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Saturday 2 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C
Sam Boal/
hitting home

Storm Babet floods show climate change is 'here and now' - Eamon Ryan

Tanáiste Micheál Martin acknowledged the government has been “slow” until now to implement protective measures.

THE DEVASTATING FLOODS that hit parts of southern counties during Storm Babet are a sign that climate change is happening here in Ireland, Climate Minister Eamon Ryan has said.

Tanáiste Micheál Martin has acknowledged that the government has been “slow” until now to implement measures that would help to protect communities from extreme weather events like the Storm Babet floods.

The two senior Government members addressed a Climate Summit conference held in Dublin this morning in the shadow of the recent floods and a new international report that states the earth is in “uncharted territory” and the effects of global warming are “progressively more severe”.

“I think Irish people realise we have to act on climate but maybe they still have the sense that it’s somewhere else and sometime in the future. What happened to Middleton last week shows that that’s not true,” Minister Ryan told the conference.

“It’s here, it’s everywhere, and we have to act as well as everyone else.”

The Tánaiste said the flooding in places like Glanmire and Middleton were “no mere floods” but a “climate event”.

Climate change increases the risk of flooding, making it more frequent and more intense, as well as other extreme weather events such as heatwaves as more familiar weather patterns are destabilised. 

Climate action takes two forms – mitigation, which tries to stop the climate from changing (primarily by cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions) and adaptation, which seeks to protect people and nature from the impacts of climate change that are already happening.

The government published a National Adaptation Framework for the first time in 2018 and a new one is due to be prepared by the end of this year under the Climate Action Plan 2023. 

Micheál Martin said today that ”when we put climate on the agenda, we have to put adaptation more and more on the agenda, and I think we’ve been somewhat slow on that front”.

“In Middleton, I spent about four hours meeting with residents and business people and surveying the damage,” he said.

“Along with adaptation, we have to confront the existential issue of climate and we have to conform with the policies and the investment necessary to make a meaningful and lasting difference.”

Speaking to reporters at the conference, Minister Ryan said that systems need to be developed that can anticipate flooding risk in a similar sense to how meteorologists can detect storms.

“I was in Middleton in the response centre in the fire station there and had a discussion with Met Éireann. We have very good weather forecasting systems that are fairly accurate; we can days in advance, fairly accurately, what the localised weather system is going to be like. But we don’t have a similar capability in flood management,” the minister said.

“We don’t have a similar depth of knowledge about groundwater. The problem in Middleton wasn’t just heavy rain. It was also the fact that the groundwater conditions were very high,” he said.

“I think as part of our adaptation plan, that’s where we’ll need a lot of work -understanding what’s happening in our river basins and having an approach looking at the source of the river right down to the sea. Not just how do we culvert, how do we wall in rivers in the middle of towns, but how do we manage the whole system. I think that’s going to be central to our climate adaptation approach.”

The Climate Summit heard speeches from both ministers on the existential threat that climate change poses and the progress that Ireland still needs to make in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Annual United Nations climate talks are due to take place in Dubai at the end of November, with several Irish ministers expected to attend the COP28 summit.

Eamon Ryan, who was the EU’s lead negotiator last year on the important matter of climate change impacts in developing countries, known under the term ‘loss and damage’, is set to attend preparatory talks in Abu Dhabi in the coming days.

The annual COP summits are the primary forum for countries to pledge actions and finance to try to reverse the climate crisis and alleviate its impacts.

Key to this year’s discussions will be loss and damage and cutting down on fossil fuels, but the latter may be complicated by host country UAE’s strong fossil fuel industry and the heavy use of fossil fuels in international conflicts. 

Minister Ryan said climate action is the “peace project of our time” and that countries should enter the COP talks with that mindset.

However, he said that prospects at this moment for getting a significant commitment to fossil fuel cuts are “not looking good”.

“Fossil fuel companies have to switch [...] we need them to switch from drilling for oil and gas to laying out floating and fixed offshore wind,” he said, calling for investments to be moved from fossil fuels into clean energy sources.