Immediate action on climate has widespread benefits

Posted on Thursday, 22 February 2024
Main Image
Page Content

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published Ireland’s first Climate Change Assessment Report.  The Assessment provides a picture of where Ireland is in its response the climate emergency. It provides insights as to the scale of the challenge for Ireland to become climate neutral and climate resilient. It reinforces the need for Ireland to pick up the pace of action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to our changed and future climate.  The findings build on the global assessments by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and give the local and national context for Ireland.


Ireland’s Climate Change Assessment Report

Future changes in climate will have impacts greater than those already experienced for all aspects of Irish society, the environment and economy. Significant potential sectoral impacts and challenges arising from further climate change include:

  • Significant impacts on biodiversity on land and in the ocean are projected with additional warming. Changes in temperature and precipitation are likely to increase the occurrence and spread of invasive species and the competitive pressures faced by Ireland’s native species.
  • Climate change will impact all aspects of Irish agriculture. While increases in productivity can be expected for some crops, decreases can be expected for others.
  • With all major cities and many regional towns located close to the coast, Ireland is highly exposed to sea level rise, storm surges and coastal erosion, especially in softer sediment coastal zones.
  • Ireland’s built environment is exposed to flood risks from rivers, the sea and rainfall extremes. Increases in extremes present challenges for the integrity of built environments and heritage sites.
  • Ireland depends on critical infrastructure for delivering public services, economic development and a sustainable environment. These are exposed to a range of climate extremes. Failures in critical infrastructure can cascade across other sectors and present a multi-sector risk.
  • Climate change impacts will directly and indirectly affect health and wellbeing, while vulnerability is likely to increase as Ireland’s population ages over the coming decades. Critical health infrastructure, including hospitals and care homes, faces increased risks from heat and flood extremes.
  • Tourism is highly exposed and vulnerable to climate change. Warmer summers are often perceived as an opportunity for Irish tourism through increasing visitor numbers. However, without careful management, this could create damaging and unsustainable pressures on sensitive heritage sites and environments.

Key findings and recommendations

  • Having peaked in 2001, Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions have reduced in all sectors except agriculture. However, Ireland currently emits more greenhouse gases per person than the EU average. A legal basis for deep, rapid and sustained national emissions cuts now exists, although current policy and action remain insufficient to meet these aims. The pathway forward is clearer for energy, transport and the built environment than for agriculture and land use. For all sectors there are many challenges to overcome.
  • Over Ireland, annual average temperatures are now approximately 1°C higher than the early 20th century with 16 of the 20 warmest years occurring since 1990, and 2022 being the hottest year on record to date. Overall, when aggregated, there has been an increase in heavy precipitation extremes over Ireland across a range of indicators.
  • If we can reach net-zero global carbon dioxide emissions by mid-century, then components such as temperature and precipitation, which react within years to decades to changes in radiative forcing, would stabilise within the lifetime of many of today’s younger citizens. However, sea-level will continue to rise and will take thousands of years to stabilise, even once net zero emissions are reached.
  • Early and rapid global action on emission reductions would likely leave an Irish climate that is still broadly recognisable in comparison to today, whereas delayed action would very likely leave an Irish climate that is increasingly unrecognisable as the century progresses.
  • Achieving net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 requires significant and unprecedented changes to Ireland’s energy system. Established technologies, such as wind energy, solar photovoltaics and bioenergy, will be key in meeting short-term emission reduction targets (i.e. 2030), whereas offshore wind infrastructure is expected to be the backbone of future energy systems.
  • Deep emission reductions within the agriculture and land use sectors are a critical aspect of Ireland’s efforts to mitigate climate change and to transition to a low-carbon economy. Optimal use of no-regret livestock management measures, including increasing the dairy Economic Breeding Index, improving herd genetics, improving animal health and promoting efficient feeding strategies, will help in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Despite the recognition of the importance of agricultural emissions and land use removals, there is a critical research gap in determining the specific levels of emissions that can feasibly be balanced with land use practice. The research on land use, land use change and forestry suggests that the primary means to get to net zero for this sector is through unprecedented rates of afforestation and the rewetting of organic soil along with a significant reduction in herd numbers. The majority of the mitigation options available in Ireland are still in the early implementation stages, and there is an urgent need for Ireland to explore various diversification strategies to enable deep mitigation.
  • Looking to the future, aside from climate change, social, environmental and economic challenges in energy, health, housing, and an ageing population, together with biodiversity loss, all increase vulnerability to climate change impacts.
  • Actions taken today to reduce vulnerabilities and exposure and increase resilience will have benefits now, while shaping the future, and should be seen as an investment rather than a short-term cost.
  • The decisions made and actions taken this decade will have long-term consequences affecting many generations into the future. Immediate and sustained transformative mitigation and adaptation actions are likely to yield substantial benefits for health, wellbeing and biodiversity in Ireland while reducing vulnerability to the adverse impacts of climate change.
  • Tackling climate change and biodiversity loss together enhances the many synergies that exist between actions to address these crises while minimising and managing any remaining trade-offs.
  • Ireland’s current policy direction predominantly emphasises technology transitions, rather than wider systemic transformations and shifts in development pathways. To enact this transformation, it is essential to broaden the scope of measures aimed at accelerating emissions reduction, including by addressing indirect drivers of emissions such as institutions, economic models, settlement and infrastructure, governance, demographics and sociocultural factors.
  • Prioritisation of wellbeing and equity in development and climate policy could bolster the democratic social contract in support of transformation, including improved quality of life, decent work and the value of care. Emissions intensive activities are likely to face growing pressures to change or contract, which increases the need for just transition, and to enable opportunities for economic diversification.

Social Justice Ireland view

How we adapt and mitigate to climate change now will in large part determine the type of world in which future generations will live. When adapting to meet this challenge, we must also grasp the opportunity to address social and economic challenges that already exist, making sure that the actions that we take begin to address these problems rather than exacerbate them.  This requires a Just Transition approach, both to meeting climate goals, and addressing the multifaceted social and economic challenges that we have failed to address for many years.  Transition is not just about reducing emissions. It is also about transforming our society and our economy and aligning our economic policies to support our social and environmental goals.

For any ‘transition’ to be successful and just, Government must address current social and economic inequalities and infrastructure deficits by investing in effective and integrated social protection systems and delivering quality services as well as progressing actions to implement carbon budgets and the Climate Action Plan, which are vitally important.

Transforming national policy also means ensuring that a just transition effects change at all levels. This must include social protection systems being updated to uphold an operational and fair Social Contract, planning for an ageing population through implementation of updated care policies and the recognition of unpaid labour in our economy and society. If Government is to deliver our 2030 targets, strong policy coherence; the mainstreaming of climate adaptation into fiscal policy; and governance focused on addressing inequalities is required.