It’s late July and we in Ireland have had a typical Irish summer so far – some warm days followed by some cool ones. Temperatures reached 30°C (86°F) on our hottest day but many other places around the world have been sweltering under unusually intense heat. If you were in Basra in Iraq a few days ago you would have experienced a scorching 54°C (129°F). Worldwide, the month of June marked the 14th consecutive month of record-breaking temperatures. What is causing this record-breaking heat? How will it affect us in Ireland and others around the world? Is there anything we can do? Transition Monaghan’s Dearbhla Lenehan tells us more.
Climate scientists have been warning us for decades that our continued burning of fossil fuels is increasing greenhouse emissions. This is causing global temperatures to rise, increasing desertification rates, melting of sea ice, rising sea levels, droughts, flash flooding and more frequent violent storms to occur. Just recall Storm Desmond last year? Even now, months later the name still rings a bell and with it flashbacks to the turmoil people had to endure come to the fore. What is causing this string of record breaking heat and severe weather events?
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Human activities since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (1750) have increased the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide from 280ppm to 400pm in 2015. That’s a 40% increase! Burning of coal, oil and natural gas, along with deforestation, soil erosion and animal agriculture have all contributed to this massive jump in emissions. In 2012, 72% of Ireland’s emissions came from Agriculture, Energy and Transport. It’s estimated that if we continue to emit greenhouse gases at the present rate, the Earth’s surface temperature could drastically increase by 2047, with potentially harmful effects on ecosystems, biodiversity and our livelihoods.
Ireland’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Source, EPA
Climate change in Ireland
In Ireland, temperatures have risen by 0.8°C in the last 100 years. That might not seem like much, but with every degree the global temperature increases there is up to 10% increase in rainfall, a 10% change in streamflow in many river basins, a 15% decrease in sea ice in the Arctic Ocean and 15% reductions in crop yield.
According to Met Éireann, we can expect our global temperature to rise by up to 4.5°C depending on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions by 2100. Already in Ireland the beginning of the growing season for certain species is now 10 days earlier, there’s a decrease in the number of frosty days and an increase in the number of days over 20°C. With temperatures projected to rise further by 2050 we can expect a further lengthening of the growing season which will have a knock-on effect to natural ecosystems which have evolved gradually in accordance with our climate, e.g. migrating birds arrive in spring and feed off insects emerging after winter, if insects hatch earlier fewer chicks will survive. Over the last 30 years rainfall amounts have increased by 5% and are expected to increase further and we can expect more Storms like Desmond and for them to occur more frequently.
There’s still hope.
If we all do our part, be it big or small to reduce our emissions this will help reduce the rate at which our global temperatures increase. If everyone could make an effort to do small things like; walking/cycling to work, carpooling and turning off appliances when they’re not in use, over time these changes lead to a decrease in our individual emissions (and monetary cost).
On a larger, worldwide scale at the COP21 conference held in Paris last year, 195 countries agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a bid to keep global warming below 2°C. Although there are some significant flaws in this agreement it is still a step in the right direction. When world leaders come together and make a binding agreement to tackle climate change it can only result in good things.
In 1987 most of the world signed the Montreal Protocol, which banned the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) which were putting holes in the ozone layer. Recently, it was reported that the ozone layer hole over the Antarctic has begun to shrink. The study found that the ozone hole had shrunk by 4 million km2 (an area the size of India) since 2000. This shows that if we come together on a global scale we can make a difference and we can tackle climate change. It all starts with one step, start yours today!
Next week will look at the emission targets for the EU and Ireland and what it will mean for all of us over the next few years.
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