Climate change in Ireland, a societal as well as environmental issue

A report published by a United Nations Intergovernmental Panel back in October found that the potential consequences of climate change are even worse than initially projected. The report found that current trends project the planet warming over the 1.5-degree celsius mark between 2030 and 2052. This will greatly increase the risk of extreme weather conditions, some of which has already been seen in Ireland, with an uncommonly hot heat wave occurring in June of this year.

Peter Kavanagh, Irish Language Spokesperson for the Green Party described the UN report as a “shock to the system”. He continues: “It’s been far too easy, particularly for politicians, to put climate action on the long finger and focus on the five-year election cycle. When experts begin to sound the alarm that we only have one or two election cycles left to make any meaningful impact on climate change, then ruling parties can no longer call it the future’s problem. I’m 34, so my generation and anyone younger, already the first generation to be worse off than our parents, are the last generation who can make a difference.”

Climate change will affect different parts of the world in different ways. Generally, there will be alterations in rainfall patterns, heightened desertification, sea level rise, and increased likelihood of severe weather events. These changes will all impact health, biodiversity and food security, among other concerns.

Ireland’s coastlines and waterways are particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts. All of Ireland’s major cities are coastal locations, so significant sea level rise will have economic, social and environmental impacts. Currently, Met Éireann is unable to obtain reliable information on sea levels, and thus are unable to fully assess the effects of rising sea levels and coastal erosion, as noted in internal memoranda obtained via the Freedom of Information Act 2014.  Met Éireann notes detailed plans for development on climate change assessment tools such targeted research on coastal zones and a new version of the EC-Earth climate prediction model.

Though Mr Kavanagh believes climate change’s Irish impact will be more destructive and far reaching than simply rising sea levels.

“There is not one element of climate change that won’t affect Ireland. People have already died in storms and hurricanes exacerbated by the human impact on the climate.

“Agriculture will be affected, with smaller crop yields and less return for already underpaid farmers. Climate change causes adverse conditions and conflict, leading to increased migration from war-torn regions. If we don’t transition to a carbon-free economy while bringing workers along, we’ll have used up the country’s natural resources and discarded her people.

“But if you want a reason that will tangibly affect every single man, woman and child in the country, look at the fines we will face for not acting sooner on climate change – €600 million in 2020, potentially rising to a total of €6 billion within a decade. All for not getting the finger out,” he said.

A further Met Éireann report discusses a project called “Enabling Transition” which is focused on understanding human behaviour in relation to environmental changes. This is corroborated by an additional internal memo regarding the National Adaptation Framework report in which Met Éireann suggest that societal adaptation should also be included the study. This shows that while mitigation is the primary focus of climate prevention, there is a focus on how to deal with the eventual consequences of climate change on a societal level.

Mr Kavanagh however, thinks the focus should be at political level.

“I think prevention and mitigation, insofar as they are still possible, are important. More important than any kind of societal adaptation to rainier winters and more intense storms, however, is the policy to match. We need strong and decisive political leadership to mitigate or prevent whatever ill-effects we can. And we need it sooner, rather than later,” he said.

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