The Irish Times view on the latest EPA climate report: underlining the case for early action

Of particular concern is the vulnerability of critical infrastructure, where failures can have a wider impact

It is probably true that the major findings of an unprecedented research effort led by the EPA were known, but Ireland’s Climate Change Assessment (ICCA) brings a new clarity to the myriad of climate threats facing Irish society and how they could be resolved.

What is most significant is that 23 leading climate and energy experts lay out the consequences of delay in implementing known solutions. Having assessed global trends set out by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, they examine how this may affect the island of Ireland. They detail knowledge gaps; weak policy and absent pathways towards a critical target of net-zero emissions by 2050. They highlight the risk of an unrecognisable Irish climate later this century, surely an unthinkable scenario.

The assessment is carefully balanced by outlining a compelling case for rapid and sustained transformation of all sectors of the economy. Its account of the resulting benefits of this undermines the argument of those who claim that progress is impossible.

The ICCA endorses the urgency of decarbonising the energy system; electrification, driven by renewables, must be the enabler for most sectors to get off fossil fuels

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It also points to gross failures in adaptation, which entails preparing for negative climate impacts. Some of these risks are inevitable because of already baked-in global warming arising from human activities, and in Ireland’s case will come with more frequent and intense extreme weather events; storms, floods and droughts. On top of that will be slow but inexorable sea-level rise.

Of particular concern is the vulnerability of critical infrastructure, where failures “can cascade across other sectors and present a multi-sector risk”. Increases in water temperature and changes in rainfall patterns are likely to increase pressures on water quality, which could put food production at risk. Major cities located close to the coast are highly exposed to sea-level rise, storm surges and coastal erosion, especially in the softer sediment coastal zones of the east and southeast. Increases in extremes present challenges for built environments and heritage sites around which tourism is based. Adaptation pathways for many of these sectors are non-existent or not fit for purpose.

It concludes that a legal basis for deep, rapid and sustained national emissions cuts exists, “although current policy and action remain insufficient to meet these aims”.

The pathway forward is clearer for energy, transport and the built environment than for agriculture and land use. But all sectors face challenges. Thanks to the ICCA, the Government is better armed in rectifying obvious failings and adopting a transformative approach in countering the climate crisis. But it needs to get on with it.