Sunday Times of Malta, 9th November 2008, by Caroline Muscat –

Malta has failed to prepare a plan on its climate change impact, vulnerability and adaptation – unlike other Mediterranean countries that “have prepared quite extensive climate change assessments”, according to the European Environmental Agency.

In a report entitled ‘Impacts of Europe’s changing climate’, the EEA states that the Mediterranean is one of the regions most vulnerable to climate change.

The report is based on 40 key indicators and stresses the consequences of observed and projected changes, including an increased risk of floods and droughts, losses of biodiversity, threats to human health and damage to economic sectors such as energy, transport, forestry, agriculture, and tourism.

When contacted, a Resources Ministry spokesman said: “Last June, the ministry set up a committee of experts. The (objective) is to present a strategic plan of action on how Malta should limit its greenhouse gas emissions to achieve desirable targets.”

Malta’s vulnerability to climate change was recognised by the government in 2004. Its assessment in the ‘First National Communication of Malta to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’ (UNFCCC) states: “The most important impacts include the deterioration of potable water supplies and quality, more frequent extreme weather events, increase in soil erosion and an accentuated desertification process, threats to public health, changes in sea water mass characteristics and effects on fish stocks, sea level rise, coastal erosion and inundation, and reduced biodiversity…

“The degree of these consequences will in part depend on timeliness of implementation of adaptation measures.”

Malta’s report had admitted that averting the worst effects requires a strong will for immediate action.

In the foreword to the UNFCCC report, then Environment Minister George Pullicino said: “This communication is presented on the eve of Malta’s accession to the European Union, a step that will transform its political future. Malta looks forward to working with its partners in the Union to develop a national climate policy that will reflect its new status.”

However, four years on, Europe is still waiting for Malta to communicate its climate policy.

Labour environment spokesman Leo Brincat said he had never received any feedback to his calls for sectoral impact studies.

“I very much doubt to what extent issues such as vulnerability and adaptation have been looked into seriously or professionally. The same applies to mitigation,” Mr Brincat said.

The report says the impact of climate change in the Mediterranean will lead to increased energy costs, water shortages and reduced agricultural yields.

Furthermore, summer temperatures and heatwaves in the Mediterranean, potentially exacerbated by water supply problems, are projected to lead to a decline in tourism during the key summer months.

Increased temperatures can also have an adverse impact on human health. More than 70,000 deaths were reported in 12 European countries because of the heatwave in 2003. These are projected to become more common later in the century as the climate continues to change, with mortality risk increases of between 0.2 and 5.5 per cent for every 1°C increase in temperature above a location-specific threshold.

Europe has warmed more than the global average. Projections suggest further temperature increases in Europe of between one and 5.5 °C by the end of the century, which is also higher than the projected global warming (1.8 – 4 °C). Mediterranean Europe is expected to be one of the worst hit regions between the months of June and August.

Key findings in the Mediterranean

• Reduction in summer peak tourism

• Increased adverse health effects of heat waves

• Sea level rise leading to loss of low-lying coastal zones

• Rising summer electricity use (for cooling) and increased energy costs

• Reduction in summer soil moisture

• Reduction in crop yields

• Reduced water availability and increasing water demand for agriculture will lead to unsustainable competition for water with tourism and households

• Adverse impacts on ecosystem