independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

We'll have to change way we live due to shift in climate

Clonmel flooding

MAJOR changes in how we live our lives are needed to cope with the worst effects of global warming and avoid widespread contamination of groundwater, damage to property and loss of our native species.

A report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns that thousands of homes are at risk in coastal communities from winter storms and that climate change could result in some parts of the country being swept away by raging seas.

It comes as thousands of homeowners and businesses begin counting the cost of the devastating floods which have struck in recent days.

Met Eireann has warned of further heavy rainfall and a return to storm conditions by the weekend and there are fears that rivers across the country will burst their banks following two months of prolonged rainfall.

Experts now say that adopting a "wait and see" approach to preparing for the worst of climate change is "not an option". The Government needs to set "clear targets" to reduce emissions and begin preparing to cope with extreme weather.

The report by the Irish Climate Analysis and Research Unit in NUI Maynooth says new regulations are needed to produce buildings that are capable of withstanding driving rain and winter storms.

The 'Co-ordination, Communication and Adaptation for Climate Change in Ireland: an Integrated Approach (COCOADAPT)' report also says that drinking water sources will be contaminated unless septic tanks are banned in vulnerable areas and warns that water shortages will affect all parts of the country, but particularly the south.

It adds that the counties most at risk of flooding are Cork, Dublin, Galway, Mayo and Waterford. Kerry, Mayo and Wicklow are at risk of landslides, while a lack of water is likely to be most pronounced in Cork, Roscommon and Wicklow.

The threat of coastal erosion is "high" in Cork, Galway, Kerry and Mayo, with sea-level rises likely to affect people living in Clare, Galway, Kerry and Sligo.

The greatest loss of biodiversity including native plants and species is in Carlow, Cork, Dublin, Kildare, Kilkenny and Meath.

Experts believe that average temperatures in Ireland will increase by 1.5C by the middle of the century, and go even higher during the summer months, with hikes of up to 2-3C during the winter.

There will be 20pc less rain in the summer, and up to 14pc more during the winter. The changes could be even more profound unless global warming is tackled by reducing emissions.

The report, prepared for the EPA, also says:

* New infrastructure projects should be stress-tested to see if they can withstand more extreme weather.

* Invasive species will pose an increasing risk, and some native species will "not be capable" of adapting to new conditions.

* Building regulations will have to be adapted to take account of more wet days, higher winds and changes to temperatures.

* Rising water tables may also affect planned and existing housing in certain areas.

It finds that while some local authorities have done good work in promoting good practices to help combat climate change, the issue is not set out in national policies which means that some local politicians do not insist on high standards.

"One local authority criticised central government regulations as too lax, or too late, making it difficult to enact a higher standard because elected officials cite central government regulations as justifications for a lower standard," the report says.

The Government needs to establish "clear priorities" with specific measures required from local authorities and private companies.

"Without this, Ireland will remain unprepared for the upcoming challenges related to climate change and general environmental issues," it warns.

It adds that authorities have to change their mindset from "impacts thinking" to "vulnerability thinking".

One of the report's authors, Professor John Sweeney, said that data being produced for the Office of Public Works on areas at risk of flooding had to be made available to local authorities to help them decide planning applications.

"It (the data) needs to be transparent and made available. Local authorities have to be able to use it as a freely as possible to identify areas of vulnerability," he said.

Irish Independent

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