Ever since the IPCC report outlined that the climate’s global temperature is rising much higher than expected, the world went into a frenzy, and environmentalists have zeroed in their research on how to reach net zero CO2 emissions.
According to Prof. Charles Galdies from the University’s Institute for Earth Systems, this has been a potential source of international conflict at the diplomatic level for a long time, and this is not a time for finger pointing, but rather cooperation.
While the First Part of the Interview focused on the perceptions surrounding the IPCC report, how climate change is still an abstract concept for some, on what the obstacles are to reaching the vital goal for climate change, and on recent heatwaves on the Maltese islands, this second part features more local studies related to this very time-pressing subject matter.
On future climate change impacts on Malta’s agriculture
This is an important Maltese sector that deserves our protection both from a food security point of view as well as to its social and environmental importance. Another interesting local study is in fact the one that looks at the future climate change impacts on Malta’s agriculture, based on multi-model IPCC results. Using statistical, empirical crop and livestock-modelling techniques, Kimberly Vella and myself showed how the future climate change is very likely to negatively affect Malta’s natural freshwater supplies, livestock and crop survival. As a consequence, the distribution of the already stressed local arable land will change, modifying local productivity patterns and economics. Unless the local farming sector adapts itself quickly then the sustainability of this already fragile sector will be further diminished.
On the impacts of extreme events on the local infrastructure
I had to pleasure to work with Neil Mallia on the impacts of extreme events on the local infrastructure. This study shows how the number of insurance claims received following the September 2012 event amounted to more than 5 million Euros worth of damages caused by flooding, strong winds, storm surges and rough seas. Similarly, damages totaling more than 4 million Euros were claimed for the January 2013 event. The results also show that between 2012 and 2013 the economic ‘shocks’ caused by similar convective weather extremes and economic impact were somewhat dampened by increased wealth. Yet, in spite of Malta’s small economy, the insurance losses in terms of %GDP estimated for these three case studies, are close to other major European disasters.
Would a carbon tax, which is already being implemented by 18 European countries, work in Malta?
It will definitely help. Funds can be shifted to various sectors of the community, including private businesses, to assist any negative repercussions due to a transition of their business models towards net zero carbon. And of course, a bigger focus on education. Educators at all levels are becoming much more aware now that climate change is not a single subject like chemistry, physics, economics, etc but one which requires interdisciplinary skillsets under the broad umbrella of sustainability.
On what the Maltese can do more to counteract climate change
The need to act now is being felt more than ever. In fact, some of our scientific findings point to the need for our local authorities to take immediate action to introduce adaptation measures that need to be supported by tailored financing, educational and promotional approaches according to ‘market segments’ such as the one as dictated by the local farming typology. The foregoing analysis showed a dire need by workers in this sector to receive precise information on both the impacts and risks, as well as on how to introduce new technologies and and practices that can withstand adverse climatic impacts on their practices.
It might be the case that the main message is not getting through our local audience, including Malta’s most vulnerable communities.
Our political leaders can do more when it comes to nurturing people’s judgement about the characteristics and severity of risks arising from climate change. We all know how risk avoidance is intricately tied to risk perception. Risk avoidance can be sustained by looking, and ideally quantifying, the perceived costs and related inconveniences to our current lifestyle.
Three years ago I worked on a study together with Claudia Attard and Dr Elisabeth Conrad on how coastal island communities can be convincingly informed about the impacts of sea level rise. An understanding of these potential impacts is critical for people to start engaging in related adaptation actions. Effective climate communication may require more than just using language; the use of virtual reality, 3D spatial technology, and digital elevation models can prove equally or even more powerful to enable the portrayal of risks and dangers posed by climate change. Using a case study in Malta, we used GIS to map the spatial extent of sea-level rise on valuable real estate, critical public infrastructure, and on natural resources. Coastal communities were then asked for their views on sea level rise after looking at precise but different modes of visualization of the same impact at specific coastal locations. Results showed a general preference for 3D over 2D mapping of sea level rise, for various reasons, including a perception that these better reflect reality; 3D visualisations were also shown to be more effective in convincing respondents about the significance of sea level rise impacts. The results of this study should provide valuable insights for our local authorities to understand what may be needed to communicate messages related to climate change in an effective manner, ultimately contributing to enhancement of coastal resilience and climate adaptation.
On the research conducted by the Department of Conservation and Heritage and the Institute of Earth Systems
We are jointly conducting research aimed at studying the thermal behaviour of different roof types including traditional unmodified roofs ‘deffun’ (built of limestone slabs on arches or beams, and with a lime-based water-proof coating), traditional modified roofs (with insulation, membranes, etc.), and modern roofs. This forms part of an overall study to evaluate (on the basis of their energy efficiency) the importance of conserving traditional roofs as part of our cultural heritage. This MCST-funded research is using a combination of collocated and cotemporal data collected from an orbiting satellite, drone and direct roof measurements. Monitoring the thermal behavior of these different types of roofs will enable us to understand the effects of modern 'adaptations' on general building behaviour and occupant well-being in a local climate that will be more prone to higher temperatures and drier conditions. Our results shall soon be communicated both locally and internationally in the coming weeks.
On further promising research in the pipeline for Malta
Together with Dr Lalit Garg from the Faculty of Information & Communications Technology of the University of Malta and the Health Information and Research of the Ministry for Health, we plan to develop a tool to forecast the hospital admission rate and patient length of stay to help healthcare managers and policymakers develop better health care service management under a changing climate. One of the objectives of this MCST-funded tool is to detect disease outbreaks or abnormalities that need urgent attention from advanced processing of incoming satellite data. In the long term, this study will characterise the influence of climate change on health, diseases and thus on hospital admissions.
Together with colleagues from Queensland University and Malta’s Directorate for Health Information and Research, we also look forward to showcase the adverse effect of climatic changes on circulatory- and respiratory-related mortality in Malta. The results of these studies, which are currently being peer-reviewed, will help us to understand the impact of climatic shifts on such type of morbidity and deaths and improve preventive and adaptation strategies to mitigate climatic health impacts.
Climate action should be a collective ambition!
NOW is the right time to showcase to everyone our collective ambition for climate action. IPCC is doing this by means of its timely reports and we should take every opportunity to follow suit.
At the same time, we need to be wary of attitudes that embrace ‘Climate nihilism’ and the continued business as usual ethos, which apparently is deeply ingrained in the political discourse in a number of developed countries. This pessimism is in itself a form of denial. We need to be very careful when coming to communicate humanity’s code red level to our 20-year olds because there is the risk of being counter-productive. This new form of doomerism seems to have originated from a sense of anxiety in that too little is being done.
Let us translate this sense of anxiety into a hopeful and productive outlook.