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

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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

Is-silġ qed idub

Is-silġ qed idub kullimkien. Iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa fl-Iżlanda saret kommemorazzjoni tal-glaċier Okjökull li dab wara madwar 700 sena li ilu jeżisti.

Kien hemm ċerimonja ta’ tifkira u twaħħlet plakka bi twissija għall-futur li tgħid: “Okjökull hu l-ewwel glaċier fl-Iżlanda li spiċċa. Matul il-mitejn sena li ġejjin il-glaċieri ewlenin li għandna ser imisshom l-istess xorti. Dan il-monument jirrikonoxxi li nafu x’qiegħed jiġri kif ukoll x’jeħtieġ li jsir. Intom biss tafu jekk għamilniehx.”

Din id-dedika tispiċċa bid-data taċ-ċerimonja u l-konċentrazzjoni attwali tad-dijossidju tal-carbonju fl-arja, 415 parti minn kull miljun.

Mappa ġeoloġika tal-1901 tal-Iżlanda tindika li dan il-glaċier kien ikopri area ta’ 38 kilometru kwadru. Issa spiċċa: dab u sparixxa fl-oċeani.

It-tibdil fil-klima qiegħed magħna. Illum diffiċli biex dan jitwaqqaf. It-tibdil fil-klima m’għadux xi eżerċizzju tejoretiku li jbassar il-futur: hu r-realtà li qed tiżviluppa quddiemna u li rridu niffaċċjaw.

Il-kommemorazzjoni simbolika “tal-mewt” tal-glaċier Iżlandiz hi twiddiba għal kulħadd: it-tibdil fil-klima teffettwa lil kulħadd, min mod u min ieħor. Iż-żieda fit-temperatura globali qed iddewweb il-glaċieri u l-icebergs. Dan iwassal biex jogħla l-livell tal-baħar u dan b’theddida serja għal kull attività fuq l-art li hi qrib tal-livell tal-baħar. L-effetti mhux ser ikunu biss mal-kosta, imma iktar ‘il-ġewwa ukoll.

Kontinwament naqraw kif ibliet kbar li qegħdin mhux wisq ‘il-fuq mil-livell tal-baħar qed jaħsbu u jitħassbu dwar kif jistgħu jilqgħu għal din it-theddida: ibliet bħal New York, Miami, Tampa, Boston, New Orleans, Amsterdam, Mumbai, Stokkolma, Buenos Aires, Dakar, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Cancun u bosta oħrajn jistgħu jisparixxu. Miljuni ta’ bnedmin jispiċċaw bla saqaf fuq rashom.

U f’Malta?

L-għoli tal-livell tal-baħar jeqred il-faċilitajiet mal-kosta, bit-turiżmu jaqla’ l-ikbar daqqa. Numru ta’ zoni residenzjali mal-kosta ukoll jistgħu jkunu effettwati: bħal Marsalforn, ix-Xlendi, San Pawl il-Baħar, l-Għadira, tas-Sliema, l-Gżira, Ta’ Xbiex, l-Msida, Birżebbuġa, Marsaskala u Marsaxlokk, flimkien ma partijiet minn lokalitajiet oħra lkoll jintlaqtu skont kemm jogħla l-livell tal-baħar.

Jiena infurmat li l-power station ta’ Malta f’Delimara qegħda madwar 4 metri ‘l-fuq mil-livell tal-baħar.

Żieda żgħira fil-livell tal-baħar tista’ tillimita l-ħsara għall-infrastruttura turistika u l-faċilitajiet kostali. Imma jekk iż-żieda fil-livell tal-baħar tkun waħda sostanzjali iz-zoni residenzjali mal-kosta, u bosta iktar, jista’ jkunu effettwati.

It-tbassir dwar kemm ser jogħla l-livell tal-baħar jiddependi fuq iż-żidiet reali fit-temperaturi. Fis-Summit dwar il-klima f’Pariġi kien hemm it-tama li ż-żieda massima fit-temperatura ma taqbizx il-1.5 gradi Celsius fuq it-temperatura pre-industrijali. Sfortunatament, illum, dan jidher li hu ħolm għax mexjin lejn żidied ferm ikbar fit-temperaturi.

It-tbassir minimu hu dwar żieda fl-għoli tal-baħar ta’ madwar 500 millimetru imma hemm il-possibiltà li dan jista’ jilħaq żieda fl-għoli ta’ anke 7 metri! Dan hu tbassir li qed ikun revedut kontinwament mill-komunità xjentifika u jiddependi miż-żidiet reali fit-temperaturi u projezzjonijiet reveduti.

Malta għandha interess (dirett) ovvju biex it-tibdil fil-klima jkun indirizzat, imma fl-istess ħin issegwi politika li twassal il-messaġġ ċar li tiġi taqa’ u tqum, ma jimpurtahiex. Eżempju ta’ dan huma l-proġetti infrastrutturali konnessi mat-toroq li ser iservu biss biex iżidu n-numru tal-karozzi fit-toroq. Iktar karozzi, iktar emissjonijiet: kontribut dirett ikbar għat-tibdil fil-klima.

Fejn diġa beda jinħass l-għoli fil-livell tal-baħar diġa sparixxew numru ta’ gżejjer (mhux abitati) fil-Paċifiku. Hemm gżejjer oħra mill-Fiji sal-gżejjer Marshall, mill-Maldives sal-Bahamas, Tuvalu, l-Kiribati u bosta oħrajn li qegħdin taħt theddida imminenti.

Anke Malta u Għawdex qegħdin fil-queue għax in-natura ma taħfira lil ħadd, ma timxix b’mod diskriminatorju. Ser tolqot lil kulħadd mingħajr eċċezzjoni.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 25 t’Awwissu 2019

Requiem for a glacier

Earlier this week, mourners gathered in Iceland to commemorate the loss of Okjökull, the glacier, which has “died” at the age of about 700.

Mourners fixed a plaque as a warning to the future stating: “Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier. In the next 200 years, all our main glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.”

The dedication, ends with the date of the ceremony and the current global concentration of carbon dioxide in the air – 415 parts per million.

A 1901 geological map of Iceland indicated that at that time this glacier had covered an area of 38 square kilometres. Now it is no more: it has melted and disappeared into the ocean.
Climate change is definitely happening: it is now almost unstoppable. It is no longer a theoretical prediction of the future – it is today’s reality which we must face head on.

The symbolic commemoration of the “death” of an Icelandic glacier is a warning: climate change hits all of us in one way or another. The global increase in temperature is melting glaciers and icebergs which will, in turn, increase the sea level and threaten low-lying land. This will have an impact not just along the coast but also further inland.

We constantly read how various low-lying countries are considering how they could face this threat. Cities such as New York, Miami, Tampa, Boston, New Orleans, Amsterdam, Mumbai, Stockholm, Buenos Aires, Dakar, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Cancun, (to name just a few) could vanish and millions of persons would be displaced.

What about Malta? A rising sea level could wipe out coastal facilities – tourism being the hardest hit. A number of coastal residential areas would also be considerably impacted: Marsalforn, Xlendi, St Paul’s Bay, Għadira, Sliema, Gżira, Ta’ Xbiex, Msida, Birżebbuġa, Marsaskala and Marsaxlokk, together with parts of other localities – would be hit with an intensity depending on the extent of the sea level rise.

I am informed that Malta’s power station at Delimara is at approximately four metres above sea level.

A small sea level rise could possibly limit damage to tourism infrastructure and coastal facilities but if the rise is substantial, it could hit the low-lying residential areas and possibly much more.

Projections for sea-level rise vary as they are dependent on the actual increase in global temperatures. The Paris Climate Summit had pinned its hopes on a maximum temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial age. Unfortunately, this is now wishful thinking, as we are moving towards much higher temperature increases.

The minimum projection is for a rise in sea level of around 500 millimetres –  which could rise even to as much as seven metres! These projections are being constantly revised by the scientific community, depending on actual rise in temperature and revised projections.

Malta has an obvious direct interest in taming climate change and yet it follows policies which send out the clear message that it does not care. The current spending spree on the development of the road infrastructure is a case in point because it will only serve to increase the number of vehicles on our roads. More vehicles, more emissions: signifying an increased direct contribution to climate change.

The rise in sea level has already wiped out a number of uninhabited low-lying islands in the Pacific. Other island states – from Fiji to the Marshall Islands, the Maldives to the Bahamas, Tuvalu, Kiribati and many more – are under an imminent threat.

Even Malta and Gozo will have to join the queue as nature will not discriminate: it will hit all of us without exception.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday: 25 August 2019

Planning for the foreseeable future

Human nature has always been preoccupied with the future. However, at times we tend not to realise that we mould a substantial part of the future through our actions today. Unfortunately, sometimes our actions today and the future we want, point towards completely different directions.

Our future is necessarily a common one, as explained in the 1987 report of the UN Commission on Environment and Development -, the Brundtland report – aptly entitled Our Common Future. Drafted by an international commission led by former Norwegian Socialist Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, this report placed sustainable development on the global discussion platform, emphasising that we are responsible not only for each other’s welfare today but also for that of future generations. We need to consider carefully that our actions today have a considerable impact and can possibly limit the choices that future generations would have to make.

The impact of our behaviour on the climate is one such example. The impact of climate change is causing havoc in weather patterns and consequently also impacting on all areas of human activity. The patterns and intensity of rainfall is unpredictable. Our road infrastructure never coped, and now it is getting worse.

Earlier this week The Guardian reported that the planet has just a five per cent chance of reaching the Paris climate goals. Rather than avoiding warming up by more than 2oC by the end of the century, it is more likely that Mother Earth will heat up to around 5oC beyond the pre-industrial era.

The predicted consequences are catastrophic. Another report published in April this year had informed us that there are worrying signs for Greenland ice sheet which covers 80 percent of its 1.7 million square kilometres surface area: it has been observed melting faster than ever before. On its own, this factor could potentially cause a rise of many meters in sea level – as many as seven metres.

This is certainly not the future we want. Any rise in sea level rise, even if minimal, would threaten the functionability of all coastal areas and facilities. It would also wipe out entire coastal communities and islands worldwide would disappear. It would be a future of climate- change refugees pushed to higher ground by a rising sea-level. This will not only have an impact low-lying islands in the Pacific Ocean: it will also hit closer to home.
Take a look at and consider the places along the Maltese coast: Msida, Ta’ Xbiex, Pietá, Sliema, Marsaskala, Marsaxlokk, San Pawl il-Baħar, Burmarrad, Birżebbuġa, Marsalforn, Xlendi and many more.
Readers will remember the occasional rise in sea-level at Msida. In one such instant – on 11 May last year – the change in sea level was of more than a metre as a resulting flooding the roads along the coast. This phenomenon is known as seiche (locally referred to as “Il-Milgħuba”) and reported in this newspaper under the heading “Phenomenon: sea-water level rises in Msida, traffic hampered.” It also occurs at St George’s Bay in Birżebbuġa – on a small scale but on a regular basis, causing quite a nuisance to car users.

Now this phenomenon only occurs temporarily, yet it still substantially affects traffic movements when it does. Imagine if the rise in sea level rise is of a permanent nature?

Large parts of our coast are intensively developed – with roads and residential properties, as well as substantial sections of the tourism infrastructure and facilities. In addition, there is also the infrastructure of our ports which we have developed as a maritime nation over the centuries. All this points to the need for adequate planning to implement urgent adaptation measures in order to reinforce Malta’s coastal infrastructure. If we wait too long it may be too late.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 6 August 2017