Can Ireland survive impacts of chaotic climate change?

Weather expert Gerald Fleming flags examples that may derail State before 2050

Dublin and Cork are built on marshes at the mouth of rivers emptying into the sea.

In a stark message to be delivered on Monday night, former RTÉ weather presenter Gerard Fleming is set to warn "the sea will come and take them back".

There is a set of circumstances adding up to such a threat that has every chance of happening before 2050, he says. Galway, Limerick, Waterford, Drogheda and Wexford are also vulnerable, Fleming points out, but Dublin and Cork "are where most of the assets are concentrated".

Fleming delivered the weather bulletin on RTÉ from 1984 until 2008, retiring from Met Éireann in December 2017 after serving as head of forecasting for nine years. The public are about to see another side to him tonight during an RTÉ documentary entitled Will Ireland survive 2050?


In a dynamic and sometimes dramatically constructed programme, Fleming and UCD environmental researcher Cara Augustenborg examine the consequences of extreme global weather.

Based on recent Irish research, they visualise the damage the planet's increasingly extreme weather patterns will have by mixing existing archive images with newly created 3D representations. They show what parts of the country could look like in the future: flooding at such landmarks as Trinity College, Dublin's O'Connell Street, Galway's Spanish Arch and large areas of Cork.

He will emphasise that they do not wish to be alarmist, but to highlight potential problems based on current levels of preparedness how Ireland – under the strain of extreme weather patterns and factoring in worst-case scenarios – is likely to be damaged irreparably.

A mix of global warming; low pressure, storm surges, sea-level rise and wind mean once-a-century weather events will be much more frequent.

For doubters, parts of the UK has just had a month’s rain in the course of day, causing widespread flooding, exacerbated by unprecedented rises in river levels.

During the programme, Fleming goes to Greenland, home to the world's second largest body of ice. It's where the physical change to the landscape is already more obvious. Local people note the fact that the edge of the ice sheet receded by 400m in less than 10 years – the visceral impact, hearing the sound of melting ice, profoundly affected him. He explains to viewers how the melting of that ice cap will have disastrous consequences for Irish weather and way of life. The projections are for a sea-level rise of 30 to 40cm by 2050.

How did it all go wrong?

Irish weather as we know it today will no longer be typically “Irish”, he warns. Instead, our temperate climate is about to become a lot more unpredictable and the frequency by which we experience droughts, cold snaps, storms and intense rainfall is going to accelerate. “It’s not just about one degree warmer or a little wetter,” he will emphasise.

Fleming is left wondering where and how it all went wrong and why humanity appears to be sleepwalking into oblivion.

He notes that direct action is being taken by agencies like the Office of Public Works, Environmental Protection Agency and many local authorities which have responded to the crisis. Further difficult decisions will have to be taken and some areas will have to be left for the sea to retake on cost grounds, he says.

But the question begs to be asked: are we doing enough? Despite growing awareness, his emphatic answer is “no”.

He believes it is down to public will. People will now have to accept they need to do what is necessary or face disaster. “Politicians can only do so much,” he will say.

He has no doubt about what’s needed – flood protection, growing more trees, a new direction in farming, changing transport and less carbon-intensive lifestyles – but says the necessary urgency is just not there yet.

Will Ireland survive 2050? directed by Martin Danneels and produced by Midas Productions will be broadcast at 9.30pm on RTÉ1 on Monday.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times