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Climate change extremes

Researchers at Newcastle University analysed changes in flooding, droughts and heatwaves for 571 European cities between 2050 and 2100 using all available climate models. They found that Valletta – and, indeed, the whole of Malta and Gozo – will be among the cities worst affected by drought and heatwaves.

Even under the most optimistic scenario, Malta will experience 38 per cent more heatwave days each year and a maximum rise in temperatures of about 4˚C. Drought, lack of rainfall, will become 1.29 times more severe. The changes to our climate will be more apocalyptic under the higher impact scenarios.

These findings put Valletta (that is, Malta and Gozo) among the top 10 cities for both heatwave days and lack of rainfall in Europe. Richard Dawson, co-author and lead investigator of the study, pointed out that the research highlights the urgent need to design and adapt cities to cope with such future conditions. Some effects are already being experienced in European cities.

No one can predict the outcome of climate change, or its effects, with complete certainty. But scientists insist they know enough to understand the risks. Global warming is no longer considered a theoretical phenomenon and its potential damage no more an abstract proposition.

Mankind is poised for probably its greatest trial. The acceleration of climate change would sweep away the near-perfect climate to which we have become accustomed. The Newcastle University study has indicated that climate change threatens the basic elements of life.

The biggest impact will be on the water table, which is already not being replenished quickly enough. Lack of water and moisture in the soil and rising sea levels will lead to increased salinity. Crop yields will be diminished and the process of Maltese desertification will become unstoppable.

Some still deny the science of climate change. But it is becoming increasingly obvious that global warming is not conjecture, supposition, scaremongering or partisan overstatement. It may sound alarmist but if, as predicted, global warming continues on its upward path, Malta could well become largely unrecognisable from the island we know today: looking more like an arid, thirsty, overheated rock.

Moreover, predicted sea level rise could transform the landscape and affect buildings close to the sea in low-lying areas. Such an impact would be further compounded by strong winds and storm surges battering the coast.

Malta should therefore start preparing now by drawing up a long-term adaptation and mitigation plan to cope with the effects. This includes identifying the areas that will be prone to sea flooding and building appropriate defences, drawing up a comprehensive water policy framework plan to ensure the survival of the mean sea-level aquifer and developing comprehensive mitigation and adaptability plans to protect our precious cultural heritage.

By their nature, these are costly long-term infrastructure projects. But the temptation to postpone them must be resisted. There is no room for complacency where something as fundamental as a country’s own physical landscape, cultural heritage and identity are concerned. Investing now in measures to protect those areas at greatest risk –low-lying coastal areas and cultural heritage sites – is essential as the intensity and frequency of extreme weather increases inexorably.

There are just a few years to draw up a survival plan.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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