Political leadership in Ireland to tackle vested groups in the area of climate change was absent while an appetite to seriously address greenhouse gas emissions was not evident, a climate justice conference was told in Maynooth on Tuesday.
Prof John Sweeney of the Geography Department NUI Maynooth also said that the Department of Agriculture was "currently shaping national climate change policy and is seeking to influence EU future policy to reflect what it perceives to be a special case for Ireland".
Ireland, he said “ is adopting a position of sheltering behind intransigent countries as it fails to comply with legally binding obligations for greenhouse gas emissions in the run up to 2020 and arguing for decreased effort for the 2030 agreement”.
He was speaking at the conference in NUI Maynooth, organised by the Catholic bishops' agency Trócaire, St Patrick's College Maynooth, and the university.
Last year was the warmest in Ireland since 1880 and average temperatures had increased by 0.5 degrees since 1981.
Indications were that Ireland will get warmer and, at current rates, temperatures were set to rise by between one degree and 1.5 degrees over the next 30 years, he said.
There would be a much more rainfall in the west of Ireland and a lot less in the east between 2021 and 2050, with more frequent flooding and water shortages during summer. He noted the 2013 fodder crisis as indicative of what may be to come.
Similarly, Ireland was likely to have more “extreme storm events” as in the winter of 2013/14, while as many 40,000 households in Dublin, at just five metres above sea level, were at risk from flooding and rising seas.
“The cost of doing nothing is huge for Ireland,” he said. Meanwhile our CO2 emissions, at 12.8 tonnes per capita was “among the highest in the world.” The UK average is 9.2 tonnes per capita.
Prof Jean-Pascale van Ypersele, vice chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said that each of the last three decades had been successively warmer than any since 1850.
The increase of CO2 in the atmosphere was “unprecedented for the last 800,000 years” while the concentration of methane in the atmosphere had double since industrial times. Study after study had shown that in all of this “human influence is dominant” he said, with “the solar effect (on climate change) very small by comparison”.
Long-standing climate change activist Fr Seán McDonagh said that in this context "our religion has also to change". Describing Pope Francis's Laudato Si encyclical as "extremely significant", he asked "which parish has 'a care of the earth ministry'? Which diocese?"
He called for a three-year synod on the subject, beginning at parish level, as “all ecology is local”. A care of the earth ministry should be part of priestly formation with a greater emphasis on ecological theology, he said. Pope Francis’s encyclical was “a theological document, the pastoral thoughts of the Bishop of Rome.” It was “a call to a new theology”.