Tumas Fenech Foundation for Education in Journalism (FTFEĠ) hosts national conference on climate change.

The Fondazzjoni Tumas Fenech għall-Edukazzjoni fil-Ġurnaliżmu (FTFEĠ) hosted the first annual national conference on Friday in the Oracle Conference Centre of the Dolmen Resort Hotel, Qawra.

The theme of the conference was: “Climate change and Global Warming”. The keynote speaker at the conference was Ambassador Michael Zammit Cutajar, who delivered a 30-minute presentation on “Malta in a changing climate: the global context”.

Among those present in the audience were Environment Minister George Pullicino, Opposition spokesman on the environment Leo Brincat, Louis Grech, MEP, Alternattiva Demokratika spokesman Carmel Cacopardo, academics, journalists, senior government negotiators and civil servants, and members of the Fenech family, including Mrs Ġuża Fenech, patron of the Tumas Fenech foundation.

President Emeritus Ugo Mifsud Bonnici, chairman of the FTFEĠ, who was accompanied on the podium by Lino Spiteri, a trustee of the foundation, pointed out that this year is the 20th anniversary since Malta made its proposal to the United Nations General Assembly on climate change and global warming.
This followed Malta’s initiatives on the International Law of the Sea in 1968 through Ambassador Arvid Pardo. A series of meetings and initiatives culminated in the Kyoto Protocol, in which Ambassador Zammit Cutajar played a crucial role.

A series of events across the globe, from El Niño to the melting of the polar ice caps had raised the issue of climate change high on the international agenda.

Mr Zammit Cutajar, a former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and currently an EU negotiator, explained that the earth is a greenhouse and without it the temperature would be 30°C colder. Through a series of slides, he demonstrated how serious the warming phenomenon has been over the past 130 years since 1880 as opposed to the previous 2,000 years.

He showed various scenarios in which the temperature would increase by over 2°C over the coming decades, which was dangerous and, although an increase of under 2°C was ‘safe’ and manageable, urgent action was still required.

“Global emissions must peak by 2020,” he said, “and halved by 2050 to a 1990 baseline.” Among the responses he recommended was to reduce deforestation, transform energy use and adapt to the inevitable increase, which would have a dramatic effect on all our lives. Energy use can be transformed through saving energy, investing in energy-saving equipment, education and developing cleaner technologies.

If these measures were adopted, there would be a fall in global GDP growth of less that 0.12% between 2005 and 2030 but, he urged, prevention was better than cure.

Turning to Malta, he said the island was vulnerable to water stress. Rising sea levels would contaminate the aquifer and lower rainfall meant Malta would have to adopt a strict water policy. “Malta needs an ambitious global mitigation strategy,” he urged, pointing to the growing global security concerns caused by climate change.

Dr Mifsud Bonnici then opened the debate to the floor with questions and points from the floor lasting more than an hour. Mr Grech pointed out that the EU Budget was not geared up to tackle climate change, with €60 billion needed to address this issue. There was no integrated policy, no budget line and no funding. He suggested the creation of such a fund and pointed out that €33 billion could be raised from carbon trading.

Mr Pullicino said the network to collect methane gas at Magħtab is almost complete, with 80% of this gas set to be collected in the engineered landfill as opposed to 20% in the current landfill. Malta, he suggested, needs to develop drought-resistant crops and, although in theory, laying a cable to mainland Europe would make it possible to buy ‘green’ energy, in practice this was not because of bottlenecks in the system.

The media, he added, had a role to play in helping people to understand that they could do their part even in the selection of which products they bought, such as hybrid vehicles. He concluded by calling for a “mature discussion” on the siting of a plant that will recycle a third of the country’s refuse and enable the country to produce its own green energy.

Speaking in his personal capacity, Mr Brincat said journalists could play a more important role than politicians on the environment issue and he appealed for a sense of maturity in the media. “Climate change needs to be portrayed in an upbeat way while making people conscious of realistic scenarios,” he said.
He also called for a cost/benefit analysis of the impact of climate change on Malta and the mitigation measures needed. One area he mentioned as an example was aviation, which could shut down the national airline.

Dr Carmen Sammut listed two major media challenges of climate change: large corporations with media ownership, like General Electric, having cross sectoral interests; and the paradox of media organisations that always tried to sell products, as in advertorials.

Anne Zammit warned of overkill and the importance for consumers to be advised by the media on how to benefit from lower consumption. Dr Alan Deidun spoke on the impact on the natural and marine environment of climate change.

Concluding, Mr Zammit Cutajar said the tendency of the media to go for two points of view, giving them equal weight, was not always valid, if for example 99 scientists said one thing and one said the opposite. He urged making suggestions on ‘good things to do’ without bringing climate change into the message.

Another argument was green energy vs. clean energy. In answer to a question on the outcome of the US elections and their impact on climate change, he said it was marginal because it was the Senate that did the running on climate change and not the White House.

He agreed that it was important to hold a mature discussion on the issue: “the environment is not just the icing on the cake; it is a vital ingredient in the mixing bowl”.

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