Writing off future generations

Our actions today are a first draft in designing the future. They are tomorrow’s blueprint. Our future as well as that of future generations.

The ice sheets are melting at a faster rate than ever before. The resulting sea-level rise will obliterate coastal settlements around the globe. Even the Maltese islands will be impacted by a sea-level rise, irrespective of its magnitude. The larger the sea-level rise the more severe the impacts.

On a global level the sea is rising around 3 millimetres per annum. This varies with region. This variation may be insignificant to the naked eye and as result many would not even notice it.

No one can state with certainty as to how much the sea level will eventually rise. It is however clear to the scientific community that an increase in the mean global temperature is a major contributor. Islands and coastal communities all around the world will bear the brunt of this sea-level rise.

In the Pacific Ocean the sea has risen at a rate of three times the global average. A number of low-lying islands have already disappeared below the sea.  In the Indian Ocean, The Maldives, a major touristic destination, risks losing 77 per cent of its land with a 50-centimetre sea-level rise. It will completely disappear if the sea level rises to a metre or more.  

There is a time lag between our actions and sea-level rise such that we can substantially decrease sea-level rise in the future if we act appropriately now.

This is the reason underlying the EU’s policy of carbon neutrality, that is taking steps to ensure that net carbon emissions are reduced to zero by 2050, preferably earlier.

The Mediterranean Sea is a hotspot of climate change. Mediterranean experts on climate and environmental change within the framework of the UNEP Mediterranean Action Plan have drawn up a report entitled “Risks associated to climate and environmental changes in the Mediterranean Region”. This report points at the enormous challenges facing the Mediterranean due to the projected rising temperature in the region.

Without policy change it is estimated that the Mediterranean Region will, on average, be 2.2 degrees warmer in 2040 than it is today. This will have a considerable impact on water resources, agricultural production and health, amongst other issues. By 2100 without meaningful policy change this could lead to a one metre rise in sea level impacting severely the coastal communities in the Mediterranean.

The tourism industry, with most of its facilities situated along the coastline, will be obliterated. The impacts of climate change will be so severe that Covid-19 impacts will seem to be child’s play in comparison.

All over the world governments have been reluctant to act and take definite action on climate change to limit the potential temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and definitely to not more than 2 degrees Celsius. The commitments made at the Paris Climate Summit in 2015 are a welcome first step, but they are certainly not enough.

It has been estimated that if all commitments made in Paris are adhered to, we would still be on track to hit a temperature increase in excess of the two-degree limit. This would lead to a global disaster.

The first to bear the brunt will be islands all around the globe followed closely by low-lying coastal areas. This is the reason for island states being so vociferous in Climate Change fora, insisting for more action. It is unfortunate that Malta’s voice is not sufficiently heard in such fora. It is about time that we get our priorities right. Our relative silence is writing off future generations in the Mediterranean.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 3 January 2021

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

No Compromise with Nature

 

published on December 19, 2009

by Carmel Cacopardo

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At the time of writing negotiators at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference are still wrangling. The bone of contention is that the developed world has already used up the planet’s capacity to absorb emissions through past industrial activity whilst the developing countries as well as the emerging economies are demanding their fair share. This, they maintain, could be achieved through adequate funding as well as monitoring of binding emission targets. It is estimated that business as usual will lead to a global temperature increase of around six degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. Researchers maintain that in order to minimise required adaptation measures it is imperative to restrict a temperature increase to not more than two degrees. Island states consider that any increase above 1.5 degrees would be catastrophic. The Maldives, Tuvalu and Fiji have been vociferous in their campaigning for drastic emission cuts by all states in the short term. They risk being submerged. In Africa, countries are already shouldering drought and the resulting famine due to a collapse of agriculture. Faced with these problems many seek to move elsewhere away from nature’s wrath. Malta’s problem of illegal immigration is a direct result of these impacts of climate change on the African Continent. Mitigation through the reduction of carbon emissions is not a switch which can be put on or off at ease. It is, in part, the result of a carefully planned shift away from a carbon economy. There is a substantial financial cost related to such a transition. Alternatively as demonstrated in the Stern Report, the financial, ecological and human costs will be substantially higher. Malta is committed to mitigation measures decided within an EU framework. These currently entail a reduction of carbon emissions by 20 per cent on the basis of 1990 emission levels and the sourcing of 10 per cent of energy needs from sustainable alternatives by 2020. Government has been moving very slowly and it is still not clear whether targets will be achieved. The mitigation measures implemented by the global community will determine the intensity of the climate changes that Malta will have to face together with the rest of the international community. Malta’s vulnerability is substantial and comparable to that faced by the Pacific and Caribbean islands. If mitigation measures implemented are not substantial the temperature rise will be closer to six degrees. This will mean more drastic impacts as a result of higher sea level rises, reduced rainfall, as well as more intense storms. Malta’s adaptation measures will be dependent on the extent to which the international community implements the mitigation measures agreed to. So far the assumption has been that the international community would come to its senses and agree to measures which restrict a temperature rise to not more than two degrees Celsius. This requires a 40 per cent global carbon emission cut by 2020. Yet commitments made to date are insufficient. The resulting sea level rise could be substantial: around two metres by the end of this century. This will affect coastal facilities, low lying residential areas as well as the water table. It may also affect the extent of Malta’s rights over the surrounding sea in view of the fact that these rights are determined on the basis of a distance from the coastline. A receding coastline may affect territorial waters, fishing rights as well as the economic zone (including oil exploration rights). A rising sea level will affect most of Malta’s tourism facilities as well as the commercial infrastructure in our ports. These will as a result, either be closer to or else below sea level. Malta’s beaches such as Għadira, Għajn Tuffieħa and Pretty Bay will be below sea level whilst some low-lying residential areas may have to be abandoned. The water table will be affected by a rise in sea level through an increase in its salinity. Coupled with the mismanagement of water resources in past years, climate change will lead to a situation where ground water in Malta will not be usable if not subject to substantial, costly and energy intensive treatment. This will hasten the collapse of agriculture which is dependent on the direct use of water extracted from the water table. It will also increase exponentially the cost of water used for consumption and industrial purposes. Consideration of the impacts of climate change should thus lead us to consider whether the Maltese islands will still be capable of supporting a population of 400,000. Misuse of nature’s resources in the past coupled with the foreseeable impacts of climate change lead to the inevitable conclusion that in the not too distant future it will be difficult to support human life on these islands. Resistance to change over the years signifies that environmental problems faced by Malta have increased. Nature does not compromise. Deferring action will condemn millions (including Maltese) to immeasurable suffering.