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Heatwave can act as a ‘wake-up call’ for planet

Climatologists warn we have 10 to 15 years to halt disaster — and Ireland must also commit to a global effort

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The sun brings swimmers out to Forty Foot in Dublin, but climate change will also cause water shortages and fiercer winter storms. Photo: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews

The sun brings swimmers out to Forty Foot in Dublin, but climate change will also cause water shortages and fiercer winter storms. Photo: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews

Professor John Sweeney

Professor John Sweeney

Enjoying the sun at the 40 Foot in Sandycove. Photo Steve Humphreys

Enjoying the sun at the 40 Foot in Sandycove. Photo Steve Humphreys

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The sun brings swimmers out to Forty Foot in Dublin, but climate change will also cause water shortages and fiercer winter storms. Photo: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews

The glorious weather of last week might already be a distant memory, but it must serve as a warning about the uncertain future of the planet amid the worsening climate crisis.

This is the stark warning from two leading Irish climate change experts. Both question “how many wake-up calls” are needed before the world tackles the threat of climate change.

“On one level it was great to see such nice weather, and for people to enjoy it. But it’s important to look at the reasons why it happened. And those reasons are not good,” said emeritus Professor of Geography at Maynooth University (MU), John Sweeney.

“We are between 10 and 100 times more likely from now on to see extreme weather events like the current heatwave across Europe because of greenhouse gases. It confirms the role of climate change as the main driver.

“What it all adds up to is that the driver is human, rather than natural. Without tackling climate change, this is what we are facing — there will be ongoing and increased weather extremes.”

And it won’t all be 30C heatwaves we will be facing, it will be heavy flooding in winter and water shortages in the summer months.

“I’m very conscious of not being alarmist. But the scientific reality is that we’re going to see these weather events with more frequency and severity,” said the co-founder of Irish Climate Analysis and Research Unit (Icarus) at MU.

“The heatwave we just saw is a record-breaking and historically significant event, surpassing a 135-year-old record.

“But in Ireland, temperature will not be a critical variable, although we will begin to see warmer summers. The real variable will be increased rainfall.

“We will have far wetter winters which cause flooding, and drier and hotter summers, particularly in the east, meaning water shortages.

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“There are some very vulnerable countries, those around the Horn of Africa and the Pacific and Tropical Indian Islands, including the Maldives and Fiji.

“The viability of their cultures is under direct threat right now. They have unsustainable futures. This impacts the entire world. We have had a number of wake-up calls. How much more do we need?”

Ireland, like many countries, is not taking seriously its legal commitment to counter the impact of climate change though the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, Prof Sweeney said.

“We have to start taking seriously our legal requirement in terms of carbon budgets. We have a responsibility to the next generation. We cannot leave them with an unsustainable future.”

Climatologist Dr Kieran Hickey, head of the Department of Geography at University College Cork (UCC), said people in search of the sun may need less foreign holidays — but stressed that is not necessarily a good thing.

“This won’t happen every summer in Ireland, 30C heatwaves, but it will happen some years. But this weather is absolutely not to be celebrated.

“There have been new heat records this summer all over Europe — I never thought I would see 40C in England in my lifetime. It is indicative of the track we are on, in terms of the speed of climate change.

“The climate crisis is best described as an out-of-control truck. We haven’t even slowed it down yet, let alone tried to stop it entirely and turn it in the opposite direction.”

He agreed with Prof Sweeney that Ireland will now see increased rainfall and flooding in winter, coastal erosion, storms and the tail end of hurricanes. These will all take a toll on our economy.

The world still has time to turn the situation around, he believes, but the window is fast closing.

“Time is not on our side, but it hasn’t run out. We have between 10 and 15 years where we can make significant gains.

“The problem is, there are so many other things for world leaders to deal with — Covid and the outbreak of wars — that climate change keeps falling off the agenda. The huge challenge is that the modern economy is based on the burning of fossil fuels and changing this fact does not happen quickly.

“We need global co-operation. USA, China and India need to implement significant change. And Australia, which is the biggest producer of coal.”

Ireland, in comparison, is a small player on the international stage. But that doesn’t mean we should shirk our responsibilities, added Dr Hickey.

Provisional figures published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last Thursday show greenhouse gas emissions increased by almost 5pc last year.

“We are not doing our bit. It doesn’t matter that Ireland plays a small role,” Dr Hickey said.

“Every citizen needs to contribute, it starts with recycling and less opposition to things like wind farms.”

How worried is Dr Hickey about the sustainability of the planet?

“I’m no more worried that I was 10 to 20 years ago when this was first projected. But the speed of it is a cause for concern, particularly the melting of the polar ice caps, which will impact sea levels massively.

“That has the potential to happen within a couple of hundred years now rather than thousands.”

The chances of another heatwave in Ireland in August are “likely”, he added.

“I wouldn’t be conceding the summer is over, by any means. We should all enjoy it, while staying safe. But we need to be more aware of why this is happening and it’s not good news.”


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