Call for action on climate change

Tue, Apr 1, 2014, 01:00

How many more scientific reports will it take before we wake up to the reality of global warming and its devastating consequences for humanity and the biosphere on which we all depend for survival? The latest instalment of the Fifth Assessment Report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is more unequivocal than ever in concluding that its effects “are already occurring on all continents and across the oceans” – even in the recent flooding events in Ireland – and yet the world is “ill-prepared for risks from a changing climate”. These risks include increasing levels of hunger, particularly in poorer countries, as climate-prone agriculture produces less food over time to meet the demands of a rapidly-growing global population.

“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” according to IPCC chairman Dr Rajendra Pachauri. Extreme weather events such as heatwaves, wildfires and flooding have become commonplace, threatening the lives and livelihoods of many people worldwide. The oceans, which appear to be absorbing more of the heat in recent years, are acidifying and becoming less productive. Coral reefs have already suffered irreversible damage and the latest report predicts fish catches in areas of the tropics could fall by 40 to 60 per cent, depending on the level of warming that occurs over the next few decades. Such reversals would, in turn, lead to mass migrations by “climate refugees” to more temperate countries.

Human security – something we almost take for granted – will be compromised by growing instability while efforts to adapt to a changing climate will become more and more difficult as the world warms. Thus, the IPCC – drawing from a huge and growing body of scientific research worldwide – has stressed the need to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change and build more resilience in communities facing risks. As UN climate chief Christiana Figueres said yesterday, the report “requires and requests that everyone accelerate and scale up efforts towards a low-carbon world and manage the risks of climate change in order to spare the planet and its people” from the worst impacts.

The call for action also applies to Ireland. No more than anywhere else, this island is not immune to the effects of climate change. Yet the Government has been dragging its feet on legislation in this area. If Taoiseach Enda Kenny is to have any credibility attending a summit of world leaders being convened by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York next September, in an effort to chart the course for an international agreement in Paris by the end of next year, he must ensure that the long-delayed Climate Change Bill is prioritised.