Adaptation to Climate Change

 Adaptation is an essential part of addressing the impacts and opportunities created by our changing climate. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines adaptation to be:

“Adjustments in natural or human systems, in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderate, harm or exploit beneficial opportunities”.

Climate Change adaptation is a major issue for many countries. Small islands and small island states like the Maltese Islands are particularly vulnerable to Climate Change. This is due to many factors which are primarily linked to the country’s geographic attributes. Geographically, exposure to weather extremes and incremental depletion of natural resources contribute significantly to environmental sensitivity. Economically, because of the size and relative isolation; demography and other social elements are impacted by increased migrations and rapid urbanisation.

On the basis of the Commission’s Green Paper on Adapting Climate Change in Europe of June 2007, it is evident that the most vulnerable areas in Europe are:

  • Southern Europe and the entire Mediterranean Basin due to the combined effect of high temperature increase and reduced precipitation, particularly in an region already coping with water scarcity.
  • Mountainous regions, in particular the Alps, where temperature increases rapidly leading to widespread melting of snow and ice which in turn changes river pathways and flow rates.
  • Coastal zones due to sea level rise which is combined with an increased risks for storms of greater magnitude.
  • Densely populated floodplains are at risk due to the increased frequency and magnitude of stormy weather, which bring higher levels of precipitation. The flash floods which result, lead to widespread damages in built-up areas and the surrounding infrastructure.
  • Scandinavia, where increasingly precipitation falls as rain, rather than snow.
  • The Arctic region temperature changes are projected to be higher than in any other place on Earth.

The Green Paper which was later followed by a White Paper in 2009 takes into account the prominent respective roles of each Member State, their regional and local authorities and the role each has in any efficient adaptation strategy. The various regions such as Southern Europe and the entire Mediterranean Basin are identified specifically due to the combined effect of high temperature increase and reduced precipitation in areas already coping with water scarcity. In fact, Malta falls under three of the above mentioned identified vulnerable areas.

Within this context, the EU seeks to enhance the knowledge base, which will take climate change impacts into consideration in key EU policies by providing the necessary finance. In addition, the support of wider international efforts on adaptation is envisaged.

The EU established the European Climate Change Adaptation Platform (CLIMATE- Adapt) which intends to support Europe in adapting to climate change. This is an initiative of the European Commission and helps users to assess and share information on:

  • Expected climate change in Europe
  • Current and projected future vulnerability of regions and sectors
  • National and transnational adaptation strategies
  • Adaptation case studies and potential adaptation options
  • Tools that support adaptation planning

The National Adaptation Strategy

 In May 2012, the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs, MRRA, published the National Strategy for Climate Change and Adaptation. This publication resulted from work carried out by the Climate Change Committee which had been appointed in August 2009. A national consultation process by the Ministry was held between November 2010 and June 2011, a review of which was included in the abovementioned Adaptation Strategy. This document was intended to complement the second communication (2010) to the UNFCCC and was also intended to serve as a ‘Fulcrum’ for local discussions on climate change adaptation management.

The National Adaptation Strategy seeks to address recommendations in various sectors which are vulnerable to climate change, viz. water, agriculture, human health and tourism. The strategy also addresses the financial impacts as well as any sustainability issues. There is an emphasis on the need for a legal framework which will address the important matter of adaptation adequately.

The Strategy clearly outlines the policy which should be adopted and it indicates which Authority or Government entity is responsible for the implementation. Time-frames within which such policy actions should be implemented are also included

The National Adaptation Strategy adopts a holistic approach to Climate Change Adaptation in Malta, identifying climate change impacts with particular reference to health and socio-economic policy, water and flooding as well as biodiversity, agriculture and fisheries. The Strategy also provides a recommendation of emergency plans and the circumstances under which they should be formed in high-probability, high-consequence risk areas. Moreover, timely adaptation action will help in reducing the costs and disruptions likely to emanate from adverse climate change conditions, as well as necessarily altering behavioural patterns and enabling better planning and decision-making.

The National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy identified the principal strategic climate impacts likely to affect Malta with particular reference, though not limited, to the following:

Sustainability

Over the past decade, there has been a fundamental shift in local policy debate and focus: the state of the environment has become one of the top policy issues. It is a national and personal obligation that every effort is made to protect the environments and safeguards a sustainable environment for our future generations.

Securing such a balance, however, has not necessarily been straight forward. Industrialization as a consequence of economic growth, in the pursuit for national wealth, combined with the maximum usage of natural resources may at times have been achieved without due consideration to it’s sustainable development. Although at times it has been difficult to perceive, there has been a steady, building level of public awareness achieved in environmental issues and safeguarding initiatives. The relatively small land mass, of the Maltese Island, being 300km2 and that of our surrounding marine acreage requires careful sustainable management and protection therefore of our natural resources.

Climate change is a currently realized consequence of environmental abuse by previous and present-day generations. The various ‘Mal-treatments’, which have been meted out, have and will continue to negatively impacted present and potential future possibilities for generations to come . As a recognized environmental process, climate change had been actively challenged and denied for several decades. This view has been amended and recognised globally to reflect the actual reality which is based on established and growing scientific fact. (The consultation process in Malta, although limited, only reflected the view that climate change is a real process, unnaturally enhanced by anthropogenic processes).

The immediate tasks, to minimize climate change impacts, lie in determining the necessary mitigation measures and to immediately embark on the various adaptation measures. Malta has led, participated and contributed towards international initiatives. These initiatives are directed towards obtaining world-wide collective agreement which aim to guarantee sustainable development. An example of such an agreement is the Kyoto Protocol, which enables a proactive stance by the European Union on relevant environmental issues.

As harsh as reality may be, Malta cannot be ‘Cocooned’ from the fall-out of climate change. It is an inescapable truth when realizing and ensuring the importance of securing sustainable development. Malta’s relative landmass area, and its heavy reliance on imported natural resources, both accentuate the difficulties that the country faces in managing the important issues. However, the challenge is being tackled in various and numerous proactive ways.

Water

As a result of the introduction of Reverses Osmosis (RO) technology, the past thirty years of water sector development in Malta , has made great strides in imprinting the reality of water scarcity within the ‘Psyches’’ of Maltese households. However, modern day modes of supply have seen the rationing of water in the eighties being replaced by a more wasteful use of the resource in the present day.

The perception that RO plants imply a problem-free renewable water resource is incorrect. Even though incremental technological advances render today’s generation of RO infrastructure more operationally cost-effective; the electrical generation of RO is expensive in terms of total cost of ownership. RO depends, if not entirely, primarily and heavily on electricity for power.

Therefore, the implication is therefore implied in a scenario which sees an increased dependency on RO water in lieu of the diminishing yields of natural ground water, resulting in an increased energy demand to power the RO plants. Spiralling fuel costs and the logistics of its supply, present challenges for Malta. The challenges are real and require clever and realistic solutions in ensuring the nation’s water security to the benefit of all.

Agriculture

Agriculture is a complex, skilled and highly evolved sector. It is directly dependent on climate, given that heat, sunlight, and water are the main drivers of crop growth. The impact of climate change on the agricultural sector will be substantial. Preparation is required to safe-guard sustainable supply of water in the light of it’s projected scarcity. The sector will need to be prepared for the increased risk of extreme weather events, as well as reduced productivity growth, particularly in key cash crops.

The Climate Change Strategy identifies an impact on phytosanitary and veterinary issues related to alien species and an increased incidence of plant and animal diseases.

While some aspects of climate change, such as longer growing seasons and warmer temperatures may bring short-term benefits to this sector, it is recognised that careful preparation and planning against the range of adverse impacts, is merited, in order to ensure the immediate and long-term sustainability within this sector. The main concerns include the following:

  • Reductions in crop yield and quality as the result of reduced water availability and precipitation variability will have a negative impact on economic players in the agricultural sector.
  • Direct financial loss for stakeholders in the agricultural sector is most likely to be further exacerbated by the need for increased spending as a result of damage caused by extreme weather events.
  • Reduced crop yields caused by increased summer temperatures and drought risk.
  • Additional problems arising from the introduction of new pests and diseases. The livestock sector is likely to be adversely affected by reduced yields of forage crops and perhaps also heat stress to the animals. Reduced rainfall and consequent changes

Human Health

The ‘Human cost’ of these climatic events depends directly on the vulnerability of the people exposed. Social and environmental determinants of health, such as poverty, support systems, concurrent environmental stresses (including polluted water, unprotected waste disposal or polluted air) and displacement, all contribute to population vulnerability.

Although climate change could have some short-term benefits, such as reduced winter mortality due to increases in temperature, most health impacts are projected to be negative and could be profoundly worsened if current accelerating trends continue unabated.

In 2010 the Environment health Directorate within the Ministry responsible for Health, Elderly and community care, in conjunction with the World Health Organization published a detailed study on the effects on public health induced by climate change with specific reference to Malta. The report can be found by clicking here.

The main health concerns outlined in the report include:

  • Increased summer month mortality
  • Increased risk of flash floods causing injury and isolation of essential health services
  • Increased PM10 and PM2.5 pollution.
  • Decreased food safety due to higher temperature.
  • Increased requirement of control of Vector borne illnesses, and possibility of new vector borne illnesses to spread locally.

Tourism

Closely linked to climate itself, tourism is considered to be a highly climate-sensitive economic sector similar even to the level of agricultural sensitivity.

Indeed, as is being recorded, climate change is not a remote future prospect for tourism. The varying impacts of a changing climate are, even now, becoming evident at a number of destinations around the world, to the extent that Climate change is already influencing decision-making within the tourism sector.

It is therefore respected as a principal resource for tourism, determining the suitability of locations for a wide range of tourist activities. It is a principal driver of global seasonality in tourism demand and has an important influence on operating costs such as heating-cooling, snowmaking, irrigation, food and water supply, and insurance costs. Uncertainties in the tourism market related to climate preference and destination loyalty, require swift attention if the implications for the geographic and seasonal redistribution of visitor flows are to be projected. Increases in the frequency or magnitude of certain weather and climate extremes (for example, heat waves, droughts, floods, tropical cyclones) as a result of projected climate change will have an immediate affect on the tourism industry of Malta through increased infrastructure damage, additional emergency preparedness requirements, and higher operating expenses.

Since environmental conditions are such a critical resource for tourism, a wide-range of climate induced environmental changes will have profound effects on tourism at the local and regional destination level. Changes in water availability, biodiversity loss, reduced landscape aesthetic, altered agricultural production (for example; food and wine tourism), increased natural hazards, coastal erosion, inundation, damage to infrastructure, and the increasing incidence of vector-borne diseases, will all impact tourism to varying degrees. In contrast to the varying impacts of a change climate on tourism, the indirect effects of climate induced environmental change are likely to be largely negative and cannot be seen as enabling a sustainable industry.

Fisheries and Aquaculture:

The impact of climate change on aquaculture and fishery stocks includes the increased influx of alien species. The effects too, in changing sea temperature, as well as possible shifts in currents and nutrient flows are recognized as being a significant threat to species of key economic importance.

Coastal Areas: In Malta much of the key infrastructure is located in coastal areas. The degree to which coastal infrastructure will be affected by climate change, in particular through an accelerated process of coastal erosion, will need to be determined through studies of sufficiently longtime-frames.

Ecosystems: A prime objective of the Climate Change Adaptation Strategy rests in preserving and strengthening the resilience of ecosystems and when, wherever possible, in reducing the pressures that could reduce their inherent capacity to adapt and counter the effects of climate change. The protection of essential resources such as water and soil will have a high priority in this context.

An Example of Adaptation Action in Malta

The Water Catchment Management Plan (WCMP) for the Maltese Islands.

The Maltese Government’s vision, in ensuring the sustainability of water resources, is also expressed through the WCMP. Published in March 2011 by the MEPA and the MRA, and covering the period 2009 to 2015, the WCMP is an EU and national requirement effected through the implementation of the WFD and the Water Policy Framework Regulations, 2004 respectively.

The Plan, holistic in its approach, addresses all aspects concerning water issues. Additionally, the achievement of the plan’s objectives impacts other sectors directly, viz., health, biodiversity, landscape, soil and climate factors.

The objectives related to groundwater include the following:

  • preventing deterioration in the status of groundwater bodies;
  • protecting, enhancing and restoring of all groundwater bodies;
  • prevention of and limitation of the input of pollutants to groundwater;
  • reversing any significant upward trend of pollutants in groundwater;
  • achievement of good groundwater qualitative and quantitative status by 2015 or in specific circumstances by 2021 and 2027

In order to ensure climate change strategy compliance, the WCMP measures were subjected to a climate change check. Such a check was performed to identify those measures best suited to strengthen Malta’s capacity in adapting to climate change and in identifying those that are be less effective directly in this regard. Consequently, these measures can also be considered as climate change adaptation measures.