‘It’s a complete lack of understanding’ – expert criticises rise of SUVs on Irish roads as new report issues ‘now or never’ warning on global warming

Experts say if you drive an SUV make sure it's an electric one

Caroline O'Doherty

Many Irish citizens do not understand the climate consequences of their actions, as demonstrated by the “alarming” number of new SUVs on the road, the country’s leading climatologist said.

Professor Peter Thorne of Maynooth University said individual responsibility was now a crucial part of climate action. Governments must enable people to make the right decisions, he said, but action was needed at all levels.

“We are beyond the point where climate change can be somebody else’s problem,” he said.

“Do not say it is your government’s problem, it’s your community’s problem. It’s your problem as part of that community, as part of that country, to make the difference at this point.”

Prof Thorne said people needed to install solar panels, take public transport, switch to EVs, cut down on meat and review their long-distance travel.

“The number of 2023 cars that I see on the road that are big SUVs and are using petrol or diesel is alarming, and shows a complete lack of understanding by many citizens as to the consequences of their personal decisions,” he said.

“If we continue to make these choices that are climate negative, we just double down on the problem.”

He was speaking as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its latest report, a synopsis of tens of thousands of research papers by thousands of scientists assessed and collated over the past eight years.

Prof Thorne was one of 49 core authors from around the world who compiled the final summary, condensing the main points for governments and policymakers.

The report warns that human-caused climate change is evident in all parts of the world, resulting in extreme weather, habitat and species loss, disease, mental health problems and food and water insecurity.

It says current climate-action plans will not stop global warming increasing to the 1.5C threshold that scientists have warned is the last stop before rapid escalation.

That point is likely to be reached early next decade and “deep, rapid and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions” are needed to stop it getting worse after that.

Prof Thorne said many people could not imagine changing their lifestyles or were scared of what it would entail.

He urged the Government to show leadership by “implementing everything they say they will implement”, being “honest” about the emission problems associated with our intensive agriculture policies and encouraging “grown-up” discussion on the alternatives.

“Let's start having the difficult conversations. Let’s start finding the solutions that are appropriate for rural Ireland, that protect livelihoods but also protect climate.

“Can we get into a serious conversation where we have serious grown-up solutions and not a war of soundbites?”

Marie Donnelly, chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council, called for renewed Government focus on reducing emissions.

“I remain concerned that a significant acceleration of existing and planned actions is required for Ireland to achieve its legally binding targets in full and on time,” she said.

The Stop Climate Chaos Coalition echoed that call, warning that Ireland was not on track to meet its emission reduction responsibilities and needed an urgent injection of renewed political commitment.

Coordinator Sadhbh O’Neill said the IPCC report should served as a “final warning”.

“The world can still hope to stave off the worst ravages of climate breakdown but only through a now-or-never dash to a low-carbon economy and society,” she said.

Environment Minister Eamon Ryan accepted the report was “stark” but said the Government was responding to the challenge.

“Today’s report clearly reinforces the message that the time to act is now. This Government is doing so, passing one of the most ambitious climate laws in the world and mobilising the public and private sectors to deliver the emissions reductions required,” he said.