We are not acting quickly enough on climate change says Director General of the EPA

Date released: Jul 25 2014

  • Ireland is not on track to becoming a low carbon society
  • Our coastline is under increasing threat from climate change
  • We need a clear vision in Ireland for how we generate, supply and use clean energy

“We need a clear vision in Ireland for how we generate, how we supply and how we use clean energy if we are to play our part in lowering emissions of carbon dioxide, mainly from fossil fuels,” according to Laura Burke, Director General of the Environmental Protection Agency. 

“Emissions of carbon dioxide, mainly from fossil fuels, are the big driver of climate change globally, and here in Ireland, where they make up 65% of our emissions.  If we don’t move – and move with urgency - then we will face the consequences of increasingly negative impacts of climate change.”

Ms Burke was speaking at the 34th Annual MacGill Summer School in Glenties, County Donegal.  The theme for the morning session was, 'Climate change is for real – what can and should we do?'  Other speakers on the theme included Dr John Sweeney of NUI Maynooth and George Lee, Environment and Agriculture Correspondent in RTE.

“We need to plan for and we need to move to zero fossil carbon energy in the next thirty years – by 2050 at the latest,” she said. 

“The stone age didn’t end because we ran out of stones.  We now need to think the same way about fossil fuels – the fossil fuel age must end long before the supply runs out.”

The phasing out of fossil fuels has already begun in Ireland.  Renewable energy reduced CO2 emissions by almost two million tonnes in 2012, replacing imported fossil fuels and saving an estimated quarter of a million euro in costs of fuel imports and emissions.  This is nowhere near enough progress Ms Burke said.

“We are not on track to a low carbon society.  At this rate, we are not even on track to meet our targets under the EU Climate and Energy package for 2020.  Missing these targets will entail costs for Ireland, and will also increase the difficulty and the cost of achieving a low carbon economy and society.”

The impacts of climate change are already being felt in Ireland, Ms Burke said, and in the coming years and decades, our coastline will come under ever greater threat because of rising sea levels and other changes in the ocean.

“Changes in the ocean and in sea levels will dominate our climate.  We need to understand the impacts much better than we currently do.  A repeat of this year’s storms, so devastating in parts of Cork and Limerick, would have been even more devastating if they came on top of an additional rise in sea level of 20 or 30 cm.  And even the most optimistic forecast shows our sea level rising by between 26 and 55 cm before the end of the century.”

Ms Burke concluded by saying that business as usual was no longer an option and that we need to see the opportunities for Ireland in moving to a greener and more sustainable economy and society.

“We have to decarbonise our energy systems.  Let’s do that, and let us build up skills and tools that have global reach.  We are already at the forefront of key areas of agriculture and land use research.  Let us use that knowledge and lead the way in climate and food sustainability solutions.  And let us begin to understand that acting on climate change and becoming more sustainable is not a penance or a punishment – it enhances our quality of life individually and collectively, and builds the sustainable economy of the future.”