Everyone is aware that different parts of the world are experiencing weather extremes. Under the heading “Changing climate forces desperate Guatemalans to emigrate”, National Geographic recently reported that “Drought and shifting weather are making it difficult for many small-scale farmers to feed their families, fuelling a human crisis”.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Food Programme of the United Nations are concerned that drought is having a considerable impact on the most vulnerable in Central America. It has led to a loss of 280,000 hectares of agricultural land in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, as a result affecting the food security of more than two million human persons.
We are aware, even as a result of local experience, that drought and floods cause considerable damage to agriculture and are occurring with increasing frequency. Some countries are experiencing an acute lack of rain while others are experiencing a concentration of a year’s rainfall in the space of a few days. These changing patterns of the weather are the result of human behaviour, accumulated over a large number of years through ever-increasing carbon emissions.
Clearly, climate change threatens essential resources – such as water and food – on which communities depend, putting in question their very right to life.
The politics of Climate Change, on the initiative and insistence of island states, in particular Pacific island micro-states, is currently focusing on the need to limit increases in global warming to not more than 1.5 degrees Celsius. There is a consensus among the global scientific community that, beyond such an increase, a climatic apocalypse would be more likely. This will be the cause of not just more drought and floods but also of unprecedented rise in sea level, as a result wiping out coastal areas, and low-lying islands all around the globe.
The special report issued by the lnter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in October explains in detail the views of the global scientific community on the current state of play: it explains the science of climate change and the future of the Earth. A total of 224 leading scientists from 40 countries have assessed 30,000 scientific papers and their conclusions cannot be ignored.
Its report warns that the earth has already warmed by one degree Celsius more than the pre-industrial age. If we retain the present level of activity, we are warned that the temperature will rise a further half of a degree before the year 2050.
This is the reason why the scientific community considers that carbon emissions must be reduced, achieving net zero emissions before the year 2050. However, there are various pockets of resistance to attaining such an objective in a number of countries. So much that four of them (Russia, the United States, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) have sought to water down the global consensus on the IPPC report conclusions in Katowice, at the climate change summit held earlier this month.
Each and every country has a role in achieving this substantial reduction of carbon emissions, subject to the principle of common but differentiated responsibility. Malta also has such a responsibility to contribute to a reduction of carbon emissions in order to ensure that the 1.5 degree barrier is not breached.
In Malta, the switching of energy generation from one dependent on heavy fuel oil to gas was a positive step. However, in the long term, this is not enough as gas is considered a transition fuel: a step on the path to energy generation completely dependent on renewable sources. We require more energy generated from the sun and wind and we also need to ensure that good use is made of energy generated from waves – so abundant in the sea around us. The application of technology will lead to the creation of new, sustainable jobs and simultaneously contribute to an improvement in the quality of life for everyone.
Transport, however, is still a major problem considering Malta’s carbon emissions due the astronomic increase in the number of cars on our roads. Unfortunately, instead of investing in sustainable transport, the government has embarked on a massive programme of further development of the road infrastructure which will only result in encouraging more cars on our roads. Consequently, this will cancel out the progress being achieved with the registered increase in the use of public transport.
To add insult to injury, the proposed tunnel below the seabed between Malta and Gozo is essentially a tunnel for the use of cars. It is estimated that, as a result of this tunnel, the vehicle movement between the two islands will increase from 3000 to 9000 vehicle movements daily over a 15-year period. An alternative sustainable service providing for the movement of people would be a fast ferry service from Gozo to the commercial centres of Malta. However, the encouragement of the use of cars is central to the projected tunnel as tolls will be paid by car owners.
All this runs counter to the National Transport Master-Plan 2025 which establishes the reduction of cars from Maltese roads as an achievable target.
Reducing the number of cars on our roads will not only improve the quality of the air we breath but will also be a small but important contribution to global climate justice through a reduction in carbon emission levels.
Climate justice is our responsibility too.
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 30 December 2018