The current state of the developing climate emergency is the cumulative effect of years of carbon emissions.
We continuously add to this accumulated impact to the extent that projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicate that the targets of the Paris 2015 Climate Change Summit will be substantially exceeded. The current global carbon emissions are such that instead of limiting temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius above the temperature prevalent in the pre-industrial era, we are moving towards double this increase by the end of this century, that is 3 degrees Celsius.
Small island states, home to more than 65 million people, have long been recognised as being especially vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change. Each island state is on the frontline of such impacts even though, historically, most of them have been the lowest contributors to climate change. I am referring mostly to the Pacific small island states which are generally low-lying and as a result, the first port of call of the rising sea level – one of the major consequences of climate change.
Rising sea levels is not the theoretical future. In the Pacific Ocean it is the real present. Consider, for example the Maldives, known for its extensive sandy beaches frequented by around 1.5 million tourists in 2018. The Maldives is also considered to be the flattest country on earth, with 80 per cent of its land area no higher than one metre above sea level and none of the rest no more than 3 metres above sea level. Studies indicate that, since the 1950s, the sea level around the Maldives has risen between 0.8 and 1.6 millimetres annually. At this rate it is estimated that, by the end of this century, 77 per cent of the Maldives current land area will be below sea level.
The Maldives, a tourism haven, may be too far away for some to grasp the significance of what is happening right now. It is, however, experiencing what will soon be the reality around the whole globe.
The coastal communities and the coastal infrastructure will be the hardest hit by climate change and all islands, around the world will be hit.
Malta will not be an exception; along with all other island states, the Maltese Islands will have to bear the brunt of this impact of climate change.
This could be the reason why, according to Eurobarometer, the Maltese are among the most concerned Europeans and consider climate change a very serious issue.
Isn’t it about time that this “apparent” sensitivity to the impacts of climate change is translated into concrete action?
How about, for example, setting a target of reducing the number of private cars on our roads by 50 per cent over the next ten years? We would obviously not need all the new roads being built, should we start seeking the best way to achieve such a target.
Given that it is estimated that 50 per cent of our private car journeys all around the Maltese Islands are for short distances (less than five kilometres) and of a duration that does not exceed 15 minutes this target would be easily achievable if there is some political will. Instead of waiting for others in faraway places to take action to reduce the impacts of climate change, it is about time that we start planning what we can do ourselves, and then proceed with doing it.
The problem of The Maldives is our problem too. We have contributed to its creation and consequently we must also contribute to its solution.
This is the path of climate justice.
Published in the Malta Independent – Sunday 15 September 2019