Climate Change and the 15-minute city

The latest report on climate change was published by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) earlier this month. The full document is almost 3,000 pages long!

The current international debate on climate change is focusing on whether the objectives of the 2015 Paris Climate Summit are achievable. It is clear to all that, without profound and imminent changes in our lifestyles, these objectives will not be achieved.

The clear objective agreed to in Paris is to reduce carbon emissions in order to achieve carbon neutrality soonest. This would ensure that the global mean temperature does not surpass the pre-industrial temperature by more than 1.5ºC. This would in turn tame the climate over time.

As an island, Malta should be at the forefront in the international climate change debate. We will be severely impacted like all other countries. In fact, we are already at the receiving end of the impact of extreme weather conditions at an increased frequency. Long periods of drought are more frequent. Likewise, we have experienced more than a fair share of floods, which have caused considerable damage all over the islands.

As islands, sea-level rise will add to our problems in Malta and Gozo in a manner which is dependent on the rate at which this will take place. A substantial part of our essential infrastructure lies along our coast. This will potentially be severely impacted as a result of a sea-level rise. Just think about the impacts on the tourism infrastructure, for example.

One of the ideas doing the rounds in the climate change debate is to rethink the way we plan our cities as one way in which to combat the climate crisis. The idea crystallised as ‘the 15-minute city’ by Carlos Moreno, an architect advising the Paris mayor, entails turning current urban planning on its head to ensure that all our needs are available not more than 15 minutes away.

Moreno speaks of a social circularity for living in our urban spaces based on six essential functions: to live in good housing, to work close by, to reach supplies and services easily, to access education, healthcare and cultural entitlement locally by low-carbon means.

Can we reassess the nature and quality of our urban lifestyles within these parameters?

COVID-19 has given most of us a taste of remote working. In a limited way, this could become a permanent feature of our urban lifestyles. Some of us need not travel to work every day. With proper planning, remote working could reduce a substantial number of cars from our roads permanently and, consequently, the associated carbon emissions.

In the Maltese islands, distance should not be an issue: almost everywhere is within easy reach. Our National Transport Master Plan, in fact, advises us that 50 per cent of trips carried out by our private vehicles are for short distances, having a duration of less than 15 minutes. Achieving 15-minute cities should not be that difficult if we put our heads together to address it.

Our contribution to climate change mitigation, as a result of which we can accelerate our path to carbon neutrality, could be achieved through a substantial reduction of cars from our roads. We can achieve this without impacting our mobility. Through a judicious use of public transport and the facilitation of other sustainable mobility options, our mobility can be substantially improved as a result.

Come October, all public transport will be free. Hopefully, it will also be reliable and efficient. If adequately planned, this could be a turning point in climate change mitigation measures as, over a period of time, it can lead to a reduction of cars from our roads. Initially, such a reduction would necessarily be of a temporary nature. Eventually, we can move towards a permanent change.

Real change takes time to achieve.

Giving shape and form to 15-minute cities could be the next realistic challenge in our climate mitigation road map. All that is required is the political will.

published in The Times of Malta: 21 April 2022

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

Kif tagħmel …………… jagħmlulek

 30 ta’ Diċembru 2009


Naħseb li lkoll kemm aħna konxji li l-klima qiegħda tinbidel. L-is­ta­ġuni ma tafx iżjed meta jibdew jew meta jispiċċaw. Fis-sajf sħana kbira li dejjem iżżid. Xita qawwija f’ħin qasir f’kull żmien tas-sena b’għargħar aktar ta’ spiss. Qegħdin niffaċċjaw estre­mi ta’ temp. Dawn huma wħud mill-indikazzjonijiet li għandna f’Malta li l-klima qiegħda tin­bidel.

F’pajjiżi oħrajn it-temp inbidel ukoll. Insegwu dak li qed jiġri fuq il-televiżjoni, bħall-għargħar riċenti f’Cumbria fit-Tramuntana tal-Ingilterra jew l-urugan Kat­rina li ħarbat l-istat ta’ New Orleans fl-Istati Uniti tal-Amerika fi tmiem Awwissu, 2005. Inkella l-urugani spissi fl-istat Ameri­kan ta’ Florida. Anki fl-Ewropa segwejna każi estremi ta’ temp kemm f’dik li hi temperatura kif ukoll għargħar ikkawżat diret­ta­ment mix-xita inkella mill-faw­ran ta’ xmajjar.

Il-parti l-kbira tax-xjenzjati jaqblu li dan kollu hu prinċi­pal­ment ir-riżultat akkumulat tul is-snin ta’ emissjonijiet mill-ħruq ta’ żjut u faħam biex il-bniedem jipproduċi l-enerġija, kif ukoll mit-trasport u minn proċessi industrijali. Naqsu wkoll il-foresti f’kull parti tad-dinja biex jittieħed l-injam tagħ­hom għall-ħatab, għall-bini ta’ djar jew għal xi użu ieħor bħall-bini tax-xwieni fi żminijiet oħ­rajn. Il-foresti naqsu wkoll biex żdiedet l-art għall-agrikoltura.

B’hekk id-dinja qiegħda żżomm is-sħana tax-xemx bħal f’serra bir-riżultat li t-tem­pe­ra­tura madwarna qiegħda togħla ftit ftit. Dan iżda ma jseħħx bl-istess mod kullimkien. Ix-xjen­zati huma tal-opinjoni li jekk it-temperatura taqbeż dik tal-bidu taż-żmien industrijali b’aktar minn 2 gradi Celsius, iseħħu tibdiliet kbar fil-klima. Tibdiliet li ħdejhom dak li seħħ s’issa jitqies bħala insinjifikanti. Rap­preżentanti ta’ gżejjer kemm fil-Paċifiku kif ukoll fil-Karibew qegħ­din jinsistu li l-limitu mas­simu għandu jkun 1.5 gradi Celsius fuq it-temperatura taż-żmien pre-industrijali. Dan qegħdin jgħiduh għax huma diġà qegħdin iħossu wieħed mill-effetti tal-bidla fil-klima. Il-livell tal-baħar qed jogħla u dawk li joqogħdu f’uħud minn dawn il-ġżejjer diġà qed ikoll­hom idabbru rashom. L-ewwel refuġjati tal-klima fil-fatt kienu r-residenti tal-gżejjer Carteret fil-Papua New Guinea liema gżejjer diġà bdew jiġu mgħot­tijin bl-ilma baħar. Sal-2015, hu kkalkolat li dawn il-gżejjer ikunu mgħarrqin kompletament bħala riżultat tal-bdil gradwali fil-livell tal-baħar.

Fl-Afrika wkoll it-temp inbidel drastikament. F’uħud mill-pajjiżi Afrikani bħas-Somalja, l-Etjopja u l-Eritrea hemm nixfa kbira u dan bħala riżultat ta’ nuqqas ta’ xita fuq perjodu twil ta’ żmien. Bħala riżultat ta’ dan, l-agrikoltura mhix tirrendi u n-nies m’għandhiex x’tiekol. Iffaċ­ċati b’dan, in-nies qegħdin jitil­qu minn dawn il-pajjiżi u qegħ­din jemigraw lejn pajjiżi oħrajn. Jaslu sal-Libja jew xi pajjiż ieħor bħall-Marokk u mbagħad jaq­smu lejn l-Ewropa b’numru minn­hom jispiċċaw Malta. Numru mhux żgħir minn dawn l-immigranti li f’pajjiżna nsej­ħul­hom “immigranti illegali” huma vittmi tal-bidla fil-klima.

Il-bidla fil-klima lilna f’Malta tista’ teffettwana b’mod dras­ti­ku wkoll u dan fi żmien mhux wisq ’il bogħod. In-nuqqas ta’ xita u l-għoli tal-livell tal-baħar se jkollhom effett dirett fuq l-agrikultura. L-ilma tal-pjan na­qas sewwa kemm fil-kwantità kif ukoll fil-kwalità. Dan riżultat tal-‘boreholes’, kemm dawk legali kif ukoll dawk illegali. Jekk ikun baqa’ ilma tal-pjan, dan se jkompli jiġi mgħarraq għax ikun diġà sar salmastru hekk kif il-livell tal-baħar jogħla ftit ftit. L-ilma ma jkunx iżjed tajjeb biex jintuża la għax-xorb, la għat-tisqija u lanqas għall-industrija għax ikun wisq mie­laħ. Ikun jeħtieg li jiġi trattat bir-‘reverse osmosis’ jew xi pro­ċess ieħor li jkollu bżonn ħafna enerġija. Bla ilma, kif nafu, ma jista’ jsir xejn.

Dakinhar li pajjiżna jirrealizza li ġie wiċċ imbwiċċ ma’ din il-prob­lema, dawk minna li jkunu għadhom jgħixu hawn, ikunu fl-istess pożizzjoni ta’ dawn l-“im­migranti illegali”, refuġjati tal-klima huma wkoll u jibdew ifittxu x’imkien ieħor fejn jistgħu jgħixu.

Tgħid ikunu lesti li jaċċettaw li jkunu trattati bħall-immigranti li jaslu Malta illum: li jkunu msakkrin, bl-għassa u b’deten­zjo­ni ta’ 18-il xahar imposta fuq­hom mingħajr ma qatt għamlu ħsara lil ħadd?

Wara kollox mhux kif tagħ­mel jagħmlulek?

No Compromise with Nature


published on December 19, 2009

by Carmel Cacopardo


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.

Sustainability & Tourism

Caribbean News Network 

Environmental activist delivers impassioned plea at Caribbean tourism conference

Published on Wednesday, April 30, 2008


PROVIDENCIALES, Turks & Caicos Islands:


One of the world’s most vocal environmental activists delivered an impassioned plea to delegates at the 10th Annual Caribbean Conference on Sustainable Tourism Tuesday: minimize our footprint on the Earth before it is too late.Dr David Suzuki, the Canadian geneticist, best-selling author and television host, opened the conference as its keynote speaker before a capacity crowd, which included heads of state from various Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) member countries. Suzuki challenged these leaders, and all gathered in the room, to not sacrifice the future for short-term economic gain.

Dr. David Suzuki

“Sustainability is finally being taken seriously by governments and corporations,” said Suzuki. “Sustainability is about living within our means and not compromising opportunities for future generations. Unfortunately in the past neither politicians nor the corporate sector have made this a priority. Politicians have to get re-elected, corporations focus on bottom line profits and children don’t vote, so their future tends to drop off the agenda.”

According to Suzuki, “Island people, better than most, understand limits, and that resources are finite. Looming ahead for the entire world is the great crisis of our economy, peak oil, the moment when available oil supplies are all known and being exploited so that supplies will inexorably fall.

“The twin crises of ecological degradation and falling oil supplies will have massive repercussions for all countries, but none more so than those of the Caribbean and especially the tourism industry” said Suzuki.

Suzuki cited the challenges facing the airline industry in the coming years. “Air travel leaves the heaviest carbon footprint among all modes of transportation and skyrocketing fuel prices are already having explosive effects,” he said.

Suzuki is the co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation, whose mission is to promote energy efficiency and ecological fiscal reform. He rose to international fame in 1979 as host of The Nature of Things, an award-winning science programme syndicated in over 50 countries. His efforts to educate the public on issues such as climate change have been recognized by the Canadian government, The United Nations, and numerous universities. Dr. Suzuki has authored over 40 books, including the best-seller The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering Our Planet in Nature.

“In the 3.9 billion years that life has existed on Earth, we are the first species capable of such destructive power that we are changing the biological, physical and chemical features of the planet on a geological scale,” observed Suzuki. “We are altering the chemistry of the atmosphere with 30 percent more carbon dioxide in the air now than 150 years ago. It is dissolving in oceans as carbonic acid, acidifying water and threatening plankton.”

Suzuki, in part, blamed unchecked growth and unrealistic economic expectations for the threat the Earth faces today.

“Unfortunately, economists believe economies can grow forever to meet this population’s needs,’ said Suzuki. “They can’t. With that belief system we must eventually ask ourselves, how much is enough? Are we happier with more stuff?”

Citing some alarming statistics, Suzuki warned of the dire consequences of continued abuse of the environment.

“Over half of the planet’s forests are gone and in 30 years we may have no large, intact forests left,” he said. “An estimated 50,000 species become extinct every year and the oceans are being depleted. Every large commercial marine species has been reduced by 90 percent. If this continues there will be no commercially useful fish species by 2048.”

Despite the challenges, Suzuki praised the delegates for their efforts to address the environmental issue at the conference and offered hope for a brighter future.

“Are there solutions? Absolutely,” he said. “We’ve just forgotten the most important lesson. We are animals, connected to the rest of nature. Like other animals, we need clean air, water, food – all the elements – to survive.

“We need to focus on our eco-footprint today,” said Suzuki. “The way we see the world shapes the way we treat it. We can either look at the forest as sacred ground or timber as pulp to be milled for money. Economists think tourism can continue to grow into infinity. But we have to realize that nothing can grow forever. This unchecked growth only accelerates us on a suicidal path.”

The 10th Annual Caribbean Conference on Sustainable Tourism runs though May 1, 2008 at Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort & Spa (by Sandals), a Green Globe Certified hotel. The conference, organized by the Caribbean Tourism Organization in collaboration with the Turks & Caicos Tourist Board and the Caribbean Hotel Association, is designed to provide attendees with information on the development and implementation of tourism practices in a responsible manner.

More than 150 delegates registered for this year’s conference, an increase of 50 percent over the previous year.