Measuring up to the climate challenge

Fri, Dec 20, 2013, 01:11

Sir, – Dr Eddie O’Connor makes a strong case for urgent and radical rethinking of Ireland’s current reckless drive for economic growth at all costs (Opinion, December 19th).

Unthinking growth in material consumption is now directly causing many serious problems, but Dr O’Connor rightly highlights climate change as the single most potentially catastrophic.

In order to limit global average surface temperature rise to no more than +2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels (the current internationally agreed target) he advocates acting now to create “. . . a low carbon economy by 2050, matched by a low carbon lifestyle”. I absolutely share his concerns and his sense that radical action is now urgent.

Unfortunately there are two serious difficulties with his analysis. First, there is clear scientific advice that, because of inaction to date, to have even a passable chance of limiting temperature rise to +2 degrees C (on a basis of global justice and equity) high emitting countries such as Ireland would need to achieve virtually the full transition to a “low carbon” economy and lifestyle by no later than 2030 rather than 2050 (ie, within only about the next 16 years).

Second, there is growing scientific concern than the politically negotiated target of +2 degrees C is physically far too high – that it already presents very real risks of devastating impacts on human life and welfare (not to mention the rest of the biosphere) on a global basis.

Despite all this, I do absolutely agree with Dr O’Connor that meaningful action to mitigate and manage these risks is possible: but the vision needs to be probably twice as ambitious and twice as urgent. We face an extraordinary challenge, literally unprecedented in human history; but the only thing lacking is political honesty, will, and leadership. Even at this late stage, it would be a noble ambition for Ireland to model such leadership for the world. – Yours, etc,

Prof BARRY McMULLIN,

Executive Dean,

Faculty of Engineering and

Computing,

Dublin City University,

Dublin 9.