Amidst a heatwave with temperatures above 40 °C for days, and debilitating power cuts across the Maltese Islands, the message that climate change is here, now, has – finally – sunk in. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Robert Abela said that the climate impacts that experts have been warning us about for years are already happening, faster than expected, and that “the country needs to adapt to a changing climate”.
Human-induced climate change is having devastating impacts on ecosystems, the environment, and people, through phenomena such as increased storms and flooding but also more intense heat waves and droughts. Intense heat waves impact human health. Research on heat-related mortality in Europe published in the journal Nature Medicine (Ballester, J., Quijal-Zamorano, M., Méndez Turrubiates, R.F. et al. Heat-related mortality in Europe during the summer of 2022. Nature Medicine 29, 1857–1866 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41591-023-02419-z), found that in 2022 there were more than 60,000 heat-related deaths in Europe, with the highest rates found in countries near the Mediterranean Sea. At least 4 heat-related deaths have been recorded in Malta in the most recent heat wave. Europe is a major climatic hotspot, with warming since preindustrial levels almost 1 °C higher than the average global increase, and higher than in any other continent.
As an environmental NGO that has long been campaigning for ambitious climate policy and action, Friends of the Earth Malta is relieved to see the public acknowledgement of the severity of the climate crisis and the need to act. Over 10 years ago we were demanding national climate legislation alongside other European environmental groups in the ‘Big Ask’ campaign, which led to the adoption of the Climate Action Act in Malta in 2015. However, since then, it’s been ‘business as usual’. The past weeks showed that our energy system is not robust and not resilient in the face of climate change, which will bring rising temperatures, longer and more intense heat waves and pressure on the electricity system. Now, our government should show that they mean business, and put their words into action!
To combat climate change, we need to ‘mitigate’ – stop greenhouse gas emissions, primarily from fossil fuels – and ‘adapt’ – future-proof our cities and countries, to increase our resilience to extreme events. Friends of the Earth Malta’s Climate Campaign Coordinator Dr Suzanne Maas, shares some of the main recommendations from our report ‘Towards a Fossil Free Malta’ published just a month ago (Friends of the Earth Malta. Towards a Fossil Free Malta. A report on the energy system in Malta, its climate impacts, and a vision for the future. https://foemalta.org/download/towards-a-fossil-free-malta/): “We must prepare the country for a climate-proof future and move away from fossil fuels as fast as possible, through a clear renewable energy policy supported by data, and a phase-out plan for fossil gas by 2035 latest.” Exploration for, or investment in fossil fuels – oil, coal, and gas – is incompatible with global, EU, and national greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. Any public investment in our energy system must be compatible with climate targets. This means any further investment in fossil fuels, including the proposed Melita TransGas pipeline, needs to be halted immediately.
Instead of relying on imported fuel and electricity, the country should invest in energy savings, local renewable energy sources, and community energy projects. Renewable energy communities are energy cooperatives in which citizens jointly own and participate in renewable energy or energy efficiency projects. They enable citizens to supply, share and save energy and have a say in our energy system, in contrast to large-scale energy projects which are vulnerable to corruption and big business interests. Under the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive, the government has the obligation to create a legal framework for community energy initiatives, which are essential in the transition to renewable energy and the creation of a more democratic, decentralized and resilient energy system.
To enable effective energy policy and informed decision-making, we need research and action to establish potential pathways to a 100% renewable energy future for Malta, including a rapid shift to clean renewable energy, improving the energy performance of buildings through energy savings and energy efficiency, and enabling decarbonisation and modal shift in the transport sector. As an island nation, densely populated and with limited resources, we must prioritise building a climate-resilient country, for a liveable, healthy future. The time for real climate action is now!