We can no longer ignore the reality - our climate is changing and we are not prepared

Extreme weather events like flooding and storms have exposed an adaptation deficit in Ireland. There is no time to lose

2023 was the hottest year on record, with global temperatures close to the 1.5 degree limit set down by the Paris Agreement. In Ireland we are experiencing the same trends, with annual average temperatures now around one degree higher than the early 20th century. Sixteen of the 20 warmest years have occurred since 1990.

These are some of the stark conclusions of Ireland’s Climate Change Assessment published by the Environmental Protection Agency, which represents a significant outcome of collaborative and interdisciplinary work from Irish academia. This major scientific assessment grounds climate science in an Irish context, and adds local and national context to global assessments undertaken by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC).

The evidence is clear: climate change is already happening here in Ireland. This contrasts with the misguided perception that people in other countries are at much greater risk from climate change than we are. Ireland’s Climate Change Assessment provides unequivocal evidence that climate change is a current reality and is already impacting us, including through temperature increases, more heavy rainfall events and weather extremes which are likely linked to human-induced climate change. All of these indicators fit the pattern of a changing climate system with major consequences for society, people, communities and business.

But it’s not all bad news. Early and rapid global action on emission reductions will likely leave an Irish climate at the end of the century that is still broadly recognisable, whereas delayed action would leave an Irish climate that is increasingly unrecognisable as the century progresses.


EPA analysis shows that Irish people do want to do their bit: 90 per cent expressed a strong national responsibility to do what we can to reduce our greenhouse emissions. Science tells us that if we can reach net zero global carbon-dioxide emissions by 2050, many of the key components of the climate system such as temperature and precipitation would stabilise within the lifetime of today’s younger citizens. So there is every imperative to act now.

We need large-scale and immediate emissions reductions across the energy system. The Cop28 Agreement reached in Dubai signalled the “beginning of the end” of the fossil fuel era. This presents a significant challenge to Ireland given that our energy system is heavily dependent (86 per cent) on fossil fuels despite significant progress made in renewable electricity generation.

We need even deeper emissions cuts, particularly in heat and transport. Significant emission reductions are needed in agriculture, Ireland’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, with innovation opportunities already evident in areas such as feed additives and new fertilisers. Our land needs to move from being a net source of emissions to a sink through a combination of enhanced afforestation and rewetting.

Until recently climate action in Ireland has been focused on reducing our emissions, with less attention given to adapting to ongoing and future climate impacts. Given the reality of climate change we need a stronger focus on adaptation to ensure the resilience of our homes, infrastructure and communities. Extreme weather such as flooding and storms have exposed an adaptation deficit in Ireland. Actions taken today to reduce vulnerability and increase resilience will shape the future, and should be seen as an investment rather than a short-term cost.

The assessment report also highlights how the impacts of climate change and extreme events can cascade from one sector to another. Flooding of critical infrastructure such as a water treatment plant can impact water services for businesses and have health impacts for all of us. Our focus on individual sectors in isolation raises the risk of underestimating cascading risks and requires more integrative assessment.

As a small, open economy heavily dependent on imports and exports, Ireland is highly exposed to the impacts of and responses to climate change experienced elsewhere in the world. Understanding cross-border risks, including to trade, finance, people and psychological, geopolitical, biophysical and infrastructure pathways are existing knowledge gaps. The first National Climate Change Risk Assessment will help identify the main climate change impacts for Ireland, and provide insights into the solutions needed to inform the climate change adaptation planning process.

Effective and fair transformative actions will have climate benefits and bring myriad opportunities for health, wellbeing, nature and sustainable economic development in the near and long term. This requires more direct public engagement and participation in development and implementation of transition management. Achieving Ireland’s climate goals will be challenging, but the report makes clear that we already have access to much of the knowledge, tools and technologies we need. The time to act is now. As the report says, the future climate is in our collective hands.

Dr Eimear Cotter is director of evidence and assessment at the EPA