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Less rain, more floods in Ireland

October 13, 2017, by Kieran Cooke

Ireland Dublin storm

Sandycove, a Dublin suburb, is battered by the sea in 2013. Image: Vladimir Zakharov via Flickr

Government’s lack of response to climate change is criticised as forecasters in Ireland predict a decline in overall rainfall and an increase in torrential downpours.

DUBLIN, 13 October, 2017 – In Ireland it is said to rain so much that land is not sold by the acre – but by the bucketful.

That could all change in the years ahead as the rate of global warming accelerates and less rain falls across the country, according to Irish meteorologists.

Dr Saji Varghese, head of research and environment at Met Éireann, the Irish meteorological service, says it is likely that Ireland will experience significant rises in temperature, with the average set to increase by more than 1°C by mid-century.

Speaking at a special Citizens Assembly in Dublin, held to discuss the impacts of climate change in Ireland, Varghese said that overall amounts of rainfall are likely to decrease.

We can blame the unusual storminess on natural
weather processes, though when the storms
occurred their impacts in terms of heavy rainfall and
flooding were worse due to climate change”

Set against that decline, the frequency of torrential downpours would increase, said Varghese – by a rate of as much as 30% in the autumn and winter months.

Ireland has been hit by several severe storms recently. In August of this year the county of Donegal, in Ireland’s northwest, suffered serious floods, resulting in multiple landslides and the evacuation of homes and farms.

Professor Peter Stott, who leads the climate monitoring and attribution team at the UK Met Office told the Assembly – billed by its organisers as an exercise in grassroots democracy – that storms that had battered Ireland and Britain in recent years were a “wake-up call” and showed just how vulnerable both countries were to such events.

We can blame the unusual storminess on natural weather processes, though when the storms occurred their impacts in terms of heavy rainfall and flooding were worse due to climate change,” said Stott.

The Assembly, which received more than 1,000 submissions from the public on climate change issues, discussed how Ireland could position itself as a leader in the battle to tackle global warming.

Progress in Ireland

Participants heard that while there had been considerable progress in Ireland in areas such as developing sustainable energy systems, not nearly enough was being done to meet the challenges posed by a warming world.

The government was prioritising economic growth above all else, the gathering was told. The public was still largely disengaged or ill-informed on the issue.

Though Ireland has little heavy industry – often a leading source of climate-changing greenhouse gases – its emissions have been rising over recent years.

The agricultural sector is estimated to account for up to a third of total emissions, with Ireland’s 7 million-strong cattle herd producing vast amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Nitrogen fertilisers spread on fields are another source of greenhouse gases.

Livestock emissions

Latest research indicates that, worldwide, emissions of greenhouse gases from agriculture – and the livestock sector in particular – have been seriously underestimated.

Joseph Curtin, a researcher at University College, Cork, told the Assembly that there had been a “spectacular failure” in Ireland over the past 15 years in responding to the challenges of climate change.

We have not stepped up to the plate,” Curtin told the Assembly. “Let’s be realistic: start by doing our fair share, then we can aspire to leadership.”
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