Sleepwalking into an emergency

This is an emergency that must concern us, the Maltese, and our political leaders – even though we find nobody who can translate the scientific knowledge into a political discourse that puts climate change high on the agenda

Readers and commenters on social media who debate the effects of our summer heatwaves and the irregularity of weather during the winter, should not be fooled by the blindness and comfort of denial. If there were any doubts about the reality of climate change, five or 10 years ago, the science today and global consensus, especially from recent IPCC reports, is that the world has moved beyond a certain point in the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. Climate change is inevitable and very much our present – as a report this week predicted, with Maltese temperatures expected to turn into Middle East climes in the future.

And that also warrants a different way of talking. From global ‘warming’, we should speak of global ‘heating’, of a climate emergency, and that we no longer have the power to mitigate but to adapt to the rising temperatures that are becoming the new normal.

This is an emergency that must concern us, the Maltese, and our political leaders – even though we find nobody who can translate the scientific knowledge into a political discourse that puts climate change high on the agenda, with all its effects on society, on agriculture and food safety, on health, on jobs, on transportation…

A recent study from the University of Malta forecasts a global rise in sea-levels, estimated at between 0.7 and 1 metre, which scientists stress is high for Malta. Some coastal areas will be severely affected: the Sliema and Ghallis coastlines, for instance, with major implications for the road network and traffic. Then there is the threat of increased salinity levels of the soil, a problem already with us due to over-extraction from the water table.

Secondly, another major implication concerns the increase in flash-flooding – not because of more rain, because annual precipitation will most likely be less, especially in the arid conditions predicted for Malta. But the rainfall will come down in more concentrated bursts, over shorter periods of time. Such floods will entail a loss of soil, with serious implications for agriculture.

Indeed, it is clear to everyone in Malta, that our policymakers and legislators are doing the opposite, by widening roads and introducing more concrete that prevents rain from being captured and retained by the soil, with run-off instead going into the sea.

Governments think mainly in terms of only five years, and without the climate emergency becoming part of our political discourse, with its importance placed akin if not above to that we give to economic growth, we are condemning future Maltese generations to an island ill-equipped to mitigate the effects of its rising temperatures.

Politically, climate change has to become a subject of national urgency. Our model of economic growth is intimately tied to the construction industry, tax planning and legislative fluency that allows foreign companies and major employers to find a friendly foothold on the island; with them comes the peril of overpopulation, and its effect on national infrastructure, rising carbon emissions, stress on power generation and water provision, food stocks, and the Maltese people’s general well-being.

But Malta needs a vision to prepare itself for the climate emergency that is evident elsewhere in the world. It needs a vision that can prepare it not only for the internal threats that climate change creates, but also for the external effects from increased migration prompted by climate displacement.

Which political leader will wake up to the nightmare of climate change and make Malta’s preparedness part of their legacy, and perhaps their legacy of their tenure as prime minister inside the European Union? Malta actually led the international discussion on climate change, when it first started 40 years ago.

It is right that one asks what difference tiny Malta can really make with regard to CO2 emissions. Yet it is a fact that the emissions of our massive shipping industry and registration regime, for example, are not calculated in Malta’s official emissions rate; our central role to the trade of cryptocurrency should also open our eyes to the contributor to emissions that the mining of coins – carried out by large computer rigs always switched on to solve ever more complex algorithms – create globally.

Labour is now committing itself to dig a tunnel from Malta to Gozo, a proposal at odds with the idea to turn Gozo into an electric car island. This is a lack of consistency which even Labour ministers are aware of, but they have yet to pronounce themselves against the tunnel project which they abhor. Yet those who lack the courage to stand out and take ‘unpopular’ stands that turn common ‘wisdom’ on its head, should not be the ones to take the leadership of their country.

Politically, this is an issue that should inform Maltese people’s wishes for their next leader. If Joseph Muscat makes his exit as planned, will his successor be a tone-deaf short-termist ‘manager’, or a game-changing visionary who can marry economic survival with climate adaptation? Unless the people start demanding this change in vision, we are nowhere near to getting what we deserve.

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