The past month has seen extreme weather events here and in many parts of the world. Liam Murtagh explores the issues of flooding, extreme weather events and climate change. He also looks at the significance of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (Global Goals) which came into effect on New Year’s Day.
Oram to Castleblayney road – one of the many roads closed during recent flooding
The wettest December on record and a series of five storms so far this winter has left many people in Ireland reeling from the impact. Flooded houses, businesses and farmland have caused many people stress, inconvenience and financial loss. Many others have been marooned in their homes, with travelling out by car not an option.
Bad planning decisions and inappropriate land use have in many cases made the problems worse. Extreme weather events are linked to climate change and it is obvious now that there needs to be a rethink in terms of where houses and business premises are built in future and the capacity of existing infrastructure to cope with floods on the scale we are likely to experience.
Just a few weeks ago the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released their latest report on the impact of climate change on Ireland. It outlined how ‘heavy rainfall events are projected to increase during winter and autumn’ and how the frequency of storms will decrease but their intensity will increase. Shortly afterwards the Environmental Pillar (NGO) called on the government to bring in substantive land use changes to protect communities from increasingly frequent high rainfall events. They highlighted the need to restore wetlands, bogs, native woodlands and hedgerows as they can play a hugely important role in both preventing flooding and dealing with climate change. Dredging a long stretch of a river may alleviate flooding on that stretch but can often lead to flooding further downstream.
The Government’s CFRAM (Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management) process which has been underway for the past few years is running a year behind schedule and is coming too late for those affected by floods this winter. While CFRAM flood risk assessments have now been undertaken and flood maps drawn up for high risk areas, the actual draft Flood Risk Management Plans won’t go out to consultation until later this year. Implementation will follow. In Co Monaghan a set of flood maps for four ‘Areas for Further Assessment (AFAs)’ have been drawn up. The four areas are Monaghan Town, Carrickmacross, Ballybay and Inniskeen. See http://www.cfram.ie for details.
Extreme Weather Globally in 2015
The ‘El Niño’ warm ocean effect from the Pacific combined with climate change has led to extreme weather events globally in 2015. Severe floods hit many parts of South America while typhoons in the US and the Philippines resulted in much destruction, with dozens killed and many being made homeless. There has been an unprecedented ‘heat wave’ in the Arctic at the end of December causing temperatures in the North Pole to spike above freezing point. Climate change is already driving profound shifts in the Arctic ecosystem. Extreme heat waves in Pakistan and the Middle East killed thousands. A drought currently being experienced in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa means that millions are in need of emergency food aid. One of the effects of climate change is that it is partly the cause in the increase in refugee numbers arriving in Europe from Africa and the Middle East.
For the first time in recorded history, global levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere averaged more than 400 parts per million (ppm) for an entire month in 2015. Scientists have warned that, in order to achieve safe levels, CO2 must be brought down to a maximum of 350ppm. Whether the Paris Climate Deal agrees in Decemember will keep warming to below 1.5C or even below 2C remains to be seen. It all depends of the implementation of the substantial reductions in emissions that are necessary. Everyone has a role to play – from large companies to us as individuals. This means reducing the production / use of fossil fuels and also reducing emissions of methane from livestock. Although Ireland is a small country, our emissions per person are among the highest in the world and we are likely to miss by 6% the EU 2020 targets of a 20% reduction in emissions as compared to 2005. We have a big challenge ahead.
Significance of Sustainable Development Goals
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (Global Goals) agreed at the United Nations in September last, cover a wide range of areas and address the many causes of poverty, injustice and damage to our planet. The significance of the agreement on Goals is immense even though it was underreported in the media. Never before have the world’s countries come together to agree such a comprehensive agenda. Irish officials at the UN helped to ensure their passing and now they have just come into ‘effect’ – on New Year’s Day. The Global Goals apply to both developed and developing countries, and are as relevant to Ireland as to any other country. The Goals are backed up by 169 targets – the graphic below shows the main areas that the Goals address.
One key Goal is that of ending global poverty by 2030. Many people might think this is over ambitious or even unrealistic. Unfortunately Ireland’s aid to the Developing World in 2015 has fallen to 0.4% of GDP. The target set back 14 years ago was 0.7% of GDP but it was never reached. This situation does not help in ensuring that resources are in place to support the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.
One of Ireland’s strengths is its number of Development Aid workers and volunteers spread throughout the world. Many of them work in difficult conditions and their great contribution in empowering communities is to be commended. Development education has a key role to play and in this regard the ‘Insight Programme’ of Drogheda based NGO Deveopment Perspectives will be arranging for 42 people to go to Tanzania for 3 weeks later this year. Places are currently available. See http://www.developmentperspectives.ie.
Transition Monaghan plan to run a number of events in 2016 relating to sustainability. If you would like to join in the planning of these events and initiatives please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
January events guide can be found here