Ireland faces future of climate change division

Ireland’s fields may not remain quite as verdant for much longer. Image: By Javier Mediavilla Ezquibela, via Wikimedia Commons

Ireland, known as the Emerald Isle for its verdant pastures, may soon lose its title as climate change division takes hold.

DUBLIN, 17 August, 2021 − A friend emails from Athens, describing brown, smoke-filled skies caused by Greece’s raging fires, and says she dreams of soft Irish rain. Little does she know of the growing climate change division which is splitting the island apart.

The brother, living in northern California, talks of temperatures yet again topping 40°C, and driving along highways and hearing the macabre, crackling sound of burning forests.

“What I wouldn’t give for a breath of fresh Irish air”, he says.

Ireland, blessed with a temperate climate, little polluting heavy industry and a relatively small population, has so far escaped most of the extremes of climate change.

While many countries in southern Europe in recent months have been hit by record high temperatures, drought and wildfires, and several states in northern Europe have endured torrential rain and floods, Ireland has been unscathed.

Semi-tropical Ireland

But a new report on the country’s climate – the most comprehensive such study in more than eight years – warns that Ireland is not immune to the dramatic changes happening elsewhere.

The study, by the government’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  and Met Éireann, the national meteorological service, warns of coming weather extremes.

Trends point to “more intense, almost tropical rainfall events.” Couched in cautious terms, the study says scientists in Ireland are “more certain” that the country is becoming both wetter and warmer.

The report says annual rainfall has increased by 6% over the last 30 years compared with the 1960 to 1990 period, while annual average temperatures in Ireland have increased by 0.9% over the past 120 years. The seas round Ireland are becoming warmer and are rising – by approximately 2 to 3mm a year since the early 1990s.

“What I wouldn’t give for a breath of fresh Irish air”

A lack of rainfall is not a phenomenon usually associated with Ireland, but the study warns that, despite the increase in total amounts of precipitation, drought could hit many areas in coming years.

The climate is effectively dividing the country in half: rivers in the west and north of the country are becoming fuller, leading to an increased risk of serious flooding. But in the east and south – where the majority of the population lives – some rivers are at risk of drying up.

Frank McGovern, the EPA’s chief scientist, told the Irish Times that government policies need to take account of the country’s changing rainfall patterns: the study’s findings “should inform investment in planning and making our infrastructure and population more resilient to climate change.”

Ireland markets itself as a green and unpolluted land, free of the smoking industrial chimneys of much of the developed world.

Judicial rebuke

The reality is different: per head of population, Ireland is one of the leading emitters of climate-changing greenhouse gases (GHGs) in Europe.

Its agricultural sector – a key part of the economy – is responsible for a large portion of those emissions.

Problems caused by GHG emissions from the country’s seven million cattle herd and by nitrate-based fertilisers are only slowly being tackled. Ireland’s transport sector is also a big polluter.

Last year Ireland’s Supreme Court, the country’s highest judicial authority, described the Dublin government’s climate policies as “excessively vague and aspirational” and lacking in clear plans and goals. − Climate News Network