Tuesday 25 June 2019

Frank McGovern: Climate change issues must be put at heart of all Government departments if we're to make a difference

Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the World Climate Change Conference 2015. Photo: Reuters
Taoiseach Enda Kenny at the World Climate Change Conference 2015. Photo: Reuters

Frank McGovern

The hardship and costs of the flooding being currently experienced in large areas of the country provide a stark indicator of increasingly wetter winters that are expected in the coming decades as the global temperature increases.

When coupled with the inevitability of ongoing sea-level rise, this means that Ireland has significant vulnerabilities to the impacts of climate change.

Short-term emergency and humanitarian responses are essential to addressing the difficulties that are confronting many communities.

However, a longer-term strategic approach to both planning and investment, which is informed by the reality of climate change, is also needed.

This requires mainstreaming of the climate change issues into all areas of government in a meaningful manner.

That is ensuring that it becomes a central part of the strategic planning and budgeting process. It must also be a major factor in decision-making by businesses, institutions, communities and individuals.

Long-term strategic planning is needed to address existing and future vulnerabilities in key areas such as housing, transport and energy infrastructures as well as land use and water management systems.

Hard decisions will be required on where and how to invest, what to protect, what to lose or turn to other uses.

Such decisions should be made in the context of best available information and involve public engagement. Critically, this has to be part of planned transition to a climate-resilient Ireland over the coming decades.

The pace of that transition should also be sufficient to at least keep pace with the impacts of the global changes that are already taking place. For major and long-term investments, this is a significant challenge - but one that needs to be embraced.

The recent Paris Agreement on climate change provides the necessary global context for such actions. A key part of that agreement was the stated determination by world government to limit the global temperature increase to well below 2C and to pursue efforts to limit this increase to 1.5C.

Achievement of the radical transformation of global energy and land use that is required to limit the global temperature increase to below 2C is a tremendous challenge.

Some members of the scientific community have voiced doubts about its feasibility.

The inclusion of a 1.5C goal in the agreement had been called for by the world's most vulnerable peoples.

Doing so provides a powerful statement of political intent; not just to take on this challenge, but to do so in manner that will stimulate and support the innovations and scientific breakthroughs that are needed.

Like all agreements, it is by its implementation that it will be judged. The challenge has been compared to the Manhattan Project, and Apollo Project to land on the Moon. The comparison serves a purpose but misses the multidimensional and the local nature of some solutions.

Climate change is as much a local challenge as it is a global one. Research, technology and innovation need to be central to the national response.

Climate solutions and services need to be mainstreamed into the new strategic research agenda.

However, it will be the vision and actions by governments, businesses, communities and individuals, combined with effective deployment of solutions, that will determine how successful our responses will be.

In their current difficulties, it is unlikely that the vulnerable communities in Ireland are focused on the Paris Agreement.

However, what they have experienced, in the year when the global average temperature reached 1C above pre-industrial temperatures, will result in increased actions to address climate change. It may also result in an increased focus here on how to pursue actions that limit the global temperature increase to 1.5C.

Frank McGovern is Head of Climate Change Research and Science at the Environmental Protection Agency.


Irish Independent

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