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Ireland not ready for ‘more frequent and extreme heatwaves, flooding and coastal surges,’ experts warn

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Smouldering landscape at the scene of the forest fire at Crone Woods near Enniskerry, Co Wicklow. Photo: Frank McGrath.

Smouldering landscape at the scene of the forest fire at Crone Woods near Enniskerry, Co Wicklow. Photo: Frank McGrath.

Smouldering landscape at the scene of the forest fire at Crone Woods near Enniskerry, Co Wicklow. Photo: Frank McGrath.

Ireland is not prepared for heatwaves and the other severe weather events that are becoming more frequent, the Climate Change Advisory Council (CCAC) has warned.

It says the country’s infrastructure, buildings, supply routes, public services, health system and work practices all need to be adapted to deal with extreme conditions.

Government planning is incoherent and lacks the urgency, leadership, finance and co-ordination for effective disaster risk reduction, it says.

“Ireland is not prepared for today’s climate and the climate of the future is set to get much worse with more frequent and extreme heatwaves, flooding and coastal surges,” it said.

Professor Peter Thorne, chair of the CCAC’s adaptation committee, said the increased frequency of severe weather conditions such as the heatwave of the last few days illustrated the urgency of action.

“Ireland needs to urgently take the steps required to ensure that it is as resilient as it can be within a world where extreme weather events are become more frequent and severe,” he said.

The council’s comments came as many parts of the country had another day of high temperatures after a spell which brought the hottest day in 135 years, Dublin’s hottest day ever, and the nation’s hottest July day on record.

It ended with firefighters battling wildfires and many counties hit by thunderstorms and sudden cloudbursts, and forecasters warning another heatwave could not be ruled out before summer’s end.

Ireland got off lightly compared to Britain where temperatures broke 40C for the first time

Ireland got off lightly compared to Britain where temperatures broke 40C for the first time, igniting grass fires, warping rail lines and forcing millions to stay home from stifling schools and workplaces.

Around mainland Europe the situation has been much worse, with many places having their second heatwave in two months with weeks of temperatures in the high 30s and 40s and lives, homes, businesses and forests lost in fires.

The CCAC yesterday wrote to Minister Eamon Ryan with 34 recommendations to improve the National Adaptation Framework currently under review.

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It said the current approach to adaptation was reactive and piecemeal.

“For example, in the face of a heatwave, incremental adaptation suggests the installation of cooling systems,” it said.

“Truly transformative adaptation to heatwaves involves changing thermal and ventilation standards in buildings, adapting spatial planning policies, as well as changing cultural habits such as working hours, or norms such as typical work attire.”

The CCAC said the Government must prepare for conditions that would occur at global temperature rise of 2C and beyond – an acknowledgement of the weakness of current treaties aimed at keeping warming to below 2C.

It said preparing coastal communities and infrastructure for rising sea levels and more severe storm surges and flooding was urgently needed.

The Government set up a steering group in September 2020 to come up with a national coastal change management strategy within six months but it has still not reported and there is no firm date for completion of its work.

The CCAC said other areas that needed adaptation plans included the financial services sector because of the impact climate change would have on insurance, mortgages and investment funds.

Tourism, sport and the built environment all needed plans, while existing plans for all other sectors need to be revised.

The letter said adaptation must be built into all public policy so that decisions were not made “climate blind”.

While greater public awareness was needed and individuals could be encouraged to take action, government and public bodies needed to lead and coordinate, it said.

It called for dedicated funding to be put in place, and said an initial adaptation budget for the period to 2030 must be set but with an eye on what was required to make Ireland resilient by 2050 and beyond.

It said it must take account of the costs of failing to act.

It cited a European Environment Agency report that attributed 62-77 deaths in Ireland to severe weather events from 1980-2020, and the economic losses at €3-4.6bn.

“This budget must be determined in light of the social cost of climate change over at least the next 30 years, and must reflect the need to prioritise funding for adaptation to a significantly greater degree than is currently the case,” said CCAC chair, Marie Donnelly.


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