Malta needs to prepare for climate change, experts say

Malta needs to prepare for climate change, experts say

Philip Leone-Ganado looks at the local impact of climate change

Can Malta stand the heat? An Italian study projects a one per cent increase in deaths at a 1.5°C rise in temperature, and twice that at 2°C.

Can Malta stand the heat? An Italian study projects a one per cent increase in deaths at a 1.5°C rise in temperature, and twice that at 2°C.

Malta must take ambitious measures to stave off the effects of climate change, a local climatologist has urged, in the wake of a landmark UN report calling for rapid, unprecedented efforts to prevent disaster.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in a report last week that urgent changes were needed to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, warning that even a half-degree increase over that threshold would dramatically increase the risk of floods, heatwaves, drought and extreme weather events.

“That half a degree – between 1.5°C and 2°C – means hundreds of thousands of lives,” University of Malta climatologist James Ciarlo told The Sunday Times of Malta. “The idea is to push for a global response and sustainable development as soon as possible.

“We’re talking of shifts that we’re not necessarily equipped for. Our infrastructure is set up for the climate we’re used to. The change might be slow, but it’s speeding up.”

According to the IPCC report, the world’s temperatures could increase by more than 3°C by the end of the century if no changes are made.

Limiting that increase to 1.5°C would have massive impacts on containing the negative effects of climate change.

But to stay within that limit, global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions would need to fall by about 45 per cent by 2030 from 2010 levels and reach “net zero” by mid-century – far beyond current emission reduction targets. Any additional emissions would require removing CO2 from the air.

Commenting on the report, Dr Ciarlo said Malta would have to shed the mentality that it was too small to make a difference.

“Even if statistically our size means our impact is small, we could have a major impact in terms of influence,” he said. “If we make the changes we need, the impact is not just the emissions we release, but the image we give to the world.”

He explained that for Malta, the risks of unmitigated climate change ranged from an increase in the number of deaths from extreme heat, to coastal flooding and water scarcity.

Marine biologist Alan Deidun echoed these fears, warning that changes in the Mediterranean ecosystem would impact important industries such as aquaculture and tourism, and lead to mass mortality of native marine species.

“These changes are a domino effect,” he said. “Once they’re set in motion there’s really no saying where it will end.”

We’re talking of shifts that we’re not necessarily equipped for

MEP Miriam Dalli, currently leading the European Parliament in negotiations on ambitious new transport emission reduction targets, said the report spelled out the “devastating” impacts Malta could face, and called for a national “culture change and mentality shift”.

“The only way forward is to invest in cleaner technology and apply a conscious effort to actually reduce emissions,” Dr Dalli said.

“This can be done by increasing cleaner sources of energy in our mix, reducing pollution from our streets and ensuring cleaner technology and cleaner fuels in our ports. We need to further invest in energy efficiency particularly by improving building designs.”

What is the Maltese government doing?

Asked whether it would review its long-term climate targets in view of the new report, an environment ministry spokesman said that while the government fully supported the report’s conclusions, it believed the solution could only be achieved at a global, not national level.

The ministry said global ambition should be raised and that the EU should take on a greater leadership role on climate action on the world stage.

It said Malta remained committed to its target of a 19 per cent reduction in emissions compared to 2005 and pointed out that, per capita, Malta had the lowest rate emissions in the EU.

It said – in the light of struggles to meet EU emissions targets – that the objectives imposed on Malta were “unrealistic” but added that a new Low Carbon Development Strategy would aim to continue reducing carbon by focusing investment on several areas where a high potential had been identified.

The ministry also said the country’s adaptation strategy, published in 2012, would be updated with new measures to ensure Malta was equipped to deal with climate change.

“Measures including improving our green infrastructure, securing water supplies, assessing the need for coastal defences and enhancing energy performance in buildings are but a few of adaptation techniques considered,” it said.

How will climate change impact Malta?

Climatologist James Ciarlo and marine biologist Alan Deidun highlight some of the key risks identified in the report:

Heat deaths: heatwaves will become longer, more frequent and more intense. A study in Italy projects a one per cent increase in deaths at 1.5°C, and twice that at 2°C.

Coastal flooding: at 1°C, global sea levels will rise by an average of 40cm, or as much as 1 metre if current trends persist, enough to submerge vast coastal areas. Storm surges will also intensify.

Water scarcity: changes in rainfall will increase the risk of drought and put greater pressure on groundwater resources. At the same time, an increase in intense short-duration rainfall will lead to more flash floods.

Extreme weather events: an increase in frequency and magnitude will raise the risk of deaths, injuries and economic losses.

Invasive species: a warmer Mediterranean could bring with it invasive tropical species and large jellyfish blooms, affecting tourism, fisheries and power generation, apart from native marine life.

Fisheries and aquaculture: rising sea temperatures and changing migratory patterns will lower the productivity of this vital industry.

Marine biodiversity: changes in ocean salinity and acidity (due to more CO2 absorbed from the air) will increase the risk of mass die-offs of other marine species.

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