HAVING experienced the remains of a hurricane by way of Storm Ophelia the previous October, little did we anticipate the further extremes we got in 2018. The end of February brought us an unprecedented second Status Red weather warning within five months as the confluence of tropical Storm Emma and the ‘Beast from the East’ cold snap dumped several inches of snow and brought much of the country to a standstill for the most of a week.
Farmers were struggling from the double weather whammy that caused severe shortages of food for their animals due to restricted grass growth and fodder had to be imported, leading to greater indebtedness. Then, just as the grass growth started to take off again in late spring and the first cut of silage had been done, they were hit by a summer drought that started at the end of May, put a stop to growth and forced farmers to dip into fodder reserves that were meant for the following winter.
This was the third weather extreme in the space of just over seven months and it lasted more than six weeks, with water tables also being reduced to nothing, thus adding to the problems for everyone. In spite what the sceptics think, the extremes we saw in the past year have convinced more people that climate change is becoming a more imminent reality and, worryingly, Ireland has fallen even further behind on its commitments to take mitigating measures.
It seems that we do a lot more talking about reducing greenhouse gas emissions than we do about actually reducing them. We already knew that we are set to fall far short of our commitment to reduce emissions to 20% below 2005 levels by 2020; now it seems we haven’t a hope – at the current rate of progress – of meeting the 2030 targets set by the Paris Agreement of three years ago.
Only extremely urgent ongoing action will help us meet our 2050 targets. Little wonder then that Ireland’s performance on climate action has been ranked as the worst in the entire EU28 and among the worst in the world in a major new international survey published earlier this month. In the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) report, the European Union average score was 60.65; Ireland was ranked 48th on the list, with a score of just 40.84, which was well below the EU average.
There was some praise for us in the report for talking the talk, with special mention of Thomas Pringle’s pioneering Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill and for the innovative Citizens’ Assembly process, which produced far-reaching recommendations for climate action now being considered by a special parliamentary committee working on the development of Ireland’s National Energy and Climate Plan. However, the Citizens’ Assembly recommendations may prove too far-reaching, especially for agriculture – which accounts for a third of greenhouse gas emissions – and the agri-food industry, who have derided the Assembly for its naivety in intimating that perhaps we should all become vegans!
To its credit, this government was the first here to set up a ministry for climate action, however two and a half years into its term of office, tangible progress on the reduction of carbon emissions has not been evident – in fact, ironically, emissions have increased since the department was established. In recent weeks, a new minster, Richard Bruton has been reading himself into the brief after the sudden resignation of his predecessor, Denis Naughten, over his socialising with the remaining bidder for the National Broadband Plan roll-out contract.
Mr Bruton must have got a greater appreciation of the scale of what needs to be done by way of climate action – and the urgency of it – when he attended COP 24, the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, in Katowice, Poland, this month. While there, he stated that ‘Ireland is fully committed to the implementation of the Paris Agreement’ and also announced that he is directing €4.5million to fund international co-operation on climate action.
Ultimately, however, it is what he does on the home front by way of climate action that will count most and it is hoped that it will be enough to counteract what An Taisce’s Climate Change Committee spokesperson, John Gibbons, described as the ‘deeply embarrassing blow to Ireland’s reputation as a good faith actor in terms of doing its fair share in tackling the global climate crisis,’ which was delivered by the CCPI report.
Richard Bruton has a lot of ground to make up. And quickly.