A leading climate change expert has warned that even if targets on greenhouse gas elimination are met, the worst effects of global warming have yet to be seen in Ireland. And he said he doubted authorities here had the expertise or resources to prepare properly for what is to come.
Peter Thorne, of Maynooth University, director of the Irish Climate Analysis and Research Units, gave his grim forecast as Donegal and adjoining counties began counting the cost of Tuesday night’s raging storm that caused flash flooding, ripped up roads and washed away bridges in just a few hours.
Met Éireann described the storm as a one-in-a-100 years occurrence but Prof Thorne said while the exact conditions that caused this particular event were very rare in Ireland, the immense volume of rain that fell was an established hallmark of climate change.
“One of the strongest signals in climate change is an increased frequency of intense rainfall events,” he said. “For every degree the globe warms, the atmosphere can hold another 7% water vapour and, fundamentally, what goes up must come down.”
Met Éireann said at the height of the thunderstorm, 33mm of rain fell in just two hours on the Inishowen Peninsula and double that amount in six hours. Normally 25mm in 24 hours warrants a severe weather warning.
Rivers that had not flooded in living memory broke their banks, dozens of families were left homeless, businesses were swamped, livestock wiped out and farmland ruined. At one point 25,000 customers were without electricity.
Hundreds of motorists were stranded and some had to flee as rapidly rising flood waters surrounded their cars and washed them away. Across the border, City of Derry Airport was evacuated as the terminal building flooded.
Local authority staff convened an emergency meeting to devise an action plan and minister for state with responsibility for flood protection Kevin “Boxer” Moran arranged to visit last night.
Prof Thorne said the worst was yet to come.
“Even if we stick to the efforts articulated in the Paris Agreement we are still going to pump a lot more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere so climate change is going to get worse,” he said.
“We have developed infrastructure based on the climate so any change is bad because it puts at risk elements of infrastructure — transport, the built environment, agriculture. Everything that we depend on is set up for today’s climate so Ireland will be affected by climate change. We may not see massive heatwave events that cause mass mortality, we may not see hurricanes, but we will see climate changes that fundamentally impact on Ireland and Ireland’s way of life.”
Since last year, local authorities have been required by law to establish strategies so that climate change is factored into decisions on planning and service provision but Prof Thorne questioned how effective the initiative was.
“It’s clear that the law exists but it’s not clear to me that the means to actually put that into practice in an effective manner exists.
“It takes relevant expertise and relevant tools — the observations and analysis.
“It’s having the right people trained in the right way to be able to interpret correctly the climate information and apply it to planning decisions.”
Climate Change Minister Denis Naughten acknowledged there were challenges ahead. “Funding is going to have to be put in place to deal with damage to infrastructure.” He said the issue would be addressed in the National Adaptation Plan which he said would be finalised by the end of the year.