The Climate Emergency

Declaring a climate emergency is a positive step: recognising that the current state of the climate creates an emergency situation signifies that we are aware that time is running out.

The United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, France, Canada, Austria and Argentina together with various municipalities and local authorities all around the world, have declared a Climate Emergency. These include New York and San Francisco in the USA, Sydney and Melbourne in Australia, Paris and Mulhouse in France, Seville, Zaragoza, Catalonia and the Canary Islands in Spain, Milan, Naples and Lucca in Italy, the canton of Basel-Stadt in Switzerland, Bonn, Cologne and Düsseldorf in Germany, Auckland and Wellington in New Zealand, Amsterdam in Holland, Warsaw and Krakow in Poland, and Bacolod in the Philippines. This was one of the demands of the environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion.

The Climate Emergency Declaration was certainly a positive step, but what comes next is more important because if the words of the declaration are not translated into action the declaration will not be worth the paper it is printed on.

The basic point which emerges from a Climate Emergency Declaration is the recognition that action on climate change is a political priority and all the actions of governments should be developed in recognition of this basic fact.

The latest IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report published in 2018 underlines the fact that, notwithstanding the Paris Climate Change Summit pledges by the international community, the global temperature is on track for an increase that is double the maximum which we are advised should not be exceeded: that is 3 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial temperature. This anticipated astronomical increase is the cause of the emergency: the cumulative impact of climate action on a global level so far indicates that the minimum targets set will not be met.

As a result of climate change parts of the globe will become progressively uninhabitable with increasing temperature, intensification of storms, droughts in some parts of the world and floods in others, all of which will disrupt our life as we know it.

Earlier this week the European Environment Agency (EEA) published a short report entitled Climate Change Threatens the Future of Farming in Europe, underlining the fact that the temperature in Southern Europe will be such the yield from various crops will be reduced by 50 per cent by 2050. Simultaneously, the increase in temperature in Northern Europe would make that region more suitable for agriculture.

In particular, emphasised Euractive, “viticulture in the historical wine regions of the Mediterranean will be not doing well, as a result of the heat stress.”

The emergency is real and yet there is still a small time-frame during which it can be addressed. We need to take serious action to address the causes of climate change: an unsustainable lifestyle which assumes that tomorrow never comes.

We do not need many more reports. The causes of climate change are known but there is an insufficient political will to act. Postponing the problem into the future will not solve anything as tomorrow may be too late.

It is for this reason that we need to recognise the fact that a Climate Emergency exists and focus our attention on a commitment to take action on climate change as a matter of priority.

Achieving carbon neutrality in the shortest possible time should be a clear objective of all governments. This can be achieved by acting immediately in all areas, but primarily in those where immediate results could be attained.

It is for this reason that the Greens in Malta have, in recent months, focused on the transport sector as the most obvious sector that could contribute substantially to Malta’s efforts against climate change. Given the short distances between localities, sustainable mobility can be easily achieved by means other than private cars using fossil fuel. I think it makes many people angry, as it does me, that people use cars far too much and there is certainly a lack of encouragement to use alternatives.

The Transport Master Plan underlines the attainability of this objective by pointing out that over 50 per cent of journeys by private car are for less than 15 minutes and for distances not exceeding 5 kilometres.

Climate action rhetoric needs to be translated into concrete action – and the sooner the better. It is the only way to address the emergency.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 8 September 2019

Il-politika dwar il-klima

“Extinction Rebellion” hi waħda minn l-aħħar forom ta’ eko-attiviżmu. Stabilita fir-Renju Unit reċentment, dan hu attiviżmu non-vjolenti bbażat fuq azzjoni diretta, intenzjonat li jikkonvinċi lill-Gvern biex jaġixxi fil-konfront tal-emergenza klimatika u ekoloġika li qed niffaċċjaw presentement.

It-talbiet li qed jagħmlu lill-Gvern tar-Renju Unit huma ffokati fuq il-ħtieġa li l-fatti veri jkunu magħrufa kif ukoll li jkun hemm azzjoni dwarhom mingħajr iktar tkaxkir tas-saqajn.

Li nassiguraw li jingħadu l-fatti jfisser illi fid-dibattitu dwar il-bidla fil-klima, leħen ix-xjenza jitħalla jinstema’ b’mod ċar. Ix-xjenzjati kienu ċari ħafna (kważi unanimi) huma u jenfasizzaw li l-bidla fil-klima qegħda magħna. Ix-xjenza tgħidilna li diġà qed inħossu l-ewwel impatti tal-bidla fil-klima. Dawn jinkludu temperaturi estremi, tibdil fl-intensità u l-frekwenza tax-xita: nixfa estrema f’partijiet tad-dinja u xita intensiva u għargħar f’oħrajn.

Li jkunu magħrufa l-fatti, jfisser ukoll li nagħrfu illi r-riżorsi fid-dinja huma limitati u li t-tkabbir ekonomiku bla limitu mhux realtà li tista’ isseħħ għax ma hemmx x’jagħmel tajjeb għal dan ix-xorta ta’ tkabbir. Mhux vijabbli li f’dinja b’riżorsi limitati nimmaġinaw tkabbir ekonomiku infinit. Aħseb ftit dwar il-kwalità tal-arja u l-ilma tagħna, il-minerali f’żaqq id-dinja kif ukoll l-ispeċi rari.

Li naġixxu issa jfisser li ma nistgħux nibqgħu nkaxkru saqajna qiesu mhu jiġri xejn. Il-klassi politika ma tistax tibqa’ ddur mal-lewża. Jeħtieġ bidla fil-mod kif ngħixu, mingħajr iktar dewmien.

Jeħtieġilna niffukaw fuq politika ta’ żvilupp sostenibbli b’ħarsa fit-tul flok fuq politika li tħares lejn il-gwadann immedjat . Irridu nibdew naħsbu dwar kif ġenerazzjoni ser ittejjeb fuq dak li ħalliet il-ġenerazzjoni ta’ qabilha flok ma naħsbu dwar x’ser nilħqu nagħmlu sa l-elezzjoni ġenerali li jmiss.

Sadanittant iż-żmien għaddej. Il-frekwenza ta’ maltemp qalil qed jiżdied. L-għargħar qed iħarbat l-infrastruttura ta’ pajjiżi madwar id-dinja. Il-kwalità tal-arja sejra għall-agħar. L-ispeċi qed jisparixxu b’rata li qatt ma rajna bħalha.

Il-livell tal-ibħra qed jogħla, bil-mod għalissa. Imma ma għandna l-ebda garanzija li dan ma jaċċellerax fiż-żmien li ġej.

F’Pariġi, fis-Summit dwar it-tibdil fil-klima fl-2015, kien hemm qbil li għandna nagħmlu ħilitna biex nassiguraw li t-temperatura tad-dinja ma tiżdiedx b’iktar minn 1.5 gradi Celsius fuq it-temperatura pre-industrijali. Imma, wara li diversi pajjiżi issottomettew il-miri volontarji tagħhom kif miftiem fis-Summit ta’ Pariġi, jirriżulta li sa l-aħħar ta’ dan is-seklu ż-żieda fit-temperatura ser taqbez il-mira bid-doppju, ċjoe ser taqbeż it-tlett gradi Celsius. Dan jirriżulta minn rapport tal- IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) li kien approvat fl-2018 u sar pubbliku fil-Korea t’Isfel. Jekk dan iseħħ, l-impatti tat-tibdil fil-klima ser jiżdiedu b’mod astronomiku.

Minkejja dan, ir-rapport tal-2018 tal-IPCC jenfasizza li xorta għadu possibli illum li nilħqu l-mira li tillimita ż-żieda fit-temperatura għal 1.5 degree Celsius. Imma biex dan iseħħ hemm ħtieġa ta’ tnaqqis sostanzjali fl-emissjonijiet kif ukoll tibdil sostanzjali u b’ritmu mgħaġġel f’kull aspett tas-soċjetà. Dan jinkludi process rapidu ta’ tnaqqis ta’ dipendenza fuq il-karbonju (rapid decarbonisation).

Issa għaddew iktar minn tlett snin minn meta Alternattiva Demokratika ippubblikat dokument poliitku dwar il-ħtieġa li f’Malta niffukaw fuq li naslu biex ninfatmu mid-dipendenza fuq il-karbonju (decarbonisation) sa mhux iktar tard mill-2050. Li nilħqu dan l-oġġettiv mhux biss jelimina d-dipendenza fuq fjuwil karboniku imma joħloq ukoll opportunitajiet ekonomiċi sinifikanti kif ukoll numru sostanzjali ta’ impiegi ambjentali fl-użu ta’ teknoliġiji ġodda. Jagħti ukoll kontribut għal titjib fil-kwalità tal-ħajja tagħna lkoll.

Ma nistawx nibqgħu niġu naqgħu u nqumu mir-regoli fundamentali tan-natura u x-xjenza mingħajr imbagħad ma nerfgħu l-konsegwenzi. Anke f’dawn il-gżejjer għandna responsabbiltà li nagħtu kontribut biex tkun eradikata l-inġustizzja klimatika. Imma ż-żmien għaddej, ma jistenna lil ħadd. In-natura ma tkaxkarx saqajha biex tirritalja!

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 1 ta’ Settembru 2019

Climate politics

Extinction Rebellion is one of the latest forms of eco-activism. It was established in the United Kingdom as an apolitical network using non-violent direct action to persuade the government to take action on the climate and ecological emergency which we face.

In brief, the demands by Extinction Rebellion to the UK government focus on the need to be truthful as well as on the need to act now without any further procrastination.

Telling the truth means ensuring that, when it comes to issues of climate change, the voice of science is heard loud and clear. Scientists have been very clear (practically unanimous) in emphasising the fact that climate change is here. Science tells us that we are already at the receiving end of the first impacts of climate change, which include extremes of temperature and the changing patterns of rainfall: extreme drought in parts of the world and the most intensive rainfall and floods elsewhere.

The truth also means a realisation that the earth’s resources are finite and that they cannot keep bankrolling unlimited economic growth. Infinite economic growth on a planet with finite resources in not viable. Think about the quality of our air, our water, minerals in the earth’s core and rare species: they are, at this point in time, stretched beyond the most reasonable limits. And, finally, the truth finally also means that there is no institution on earth which will bail us out of the accumulating ecological debt.

Acting now means that the status quo must end immediately. The current political class must halt its policy of going around in circles. Changing our lifestyles is an immediate must. We need to take on board a politics of sustainable development which focuses on the long-term view instead of a politics of short-term immediate gains. We must start acting on road-maps which span a generation and not on those which span general elections.

Time is running out: violent storms are more frequent; flooding is playing havoc with the infrastructure all over the world; air quality is deteriorating continuously and species are becoming extinct at the fastest rate ever.

The sea is rising – slowly at this point in time, but we have no guarantee that this will not accelerate. The rate at which ice is melting at the polar caps is not the least reassuring.

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 degree Celsius over that recorded in the pre-industrial age. However, after the different countries submitted their voluntary targets, as agreed at the Paris summit, it seem that by the end of the current century the increase in temperature will be 3 degree Celsius – double the target. This is the result of an IPCC report (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)  approved and published in South Korea in 2018. If this happens, climate change impacts will increase exponentially.

The key finding of the 2018 IPCC report is that while the 1.5 degree Celsius climate increase target is still achievable at this stage, it would require “deep emission reductions” and “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”. This would include rapid decarbonisation.

It has been more than three years since Alternattiva Demokratika -The Green Party – published a policy paper on the need to focus on decarbonisation in Malta and achieve this by not later than 2050. Such an objective would not only eradicate our dependency on carbon fuels, it would also create significant economic opportunities and the creation of a multitude of real green jobs in emerging technologies, as well as contribute significantly to an improvement in our quality of life.

We cannot continue to violate the fundamental laws of nature or science with impunity. Even on these islands we have a responsibility to contribute to the eradication of climate injustice. Time is running out. Nature does not have second thoughts about implementing its agenda!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 1 September 2019

It-tibdil fil-klima hi kawża ta’ inġustizzji

Kulħadd hu konxju li f’partijiet differenti tad-dinja t-temp għaddej minn estrem għall-ieħor. In-National Geographic, riċentement, taħt it-titlu “It-tibdil fil-klima tisforza Gwatemali biex jemigraw” irrappurtat ukoll li “n-nixfa u t-tibdil fil-klima qed jagħmilha diffiċli għall-bdiewa ta’ mezzi żgħar biex jgħajxu lill-familji tagħhom. Dan qed iwassal għal kriżi umanitarja.”

L-Organizzazzjoni Dinjija tal-Ikel (FAO) u l-Programm Dinji tal-Ikel tal-Ġnus Magħquda huma kkonċernati li n-nixfa qed ikollha impatt sostanzjali fuq dawk l-iktar vulnerabbli fl-Amerika Ċentrali. Din diġa wasslet biex intilfu 280,000 ettaru ta’ raba’ fil-Gwatemala, l-El Salvador u l-Honduras, u bħala riżultat ta’ dan effettwat is-sigurta tal-ikel ta’ żewġ miljun ruħ.

Nafu anke minn esperjenza tagħna stess f’Malta kif in-nixfa u l-għargħar huma kawża ta’ ħsara kbira lill-uċuħ tar-raba’: ħsara li qed tkun iktar spissa.

Xi pajjiżi qed isofru min-nuqqas ta’ xita. Oħrajn għaddejjin minn esperjenza differenti: fi ftit ġranet ikollhom ix-xita kollha li normalment tagħmel f’sena u dan bil-konsegwenza ta’ għargħar kbar. Dan it-tibdil fil-klima qed iseħħ ħtija tal-ħidma u l-imġieba tal-bniedem, ħidma mifruxa fuq ħafna snin li wasslet għal żidiet sostanzjali ta’ emissjonijiet ta’ karbonju (carbon emissions).

Hu ċar li t-tibdil fil-klima hu theddida għar-riżorsi bażiċi tal-ikel u l-ilma li fuqhom jiddependu l-komunitajiet tal-ġnus: dan kollu hu ostaklu kbir għad-dritt għal ħajja li għandu kull wieħed u waħda minna.

Il-politika dwar il-bidla fil-klima, fuq inizjattiva u l-insistenza ta’ stati gżejjer, ewlenin fosthom il-gżejjer fil-Paċifiku, preżentement qed tiffoka fuq il-ħtieġa li ż-żieda fit-temperatura tad-dinja ma taqbiżx 1.5 grad Celsius fuq it-temperatura pre-industrijali. Hemm kunsens fost il-komunità xjentifika globali li jekk iż-żieda taqbeż din iċ-ċifra hemm possibilità kbira ta’ apokalissi klimatika. Dan ma jikkawżax biss estremitajiet ta’ nixfa u għargħar imma ukoll jogħla l-livell tal-baħar b’mod li jinqerdu z-zoni kostali kif ukoll gżejjer diversi jispiċċaw taħt wiċċ l-ilma.

Ir-rapport speċjali tal-lnter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ippubblikat f’Ottubru li għadda jispjega fid-dettall il-veduti tal-komunità xjentifika globali dwar x’inhu jiġri: jispjega x-xjenza tal-bidla fil-klima u l-effett ta’ dan fuq id-dinja. 224 xjenzjat ewlieni minn 40 pajjiż differenti eżaminaw 30,000 studju xjentifku: il-konklużjonijiet tagħhom ma jistgħux ikunu injorati.

Ir-rapport tal-IPPC iwissina li t-temperatura tad-dinja diġa għoliet bi grad Celsius fuq it-temperatura pre-industrijali. Jekk nibqgħu għaddejjin bl-istess livell ta’ attività, sa mhux iktar tard mis-sena 2050 din it-temperatura ser tiżdied b’nofs grad Celsius ieħor, ikompli jwissina r-rapport. Għal din ir-raġuni l-komunità xjentifika hi tal-fehma li l-emmissjonijiet tal-karbonju għandhom jonqsu tant li sa mhux iktar tard mis-sena 2050 l-emmissjonijiet netti jkunu zero.

Hemm resistenza għal dan l-oġġettiv f’numru ta’ pajjiżi. Erbgħa minnhom (ir-Russia, l-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika, l-Kuwajt u l-Arabja Sawdita) ippruvaw ixellfu l-kunsens globali dwar il-konklużjonijiet tar-rapport tal-IPPC waqt il-laqgħa f’Katowice dwar il-klima iktar kmieni dan ix-xahar.

Kull pajjiż għandu sehem x’jagħti biex it-tnaqqis fl-emmissjonijiet jintlaħaq, u dan soġġett għall-prinċipju ambjentali li jistabilixxi li r-responsabbilta għalkemm hi waħda komuni tintrefa b’mod differenti (principle of common but differentiated responsibility). Anke Malta teħtieġ li terfa’ is-sehem tagħha ta’ din ir-responsabbiltà b’mod li tikkontribwixxi biex jonqsu l-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju ħalli jkun assigurat li ż-żieda ta’ 1.5 gradi fit-temperatura tad-dinja ma tinqabizx.

Meta l-ġenerazzjoni tal-enerġija f’Malta ma baqgħitx issir bl-użu tal-HFO (heavy fuel oil), żejt maħmuġ, u minflok qlibna għall-gass sar pass importanti l-quddiem. Imma meta nħarsu fit-tul dan mhux biżżejjed għax il-gass hu fuel ta’ transizzjoni: transizzjoni fit-triq lejn enerġija li tkun iġġenerata kompletament minn sorsi renovabbli. Neħtieġu iktar enerġija ġġenerata mix-xemx u mir-riħ kif ukoll għandna bżonn nagħrfu nagħmlu użu tajjeb mill-enerġija ġġenerata mill-mewġ li hi abbundanti fl-ibħra madwarna.

L-applikazzjoni tat-teknologija f’dawn l-oqsma toħloq xogħol sostenibbli u fl-istess ħin ittejjeb il-kwalità tal-ħajja ta’ kulħadd.

F’dan is-sens il-qasam tat-trasport f’Malta għadu ta’ uġiegħ ta’ ras u dan minħabba l-emmissjonijiet tal-karbonju li jirriżultaw miż-żieda astronomika ta’ karozzi fit-toroq tagħna. Sfortunatament, flok ma jinvesti f’trasport sostenibbli, l-gvern għaddej bi programm intensiv ta’ żvilupp tal-infrastruttura tat-toroq li inevitabilment ser iwassal biex jinkoraġixxi użu ikbar tal-karozzi fit-toroq tagħna. Dan iwassal biex jikkanċella l-progress li sar biż-żieda reġistrat fl-użu tat-trasport pubbliku.

Biex tkompli tagħmel l-affarijiet agħar, il-mina bejn Malta u Għawdex hi essenzjalment mina għall-karozzi,mhux mina għan-nies. Hu stmat li bħala riżultat ta’ din il-mina proposta ċ-ċaqlieq ta’ karozzi bejn iż-żewġ gżejjer jiżdied minn medja ta’ 3,000 għal medja ta’ 9,000 kuljum, u dan fi żmien 15-il sena. Hu possibli li jkun provdut serviz alternattiv u sostenibbli, indirizzat biss lejn in-nies, permezz ta’ dak li nirreferu għalih bħala fast ferry. Dan jista’ jwassal lin-nies dritt minn Għawdex saċ-ċentri kummerċjali tal-pajjiż. Il-karozzi, imma, huma fattur ċentrali għall-mina proġettata u dan għax il-ħlas li jsir għall-użu tal-mina huwa dipendenti fuq in-numru ta’ karozzi li jagħmlu użu minnha!

Dan kollu jmur kontra l-ispirtu tal-Pjan Nazzjonali għat-Trasport-2025 li jistabilixxi l-oġġettiv ta’ tnaqqis ta’ karozzi mit-toroq tagħna bħala mira li tista’ tintlaħaq. It-tnaqqis tal-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna mhux biss itejjeb il-kwalità tal-arja li permezz tagħha nieħdu n-nifs: hu ukoll il-kontribut żgħir tagħna bħala pajjiż kontra l-inġustizzji maħluqa minn tibdil fil-klima għax inkun qed innaqqsu l-emissjonijiet tal-karbonju bil-konsegwenza ta’ tnaqqis fiż-żieda tat-temperatura tad-dinja.

Għax il-ġlieda kontra l-inġustizzji li qed jinħolqu bit-tibdil fil-klima hi responsabbiltà tagħna ukoll.

 

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 30 ta’ Diċembru 2018

Climate justice is our responsibility too

Everyone is aware that different parts of the world are experiencing weather extremes.  Under the heading “Changing climate forces desperate Guatemalans to emigrate”, National Geographic recently reported that “Drought and shifting weather are making it difficult for many small-scale farmers to feed their families, fuelling a human crisis”.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Food Programme of the United Nations are concerned that drought is having a considerable impact on the most vulnerable in Central America. It has led to a loss of 280,000 hectares of agricultural land in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, as a result affecting the food security of more than two million human persons.

We are aware, even as a result of local experience, that drought and floods cause considerable damage to agriculture and are occurring with increasing frequency. Some countries are experiencing an acute lack of rain while others are experiencing a concentration of a year’s rainfall in the space of a few days. These changing patterns of the weather are the result of human behaviour, accumulated over a large number of years through ever-increasing carbon emissions.

Clearly, climate change threatens essential resources – such as water and food – on which communities depend, putting in question their very right to life.

The politics of Climate Change, on the initiative and insistence of island states, in particular Pacific island micro-states, is currently focusing on the need to limit increases in global warming to not more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. There is a consensus among the global scientific community that, beyond such an increase, a climatic apocalypse would be more likely. This will be the cause of not just more drought and floods but also of unprecedented rise in sea level, as a result wiping out coastal areas, and low-lying islands all around the globe.

The special report issued by the lnter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in October explains in detail the views of the global scientific community on the current state of play: it explains the science of climate change and the future of the Earth. A total of 224 leading scientists from 40 countries have assessed 30,000 scientific papers and their conclusions cannot be ignored.

Its report warns that the earth has already warmed by one degree Celsius more than the pre-industrial age. If we retain the present level of activity, we are warned that the temperature will rise a further half of a degree before the year 2050.

This is the reason why the scientific community considers that carbon emissions must be reduced, achieving net zero emissions before the year 2050. However, there are various pockets of resistance to attaining such an objective in a number of countries. So much that four of them (Russia, the United States, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) have sought to water down the global consensus on the IPPC report conclusions in Katowice, at the climate change summit held earlier this month.

Each and every country has a role in achieving this substantial reduction of carbon emissions, subject to the principle of common but differentiated responsibility. Malta also has such a responsibility to contribute to a reduction of carbon emissions in order to ensure that the 1.5 degree barrier is not breached.

In Malta, the switching of energy generation from one dependent on heavy fuel oil to gas was a positive step. However, in the long term, this is not enough as gas is considered a transition fuel: a step on the path to energy generation completely dependent on renewable sources. We require more energy generated from the sun and wind and we also need to ensure that good use is made of energy generated from waves – so abundant in the sea around us. The application of technology will lead to the creation of new, sustainable jobs and simultaneously contribute to an improvement in the quality of life for everyone.

Transport, however, is still a major problem considering Malta’s carbon emissions due the astronomic increase in the number of cars on our roads. Unfortunately, instead of investing in sustainable transport, the government has embarked on a massive programme of further development of the road infrastructure which will only result in encouraging more cars on our roads. Consequently, this will cancel out the progress being achieved with the registered increase in the use of public transport.

To add insult to injury, the proposed tunnel below the seabed between Malta and Gozo is essentially a tunnel for the use of cars. It is estimated that, as a result of this tunnel, the vehicle movement between the two islands will increase from 3000 to 9000 vehicle movements daily over a 15-year period. An alternative sustainable service providing for the movement of people would be a fast ferry service from Gozo to the commercial centres of Malta. However, the encouragement of the use of cars is central to the projected tunnel as tolls will be paid by car owners.

All this runs counter to the National Transport Master-Plan 2025 which establishes the reduction of cars from Maltese roads as an achievable target.

Reducing the number of cars on our roads will not only improve the quality of the air we breath but will also be a small but important contribution to global climate justice through a reduction in carbon emission levels.

Climate justice is our responsibility too.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 30 December 2018

A Price To Pay

The report to the UK government by Sir Nicholas Stern in late 2006 underlined that the effects of climate change are on our doorstep. There is a cost which we will have to pay even if we act in good time. The cost is, however, substantially higher if we do not act at all and it increases further with every “bad” policy decision.

Malta needs to take all possible action to reduce its carbon emissions. It is an unavoidable necessity. Within this context it is necessary to debate on a national level the utility of having a carbon budget, a point which I emphasised last year (Wanted: A Carbon Budget, October 10, 2007). Carbon budgeting will entail reporting regularly to Parliament on the manner in which targets are to be achieved as well as the extent to which Malta would be in line with its set targets.

The opposition spokesman on climate change has already declared his intention of presenting a private member’s Bill in this respect. In the process he is trying to lay the foundations for a credible opposition environmental policy which has been nowhere in sight for ages. The opposition’s initiative, stated the minister responsible for climate change, is ill-timed as a climate change commission has just been appointed and one should have the decency to await its conclusions.

There is obviously another side to the argument. That we are fed up of commissions reporting: report after report with nothing tangible resulting. The minister responsible for climate change has been in office for more than 10 years (having a portfolio responsible for the environment and, consequently, climate change for most of this time) and throughout all these years he had more than ample time to plan for national action on climate change. But, obviously, he was too busy dealing with local plans and could ill afford the time to act for climate change !

Malta urgently needs to plan for both the short term as well as the long term effects of climate change. The most obvious effect is that caused by changing patterns of climate. Extremes of weather in the form of higher temperatures, more intense rainfall and more severe storms are already being felt. A rise in sea levels is also on the cards. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has forecast that sea levels could rise between 28 and 43 centimetres by the end of this century. Yet, new research is already pointing towards the 1.50 metres range as being a more likely occurrence by 2100.

Depending on its magnitude, a sea level rise could play havoc with Malta’s coastline which would change beyond recognition. It could also threaten the existence of coastal settlements like Msida, Gżira, parts of Sliema, Marsascala, Marsaxlokk, Birżebbuġa, Għadira, Marsalforn and Xlendi. The Freeport, seaside facilities including hotels and resorts as well as Grand Harbour facilities would also be under threat.

Effects would not be just along the coastline. They could move further inland towards low-lying areas like Marsa, Qormi, Burmarrad and beyond. This would also have a bearing on our territorial waters, on fishing rights and oil exploration rights. Although these are “just” long-term effects they should be taken seriously as it seems that this will be the inheritance we will pass on to future generations! (On a global level as many as one billion people could be forced to move from their homes by 2050.)

A sea level rise will also cause further damage to what’s left of our water table, currently the source of 40 per cent of Malta’s potable water supply. This will increase the salinity of the ground water thereby causing it to be of little use for human consumption. Coupled with a predicted annual rainfall reduction this will have a devastating effect on the sustainable freshwater yield from our aquifers. It will increase the pressure on energy intensive RO plants.

Agriculture will be effected too. Changed weather conditions will not be able to sustain our current crops. Our farmers will have to switch to new crops.

A change in climate will also accelerate an ecological change as it will create the right conditions for the establishment of alien species that cannot do so to date, simultaneously wiping out existing species on the islands. In the long term, Malta’s climate could start resembling that of the tropics. This would create the right conditions for new pests and diseases currently prevalent in such climates.

Most of us have been aware of the above for years. Sufficient information has been available to enable the government to act. Unfortunately it had other priorities, or, worse, it did not have the will to act.

The longer the wait the harder it will be to take action and the higher the price which the Maltese community will have to pay.