Thursday 25 May 2017

Jury's out on the Irish summer, but our planet is clearly warming

Diardra Litton Leech relaxing with her daughter Emilia (4), niece Lola (6) and son Mikey (7) at Tara Meadows Holiday Park in Ballymoney, Co Wexford
Diardra Litton Leech relaxing with her daughter Emilia (4), niece Lola (6) and son Mikey (7) at Tara Meadows Holiday Park in Ballymoney, Co Wexford

Frank McGovern

The jury is still considering the Irish summer of 2015. So far we have perhaps seen some of the warmest, driest and wettest summer days on record, and it is not over yet.

Europe is also experiencing weather extremes. A prolonged heat wave has afflicted most of southern Europe and other parts of the continent, and there have been major storms and floods. Globally these fit into a trend in which new records are regularly being set, and extremes are becoming more frequent.

The recent confirmation by the American Meteorological Society (AMS) that 2014 was hottest year on record is therefore not a surprise.

Indeed, nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000 and mid-year analysis for 2015 suggests that the 2014 record may not last.

Global temperature is one of the most high-profile indicators of our changing world. It has been subject to question and selective interpretation. However, the long-term warming trend is clear.

Temperature is only one of a wide array of indicators used to determine what is happening to our planet. The report from the AMS provides a comprehensive analysis of these. Across land, oceans and ice-sheets, the overall trend is of a warming planet. In short, the message is that we have a problem.

Jeannine Burke with her sons Karl (7) and Evan (8) and their dogs Ollie and Lola at Arklow Holiday Park, Co Wicklow
Jeannine Burke with her sons Karl (7) and Evan (8) and their dogs Ollie and Lola at Arklow Holiday Park, Co Wicklow

Last week more than 2,000 delegates at a scientific conference in Paris considered our common future under climate change. The short concluding statement identified the problems and solutions.

The problem is that we are on a trajectory to a much warmer world, perhaps up to 4C warmer than historical temperatures.

This will impact on global food production, devastate essential ecosystems and cause major economic and societal disruption.

The solutions are clear. We need to use energy more efficiently and rapidly transition to low or zero carbon sources for this energy. The required technologies are available and increasingly cost competitive.

Agriculture and land use have to be part of the solution. Steps to reduce their emissions and to enhance carbon uptake in biomass and soils are also needed.

There is increasing recognition that a lot of these are common sense solutions, which will reduce costs and increase profits. The growth of solar energy is phenomenal and new storage technologies are beginning to change how we think about energy in transport, and in our homes and at work.

Glenda O’Leary and her children (left), Jessica (5), Amy (7) and twins Ben and Charlie (9) enjoying the sunshine on Morriscastle beach, Kilmuckridge, Co Wexford
Glenda O’Leary and her children (left), Jessica (5), Amy (7) and twins Ben and Charlie (9) enjoying the sunshine on Morriscastle beach, Kilmuckridge, Co Wexford

Overall the narrative around climate change has begun to change from one of costs and loss to one of opportunity and gain.

The gains are not just a stable climate but clean and secure energy, sustainable food systems and vibrant economic development.

There are social and economic barriers, including current lock-in to carbon intensive systems and technologies. These have to be addressed at all levels.

In December, Paris will again be the centre of attention as world governments gather to agree a new climate treaty. This should provide the signal that we will act collectively in our common interest to address climate change.

At that point, the jury will have decided on the summer of 2015. However, it is the decisions made in Paris that will determine how 2015 will be judged in terms of climate change.

Frank McGovern is head of climate change reseach and science at the Environmental Protection Agency

Irish Independent

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