Climate Change – Introduction

Climate Change and global warming, the difference?

Both terms refer to closely related effects, and some people use the terms interchangeably. Global warming is the cause of climates change. “Global warming” refers directly and solely to the rising global temperatures, while “climate change” includes other kinds of changes, too. Warmer global temperatures lead to climate change affecting rainfall patterns, humidity sea level, temperature patterns and the probability of extreme climatic events.

Why are we to be concerned with climate change?

The growing national and international concern is based on science, findings from Assessment reports (there are 4 published and the 5th will be soon available) by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted the changes to be expected in the future due to climate change, these findings were based on peer reviewed studies carried out by a large number of researchers which conclusions were somewhat coherent with each other Negative effects identified include

• Floods and/or drought could become more frequent and more severe.

• Local changes in temperature, precipitation and soil moisture could negatively impact vital resources for human life, including:

a. natural ecosystems

b. agriculture and food supplies

c. human health

d. forestry

e. water resources and availability

f. energy use

g. transportation

What causes climate change and global warming?

There is strong evidence that most of the warming over the last 50 years is due to human activities. Ice cores taken from deep in ancient ice of Antarctica show that carbon dioxide levels are higher now than at any time in the past 420,000 years, this is illustrated in a ‘classic’ paper written by J.R. Petit in 1999 and published in Nature magazine in the same year, the article was named ‘Climate and atmospheric history of the past 420,000 years from the Vostok ice core, Antarctica’.

In its 2007 report to the United Nations, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that it is more than 90 percent likely that the accelerated warming of the past 50-60 years is due to human contributions.

Greenhouse gases affect the climate by altering the incoming solar radiation and the out-going thermal radiation, as part of the Earth’s energy balance. The presence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is a natural phenomenon that enables Earth to maintain its natural processes and therefore life within it. This balance however is currently threatened. Human activities contribute to climate change by altering concentrations of greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. The largest known contribution comes from the burning of fossil fuels, which releases carbon dioxide gas to the atmosphere. Since the start of the industrial revolution, the overall effect of human activities on climate has been a warming influence. Scientific data shows that the human impact on climate since the industrial revolution greatly exceeds that due to known changes in natural processes. This increased warming is expected to lead to significant changes in natural processes upon which life on earth and ultimately humankind depends. If left unchecked, the changes can be irreversible. Action to combat climate change depends on two main processes: mitigation and adaptation. Climate change mitigation involves the human intervention to reduce the sources of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the enhancement of sinks for greenhouse gases. Climate change adaptation refers to actions aimed at minimising the vulnerability of natural and human systems, against actual or expected climate change effects.

Climate and climate change in Malta

The Maltese Archipelago (Malta, Gozo and Comino) covers a total land area of approximately 320 km2 and a 140 km coastline. Malta, which is the largest of the three islands, has an area of 245 km2 (and a coastline of approximately 100 km), while Gozo and Comino have an area of 67 km2 and 3 km2 respectively.

The climate of the Maltese Archipelago is typically Mediterranean, with distinct winter and summer season i.e. mild, rainy winters and dry, hot summers. High pressure conditions dominate during most of the time especially in the summer season. The mean monthly temperature for the summer season was 35°C over the past century. The hottest month is July with the highest monthly average temperature ever recorded being 36°C. It is not unusual for the temperature to exceed this value for short periods during the hottest month. Temperatures have never reached freezing point. The lowest monthly average temperature for the past century was 11°C, in the winter months (January and February). There were instances when air temperatures dropped below 11°C, but only for short periods of time. Exceptional extremes of 1.4°C and 43.8°C have been recorded. On average, for the past century, air temperature has tended to increase.

The sea temperature varies in conformity with the air temperature, with a yearly mean of 20°C. From September to April the mean sea temperature is higher than that of the air and lower from May to August.

Rainfall in the Maltese Islands is unpredictable and the rainfall pattern fluctuates; but the highest precipitation rates occur between November and February. The average annual precipitation stands at approximately 530 mm. During the past century, the average monthly rainfall was highest for December (approximately 94 mm) and lowest in July (practically no rain at all). On average, precipitation has decreased over the years. North‐westerly and north‐easterly winds are the most common and the strongest. The north‐easterly wind blows directly into the two main harbours on Malta, at times impeding marine operations. South‐westerly winds are less common but are generally hot and accompanied by desert dust from North Africa.

Data gathered over the past century shows that the average number of daily sunshine hours was eight. The highest number of daily sunshine hours occurs in July (approximately 11.5 hours) and the least in December (approximately 5.1 hours) partly due to cloud cover at this time of the year.

Humidity tends to be high on the Maltese Islands, with little seasonal variation. The daily average humidity ranges from 65 to 80% and rarely falls below 40%. Temperature variations are accentuated by the relative high humidity.

The air temperature over the period 1923‐2005 showed an overall rate of increase of 0.71°C/100years; this is comparable to the global average temperature increase of almost 0.8°C above pre-industrial levels. The highest rate of warming at around 1.5°C over 30 years occurred in the post‐1970 period, especially in the last two decades of the twentieth century when the temperature anomaly with respect to the climatological mean temperature over the period 1961‐1990 was around twice the anomaly on a global average. The overall rate of warming is by far strongest in the summer period at around 1.5°C/100 years. The warming trend can also be traced from the incidence and magnitude of extreme temperature events. Yearly recorded maximum temperatures have gone up by close to 3°C over 100 years while minimum temperatures have tended to overall cooler temperatures, although the absolute lowest temperatures occurred earlier to 1980 and the coldest days in recent years have not gone below the 2°C threshold.

Rainfall patterns over the Maltese Islands are characterized by a relatively high spatial and temporal variability. Even the average wettest months can be very dry in particular years. There is however no definite trend in the observed precipitation. Over the last 85 years there has been no significant change in rainfall during winter and summer, whereas there has been a decrease of 0.14 mm/year during spring, and an increase of 0.8 mm/year during autumn. During the rainy season, the increasing number of days with thunderstorm (with an upward trend of +7 days over 55 years) implies that convective type rainfall is on the increase. This type of rainfall is of short duration and often quite heavy. This is corroborated by the positive trend in the daily maximum rainfall between 1923 and 2000, notwithstanding the fact that over a full year the absolute number of days with rainfall in the range 1‐50 mm is decreasing.

The overall positive trend in atmospheric pressure is indicative of reduced frontal activity on a yearly basis and more frequent anticyclonic situations which often enhance subsidence, thereby restricting convection, cloud formation and hence rainfall. This is corroborated by the recorded decrease in the mean annual cloud cover over the Maltese Islands amounting to –0.34 oktas in 45 years. The duration of bright sunshine showed a downward trend in the number of daily sunshine hours (–0.6h over 77 years) and is mainly attributed to changes in atmospheric composition, predominantly due to the higher atmospheric loading by suspended particles. According to the SRES scenarios, sea level rise on a global scale by the end of the 21st century is expected to be in the range of 0.18‐0.59m above the reference level corresponding to the decade 1980‐1999. On the basis of recent satellite observations, global sea level trends in the last 15 years are about 3.1 mm/year which is actually almost double the rate of sea level rise in the last century. This leads to an expected future sea level rise that may actually exceed the IPCC limit. Sea level changes express an integration of several factors and are, especially in the Mediterranean, characterised by strong geographical differences, and critically dictated by internal climatic influences and external signals like the North Atlantic Oscillation. Changes in sea level in the Mediterranean have been far from regular in recent times. While trends in the Eastern Mediterranean are definitely high and positive, negative trends are observed in the northern Ionian Sea including in the proximity to the Maltese Islands. In Malta, sea level measurements conducted by the Physical Oceanography Unit show that, in spite of alternating intermediate trends, the sea level has on average actually declined in the last 15 years. This is believed to be linked to transient effects which warrant sustained monitoring of sea level changes on the local scale. This situation does not guarantee against a future menace of sea level rise and it is prudent to thus adopt a precautionary approach and at the most moderate level make projections on the basis of the sea level trend in the more recent four years (2002‐2006) during which the sea level experienced an average rise of 0.45-0.15 cm/year.

Measurements of sea surface temperature at Delimara show a steady increase at a hefty average rate of close to +0.05°C/year in the last 40 years. This rise is most evident during summer and is comparable to Mediterranean averages, which are well above the global average of +0.01°C/year. The warming of the sea and that of the air has a direct influence on the biodiversity and functioning of many marine ecosystems that respond both physically and biologically to changes in climate.

The Maltese Initiative: The Origins of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

The late 1980s were dominated by the end of the Cold War, ushered in by the effects of Perestroika and also by new types of global security threats, such as the precarious state of the natural environment. Ozone depletion due to anthropogenic use of ozone-depleting chemicals had the remarkable effect of spurring States to take immediate action via a formidable concerted effort that earmarked a new impetus towards the conservation of the planet. Within this scenario, a series of front page articles reported exceptional meteorological conditions in various parts of the globe, such as recurring draughts in North America, devastating floods in Bangladesh and abnormally high temperatures in Southern Europe.

On the 10th August 1988, in a letter to the Editor of the Times (London), David Attard, professor of International law at the University of Malta and legal adviser to the Prime Minister of Malta, suggested that there is the need of “a comprehensive global strategy to protect the weather and climate as part of an effort to ensure that our planet remains fit to sustain human life.” He proposed that such a strategy should commence by a UN resolution declaring climate to be part of the common heritage of mankind and which, should go on to establish the adequate mechanism to protect this natural resource.

This letter, entitled “Weather as a World Heritage”, may be regarded as the first step of a remarkable initiative taken by Malta, which brought to the attention of the world community the urgent need to conserve climate in the interests of present and future generations of mankind.

Prof. Attard contacted the Maltese Prime Minister at that time, Dr Edward Fenech Adami stressing the need for co-operation with respect to the protection of the global climate, which could be achieved if the problem was addressed on a multilateral basis. Consequently, right from the outset the proposal identified the United Nations General Assembly as the adequate forum wherein an effective and comprehensive strategy to protect climate could be formulated. On the 22nd August 1988, the Maltese Government agreed to request the inclusion of climate change as an item in the provisional agenda of the 43rd session of the General Assembly. On the 21st September 1988, Malta’s Independence Day, the General Committee of the UN General Assembly agreed unanimously to Malta’s request and allocated the item for consideration in the 2nd Committee. About a month later, on the 24th October 1988, Dr Vincent Tabone, Malta’s Foreign Minister formally introduced the item at a meeting of the Plenary Session of the UN General Assembly. The following is a short extract from the speech he gave to explain what had prompted the Maltese Government to take such an initiative:

Malta is determined to play a constructive role in the important work which the United Nations undertakes on behalf of mankind. We are conscious that the United Nations is dependent for its effectiveness on the unreserved support of the major Powers. Nevertheless, it is our firm belief that smaller States can also validly contribute to the work and efforts carried out by the United Nations. We feel that one area where small States—like my own—can play a vital role is that of ensuring that the United Nations is constantly attuned to the growing and changing needs of mankind. Smaller States, possibly because of their very size and lack of major vested interests, can and are able to react faster to the evolving problems facing the world. Thus, they can reflect the conscience of mankind freely suggesting ideas and approaches which can assist the United Nations to keep pace with the rapidly evolving human situation around the globe.”

The Maltese initiative’s added value must be interpreted in the light of the prevailing circumstances at the time. Within the United Nations system, awareness building from a scientific perspective had been formidably tackled by the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Malta, however, was now proposing to the General Assembly that an appropriate high-level coordinating mechanism would take immediate action to review the phenomenon of climatic change and propose legal and political measures to address global warming and its environmental and socio-economic implications. Malta presented a concrete proposal in the form of a draft resolution. A debate by the Second Committee, responsible for economic and environmental issues, followed. The Second Committee adopted the draft resolution 43/53 entitled: “Protection of Global Climate for Present and Future Generations of Mankind.” The resolution presented by Malta and co-sponsored by another twenty States was unanimously adopted in the plenary meeting of the General Assembly on the 6th December 1988.

The United Nations General Assembly Resolution 43/53 is the product of serious discussions that produced a consensus in the Second Committee and was later adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly.

The Maltese Initiative was the beginning of a complex process that led to two international legal instruments: The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol (KP). The following is a summary of the main obligations under the two legal instruments.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted on 9 May 1992 in New York and entered into force on 16 February 2005. 192 States have ratified the UNFCCC to date. Malta signed the UNFCCC on 12 June 1992 and ratified it on 17 March 1994.

The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the prime authority of the Convention. It is an association of all member countries (or “Parties”) and usually meets annually for a period of two weeks. These sessions are attended by several thousand government delegates, observer organisations, and journalists. The Conference of the Parties evaluates the status of climate change and the effectiveness of the Convention in achieving its objectives. It examines the activities of member Parties, particularly by reviewing national communication documents and emissions inventories; it considers new scientific findings; and it tries to capitalise on experience as efforts to address climate change proceed.

The Convention divides countries into three main groups according to differing levels of commitment and responsibility, in line with the overriding Convention principle of “common but differentiated responsibility”:

  • Annex I Parties include the industrialised countries that were members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 1992, and countries classified as having economies in transition (EIT Parties), including the Russian Federation, the Baltic States, and several Central and Eastern European States;
  • Annex II Parties consist of the OECD members of Annex I, but not the EIT Parties. They are required to provide financial resources to enable developing countries to undertake emissions reduction activities under the Convention and to help them adapt to adverse effects of climate change. In addition, they have to “take all practicable steps” to promote the development and transfer of environmentally friendly technologies to EIT Parties and developing countries. Funding provided by Annex II Parties is channelled mostly through the Convention’s financial mechanism; and
  • Non-Annex I Parties are mostly developing countries. Certain groups of developing countries are recognised by the Convention as being especially vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change, including countries with low-lying coastal areas and those prone to desertification and drought. Others (such as countries that rely heavily on income from fossil fuel production and commerce) feel more vulnerable to the potential economic impacts of climate change response measures. The Convention emphasises activities that promise to answer the special needs and concerns of these vulnerable countries, such as investment, insurance and technology transfer.

Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

The Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Kyoto Protocol) was adopted on 11 December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, and entered into force on 16 February 2005. 191 Parties of the UNFCCC have ratified the Protocol to date. Malta signed the Kyoto Protocol on 17 April 1998 and ratified it on 11 November 2001.

The major feature of the Kyoto Protocol is that it sets legally-binding targets for 37 Annex I Parties and the European Community for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. These targets amount to an average of five per cent against 1990 levels over the five-year period 2008-2012 (also known as the First Commitment Period).

The major distinction between the Kyoto Protocol and UNFCCC is that while the latter encouraged industrialised countries to stabilise their GHG emissions, the former commits them to do so.

Recognising that developed countries are principally responsible for the current high levels of GHG emissions in the atmosphere as a result of more than 150 years of industrial activity, the Kyoto Protocol places the burden for emission reductions on developed (Annex I) countries. The detailed rules for the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol were adopted at COP 7 in Marrakech in 2001, the “Marrakech Accords”.

The Kyoto Protocol provides additional means through which developed countries may meet their targets by way of three market-based mechanisms. The mechanisms under the Kyoto Protocol are:

• Emissions trading (“the carbon market”);

• Clean development mechanism (CDM); and

• Joint implementation (JI).

The mechanisms stimulate green investment and help Parties meet their emission targets in a cost-effective manner. Under the Kyoto Protocol, countries’ are obliged to monitor actual emissions and to keep precise records of the trades carried out. Registry systems track and record transactions by Parties under the mechanisms. The UN Climate Change Secretariat, based in Bonn, Germany, keeps an international transaction log to verify that transactions are consistent with the rules of the Protocol. Reporting is done by Parties by way of submitting annual emission inventories and national reports under the Kyoto Protocol at regular intervals.

A compliance system ensures that Parties are meeting their commitments and helps them to meet their commitments if they have problems doing so.

The Kyoto Protocol, like UNFCCC, is also designed to assist countries in adapting to the adverse effects of climate change. It facilitates the development and deployment of techniques that can help increase resilience to the impacts of climate change.

The Adaptation Fund was established to finance adaptation projects and programmes in developing countries that are Parties to the Kyoto Protocol. The Fund is financed mainly with a share of proceeds from CDM project activities.

Malta’s status under the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol

Malta original status under the UNFCCC was that of a Party not in Annex I. Consequently Malta did not take on any emission reduction target under Annex B of the Kyoto Protocol for the First Commitment Period (2008-2012). In 2009 Malta submitted a formal application for an amendment which would insert Malta in the list of Annex I Parties to the Convention. This amendment was accepted by COP-15 in Copenhagen in December 2009 and formally came into force in October 2010. Therefore Malta is currently an Annex I Party under the Convention (however not in Annex II), but does not have an emission reduction target under the Kyoto Protocol as it is not listed in Annex B.

As a Party to the UNFCCC and the KP Malta has taken various measures on a national level. In the recent years, Malta has adopted a number of strategies aimed at achieving its greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments and in adapting to climate change.

In 2009, the Government adopted a “National Strategy for Policy and Abatement Measures Relating to the Reduction of Greenhouse Gases” containing mitigation measures aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and including the implementation of renewable energy sources, electricity efficiency and conservation. The Government commenced the implementation of these measures including schemes for the promotion of solar water heaters, photovoltaic panels, and energy saving appliances and energy-saving light-bulbs distributed to each and every household according to the size of the family.

Malta also adopted its National Renewable Energy Action Plan which has also been submitted to the Commission. Malta’s renewable energy options are currently focused on onshore and offshore wind energy, solar photovoltaic and solar thermal energy, as well as energy from waste.

The current National Energy Efficiency Action Plan, developed in line with the Energy Services Directive, envisages end use savings aimed at achieving the stipulated energy savings target of 9% (in final energy consumption).

In 2011 the government also launched The Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change for Malta, which focuses on certain sectors vulnerability to climate change and proposes various recommendations to ensure their resilience to its effects.

Malta has also commitments to assist developing States in meeting with the challenges of climate change under the Fast-start finance pledge. Malta has made a €800,000 total pledge over the years 2010 to 2012. Funds are directed towards projects in Africa. The Selected Projects seek to improve environmental living conditions and to create adaptation strategies in African states.

The Current State of Play in International Negotiations

Progress in negotiations occurs in the annual Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC and the KP that are held towards the end of November and beginning of December of each year. After the last COP held in Durban a new Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action was established (ADP). It was decided that the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action shall plan its work in the first half of 2012 and shall complete its work by not later than 2015, with a view to adopting a legal instrument under the Convention applicable to all parties that would come into force by 2020. The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) will bring all parties from both the developed and the developing world into one track. The ADP recognises the emissions gap and tries to resolve the difficult conflict between equity and environmental integrity. Effectively, it points to an inclusive collective action approach. It was also decided to launch a work plan on enhancing mitigation ambition to identify and explore options for a range of actions that would bring about the internationally recognised environmental objective of remaining below an average global temperature increase of 2°C. In Durban Parties also agreed on an extension to the Kyoto Protocol. A Second Commitment Period under the Kyoto Protocol shall begin on 1 January 2013 and end either on 31 December 2017 or 31 December 2020.

The next COP will be held in Doha, Qatar. Malta believes that the UN Conference in Doha (COP-18) must progress in an ambitious manner on the Durban Agreements. Furthermore, Malta believes that the spirit of cooperation which prevailed in Durban should also be carried forward in Doha. Malta as part of the EU is committed to work for the adoption of a Second Commitment Period under the Kyoto Protocol in Doha and which is to come into force on 1 January 2013 and end no later than 2020. This should, however, remain in the context of the transition to the global and, comprehensive legally binding regime which is applicable to all parties. Malta strongly believes that the parties to the UNFCCC in Doha should work towards adopting a new legally binding regime under the Convention by 2015 at the latest and which must applicable to all countries in accordance with the dynamic principle of common but differentiate responsibility and respective capability.

Climate change is definable as a factual and durable change in weather patterns. The change may be related to changes in mean weather conditions, range of weather conditions (e.g higher maximum temperature or lower minimum temperatures) and distribution (e.g. fewer but stronger rain showers). Climate change is a process which may be caused by a number of factors including natural (geologic, oceanographic and atmospheric events e.g. volcanic eruptions) and human-induced (anthropogenic) factors, the most relevant of which is the emission of greenhouse gases through human processes such as burning of fossil fuels.

Because so many systems are tied to climate, a change in climate can affect many related aspects of where and how people, plants and animals live, such as food production, availability and use of water, and health risks.

For example, a change in the usual timing of rains or temperatures can affect when plants bloom and set fruit, when insects hatch or when streams are their fullest. This can affect historically synchronized pollination of crops, food for migrating birds, spawning of fish, water supplies for drinking and irrigation, forest health, and more.

Some short-term climate variation is normal, but longer-term trends now indicate a changing climate. A year or two of an extreme change in temperature or other condition doesn’t mean a climate change trend has been “erased.”