The political climate needs to change – and quickly
The latest international report makes us more certain than ever about climate change – why then does global inertia persist?
“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a global issue, not just one country deciding to do something about it. Unfortunately, we have pretty much failed to do this so far,” he says.
The closest the world got was the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty that sets binding obligations on industrialised countries to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Signatory countries had a working five-year “first commitment period” but countries have not signed up for the next five-year period, leaving Kyoto moribund.
The science has shown clearly that any lingering doubts are so small as to be insufficient to block action, says Colin O’Dowd, director of the Centre for Climate and Air Pollution Studies in the Ryan Institute, and the school of physics at NUI Galway.
“There is no way out of this unless we change our behavioural patterns,” he says. “We have to start realising we are causing a problem for our future generations.”
In Ireland, he says, we need “joined-up thinking” to increase the impact of mitigation efforts.
“As a nation we need to really accelerate sources of renewable energy such as wind and wave. It requires proper planning, not a knee-jerk reaction from one alternative to another.”
Money not the issue
Yet competing arguments seem to end up causing inaction, and Prof O’Dowd believes money is not the fundamental issue: even during the Celtic Tiger years, nothing was accomplished in terms of alternative energy.
One thing Ireland can do is continue to support the European Union’s position that international action is warranted and needs to happen now. Yet he remains uncertain about whether any progress will be made on reaching international agreement. “I wish I had a higher degree of confidence,” he says.
More reports about what the scientists have discovered under the Fifth Assessment Report will be published next year. Undoubtedly they will add to the reasons why action on climate change is urgently needed. However, the option of waiting until the next report arrives – or the one after that – is no longer there if we are to have any hope of coping when the major changes come.
An end to hot air: Call to action
Two reports last week, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and by Met Éireann, have provided yet more evidence that climate change is under way and more certainty that human activity is its main driver.
While more science is needed, it is time for governments around the world to take this issue seriously, suggests Peter Lynch, professor of meteorology at University College Dublin.
“Our nose is up against a rock and we have to do something,” says Prof Lynch. “Putting in a few low-energy light bulbs in Ireland while the Chinese are building a new power station every week is not going to have an impact. There has to be political action.” Unfortunately the only options available are both “difficult and painful”, he says.