Tourism and climate change

Nature does not negotiate as to its impacts. At the appropriate natural time, pun intended, it unleashes its fury on all, without discrimination. This is illustrated on a regular basis with every major storm or natural calamity around the globe.

Climate change is like a ticking time bomb. It gets worse with every scientific report published. In March, yet another IPCC report sounded the warning that we are living on borrowed time. The signs are there staring us in the face. In practice they are ignored until another report is published and maybe another Climate Summit is held. Many promises relative to behavioural change are made, most being ignored. This cycle has been repeated every so often.

We need not go back many years. Just consider the local weather during the month of February 2023. The storm Helios hit the Maltese islands on 9 February 2023: in just 24 hours the recorded precipitation was more than double the monthly average for the month of February. The damage caused was considerable.

Yet some still dream that we, in Malta, should be exempted from the far-reaching radical action needed to tackle climate change. Labour MEP Cyrus Engerer, for example, was reported last week as feeling angered at the EU Commission “one size fits all” approach on climate action. He stated that island states should be exempted from climate change legislation. Engerer’s outburst was a reference to the Energy Taxation Directive which aims at reducing carbon emissions in particular through addressing the environmental impacts of aviation.

We all know that tourism to and from Malta is dependent on the aviation industry. Yet, instead of seeking ways to re-dimension it, thereby factoring-in climate change impacts into tourism policy, the nitwits at the Malta Tourism Authority have currently embarked on achieving targets to increase tourism to Malta to the 3 million mark.

Furthermore, a study on Malta’s tourism carrying capacity commissioned by the MHRA and carried out by Deloitte some months ago had identified that we would need close to 5 million tourists per year to make adequate use of the tourism beds available, both those existent as well as those in the pipeline, already approved for development!

Malta’s tourism policy targets have been planned as if there is no tomorrow. This keeps piling up the negative environmental impacts from large scale development projects in the pipeline, such as the Villa Rosa project spread over close to 48,000 square metres along the St George’s Bay coast.

To add insult to injury the Environmental Impact Assessment for the Villa Rosa project is buttressed by an economic analysis which endorses its economic viability.

Aviation has been a free rider for quite some time, being exempted from shouldering the impacts of the carbon emissions which it generates. The holiday will soon be over and as a direct result the aviation industry must take stock of the situation and shoulder the responsibility for its impacts. The polluter pays principle applies to the aviation industry and as a result to the tourism industry too. Like all other economic sectors, it must factor in its costings the environmental impacts which it generates: in technical jargon internalisation of environmental costs.

It will undoubtedly be painful. This is inevitable as it has been deliberately avoided for so long.

Some years back, in October 2019, Parliament in Malta approved a motion on the climate emergency. Unfortunately, the unanimously approved motion is not reflected in government policy since.

It is in Malta’s interest that the environmental impacts of tourism, particularly mass tourism, are contained before it is too late. The aviation industry must be prodded through economic means, such as environmental taxation, to restructure itself. Let us all remember that like all islands, the Maltese islands, will be among the first to suffer some of the worst repercussions of climate change: the increase in sea level.

Tourism will not be spared. Nature and natural forces will not consider our special situation or our economic considerations: it will roll over us as it did elsewhere!

Carmel Cacopardo
ADPD Chairperson
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 9 April 2023