STRIVE 12: Report shows need to adapt to a changed climate

Date released: Apr 27 2009

Significant changes are projected to occur in Ireland’s climate over this century, according to a research report published today by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  The report, Climate Change in Ireland: Refining the Impacts for Ireland, suggests that we need to plan for these changes, which are already occurring, but which will be clearly evident within 40 years.

Laura Burke, Director of the Office of Climate, Licensing and Resource Use, EPA, said:

“Climate projections such as those provided in this report enable us to assess potential impacts, plan and take actions to avoid the worst of these, and if possible to utilise positive changes.”

The projections are in line with earlier reports provided by the National University of Ireland, Maynooth (NUIM) and Met Eireann, but are based on outputs from a wide range of global climate models, thereby increasing confidence in the projections.


The projections show that:

  • Average temperatures will rise by 1.4oC to 1.8oC by 2050, and be in excess of 2oC relative to the 1961-1990 baseline by the end of the century. 
  • Summer and autumn are projected to warm faster than winter and spring, with the midlands and east warming more than coastal areas.  
  • Winter rainfall is projected to increase by 10 per cent, while reductions in summer rainfall of 12 to 17 per cent are projected by 2050.
  • The largest winter rainfall increases are expected to occur in the midlands.
  • By 2050, reductions in summer rainfall of between 20 and 28 per cent are projected for the southern and eastern coasts, increasing to between 30 and 40 per cent by 2080.
  • Changes in the frequency of extreme events will accompany these climate changes. Longer heat waves and drought may occur, which will be especially important for eastern and southern parts of Ireland.


Professor John Sweeney, NUIM, the lead author of this report said, 

“We are looking at changes in extremes at both ends of the spectrum, more rain and more intense rainfall at one end and then heat waves and droughts at the other.  However, considerable uncertainty still remains in several areas, particularly in relation to rainfall.  A risk management type approach to adaptation will be required to take account of these uncertainties.”
 
Laura Burke, EPA, agreed,
“Further research is required to reduce scientific uncertainties and increase confidence in projections for decisions on investment in infrastructure and development. The EPA Climate Change Research Programme has a key stream of work which aims to support such research.”
 
The report concludes that there is an urgent need to adopt appropriate mitigation and adaptation responses to the risks posed by climate change, notwithstanding the challenges of recent economic events.
The report is entitled Climate Change in Ireland: Refining the Impacts for Ireland and is available on the EPA website.
It is released today by the EPA and was prepared by the Irish Climate Analysis and Research Unit from the Department of Geography, National University of Ireland, Maynooth. The report was produced as part of the EPA’s Science, Technology, Research and Innovation for the Environment (STRIVE) Programme (2007-2013).
ENDS

Additional information



The key findings are:

  • Mean annual temperatures in Ireland have risen by 0.7 oC over the past century.
  • Mean temperatures in Ireland are likely to rise by 1.4oC to 1.8 oC by the 2050’s and by in excess of 2 oC relative to the 1961-1990 baseline.  Summer and autumn are projected to warm faster than winter and spring, with the midlands and east warming more than coastal area.  
  • Projections of changes in precipitation in Ireland are subject to uncertainty with all modelling approaches. Nonetheless, changes in precipitation patterns are suggested to be the most important aspect of future climate change for Ireland.  Winter rainfall in Ireland is projected to increase by 10 per cent, while reductions in summer of 12 per cent to 17 per cent are projected by the 2050’s. Spatially, the largest winter rainfall increases are expected to occur in the midlands.
  • By the 2050’s, summer reductions in precipitation of 20 to 28 per cent are projected for the southern and eastern coasts, increasing to 30 to 40 per cent by the 2080’s.
  • Changes in the frequency of extreme events will accompany these climate changes. Longer heat-waves; a substantial reduction in the number of frost days; more prolonged rainfall events in winter and more intense downpours in summer are projected. Conversely, longer dry spells in summer may increase propensity towards drought, especially for eastern and southern parts of Ireland.


The research shows the impacts on the key sectors of water resource management, agriculture and biodiversity:

  • The report demonstrates how the local impact of climate change on water resources and flood potential will be strongly influence by the characteristics of the catchments. Key parameters identified include soil moisture storage, soil permeability, streamflow, etc.  Case studies are presented for a number of the rivers including the Suir, Blackwater (Co. Cork), and Barrow. Significant reductions in soil moisture storage were projected.
  • Significant differences were found between groundwater and runoff fed river systems in response to climate change.
  • It is projected that the return period of the “10 year” flood will reduce to a 3-year event on most catchments by 2050.
  • The main challenges to Irish agriculture will come from wetter winter and drier summer soils. The impacts will not be uniform across the country. Regional specific adaptation strategies will be required.
  • Changes in biodiversity across Ireland will occur; especially vulnerable ecosystems can also be identified where successful adjustment to new conditions is unlikely.


The research concluded that despite the uncertainty inherent in the analysis, there is an urgent need to adopt appropriate mitigation and adaptation responses to the risks posed by climate change, notwithstanding the challenges of recent economic events.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the key body to agree international actions to address climate change.  Its objective is to prevent dangerous climate change by stabilisation of atmospheric greenhouse gas levels.  The Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC has established GHG emissions reductions targets for developed countries. The meeting of the UNFCCC in December 2009 aims to agree future emissions reductions with a global framework. 

Global climate models (GCMs) have greatly improved in reliability and resolution as computing power has increased and better inputs from earth observation have become available. The grid size used is too large to provide useful climate scenarios at smaller scales, which are of use for Ireland. The report published today presents the findings of a statistical downscaling approach, which is used to provide high resolution information on climate projections and their impacts.