Warning of floods and food shortages in Ireland

Opinion: Climate change and extreme weather patterns require a new national plan

‘Without adaptation measures such as flood defences and early warning systems to prepare for disasters, the impacts of climate change are likely to be felt more strongly in future – particularly if no brakes are applied to year-on-year record greenhouse gas emissions.’  Photograph: Alan Betson

‘Without adaptation measures such as flood defences and early warning systems to prepare for disasters, the impacts of climate change are likely to be felt more strongly in future – particularly if no brakes are applied to year-on-year record greenhouse gas emissions.’ Photograph: Alan Betson

Fri, Apr 4, 2014, 00:01

Ireland is likely to face more extreme weather events such as the recent flooding and storm surges, increased water restrictions and shortages of animal fodder and even food due to drought as the impacts of global warming become more severe.

That’s what some of our experts have deduced from the latest report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released last Monday, which said that the impacts of global warming were already being felt “on all continents and across the oceans”.

It found that the “observed impacts” were substantial and widespread, that some future risks would have “large or irreversible” consequences for different sectors and regions, and that a risk-management approach to these threats should support adaptation and mitigation efforts.

Without adaptation measures such as flood defences and early warning systems to prepare for disasters, the impacts of climate change are likely to be felt more strongly in future – particularly if no brakes are applied to year-on-year record greenhouse gas emissions.

Any plus in terms of warmer summers throughout western Europe would be offset by losses due to “extreme precipitation”, flooding in river basins and on coasts, sea level rise, drought-related water shortages and “extreme heat events affecting crop production”.

Food security has emerged as a major issue because of the IPCC report’s finding that unmitigated global warming is likely to cut agricultural production by 2 per cent per decade, even as demand rises by 14 per cent per decade to feed a rapidly growing population.

Next step for Irish climate change specialists is to examine the modelling done for the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report and apply it to Ireland.

“This will enable more detailed analysis of the local changes and allow us to do better impacts analysis,” says Dr Margaret Desmond.

Dr Desmond, climate change research specialist at the Environmental Protection Agency, says current projections of the impacts of global warming were similar to what’s outlined in the IPCC report “although the variability here is much greater than other parts of the world”.

Coastal flooding
Ireland, with its Atlantic weather system, is vulnerable to extreme events such as the recent exceptionally heavy rainfall and coastal flooding.

“I’m more inclined now to say that extreme events in Ireland have a climate change signature, however small,” says Prof John Sweeney.

Prof Sweeney, who heads the Irish climate analysis and research unit at NUI Maynooth, says the likelihood of more extreme weather events “is corroborated from the report” of the IPCC, which explicitly links such events with increasing temperatures.

Yet emissions from Irish agriculture will increase. “Arguing that Food Harvest 2020 is addressing the issue of food security would seem untenable. How does a 50 per cent increase in dairy output, with no assessment of emissions increases associated with it, square up?”

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