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Climate change may push Malta 'beyond breaking point'

Even given the most optimistic outcome, Malta will experience 38 per cent more heatwave days each year

Valletta will be one of the European cities worst hit by drought and heatwaves as a result of climate change, potentially pushing the country “beyond breaking point”, according to a new landmark study.

Newcastle University researchers analysed changes in flooding, droughts and heatwaves for 571 European cities for the years 2050 to 2100 using all available climate models.

The research team showed results for three possible futures, which they called the low, medium and high impact scenarios.

Even given the most optimistic outcome, Malta will experience 38 per cent more heatwave days each year and maximum temperatures around four degrees Celsius higher. In this scenario, drought will become 1.29 times more severe.

The changes will be even more striking under the high impact scenario: heatwave days will increase by 63 per cent, temperature increases will top six degrees, and Malta may see droughts 12 times worse than today’s.

These figures put Valletta among the top 10 cities for both heatwave days and drought. Gozo – also considered in the study – sees roughly similar predictions under all scenarios.

The study, the largest of its kind ever undertaken, concludes that Europe’s cities face more extreme weather than previously thought.

Even the low impact scenario predicts that the number of heatwave days and their maximum temperatures will increase for all cities.

Southern Europe will see the biggest increases in the number of heatwave days, while central European cities will see the greatest increase in temperature during heatwaves – between two and seven degrees for the low scenario and eight to 14 degrees for the high scenario.

Flooding is predicted to worsen in northwestern regions, with cities in Great Britain among the worst hit. “Although southern European regions are adapted to cope with droughts, this level of change could be beyond breaking point,” lead author Selma Guerreiro said.

“Furthermore, most cities have considerable changes in more than one hazard, which highlights the substantial challenge cities face in managing climate risks,” Dr Guerreiro added.

The implications of the study in terms of how Europe adapts to climate change are far-reaching, said Professor Richard Dawson, co-author and lead investigator of the study.

“The research highlights the urgent need to design and adapt our cities to cope with these future conditions.

“We are already seeing at first hand the implications of extreme weather events in our capital cities. In Paris the Seine rose more than four metres above its normal water level. And as Cape Town prepares for its taps to run dry, this analysis highlights that such climate events are feasible in European cities too.”

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