Flash floods in Germany, forest fires in the United States, heavy downpours in China and heatwaves in Malta.
Recent spells of extreme weather across the world are telltale signs that climate change is having an immediate and detrimental impact on everyday life.
As climate change bears down on a summer of disaster, experts believe that the unsought events of the past few weeks are just the tipping point of a longstanding struggle with mankind’s treatment of the environment – and Malta is no exception.
“Malta has been going through a difficult time in terms of climate change with the lack of rain and extreme heat we’ve had over the past few weeks,” the Director of Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development at the University of Malta, Professor Maria Attard, told Lovin Malta.
“These are a direct result of climate change,” she said.
Over the past two years, Malta has experienced a number of extreme weather events. In addition to strong winds that once rocked the whole island, there has also been a lack of rainfall and precipitation well below the normal average, causing a drought disaster for farmers.
In fact, February 2020 will go down as the driest month in recorded history.
And 2021 has fared no better with temperatures this summer hitting the scorching forties, prompting a set of new health and safety measures by local authorities.
“It’s becoming so extreme, so arid, that we’re closer to having a desert than vegetation,” Attard continued.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world is also experiencing the drastic effects of climate change. Floodwaters have uprooted life in both Germany and China with over 200 people dead as a result.
In the United States, extreme heat and dry conditions in California have caused smoke to stretch to the East Coast, contributing to New York City’s worst air quality in 15 years.
An unprecedented heatwave in Canada saw police responding to over 130 sudden deaths.
And in India, heavy monsoon rains led to a mudslide that killed at least 20 people after a wall collapsed due to the extreme weather.
“These are all events linked to climate change,” Attard said. “These forecasted events are actually happening at a much faster rate and with a greater impact and effect than initially predicted”.
The extreme weather that has swept over Malta over the past few years has seldom resulted in fatalities. Nonetheless, the impact of climate change is noticeable and experts fear that little to no action is being taken to combat the trend.
“Trees are dying in the north. Trees that are endemic and that are meant to survive the local climate,” Attard said.
“We’ve also barely had any mosquitoes this year because we haven’t had much rain or water. What we’ll start seeing is less rain but that rain will fall as flash flood events,” she said.
Attard also warned that Malta could experience a rise in sea level and that our approach towards transportation and infrastructure are the main contributors to the problem.
“In the past, we used to have climate change emissions rising as a result of transport, but we’re also seeing an alarming rise in emissions from air conditioning (AC) units and the lack of sustainable buildings built with no insulation”.
“If extreme events become too frequent there’s no way our buildings will be able to cool down, which will lead to more use of ACs, which will contribute significantly to climate change,” Attard said.
Unfortunately, despite Malta declaring a climate emergency in 2019, experts believe that not enough is being done by authorities to reverse this trend.
“I don’t think we’re doing anything if you ask me. We’re building wider roads to allow for more cars and are not investing in infrastructure that allows people to use alternatives,” she said.
“We’ve done a great job in the energy sector by switching to gas but we need to tackle the two main issues – transport and sustainable buildings”.
Malta has set a pathway for climate neutrality by 2050 but little headway has been made towards this goal despite extreme weather becoming ever more common.
As such, for Attard, the way forward isn’t just one of mitigation but also that of adaptation to the new realities we’re faced with.
“We need to start adapting to these new realities,” she said. “If sea levels rise, which roads are being identified as potentially being under the influence of water in the next new years? What measures are we implementing to ensure they are saved?”
“It’s an emergency and we need to raise the alarm,” she ended.
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