Energy Institute

What climate impacts will we experience if we don’t embrace renewables and other technologies to reduce our emissions and just leave things the way they are?

The recent floods in the Midlands provide a stark illustration of the fact that climate change may already be having a detrimental impact on this country.

Similar events will undoubtedly happen again, magnifying in the future, if we don’t take serious action to combat climate change.

According to a report commissioned by the Irish Academy of Engineers, the effects of climate change mean “the water supply in many parts of the island will come under severe pressure; our main cities and towns face significant risk of major flooding; and our energy facilities are increasingly at risk from changing weather patterns and more intense storms”. It is clear that climate change is already underway 1.

During the 20th century, the mean annual temperature in Ireland rose by 0.7°C and an increase of between 1.4 and 1.8°C is projected by 2050. Over the same timeframe, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) believes that several material changes will occur in the Irish climate 2. These will manifest in increasingly intense storms and rainfall events leading to river and coastal flooding (Fig. 7). Conversely, we will also experience water shortages during summer months.

Figure 7. High GHG emission scenario – impact on rainfall, seasonal changes for mid-century (2041-2060) relative to the past (1981-2000)

Gleeson, E. et al. (2013) Ireland’s Climate: the road ahead. Dublin: Met Eireann. Available Online

In addition, the EPA points to adverse impacts on water quality, alterations to the distribution of plant and animal species, increased threat of invasive species and detrimental effects on fisheries sensitive to changes in temperature 3. These are likely to affect many sectors of the economy and may negatively impact on human health 4.

The sectors most vulnerable to more extreme weather conditions and flooding include natural resources (biodiversity and fisheries), the built infrastructure (including coastal areas), as well as agriculture 5, water resources and forestry 6.

Tourism, one of our most important industries, would also suffer.  It is stated in the National Risk Assessment that climate change would lead to “degradation of Ireland’s natural heritage making it less attractive as a tourist destination” 7. Although the summer tourist season may be extended, the look and feel of Ireland’s landscapes and unique ecosystems are expected to change 8.

Some may argue that as they don’t work in the above industries or live on flood plains, the potential effects of climate change won’t impact them. Although it is true that we cannot definitively say what the rate and extent of these effects will be, it is clear that climate change will, in some way, affect almost all sectors of our economy and society 9.

The effects of flooding are more widespread than the terrible damage wrought on the homes and businesses of those afflicted. The costs of house and business insurance will rise for us all. It is estimated in Ireland that the overall costs of unabated climate change could equate to €4bn/year 10.

Nor can we ignore the impact of climate change on our trading partners or the role it plays in exacerbating geopolitical instability. Therefore, adaptation and mitigation, from the national to global scale, require urgent implementation if the worst impacts of climate change are to be avoided 11.

It is essential that Ireland play its part in the international and EU response by reducing its emissions of the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change. “The argument that we are too small a country to make a difference holds no ground - climate change is a global problem that requires a global solution involving all countries,” 12.