tal-karbonju (carbon neutrality) fl-iqsar żmien possibli għandu jkun il-mira ta’ kull Gvern. Dan jintlaħaq billi tittieħed azzjoni f’kull qasam, b’mod partikolari fejn jistgħu jinkisbu riżultati b’mod immedjat.

Huwa għal dan l-iskop li Alternattiva Demokratika issa ilna żmien niffukaw fuq il-qasam tat-Trasport bħala s-settur ovvju li jista’ jagħti kontribut sostanzjali għall-isforz ta’ Malta biex ikun indirizzat it-tibdil fil-klima. Minħabba d-distanzi żgħar bejn l-ibliet u l-irħula tagħna, hu iktar faċli minn f’pajjiżi oħra li jkollna mobilità sostenibbli mingħajr l-użu ta’ karozzi privati li jħammġu bl-użu tal-petrol u d-diżil. Ilkoll nirrabjaw li qed jintużaw wisq il-karozzi u li l-użu ta’ mezzi alternattivi ta’ transport mhux inkoraġġiti biżżejjed.

Il-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Trasport jenfasizza dan kollu meta jiġbdilna l-attenzjoni tagħna li iktar minn nofs il-vjaġġi li nagħmlu bil-karozzi privati jdumu inqas minn kwarta u huma għal distanzi li ma jaqbżux il- ħames kilometri.

Flok ir-retorika dwar il-klima għandna bżonn azzjoni konkreta. B’hekk biss nindirizzaw l-emerġenza.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 8 ta’ Settembru 2019