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

Advertisements

Politika dwar il-klima fl-Unjoni Ewropea

 

Il-politika dwar il-klima hi materja ewlenija li qegħda taħt il-lenti fil-laqgħat li Ursula von der Leyen, innominata bħala President tal-Kummissjoni tal-Unjoni Ewropea, qed ikollha mal-gruppi politiċi diversi fil-Parlament Ewropew.

Kemm il-Grupp tas-Soċjalisti u Demokratiċi kif ukoll dak Liberali fil-Parlament Ewropew ippubblikaw lista ta’ talbiet li għamlu lil von der Leyen dwar dak li jriduha tikkommetti ruħha dwaru imma li s’issa evitat. Fuq quddiem nett f’dan kollu hemm impenn ikbar dwar li politika meħtieġa biex ikun indirizzati l-impatti tat-tibdil fil-klima.

Min-naħa l-oħra, l-Grupp tal-Ħodor fil-Parlament Ewropew ħareġ stqarrija li permezz tagħha ta’ l-ġenb lill-kandidatura ta’ von der Leyen u dan għax, fi kliem Ska Keller, ko-president tal-grupp: “ma smajna l-ebda proposta konkreta, la dwar is-saltna tad-dritt u l-anqas dwar il-klima. Ġejna eletti b’mandat ta’ bidla u m’aħniex naraw kif din il-bidla tista’ sseħħ b’din il-kandidata.”

Azzjoni dwar il-bidla fil-klima hi prijorità u din il-prijorità għandha tkun riflessa fl-ambizzjonijiet li l-kandidat għall-Presidenza tal-Kummissjoni tal-Unjoni Ewropea trid tmexxi ‘l-quddiem. Sfortunatament hu magħruf li Ursula von der Leyen qatt ma tat prijorità lill-azzjoni dwar il-bidla fil-klima tul iż-żmien kollu li ilha attiva fil-politika nazzjonali tal-Ġermanja!

Tul l-għaxar snin li ġejjin, l-emissjonijiet tal-gassijiet serra fuq livell globali jeħtieġ li jonqsu b’iktar min-nofs. Anke iktar mit-tnaqqis ta’ 55% kif talab il-Parlament Ewropew kif ukoll mill-40% tnaqqis li s’issa aċċettaw il-pajjiżi membri. Dan fl-istess ħin li l-emissjonijiet netti għandhom jilħqu żero sa mhux iktar tard mill- 2050. Il-miri tal-ftehim ta’ Pariġi illum jiuffurmaw parti integrali mill-liġijiet tal-Unjoni Ewropea imma għad hemm ħafna ħidma x’issir biex dawn il-miri jitwettqu fir-realtà.

Soluzzjonijiet jeżistu biex ikunu ikunu indirizzati u trasformati l-enerġija, t-trasport, l-agrikultura u l-proċessi industrijali. Imma jeħtieġ li nkunu kapaċi li naħdmu flimkien biex l-impenn li jitwettaq il-Ftehim ta’ Pariġi mhux biss ikun onorat, imma li nkunu kapaċi nħajru oħrajn jagħmlu bħalna.

Minkejja l-wegħdiet li saru mill-pajjiżi differenti dwar emissjonijiet bħala parti mill-ftehim ta’ Pariġi xorta waħda jidher li ż-żieda fit-temperatura, sa tmiem is-seklu kurrenti, ser tkun ta’ madwar tlett gradi Celsius (3°C) fuq it-temperatura pre-industrijali. Dan meta nafu li iktar min-nofs din iż-żieda jkollha effetti katastrofiċi.

Diġà bdejna nduqu l-konsegwenzi bis-sħana tilħaq livelli ġodda, estremi ta’ għargħar u nuqqas ta’ xita u nirien li qed jagħmlu ħsara mhux żgħira f’kull rokna tad-dinja. L-affarijiet sejrin għall-agħar. Imma għad baqa’ ċans, kemm-il darba niċċaqalqu bla iktar dewmien.

Il-Gvernijiet m’humiex jieħdu l-inizjattiva. Mhux qed jindirizzaw dak li qed jirriżulta mir-riċerka xjentifika. Sfortunatament, uħud mill-Gvernijiet (u l-partiti politiċi li jiffurmawhom) jaraw kull azzjoni meħtieġa biex tkun indirizzata l-bidla fil-klima bħala ta’ xkiel għall-industrija u għall-ekonomija.

Sa minn meta saru tibdiliet fit-trattati Ewropej fl-1987, l-Unjoni Ewropea bdiet tieħu deċiżjonijiet dwar l-oqsma ambjentali b’maġġoranza kkwalifikata. Dan wassal biex ġiet sviluppata leġislazzjoni ambjentali li tiffaċilita politika Ewropea li tirrispondi għal dak kollu meħtieġ mit-tibdil fil-klima. Tul dan iż-żmien kollu, l-Parlament Ewropew kien dejjem fuq quddiem jinsisti dwar miri ċari u ambizzjużi fil-ġlieda kontra l-bidla fil-klima. Hu meħtieġ li anke l-Kummissjoni Ewropea timxi fuq dawn il-passi.

Hu għalhekk li hu meħtieġ li l-President approvat għall-Kummissjoni Ewropea tikkunsidra l-azzjoni dwar il-bidla fil-klima bħala prijorità u li tkun lesta biex il-Kummissjoni immexxija minnha taġixxi b’dan il-mod.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum : il-Ħadd 14 ta’ Lulju 2019

Climate Change politics at the EU

The politics of climate change is a main topic of discussion at the meetings which Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President-designate, is currently participating in with the various political groups in the EU Parliament.

The Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats Group, as well as the Liberal Group, have issued written demands to von der Leyen detailing the various policy commitments which they expect but not yet see. The politics of climate change is at the forefront of the requests made.

The Greens, on the other hand, have issued a statement rejecting von der Leyen’s candidacy, as in the words of Ska Keller, co-president of the group: “We did not hear any concrete proposal, be it on the rule of law or on climate. We have been elected on a mandate for change and we don’t see how change will be possible with this candidate.”

Action on climate change is a priority and this priority must be reflected in the ambitions which the European Commission President-designate puts forward. Unfortunately, it is known that Ursula von der Leyen has never prioritised climate action during her long career in German National politics!

Over the next 10 years, global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions need to be more than halved (beyond the 55% reduction as requested by the European Parliament and surely beyond the 40% committed to by the EU Member States), while net GHG emissions must reach zero by 2050 at the latest. Attaining the commitments of the Paris Agreement is now enshrined in EU climate and energy laws but the European Union must do much more to make it a reality.

Solutions exist for transforming energy, transport, agriculture and industrial production systems. We must act together to fulfil our commitments to the Paris Agreement and beyond, and encourage others to do so too.

Notwithstanding the national pledges made as part of the Paris Agreement, we are on course for warming of about 3°C above pre-industrial temperatures by 2100. It is known that any increase exceeding 1.5°C will be catastrophic.

We are already at the receiving end, with global temperatures warming-up at unprecedented rates, floods, droughts and fires which are impacting our communities all over the world. It is getting worse. Yet it is not too late, provided we act without further delay.

Governments are not showing leadership in tackling climate change. They are not addressing the gap between the expectations of the citizens and the analysis of the scientists on one hand, and their decisions on the other.

Unfortunately, some governments, and the political parties which form them, see climate change policies only as an obstacle for industry and the economy.

Since the Treaty change of 1987, the European Union has decided legislation in the field of the environment on the basis of a qualified majority voting. This has allowed for the development of a comprehensive set of new environmental legislation and facilitated a concerted EU policy response towards climate change.

The EU Parliament has, most of the time, been the most progressive EU institution, demanding more ambitious targets and measures in the fight against climate change. It is about time that the EU Commission follows suit.

We need a European Commission President who considers climate change action as a priority and acts accordingly.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 14 July 2019

Ħames ħsibijiet

 

1. Ippjanar għall-użu tal-art

Tnax-il sena ilu meta l-pjani lokali kienu approvati mill-Ministru responsabbli mill-Ippjanar tal-Użu tal-Art, il-Parlament għadda biex ta l-approvazzjoni tiegħu biex meded kbar ta’ art fil-periferiji taz-zoni urbani tagħna jingħataw għall-bini. 12-il sena wara li l-Parlament approva l-ezerċiżżju ta’ razzjonalizzazzjoni xi residenti għadhom ma ndunawx kif għaddewhom biż-żmien. Xi drabi uħud mill-Membri Parlamentari li dakinnhar ivvutaw favur li art fl-ODZ issir tajba għall-bini, illum għandhom l-ardir li jkunu fuq quddiem jippuppaw sidirhom “f’appoġġ” għar-residenti li f’daqqa waħda jindunaw li d-dar tal-ġirien ser taqa’ u flokha tielgħa blokka appartamenti. Issa daqshekk xemx fuq il-pannelli li għadhom kemm ħallsu u stallaw ftit ilu!

Kważi kuljum nirċievi emails mingħand residenti li jkunu jixtiequ joġġezzjionaw għal żvilupp propost f’diversi lokalitajiet. Jiċċassaw meta ninfurmaw li ż-żmien għall-oġġezzjonijiet għalaq madwar 12-il sena ilu. L-parti l-kbira tar-residenti ma jiftakrux l-ismijiet tal-membri parlamentari li għaddewhom biż-żmien.

F’dawn l-aħħar ġimgħat kelli każijiet fil-Mellieħa, il-Mosta, Marsaxlokk, Wied il-Għajn u H’Attard. U għad hemm ħafna iktar.

2. Il-bdil fil-klima u l-karozzi tal-elettriku

Studju ippubblikat nhar il-Ġimgħa fil-Journal Nature Communications jiġbed l-attenzjoni li jekk wieħed iqabbel l-emmissjonijiet attwali ta’ diversi pajjiżi ma’ dak li wegħdu f’Pariġi sentejn ilu fil-laqgħa dwar it-tibdil fil-klima, għadna ħafna lura biex jintlaħqu l-miri stabiliti.

Il-wegħdiet faċli biex isiru imma sfortunatament mhux faċli biex jinżammu.

It-trasport hu illum il-kontribut ewlieni ta’ Malta għat-tibdil fil-klima. Madwar sena ilu l-Prim Ministru Muscat kien qal li mhux ‘il-bogħod li jieqfu l-karozzi li jaħdmu bil-petrol u d-disil mit-toroq tagħna biex flokhom nibdew nużaw karozzi li jaħdmu bl-elettriku. Għadna nistennew lill-Gvern iħabbar il-pjan tiegħu.

3. 17 Black

L-aħbar mil-Latvja dwar l-ismijiet assoċjati mal-kumpanija 17 Black u ċ-ċaqlieq ta’ flus maħmuġin madwar id-dinja ikomplu jagħtu l-kulur lill-istorja li ma tispiċċa qatt dwar il-ħasil tal-flus. Tajjeb li niftakru f’dik iż-żjara uffiċjali f’Baku f’Diċembru 2014 meta l-ebda uffiċjal taċ-ċivil jew ġurnalista ma kien preżenti. Dakinnhar staqsejna għalfejn? Possibilment it-tweġiba illum qegħda tiċċassa lejna.

4. L-istrateġija ta’ Bedingfield

Nhar il-ġimgħa kienet l-aħħar ġurnata għall-konsultazzjoni pubblika dwar il-Kottonera li jidher li qegħda f’idejn Glenn Bedingfield. Qed jipproponu t-twaqqif ta’ fondazzjoni biex timplimenta l-istrateġija. Donnu li Glenn ftit jimpurtah mill-kunsilli lokali jew mill-kunsill tar-reġjun li s-sens komun jgħidlek li għandhom ikunu huma nkarigati bl-implementazzjoni. Forsi Glenn għadu ma ndunax li hemm “konsultazzjoni pubblika” oħra għaddejja, din id-darba dwar il-gvern lokali u għadha għaddejja sa l-aħħar ta’ Novembru. X’għala biebu!

5. L-appell dwar id-dB

L-appell kontra l-permess ta’ żvilupp li nħareġ lid-dB għat-tħarbit tas-sit tal-ITS f’ Pembroke jibda nhar it-Tlieta. It-Tribunal ta’ Reviżjoni għall-Ambjent u l-Ippjanar (il-Bord tal-appell) irid jibda biex jiddeċiedu dwar it-talba li għandu quddiemu minn dawk li qed jopponu l-permess biex ix-xogħol li diġa beda jieqaf immedjatament u jibqa’ hekk wieqaf sa meta jinqata’ l-appell. Wara it-Tribunal jibda jikkonsidra sottomissjonijiet fuq kull waħda mit-18-il raġuni li hemm biex il-permess jitħassar: ibda mill-kunflitt ta’ interess tal-aġent tal-propjetà membru tal-bord li japprova l-permessi tal-bini kif ukoll bir-regoli kollha li nkisru meta kien approvat dan il-permess ta’ żvilupp.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: Il-Ħadd 18 ta’ Novembru 2018

 

Five random thoughts

1. Land Use Planning

Twelve years ago, when the local plans were approved by the then Minister responsible for land use planning, Parliament proceeded to approve the inclusion of substantial stretches of land on the periphery of most of our urban areas within the limits of permissible development. Twelve years after the approval of the rationalisation exercise by Parliament, some residents are still not aware of the manner in which they have been compromised. At times they are taken advantage of by Members of Parliament who had supported the extension of the development boundaries but now feel duty bound to “support” residents who suddenly realise that their neighbour’s house is being pulled down and in its stead a block of flats will arise, blocking out the sun off their PVCs which they have just paid for!

I receive emails almost daily from residents wishing to object to proposals for development in various localities. They are speechless when I inform them that the time for objections elapsed some 12 years ago! Most residents do not remember the names of the Members of Parliament who shafted them in 2006.

I have in the past weeks dealt with cases in Mellieħa, Mosta, Marsaxlokk, Marsaskala and Attard and many more are pending.

2. Climate Change and electrification

A study published last Friday in the Journal Nature Communications points out that if one compares q country’s actual emissions with the pledges made at the Paris Climate Change meeting two years ago, we are still very far from achieving the objectives set.
Unfortunately, pledges are easy to make and difficult to keep.

Transport is currently Malta’s major contribution to climate change. Over one year ago, Premier Muscat had stated that petrol and diesel-powered cars should be driven off our roads and substituted by electric cars. We are still waiting for government to announce its detailed plans.

3. 17 Black

The revelation from Latvia of the names associated with 17 Black and the movement of dirty money around the globe adds more spice to the never-ending saga of money laundering. It may be pertinent to point out to that official visit at Baku in December 2014 at which no civil servant or journalist was present. Then we asked why. Possibly now we have the answer.

4. Bedingfield and his strategy

Last Friday was the closing date on the ongoing public consultation on Cottonera piloted by Glenn Bedingfield. It is being proposed to set up a foundation to eventually implement this strategy. Apparently Glenn has no qualms in shafting the local councils and the regional council in the area which logically should be the ones entrusted with implementation. Maybe Glenn has not yet realised that another “public consultation” on local government is currently in hand up till 30 November. Who cares?

5. The dB appeal

The appeal against the development permit issued for the dB mega-mess at Pembroke will commence next Tuesday. High on the list on considerations to be addressed by the Environment and Planning Review Tribunal (the appeals board) will be the request by those opposing this development to stop works immediately, pending the outcome of the appeal. Then the Tribunal will commence considering submissions on the eighteen reasons which justify the invalidation of the development permit – ranging from the obvious conflict of interest of the estate agent dishing out development permits to a blatant disregard of planning policy.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 18 November 2018

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