Climate council says Ireland must be prepared for extreme heatwaves

Ireland remains ‘completely off course’ to achieve key carbon reduction targets by 2020 and 2030

A thermometer showing over 40 degrees at the Volklingen Ironworks in Volklingen, Germany. Western Europe has been hit by another heatwave which is setting new temperature records. Photograph: Getty Images

A thermometer showing over 40 degrees at the Volklingen Ironworks in Volklingen, Germany. Western Europe has been hit by another heatwave which is setting new temperature records. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Ireland must be prepared for extreme heatwaves of the kind that recently swept across Europe, the head of the Climate Change Advisory Council has warned.

Prof John Fitzgerald said that in terms of adapting society to changing weather, there was a need to plan for conditions that were worse than expected.

“There can be no certainty about what the climate will be or the frequency of extreme events,” he said at the launch of the council’s annual progress report on carbon reduction on Wednesday.

“So you need to err on the side of conservatism that things could be worse and plan for that. But it is the prioritisation of investment [that] is an issue.”

The council’s annual review found Ireland remained “completely off course” to achieve key carbon reduction targets by 2020 and 2030.

The agricultural sector received particular attention as the highest producer of emissions. Calls to significantly reduce cattle herds were dismissed by the Irish Farmers Association (IFA).

On the issue of adaptation to climate change, Mr Fitzgerald said there was a general lack of awareness, and raised questions around heatwaves and flooding in particular.

“We see the effects of heatwaves in Europe; are we planning for that?” he said, remarking on the need to adapt building regulations regarding hospitals and nursing homes.

He noted a visit to France in 2003 when thousands of older people died during soaring temperatures. “Old people are much more vulnerable to heatwaves. Have they prepared for it [here]? We are not sure,” he said.

“All of our emphasis has been on how we can reduce carbon-dioxide from heating ourselves. We need to be concerned now about carbon-dioxide from cooling ourselves, which is a dramatic problem worldwide and it will begin to become an issue for us with global warming over the next 30, 40 years.”

Sea level

He said flooding was also an issue that required further thought given the possibility sea level could rise more quickly than anticipated.

“Sea-level rise is already a problem for Cork, beginning to be a problem for Galway, and will be a problem for Dublin. We are talking about probably needing to spend a lot of money in the future on this.”

Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton said the report was a reminder that Ireland must “ensure that appropriate consideration is given to embedding robust adaptation measures across the system”.

The Climate Change Advisory Council is an independent body established to monitor Ireland’s climate policy and the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. In 2017, its latest report states, total emissions increased by 1.7 million tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent, with economic growth the main driver.