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

The chihuahua that roared

During the Cancún Climate Summit Bolivian President Evo Morales emphasised that “nature has rights”. He insisted on a 1°C rise above the pre-industrial-age temperature as the maximum permissible.

Stripped of his trademark anti-US remarks the Morales input at Cancún would not have led to any radically different conclusions at the summit. Who can dispute his declaration in favour of families already deprived of water because of drought, or islanders facing the loss of their homes and possessions as a result of rising sea levels? His plea was one to buttress arguments in favour of mandatory reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Realistically, however, there was never a chance of this being accepted.

Participants at Cancún opted instead for declarations which though very important as a political statement served to postpone decisions to the Durban Climate Summit towards the end of this year. It is this postponement which led to the Morales outburst equating lack of definite action with “ecocide which is equivalent to genocide because this would be an affront to mankind as a whole”.

Cancún went one step further from the declarations of the past. Agreement in principle was reached on the need for inspections in order to account for commitments made. As to who will eventually carry out the monitoring, reporting and verification this is still to be determined. Maybe this will be concluded at Durban later this year on the basis of the agreement in principle sealed at Cancún.

Climate change diplomacy is moving although at a very slow pace.

In the words of BBC Cancún correspondent Richard Black one can compare the 2009 Copenhagen summit to a Great Dane which whimpered while the Cancún 2010 summit can be compared to a chihuahua which roared. Much was expected from Copenhagen but little tangible results were achieved. On the other hand while there were no great expectations from the Cancún summit, foundations for a comprehensive settlement in the future were laid. Whether this will be achieved at Durban or possibly later is still to be seen.

At Cancún pledges by countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions were formalised. Developing countries for the first time agreed to look into possible cuts in their own emissions. They made no formal pledges yet they moved one step forward towards a more reasonable application of the “common but differentiated responsibility” principle in climate change diplomacy.

Countries represented at Cancún gave formal backing to the UN’s deforestation scheme REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation). As a result of REDD rich countries will pay poor countries not to chop down forests on their territory. This will compensate them for their lost income and further encourage the production and use of sustainable timber. The developed countries will thus be paying for protecting biodiversity as well as for the service which forests are rendering as carbon sinks. Details of the REDD scheme have still to be worked out. Maybe by the Durban Climate Summit these will be settled.

The Cancún agreement has acknowledged for the first time in a UN document that global warming must not exceed pre-industrial temperatures by more than 2°C. While being a big step forward, this is clearly not enough. In fact exceeding pre-industrial temperatures by more than 1.5°C endangers the very existence of a number of islands as well as low-lying coastal areas.

Small island states and coastal areas are already feeling the impacts of climate change: millions reside and earn their livelihood in such areas. If temperature rises are not contained within the said 1.5°C increase these millions risk becoming climate change refugees.

The first climate change refugees have already left their homeland. Those displaced by sea level changes have already left the Carteret Islands and Kiribati in the Pacific Ocean.

Drought has been playing havoc with the lives of various African nations resulting in escalating tribal conflicts which have displaced millions of human beings. In Malta we have direct experience of this through the boat refugees departing from Libyan shores, a number of whom end up in Malta.

Depending on the actual rise above pre-industrial temperatures, current projections indicate that in the long term more than one billion human beings could face losing their homes and possessions in islands and coastal areas as a result of sea level rise. Millions more will be displaced as a result of the impacts of changing weather patterns. Availability of water will change as a result of a varying frequency and intensity of rainfall. As a result this will impact agriculture, sanitation and the quality of life in the areas affected.

Mr Morales is right. Nature has rights. It will strike back in defence of these rights if current greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced substantially. Maybe the roaring chihuahua will alert policy makers around the globe that there is no alternative to substantial reductions across the board.

 

Published in The Times of Malta : January 1, 2011