The Malta Independent 8 December 2021, Wednesday

Climate change: Less blue skies and more concrete action

Peter Agius Wednesday, 10 November 2021, 11:09 Last update: about 27 days ago

While in Malta they cut mature trees by the hundreds, splash concrete in country roads and aim as low as they can on renewable energy, in Glasgow Robert Abela made a veritable blue skies speech appealing for global engagement to combat climate change.

How prim and proper it would be... if the spirit of what was written on that teleprompter, was to be seen in the concrete actions of Maltese Government.

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Abela’s selfies with Biden and the hypocritical dichotomy of a government pleading to the international community in Glasgow while negotiating the lowest possible emission targets in Brussels is not an isolated act of course. It is rather the hallmark, or one should say, the example set, for the rest of the cabinet.

Minister Miriam Dalli gave us more of that pretty recently. In media comments in September from Gozo the Minister put out once again the Green Gozo card, telling us that Gozo has potential to be carbon-neutral before 2050 target.

So, Dalli wants the Gozitans to invest in electric cars. That’s a good thing, right? Beyond the Minister’s blue skies words however, Government’s actions speak of less climate neutral choices. Faced with the pressing need for a fourth Gozo Channel Ferry, the government opted for the most polluting choice. Instead of being guided by the example of former governments who saw it fit to invest in new technology to serve the Gozitans, the current Government ‘invested’ in a €15,000 daily rental contract on a thirdhand diesel ship which had to remain under the Greek flag for fears of it failing the local registration criteria.

Abela and Dalli, and many others for that matter in Malta and beyond speak of climate change as an abstract challenge with very little concrete suggestions on how to avert or handle it in practice.

Here in Malta for instance, a 2 degree hotter summer risks killing thousands of trees in our already arid countryside. This summer was already a clear indicator of that. You had hundreds of tumoli near Mġarr where whole stretches of woodland were perishing, dry to the bone. Hundreds of trees were saved in the nick of time only thanks to the private initiative of two local councillors who decided to call a water bowser and started irrigating the trees themselves.

That is the kind of concrete action we need to handle the effects of climate change here in Malta. Is government planning any of this sort of action? Nothing in sight. The PN has proposed a system of ‘tree mapping’ where every local council would take stock of trees in its jurisdiction and lay out a plan for their care.

Undoubtedly, averting climate disaster in the longer term requires us lowering emissions through massive societal changes, including going electric on transport. But there will be much more to do to handle climate change effects this year and the next, already now.

While perishing trees sound off alarm bells for everyone, life under water can be in peril without us even noticing. Being an aquarist myself, I know that every degree of higher temperature translates into a tenfold decrease of less oxygen for aquatic life. With climate change, we risk therefore the asphyxiation of certain types of sea life in Maltese waters. This Summer we read reports of sea temperature hitting a record 30 degrees in Gozo, for instance. What effects can this have on sea-life? How can we avert such an impact? We know so little about all of this!

In Glasgow, after his selfies with Joe Biden, Robert Abela made an appeal to the international community to help small islands combat climate change. That was indeed an interesting idea. I would want so see some more beef onto that.

In relation to impacts on coastal communities, incidentally this week I happened to be in Marsaxlokk in the day when the ‘ Xlukkarji’ were engaged in the Tsunami simulation. For a moment, I realised that a large stretch of Marsaxlokk would be under water with a 50cm rise in sea level. The same counts for many other localities in Malta and Gozo.

We need to start considering the effects of climate change in a more serious forward-looking framework, even for the sake of these communities. This is all the more important considering that, in many parts of the world, communities have devised ways how to handle rising sea levels. The Netherlands have dealt with that since the inception of the Orange kingdom. The same goes for the Laguna di Venezia region. How about Malta pushing for a technology-transfer framework to prep islands like Malta to handle rising sea levels?

Climate change should not only instigate a deeper environmental commitment from all of us. It should also lead to a rewiring of our relation with nature – to be able to handle our life better when nature decides to be much more hostile to our plans.

This is now time for a transition. On the political level, I hope to see a transition from blue skies talk of ‘engagement’ to a real nationwide discussion on how to translate real political will into concrete actions.

 

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