Sunday 26 October 2014

'We've only 20 years to save Ireland from climate catastrophe'

Sue Doherty

Published 26/07/2014 | 02:30

Laura Burke and Prof John Sweeney at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties. (North West Newspix)
Laura Burke and Prof John Sweeney at the MacGill Summer School in Glenties. (North West Newspix)

ENVIRONMENTAL experts have warned that we have just 20 years to act over climate change or it will be too late.

Speaking at the MacGill Summer School yesterday, they warned that the clock is ticking and if nothing is done we will see dire consequences.

Dr John Sweeney of NUI Maynooth and An Taisce and Laura Burke of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spoke at the morning session which was titled 'Climate change is for real – what can and should we do?"

They told the packed hall in Glenties, Co Donegal, that the science is irrefutable and the time to act is now.

"Changes in the ocean and in sea levels will dominate our climate," Ms Burke said.

"We need to understand the impacts much better than we currently do.

"A repeat of this year's storms, so devastating in parts of Cork and Limerick, would have been even more devastating if they came on top of an additional rise in sea level of 20cm- 30cm.

"When the most optimistic forecast shows our sea level rising by between 26cm-55cm before the end of the century."

She said that business as usual was no longer an option and that we need to see the opportunities for Ireland in moving to a greener and more sustainable economy and society.

Ms Burke added: "We have to decarbonise our energy systems. We are already at the forefront of key areas of agriculture and land use research. Let us use that knowledge and lead the way in climate and food sustainability solutions."

She said there was fantastic potential from renewable energies, especially biomass energy, such as anaerobic digestion.

We import €6.5bn in fossil fuels each year but have much greater renewable energy resources than we need.

"We're only using a fraction of the potential and we saved €260m in fossil fuel imports in 2012 alone," she added.

Dr Sweeney told the crowd that scientists are as certain that human activity is causing climate change as they are that smoking causes cancers.

He pointed to rising temperatures, record-breaking weather, melting ice in the arctic and the Himalayas, and in cold water species like cod leaving the waters off Donegal for more northern climes.

We have 20 years to get our act together "or face the direst of consequences", Dr Sweeney warned.

"There is a climate cliff just like there is a fiscal cliff: the longer we put off dealing with it, the more acute the consequences," he said.

A failure to act will result in more extreme weather worldwide including flooding and drought as well as changes that threaten low lying cities and agricultural lands.

Food production across the world will be hampered and access to clean water will be denied to many.

He said that "high value areas" such as Dublin's docklands will probably be protected from the one-metre rise in sea levels predicted by the end of this century – but many parts of the country will be hit by flooding.

He also warned that the poorest people in the world – the ones who contributed least to global warming – will suffer the most through drought and famine.

Dr Sweeney said Ireland does not have a lot to be proud of in the area of climate control.

We have the fourth highest level of carbon emissions, the main cause of global warming, with fossil fuels accounting for 65pc of them.

The Government has "no coherent strategy" for reducing our carbon emissions right across the board, Ms Burke pointed out.

She called for the new Climate Bill to require each sector to lay out its roadmap for how it would reduce its carbon footprint.

Two of the biggest sectors that must be prioritised are agriculture, which is responsible for 41pc of our carbon emissions and transport, which accounts for 24pc.

"We need to plan for and we need to move to zero fossil carbon energy in the next 30 years – by 2050 at the latest," said Ms Burke.

"The stone age didn't end because we ran out of stones. We now need to think the same way about fossil fuels – the fossil fuel age must end long before the supply runs out."

Irish Independent

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