News | Sunday, 14 December 2008

Climate change: let’s get real

The United States’ willingness to take the lead on climate change, as expressed by the former presidential candidate, John Kerry, at the UN’s climate change conference last Friday in Poznan, can only be applauded.
At a time when the global financial crisis is sending the world off track and European leaders are divided on cutting down emissions, strong leadership on this burning issue from the world’s most polluting country should inspire a global movement towards tackling this impending environmental catastrophe seriously.
President-elect Barack Obama faces an arduous task upon taking office, just in the wake of an attempt – temporarily stalled by Senate – to pump trillions of dollars into the accounts of giant car companies who lobbied successfully against laws to make their engines more efficient. And with America’s looming recession, it will be hard to find the cash to invest in the kind of clean energy technology which would eliminate greenhouse gases. Yet, whenever America decides to lead – equipped with its resources, know-how and cutting edge technology – the world usually follows.
On the European level, governments have so far stuck to a catchy, marketable slogan set by the European Union to reach a 20% target of alternative energy by 2020, and a 30% cut in emissions if the rest of the world agrees to the new UN climate deal next year.
The 20% target is already deemed unrealistic by energy experts, given the lack of investment in renewable energy and the predominant reliance on traditional energy sources. Yet at the same time, scientists warn that carbon dioxide emissions have to be cut down by 25-40% by 2020 for there to be a reasonable chance of averting the catastrophe.
Meanwhile Malta still seems to be patting itself on the back for raising the question of climate change as the “common concern of mankind” at the UN two decades ago. Without removing any of its importance – it was, after all, the precursor to the Kyoto Protocol – the UN declaration in 1988 was not followed by Malta itself in a holistic way to address climate change on these islands.
While Malta’s carbon footprint on a global level remains negligible, its piecemeal approach and arbitrary targets do not inspire any changes that matter. Government has to take the lead on this to bring about a change in people’s lifestyles, yet all the Gonzi administration has done so far is to propose offshore wind farms whose effect on our total reliance on imported traditional energy sources will be zero.
Malta is already experiencing climate change, with extreme weather patterns and erratic seasons. Setting unrealistic targets will not change anything. The smallness of this country can be used as a launch pad for the cutting edge technology needed to combat this global environmental slump, but that can only happen with the required investment in research and development of innovative technologies. Instead, we do not even enforce energy conservation measures in buildings, while ecological considerations keep being ignored and sacrificed for the sake of short-sighted economic advancement, evidenced also by the GRTU’s idiotic call for a boost to the construction industry.
Friends of the Earth’s appeal last week to politicians to tackle climate change in a holistic manner is spot on. This involves tackling issues of energy, water, meat consumption, transport, efficiency in new and old buildings, light pollution, use of land, biodiversity, agrofuels and waste must by a long-term plan in order to ensure a better well-being for present and future generations. A climate change fund for renewable energy systems to finance research and development is also badly needed.
We owe it to our children and to future generations, who will one day look back and possibly despise us for letting the world rot in the way it has.

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