'We must tackle this and get serious': Cork in the eye of climate change storm

'We must tackle this and get serious': Cork in the eye of climate change storm

Flooding on Carrigrohane Rd and the Lee Fields area in Cork following the heavy rainfall in 2009. Dr Dwyer said ‘although few millimetres per year doesn’t sound a lot, when you put that on top of a high tide and a storm surge, then you can get pretty significant coastal flooding during those types of events.’ Picture: Denis Minihane

A UNIVERSITY College Cork (UCC) academic has warned that Ireland does “not have the luxury of taking a breather” in the battle against climate change, as a new report finds the country is becoming warmer and wetter, with extreme weather events more frequent.

The Status of Ireland’s Climate study says that greenhouse gas levels hit a record high in 2019, rainfall increased by 6% in recent decades, and the country’s temperature has risen by 1C over the last century.

Sea levels have risen by about 16cm since the foundation of the State, bringing with it the risk of “significant coastal flooding”, one of the report’s authors has said.

The joint study by the Environmental Protection Agency, Met Éireann, and the Marine Institute has painted a stark picture of the impact of climate change in Ireland, following on from the report of the UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change, which warned of a “code red for humanity”.

Co-author Dr Ned Dwyer, an academic at UCC, said the report shows Ireland must act.

“The temperature across the country has increased by about a degree over the last 100 years, which is in line with what we’re seeing globally. The rainfall amounts have increased by about 6% over the last few decades.

“In fact, work done at Maynooth University showed us the rainfall in the period 2006 to 2015, was the wettest period since at least 1700.

Cork City has experienced significant flooding a number of times in recent years.

“We’re [also] seeing more frequent extreme events, like heatwaves and wet spells lasting longer,” said Dr Dwyer.

“And also sea levels have risen by about 16cm since the foundation of the State.”

Fine Gael councillor Des Cahill said the report is “frightening”, but he has appealed for calm heads to tackle the issue.

“We shouldn’t panic,” he said.

“We need to adapt and prepare. We must tackle this and get serious. The reality of it is we’re going to have to change.

“Not everyone likes change, but it is a necessity. We can all do small things to improve matters.”

Mr Cahill called on the Government to provide more support for retrofitting. “I think the Government needs to give more grants for retrofitting houses,” he said.

“A huge amount of our council houses have been done recently, which is great. We need to make grants more easily available for private houses.”

With regards to flooding in Cork City, Mr Cahill said that he is looking forward to work commencing on flood defence works around Morrison’s Island. “We are always susceptible to flooding in Cork City,” he said.

“It is only going to get worse. I can’t wait for Morrison’s Island to start.”

Cork South West TD and Fianna Fáil climate spokesman Christopher O’Sullivan said he was not surprised by the findings of the report.

Grand Parade in 2009, when it was badly flooded.
Grand Parade in 2009, when it was badly flooded.

“They are telling us what we already know, that all of these severe weather events, droughts, coastal flooding, erosion, and high rising sea levels are all brought about by global warming,” he said.

Mr O’Sullivan said we all need to keep climate action to the front of our minds in everything we do. “A lot of people associate climate action with pain, taxes, and cost,” he said.

“That may well be the case in some instances, but there are also opportunities. We are positioned perfectly with our coast for floating offshore wind.

“The possible add-on jobs for our coastal communities, our ports and harbours in terms of maintenance and construction is huge.

“Renewable energy can do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to climate action.

“The biggest win of all by going renewable is that renewable energy is cheaper than energy from fossil fuels.

“We have a target of getting to 70% renewable by 2030 which would reduce our emissions massively. I will also be urging the Government to emphasise the necessity for retrofitting. We all need to focus fully and really drive it on.”

The report tracked the rise of greenhouse gas emissions and found that, when compared with pre-industrial levels, today’s carbon dioxide levels have risen by 50%, nitrous oxide by 20%, and methane levels by 170%.

Dr Dwyer warned that these are “the main drivers of climate change”. He told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland: “It’s not that the emissions that we’re making in Ireland are causing Ireland’s climate to change … it’s all part of a global situation.

“But Ireland is obviously contributing to those emissions as well.”

He said most of the heat from these emissions ends up in the oceans and contributes to rising sea levels.

He added: “Most of the carbon dioxide that’s emitted is absorbed into the ocean and 90% of the excess heat we’re generating ends up in the ocean.

“More globally, as the Arctic ice cap is melting and glaciers are melting, that additional water is going into the sea and with the warmer ocean expanding, it is leading to the sea-level rise.

“That is a particular issue for Ireland, especially in the softer coasts to the east and south, we are seeing and we’ll continue to see rising levels of coastal erosion and also coastal flooding,” he said.

“Because although a few millimetres per year doesn’t sound a lot, when you put that on top of a high tide and a storm surge, then you can get pretty significant coastal flooding during those types of events.”

He said that everyone in Ireland would have to put their “shoulder to the wheel” to tackle climate change, but he also expressed optimism that there has been a “huge awakening” about the dangers it poses.

He welcomed the Government’s Climate Action Bill, and the promise of a new, detailed plan for climate action by the autumn.

Dr Dwyer said that the questions facing Ireland now are: “How do we ensure that our towns and cities do not get flooded?

“How do we ensure that our roads and rail infrastructure is going to stay good, and not either get melted because of heatwaves or get flooded due to excess rainfall.”

“We don’t have the luxury of taking a breather, we essentially have to continue to do more,” he added.

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