Climate change and Ireland


The good news is that global supplies of oil and gas will not be exhausted anytime soon. The bad news is that their usage will lead to higher temperatures, rising sea levels and more extreme weather events. These findings by the International Energy Agency (IEA) will rekindle debate on fossil fuels and global warming. The agency expects the planet to have warmed by 3.6 degrees by 2200, much higher than the 2 degrees set down in the Kyoto protocol. By that time too, supply and demand for oil and gas will reach equilibrium.*

The global energy map has changed dramatically because of the use of new technologies, particularly fracking, in the exploitation of oil and gas deposits in the United States and Canada. Energy costs have fallen there. The IEA speaks of “extraordinary growth” in oil and gas output and predicts that the US, which has been heavily dependent on imports from the Middle East, will be a net exporter by the end of the decade.

Avoiding a fossil fuel cliff in the short term should not obscure the reality that such resources are finite. The 23-year scenario outlined by the IEA represents a relatively short breathing space in which governments can work towards a more sustainable future. The focus must be developing renewable energy sources. Governments of this State have tended to avoid long term planning in favour of short-term objectives. Such an attitude is no longer acceptable because environmental and technological change will alter the way life is lived on this island.

Rising sea levels and extreme weather events are already with us. But their impact will worsen as more carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. For many people who live on floodplains or in vulnerable coastal areas, the unpalatable future may involve moving to higher ground. Governments are likely to concentrate defensive efforts and available finances on major population centres.

This year’s wet summer challenged climate change predictions. Ireland experienced dismal conditions. But global temperatures continued to rise and the threat remains of severe winter storms with intense bouts of rainfall. Irish agriculture stands to benefit from climate change. Drought and desertification in southern latitudes are expected to reduce food production there and keep world food prices high. In planning for an increase in Irish farm output, however, the impact on the environment and on water quality must be carefully considered. Food Harvest 2020 envisages an increase of 50 per cent in the number of cattle. But little planning has gone into how the resulting slurry can be safely utilised. Wet weather and inappropriate manure spreading contributed to an increase in water-borne illnesses this year. It is a public health issue that cannot be ignored.

* This article was edited on November 20th, 2012. 

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