Future storms will cost State billions, says Government report

Ireland will experience more intense storm activities as climate change takes hold

Storm Ophelia batters the west Cork coast at the Beacon near Baltimore, on Monday. Photograph: Youen Jacob/Provision

The future cost to the State of coping with extreme weather events such as Hurricane Ophelia will run into billions of euro each year, a Government report on climate change adaptation has indicated.

The Government’s Draft National Adaptation Framework has predicted that Ireland will experience more intense and frequent storm activities in future, particularly over the winter months, as climate change takes hold.

The draft framework published by the Department of Communications and Climate Change last month concluded the State had “no choice” but to take adaptation measures to prepare for the unavoidable consequences of climate change.

The flooded road and car park at the Salthill Promenade during Storm Ophelia on Monday. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

It warned about the associated economic, environmental and social costs. The final report is expected in December.


“The number of intense storms is projected to increase over the North Atlantic region. Projections suggest that the winter tracks of these storms may extend further south and over Ireland more often,” the report stated.

The report also listed some of the measures and capital investment that will be required.

It also gave an indication of some future costs of such events, based on Ireland’s experience with Storm Darwin in early 2014, and storms Desmond and Frank in 2015.

It drew on international research including the influential Stern report from 2007, which contended that adaptation was the only way to deal with the unavoidable impacts of climate change.

Author Nicholas Stern projected it would cost up to 2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) if global temperatures were to rise by 2.5 degrees celsius.

The report showed the damage caused to the State’s roads and railways in late 2015 and 2016 cost €106 million in repair.

Road repairs

Similarly storm activity over the winter of 2009 costs €225 million in road repairs.

Following further storms in 2013 and 2014, some €53 million was spent on coastal protection and flood prevention. In the 12-year period between 2000 and 2012 almost €750 million was paid out in private flood insurance claims in the State.

Taking damage publicly-owned infrastructure into account, the report estimated direct damage losses from flooding in Ireland in recent years to be in the order of €192 million per year.

With a six-fold increase in flooding across Europe predicted for 2050, the report said direct damages from flooding could be roughly €1.15 billion a year by 2050.

The draft framework detailed the impact of climate change, including extreme weather events in Ireland. In coastal areas, it stated an increase in the intensity of cyclones will result in more extreme storm activity and an increase in coastal erosion.

Power stations

In terms of critical infrastructure it noted many power stations were located near the coast and could be vulnerable to high water and tide surges.

It stated extreme winds will impact on wind turbines – now a significant component of electricity generation – and threaten the continuity of supply.

Other impacts included widespread tree-fall in forestry (some 8,000 hectares were affected in Kerry, Limerick, Cork and Clare by Storm Darwin). There is also the possibility of landslide during high precipitation events.

There is also the questions of dam safety associated with extreme flooding, as well as the security of water supply in the event of flooding and contamination.

“Infrastructure will be at risk due to the increased occurrence of intense storms,” it stated.

Climate change

The National Adaptation Framework will be the State’s first statutory plan to deal with the damage caused by climate change. It was required under the Climate Action Act 2015.

The draft plan said since a national assessment was carried out in 2012, there has been good progress in preparing the ground for adaptation for assessing risks and for filling some of the research gaps that existed.

However, the report acknowledged barriers remained. It said there had been insufficient progress in setting out adaptation options. In addition, it said that not enough had been done in terms of conducting risk assessments in the sectors that will be most affected.

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times