The Irish Times view on the UN climate report: A global emergency

Recent heatwaves across Europe and wildfires in Arctic underline the risks

Left unchecked, global warming will erode the capacity of land to support human life and impair food production across the planet, the UN has declared in its latest evaluation of climate disruption. Photograph: Todd Korol/Reuters

Left unchecked, global warming will erode the capacity of land to support human life and impair food production across the planet, the UN has declared in its latest evaluation of climate disruption. Photograph: Todd Korol/Reuters

 

Left unchecked, global warming will erode the capacity of land to support human life and impair food production across the planet, the UN has declared in its latest evaluation of climate disruption.

While the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) advocates switching to a plant-based diet to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and supports eating less meat and dairy products, it stops short of explicitly calling on everyone to become vegan or vegetarian. The policy recommendation, however, has obvious implications for Irish agriculture.

Separately, the report underlines the importance of afforestation and fuel crops to absorb carbon but highlights the need to get the balance right. The associated risks of land degradation and increased desertification, which could have “potentially irreversible consequences”, are inevitable if the approach is wrong.

Forests and lands already remove a third of emissions added to the atmosphere each year, and protecting, restoring and expanding forests could provide an additional 25 per cent of the mitigation needed by 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.

We have experienced the warmest July on record, while ice sheets at the poles are melting at an unprecedented rate

Trees clean air, cool the earth’s surface and supply rainfall for agriculture, enabling us to produce the food we eat. They buffer against extreme climate impacts, including floods and drought.

Fortunately, the report confirms forests and thriving food production can co-exist while improving how we produce food, eating more sustainably and reducing food waste.

The Government’s climate action plan addresses many of land issues confronting Ireland, but the IPCC findings endorse the drawing up of land use plans – a measure ominously missing from the State’s armoury. They are critical to transforming how we use land, the type of farming we do, and the conservation of forests and other natural ecosystems. Of particular importance in the Irish context is the restoration of peatlands.

Recent heatwaves across much of Europe and wildfires in the Arctic have underlined the risks that climate change pose to people and ecosystems through extreme heat, drought and threats to food production. We have experienced the warmest July on record, while ice sheets at the poles are melting at an unprecedented rate.

The Irish Times reported this week on the situation in Somaliland, where thousands of pastoralist farmers are being forced off the land by repeated climate shocks, notably droughts. It is a microcosm indicating what is likely to happen in much of Africa and Asia, where migrants will be forced to move due to an overheating world.

There is evidence, however, that too many governments, which have declared a climate emergency with much self congratulation, are already displaying signs of complacency. This latest IPCC verdict should force them to sit bolt upright.

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