Ireland overdue €1bn storm surge, climate expert warns

Storms to date have not coincided with high tide but 3m storm surge only a matter of time

Ireland is overdue a storm surge that would leave the insurance industry facing €1 billion in claims, one of the State’s foremost climate change experts has warned.  Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Ireland is overdue a storm surge that would leave the insurance industry facing €1 billion in claims, one of the State’s foremost climate change experts has warned. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Ireland is overdue a storm surge that would leave the insurance industry facing €1 billion in claims, one of the State’s foremost climate change experts has warned.

Prof John Sweeney said it is only a matter of time before a three-metre storm surge will hit, resulting in extensive damage to homes and businesses. He said Ireland had been lucky to avoid such an event before now, given the rapid acceleration in extreme weather events as a result of climate change.

“We’ve been lucky so far in that we’ve had storm surges when the tide has been out or we haven’t had a depression arriving at the same time as the storm surge,” he told a conference on sustainable business hosted by PwC Ireland.

“But there will come a time when the dice will fall badly and we will get that kind of joint probability going the wrong way and that’s when we get the big problems,” he said.

Prof Sweeney said he has conducted an extensive study in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the likely impact of such a serious storm surge here.

“We mapped every residence in the country, looking at their height above sea level and then we mapped the number of residences that would be affected by a one-metre, two-metre, three-metre inundation,” he said.

Prof Sweeney said he has conducted an extensive study in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the likely impact of such a serious storm surge here. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill
Prof Sweeney said he has conducted an extensive study in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on the likely impact of such a serious storm surge here. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Using recent floods in Galway as an indicator of the average house and commercial claims, he said he was able to calculate the likely insurance claim from such an event.

“What was surprising was it came very quickly to over €1 billion,” he said, noting the worst-affected areas and those accounting for the biggest claims would be the coastal cities of Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway.

Landmark buildings

The findings confirm recent research by fellow Maynooth University climate specialist Prof Peter Thorne, who said Ireland would face a storm in the coming decades that would submerge some of Dublin’s most iconic landmark buildings along the quays – from Dublin Port to the Guinness brewery, including Custom House and the Four Courts.

Prof Sweeney, an emeritus professor of geography at Maynooth University, said two degrees of global warming is likely to have way worse an impact than previously thought and may elicit “abrupt changes”.

“We know that, at two degrees, we’re going to lose the coral reefs. So if your grandchildren or children want to see the Great Barrier Reef, take them now,” he said.

“We’re also going to see the beginning of the melt out of Greenland and that has important implications especially for the circulation of atmosphere around Ireland,” he said.

Prof Sweeney said the main climate change impact on Ireland would be flooding, noting Donegal had already experienced bouts of “tropical-like rainfall” in the past two years, while Dublin City Council had adopted the term “monster rains” into its lexicon.

But the summer months could also see droughts with the possibility that crops may need to be irrigated, an unusual concept for a State as wet as Ireland.

“We’re going to see more extreme weather events as a precursor of perhaps more serious things down the road,” he said.

“I never thought in my lifetime I would see two hurricanes going the wrong way across Atlantic and approaching Ireland as we’ve had in the last 18 months,” Prof Sweeney said.