At Tearfund Ireland, we talk about the effects of climate change, felt most keenly in the poorest places in the world, while the causes are perpetrated in wealthy countries. Ireland is more resilient to changes in weather than many countries in the Global South, particularly our fellow small island nations in the Caribbean and the Pacific. However, we have seen the effects of a changing climate on our small island as well. In 2018 it seemed that every second headline was about the weather; from severe storms in winter to heatwaves and droughts in summer.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, future impacts of climate change in Ireland include more intense storms and rainfall and negative effects on fisheries due to changes in temperature.
With more than 50% of our population living along the coast, we are particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels, leading to flooding in coastal areas. Our water quality is also at risk with flooding, and the effects of changes in weather could be detrimental to the life of Irish plants and wildlife. Changes in weather patterns have been felt most keenly in our agricultural sector, altering growing seasons. What are we doing to adapt, and what is our track record of responding to climate change?
The Climate Change Performance Index has placed Ireland 48th out of 56 countries around the world, and Ireland was ranked the worst country in the EU for climate action in December 2018. We are not set to meet our 2020 target for reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, which are the third highest per capita in the European Union, largely due to our agricultural sector, which makes up 32% of overall emissions. The decarbonisation of energy and transport and the adoption of sustainable food production, management and consumption systems are vital if we are to address this issue effectively.
With recent developments, the tides of Ireland’s climate action could be set to change…. Ireland recently declared a climate and biodiversity emergency, and in July the government launched the ambitious and long-awaited Climate Action Plan.
The plan includes 183 action points and a timeline for delivery. It outlines how Ireland will meet the obligations of the EU greenhouse gas emissions target, which requires the State to reduce emissions by 30% between 2021 and 2030. As it stands today, our emissions in agriculture and transport will continue to rise due to our growing population and economy. However, if the climate action plan is implemented, we could meet our targets by reducing emissions by 2% each year.
One major target is to have 950,000 electric vehicles in Ireland by 2030, which is realistic thanks to the increase in fuel prices, the rise in carbon tax, increased motor tax, and the reduction in prices of electric vehicles. The BusConnects project is set to increase bus journeys by 50% in urban areas, and will allow for a 200km cycle network.
Other aims seem less realistic. For example, the government aims to plant 8,000 hectares of new forest each year, but doesn’t give any specific ways in which this will be achieved. There is also a notable lack of biodiversity or seas and coastline measures.
To reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and coal and peat, the plan includes a measure to ban oil-fired and gas boilers, and invest in renewable energy such as wind and solar power.
Ireland’s growing economy has led to a 58% increase in waste emissions since 2011. The plan aims to reduce landfill waste to 10% of all waste by 2035. It also commits to recycle 70% of packaging waste by 2030, and recycle over half of plastic packaging waste.
When it comes to agriculture, change is in the air: with every vegan restaurant that opens across Ireland, and every family opting for meat-free Monday or a reduction in their consumption of beef, we are slowly but surely reducing our dependence on beef and the demand for meat production in Ireland. We need to reduce the national herd and diversify production in order to produce more of the food we need to consume.
As I write this, I am on a train from Kerry to Dublin, and when I allow myself to be distracted from reading policies on a screen, I look out the window and see the reality: flooded fields, wind turbines in the background, and more cows than I could count.
These issues are as real as it gets; and the time to act is yesterday. We must use our voices, but our actions must speak louder than our words. We must collectively demand that our government takes this seriously. The climate action plan is ambitious, sure, and the Irish government’s track record on achieving ambitious targets is poor. But we are in crisis mode, and we have a population that is increasingly engaged and tuned-in. Let’s not allow this moment go to waste.
We each have power to make decisions, speak up for what is right, and acknowledge our complicity in a globally unequal system. We know that the first to feel the effects of climate change are those who are least responsible and least resilient. I do not wish to perpetuate the guilt and responsibility many of us feel, but I do wish to highlight our power to change things. We must demand that our governments take ambitious and far reaching steps to change the future of this planet, to secure the earth for future generations, and to renew our world.