Addressing climate change

Addressing climate change requires two types of responses: mitigation (defined as an anthropogenic intervention to reduce anthropogenic forcing of the climate system (IPCC, 2007)) and adaptation (defined as: the “adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects that moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities” (IPCC, 2007). 

The European Union’s (EU) agreed objective is to limit global temperature increase to less than 2°C compared with pre-industrial levels – beyond this threshold irreversible changes, such as the breakdown of the Greenland and/or West Antarctic ice sheets, become more likely.

Ireland is committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol. This is an international agreement designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in developed countries by achieving national emission targets. Under this agreement, Ireland is allowed to increase its emissions by 13% relative to 1990 levels in the period 2008 to 2012.

Kyoto Target 1990-2009
Figure 1. - Ireland's CO2 emissions - 1990-2009

Even if the world succeeds in limiting and then reducing Climate Change Research Programme  (GHG) emissions, our planet will take time to recover from the greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. Thus we will be faced with the impact of climate change for at least the next 50 years. We need therefore to take measures to adapt. The UNFCCC stipulates that every effort must be made to adopt national or regional adaptation strategies and has established processes under the Buenos Aires Plan of Action and the Nairobi Work Programme to advance work in this area.

The EU White Paper (CEC, 2009) on adapting to climate change sets out a framework to reduce the EU’s vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (DEHLG) is committed to developing a National Adaptation Strategy (NAS). The Strategy will provide a framework for the integration of adaptation issues and options into decision-making at national and local levels.  The EPAs greenhouse gas  (CCRP) has enabled the provision of research in support of adaptation planning such as the ‘A summary of the state of knowledge on climate change impacts for Ireland’ (Desmond, et al., 2009)

Neither adaptation to new climate conditions nor the reduction of emissions alone can ensure that major negative climate change impacts can be avoided over the coming decades. Addressing climate change will therefore require planning for sustainable development and measures to tackle the oncoming impacts of climate change. Investments over the next two to three decades will have a large impact on opportunities to achieve required GHG emissions reductions targets and will also reduce the risks of future climate impacts.

If we hope to combat climate change, concerted efforts will need to be made locally and internationally by governments, public agencies, businesses, industries, communities and individuals. Achieving major reductions in the use of fossil fuels is essential if Ireland is to secure the major cuts being sought in GHG emissions. In addition, improvements in energy efficiency, coupled with widespread use of alternative energy sources, will also be needed. Sustainable transport and agricultural practices aimed at reducing emissions are also urgently needed.  Possibilities for development and deployment of low carbon technologies and new technologies such as carbon capture and storage and management systems will also arise.

Ireland will also need to play its part globally assisting developing countries to address the impacts of climate change and to establish a sustainable pathway for their development.  The EPA is actively engaged in national and international processes to address climate change.

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