'The canary in the mine' - Storm Emma is the harbinger of things to come unless we tackle emissions, with farming community most at risk
Farmers have had a dreadful week. The havoc wreaked by Storm Emma has left thousands out of pocket, with many forced to dump milk and others losing livestock as nature ravaged large parts of the country.
And while the sub-zero temperatures which struck cannot be directly linked to climate change, extreme events will become more commonplace, Professor John Sweeney said. That's bad news for the farming sector, which is particularly vulnerable.
"The extremes are the first harbinger of changes in climate," he said. "There's a lot of research indicating that the jet stream is weaker and wobbling more than it used to due to the Arctic warming up more quickly. If that's the link being established, we should expect to see more extremes of all kinds of weather.
"Farmers are perhaps the best people of all to appreciate subtle changes in weather conditions. They will be conscious that Ireland is 0.5C warmer than 30 years ago and there are changes in when they can sow and put cattle out on the land. To an extent, they're the canary in the mine.
"We've seen increases in rainfall intensity and events in Donegal, Mountmellick and Galway. The winter of 2014 was the stormiest on record, and the wettest winter on record was in recent years. That's significant for agriculture because it's very vulnerable to extremes. I think the current weather will result in grass growth being retarded. I suspect there will be fodder problems in the near future."
Professor Sweeney's climate credentials are well-established. He was a contributor to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 4th Assessment Report, which set out the causes and effects of climate change. It was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Emeritus Professor of Geography at Maynooth University, he says that emissions must fall across the economy, and we need to be "realistic" about agriculture.
Emissions generated here affect weather patterns in Africa, and vice versa, and while there has been an enormous amounts of work undertaken to make farming more efficient and less polluting, it's moving in the wrong direction.