It is not too dramatic to state that if global warming continues on its upward path, and if climate change is not mitigated by reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, within the next 30 years Malta could be very different to how we know it today – at worst, it may become an arid, thirsty, overheated rock.
Adam Fenech, a climatologist at the University of Prince Edward Island, has given a stark warning of what lies in wait for Malta as a result of alterations in temperature over the next three decades, which he forecasts will see a further gradual increase of two degrees by 2050 (on top of the increase of almost one degree that has already occurred since 1984.
The climatologist said: “The [forecast] increase in temperature is significant, dramatic and unprecedented”.
No one can predict the outcome of climate change, or its effects, with complete certainty. There are legitimate concerns over particular details and effects. But scientists now know enough to understand the risks. Global warming is no theoretical phenomenon. Its potential damage is no longer an abstract proposition.
Global warming will affect Malta in many ways. The impact of climate change will lead to more extreme and haphazard weather patterns, with prolonged Saharan-style heatwaves, more intense rainy periods and longer dryer spells. The escalating rise in temperature will be accompanied by severe water shortages as rainfall in Malta is drastically reduced “by some 12 per cent”, according to Dr Fenech, “which is significant when the aquifer is already in a critical state”.
Moreover, “the predicted sea level rise could transform the landscape and affect buildings that are close to the sea in low-lying areas”, an impact which “would be further compounded by strong winds and storm surges battering the coast”.
Lack of water and moisture in the soil and rising sea levels will lead to increased salinity, crop yields will drop and the desertification of the countryside will become unstoppable. The effects on natural heritage landscapes, flora and fauna could be devastating – literally changing the physical appearance of Malta.
The acceleration of climate change will sweep away the near-perfect climate we have become accustomed to. Put starkly, climate change threatens the basic elements of life for people around the world, effects from which Malta will not be immune: access to water, food production, health, use of land, the tourist economy, security and the environment itself.
Most Maltese recognise intellectually the likely physical effects of global warming but are unwilling to acknowledge that their lives and the very culture of Malta could be profoundly altered. They may fear the impending disaster but are also confident they can somehow be spared the worst effects of global warming.
However, the central message which Dr Fenech strongly conveyed was that Malta should start preparing now for the future impact of climate change. A long-term adaptation and mitigation plan to cope with the effects must start now.
This includes identifying the areas that will be prone to sea flooding and building appropriate flood defences; drawing up a comprehensive water framework plan to ensure the survival of the mean sea level aquifer; developing comprehensive mitigation and adaptability plans to protect our cultural heritage; and others.
By their nature, these are costly long-term infrastructure projects. However, the temptation to postpone implementing them must be resisted. As Dr Fenech said, we should “start now and increase [our] efforts over time”.
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