The Irish Times view on global warming: the crisis of our time

Politicians must show leadership in drawing us away from the energy, transport and agricultural policies that leave us at the bottom of the European table in mitigating climate change

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reminds us that greenhouse gas emissions caused by industrialisation have already warmed the planet by one degree. Photograph: John Giles/PA Wire

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reminds us that greenhouse gas emissions caused by industrialisation have already warmed the planet by one degree. Photograph: John Giles/PA Wire

 

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlights compelling evidence that, if we fail to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions very rapidly, the consequences will be both more damaging – and happen sooner – than had previously been thought.

It is vital that this report is heard as a cogent call to action, and not as a jeremiad about impending climate apocalypse. It is based on sober science, not scare-mongering or slogans, and it offers clear, if very challenging, options.

The report reminds us that greenhouse gas emissions caused by industrialisation have already warmed the planet by one degree. The consequences are now painfully evident, in Ireland and across the world, in increasingly frequent extreme weather events, playing havoc with food production, and destroying human lives and livelihoods. What is new in the report is the very strong indication that this average will rise to 1.5 degrees in just 12 years, with all these consequences intensifying accordingly. This was the lower limit decided by the 2015 UN Paris Climate Agreement.

The report then shows that the impacts of the upper level agreed in Paris, two degrees, would be catastrophic for many societies. Bluntly, the lower increase will still cause enormous human suffering and environmental damage, but may be manageable. The impacts of the upper level will probably not.

It is to be hoped that today’s Budget will make a small start, with a meaningful increase in our ludicrously low tax on carbon emissions

It is therefore urgent and essential that policy makers and citizens recognise that reducing emissions is the key issue for this decade. And, as the authors of the report spell out, such reductions can actually assist us in meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

In an Irish context, it is incumbent on our politicians, of all parties, to show a similar level of leadership in drawing us away from the energy, transport and agricultural policies that leave us, disgracefully, at the bottom of the European table in mitigating climate change.

It is to be hoped that today’s Budget will make a small start, with a meaningful increase in our ludicrously low tax on carbon emissions. But so very much more needs to be done, and done now. As the report points out, the kind of changes that will keep warming to a barely tolerable 1.5 degrees will require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”.

To find the courage to make such changes, we must recall that great transformations have been brought about by visionary leadership and bottom-up social movements before. It would be tragic beyond belief if a world that has shown itself capable of immense change – take, for example, the abolition of an evil like slavery which was once widely regarded as normal – should prove incapable of heeding the clear and rational message of this report.

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