Ireland must prepare to deal with extreme heatwaves, warns climate council

John FitzGerald: ‘There can be no certainty about the frequency of extreme events’

People enjoy the good weather on Portmarnock Beach, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

People enjoy the good weather on Portmarnock Beach, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Ireland must prepare to deal with extreme future heat waves of the kind that recently swept across Europe, the head of the Climate Change Advisory Council has warned.

John FitzGerald said that in terms of adapting society to the changing climate, there was a need to plan for conditions that are worse than we expect.

“There can be no certainty about what the climate will be, or what 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 remains “completely off course” to achieve key carbon reduction targets by 2020 and 2030.

However, addressing the issue of investment in adaption to climate change, Mr FitzGerald said there were crucial questions around heat waves and flooding in particular.

“We see the effects of heat waves in Europe; are we planning for that?” he said, raising in particular the need to adapt building regulations regarding the likes of hospitals and nursing homes.

He noted that on a visit to France in 2003, 20,000 older people died during soaring temperatures in Paris.

“Old people are much more vulnerable to heat waves. 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 levels

Flooding too was an issue that required further thought, he said, given the possibility sea levels 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,” he said.

The Council has pointed out that regardless of the success of mitigation efforts against global warming, general awareness regarding adaption is low.

However, in addressing steps still required to reduce carbon emissions, this year’s report focuses heavily on the agricultural sector – in particular a need to reduce cattle numbers.

It said a continued growth in agricultural emissions would, if unchecked, “seriously undermine” Ireland’s ability to meet 2030 targets.

The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) dismissed the Council’s position as being “based on flawed logic”.

“The proposed cut in the herd takes no account of the economic or social consequences, particularly for areas where beef production is the backbone of the local economy, with cattle farmers spending over €1.5 billion each year on agri-inputs,” its president Joe Healy said.