World must wake up to climate change

MANY powerful people are, at long last, waking up to the real threat being posed to the world by global warming and consequent climate change. No matter how serious a situation is, human nature remains the same — we don’t start to act until a crisis arises.

Then, it’s more a case of reacting when it’s often too late.

World and EU powers are admitting that we’re facing the disastrous effects of climate change, unless radical action is taken now to reduce the emissions that lead to such catastrophic changes.

Here at home, we’re already witnessing marked changes, with falling temperatures and more persistent high winds than usual this winter.

Coastal erosion is a problem that’s getting worse in Ireland, as hundreds of acres and roads near the sea succumb to storms and huge waves each year. Coast protection is seriously underfunded. An allocation of just €35m for our entire, 6,000km coastline in the National Development Plan 2000-2006 tells its own story.

That’s a paltry sum when you consider that Galway City Council, for example, is seeking €7.5m to protect a highly valuable stretch from Salthill to Barna.

“This is a job that must be done because the value of this amenity is so much greater than what it would cost to do the work,” said Galway Mayor Niall Ó Brolchain.

Flooding will be a major problem if sea levels continue to rise as the Greenland Ice Cap melts. The same ice cap is becoming topic of everyday conversation and little wonder.

Freshwater contained in the Greenland ice sheet amounts to 10% of the world supply. If this melts in a significant way, sea levels will rise resulting in storms, flooding and coastal erosion.

Studies show that Ireland will begin to feel the effects by 2050. Experts such as Dr John Sweeney, from NUI Maynooth, who carried out research for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), believes that if no action is taken then Shannon Airport could lose its runway, the ESB generating stations at Tarbert, Co Kerry, and Moneypoint, Co Clare, could be flooded as could Cork city.

A range of experts say Greenland is melting at an increased rate. Last year, Greenpeace and independent scientists found that a glacier in eastern Greenland is retreating at 14 kilometres a year, triple the speed of 1988.

At present, the planet has heated up by 0.6 degrees and, due to industrial activity which has already taken place, we can expect a further 0.6 or 0.7 of a degree rise. Both the EU and UN warn that if the world heats up two degrees above pre-industrial levels then we will hit “dangerous” climate change.

Kyoto wants to ensure future emissions don’t go above two degrees. According to some dire predictions this will happen by 2050, if not before. If that point is reached, there will irreversible change to our climate.

Ireland is party to the Kyoto Protocol, which aims to reduce the production of greenhouse gases that cause global warming. To do that, we must cut back on fossil fuels such as oil and coal.

While we’re committed to the protocol, which runs until 2012, we’re not living up to our obligations. Under the agreement, Ireland is not supposed to allow its emissions exceed 1990 levels by more than 13%.

The Government could pay dearly for not staying under that limit as it would have to purchase credits from the EU. As of last October, we are at 23%. The EU has stated it looks like Ireland will be almost 16% off the target by 2010. Only three other member states will probably perform worse — Spain, Portugal and Greece.

A critical element of the Green Paper on Energy is that 30% of our electricity will come from renewable sources, such as wind, by 2020. Many would regard this as an optimistic projection.

It could be said that the Government has made the situation worse by investing in road-building projects, rather than rail. With traffic having doubled on our roads in the last 20 years, and continuing to increase, emissions will keep going up.

Negotiations on a new protocol are underway and growing pressure is coming on the US and emerging economic powers such as China and India to play their part in resolving a huge global problem — the biggest issue in the world today.

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