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.