Eco Logic: Approaching a sustainable future for Ireland

Note: This post was written as part of the World Bank Group’s Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided. It serves as an introduction to this  blog’s new Eco Logic tab and a portal to the five Climate Conversations posts
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Ireland is neither the most vulnerable not the responsible country when it comes to climate change. But like every country, climate change will – and already is – having an impact. We have a role to play minimising that impact, both on our own shores and as part of a global effort.

As an island, Ireland is vulnerable to sea level rise, and to flooding and extreme coastal erosion due to Atlantic storm surges – as was witnessed by a series of storms in the winter of 2013/4. Such events are already occurring with greater frequency well before we reach even 1 degree of the projected 2-4 dregree global mean temperature rise.

There are, however, great opportunities for Ireland in adapting to its changing climate. Already subject to high rainfall, Ireland is set to become wetter, with rainfall projected to increase 11%. However, properly harvested and utilised in water-dependent industries, Ireland could make wise use of what is becoming an ever-scarcer resource. Comparable in size and population to Denmark, which has an ambitious plan for abandoning fossil-fueled energy, and being right on the Atlantic seaboard of Europe, Ireland has enormous potential for wind- and wave-powered energy generation that with a similar approach to Denmark could set this country well on the way to a low-carbon future. However, these resources are not being tapped effectively.

Ireland under Storm Rachel, Jan 15, 2015 (Irish Independent)

There is a mutually-reinforcing lack of political and public will to address climate change. Citizens are by and large not engaged with the reality of climate change and it is not a central election issue. Politicians in turn have little incentive to push for action on climate change when it has little draw for their electorate. Illustrating this, a ‘Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill’ currently working its way through the legislature has been denounced as “weak” and “fundamentally flawed” by the aid agency Trócaire, which has pointed out that the bill “fails to set a numeric target for emission reduction for the future… [or even] to define what is meant by low carbon”.

An even more glaring indication is seen in the response to the abolition of dairy quotas. For 31 years, Irish agriculture has been limited in the amount of milk it can produce. With the removal of quotas last month, the dairy industry is set to expand enormously, with the addition of 300,000 additional cows. This has been hailed by the government, farmers and the rural public alike as “a big opportunity”. What is rarely mentioned is that agriculture – and particularly the dairy industry – is by far the sector most responsible for Ireland’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It is hard to see how the country can meet emissions targets it is already disastrously missing by increasing the industry that contributes most to those emissions. Again, the lack of political and public emerge as huge obstacles to the necessary action on climate change in Ireland.

This is where The Climate Gathering comes in. This civil society collective recently brought together representatives from all sectors of Irish society – business, trade unions, NGOs (including Trócaire), climatologists, politicians, farmers, scientists and the general public – to address such dilemmas and to determine how Ireland can progress towards a low-carbon future.

Five Climate Conversations were held across Dublin over the past two months under the theme of “bringing people together for a new understanding on climate change”. In many ways, these events mirrored the approach of the World Bank in its Turn Down The Heat series of reports – Act Now, Act Differently, Act Together.

The opening conversation set the stage for acting now – illustrating the urgent need to engage Irish public to take action, and discussing how to make the issue a relevant priority.

The second and third events looked at how to act differently – first, taking the opportunity from Ireland’s nascent economic recovery to reshape the economy for a sustainable low-carbon future; and second, how to make the best and most sustainable use of our land through redeveloping our agriculture and forestry sectors.

The fourth and fifth conversations called on people to act together: to consider the values that inspire us to act for change and to look at various creative ways for engaging communities and building sustainable local awareness and action.

My reports on each of these events can be found below. Each incorporates the full video of the event. This new tab will be a portal for further posts on environmental issues, as the next phase of action towards a low-carbon future for Ireland gathers pace.

Climate Conversations I: ‘Communicating the Challenge’ – Liberty Hall, 18 March

Climate Conversations II: ‘A New Economy’ – The Stanley Quek Hall, 26 March

Climate Conversations III: ‘The Sustainable Use of Our Land’ – Guinness Storehouse, 8 April

Climate Conversations: ‘Prophetic Voices’ – Christ Church Cathedral, 20 April

Climate Conversations:  ‘The Call to New Horizons’  – Abbey Theatre, 10 May

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