Climate Change

November 22nd, 2007 - Pat Breen

^ Climate Change and Energy Security: Statements (Resumed). ^

22nd November, 2007

Deputy Pat Breen: The Minister of State has given me another job. Global warming is discussed on a regular basis at the Council of Europe. My party in Europe, the EPP, has produced a draft document on climate change and it is hoped the European Union will pursue the matter further. I congratulate my Fine Gael colleague, Deputy Seán Barrett, on his appointment as Chairman of the new Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security. It is great to have this committee established and I hope its members will focus on their responsibilities.

Global warming is a reality. Throughout the world, we can observe the effects of rapid warming within a short period of time. Within the past century, global surface temperatures have increased by an average of 0.74° centigrade. In recent years, global temperatures have spiked dramatically. As Deputy Coveney stated, 11 of the past 12 years, between 1995 and 2006, rank among the 12th warmest years of recorded global surface temperatures since 1850. These figures speak for themselves. To many ordinary people, 1° might not sound very much. However, in locations such as the Arctic Circle, small changes are amplified and 1° can be significant.

The effects of climate change accelerate so quickly that statistics are out of date before they are printed. Combating climate change is the greatest challenge facing the world and following the agreement reached by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, in Valencia last weekend we can no longer ignore the warnings. It cannot be disputed that global warming is a reality.

The United Nations Secretary General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, visited the Arctic region recently to see what is happening to the glaciers. The President of the European Commission, Mr. Barroso, also visited the region with the Danish Minister with responsibility for the environment. We owe a great debt to the winners of the Nobel peace prize, the IPCC and the former US Vice-President, Al Gore, for their efforts in helping us understand man-made climate change and laying the foundations for the measures needed to counteract such change.

An IPCC report drawn up by more than 2,500 of the world’s top scientists concludes that global warming is now indisputable. The poles are melting, the patterns of rainfall are changing and heat waves, floods, storms and droughts are all becoming more prolonged and severe. Without radical action, the world faces major catastrophes such as Greenland’s ice sheet disappearing, the Amazon rainforest becoming a dry savanna and Australia’s Great Barrier Reef dying. A great deal of emphasis is placed on Africa. During the next 30 years, between 75 million and 250 million people there will be short of water.

I will now consider what faces us in Europe and previous speakers spoke about what will happen here as a result of global warming. One negative impact will be more frequent coastal floods and inland areas will also be affected. In recent years, floods occurred in central Germany and Prague. I saw this when I visited Prague a number of years ago and went to a restaurant near the Charles Bridge which had been submerged in floods the previous year and still had the marks. Florence was also flooded a number of years ago.

Coastal flooding will affect us in Ireland. The area in which I live, Ballynacally, County Clare will suffer greatly if the seas rise. The Fergus embankments are in extremely poor state and have been subject to flooding in recent years. Unfortunately, the OPW will not take responsibility for maintaining these embankments. It takes responsibility for some embankments towards Clarecastle. However this is not the case down the coast on the Fergus estuary from Ballynacally, Kildysart, Labasheeda and Killimer Knockerra.

The OPW is conducting a study on the condition of the embankments which will be available next year. I urge the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, to put the necessary capital funding in place to repair the embankments. If this does not happen and we experience the flooding promised for the next 20 years, many low-lying areas will be flooded. Farmers will be put out of business, the environment will be affected and houses will be flooded.

Another negative impact of climate change is the increased risk of forest fires. Many of the recent fires, particularly those in the United States, were started designedly. We saw the impact of forest fires on the environment in Greece. They burned out of control because of the heat waves which Greece and other countries experienced during recent years. Africa will experience drought. Those of us who live in rural areas know that wells are polluted or dried up.

One does not need a computer to see the effects of climate change. One need only look out the window at the garden. Migratory birds which fly north to breed arrive three weeks earlier than usual, bats wake earlier from hibernation and flowers blossom much earlier in the year. Every day, we hear of new diseases such as avian flu, West Nile virus and SARS.

While climate change is predictable, our worst fears could be avoided with straightforward measures at little cost if the Government takes action. Must we choose between the economy and the environment? Previous speakers, such as Deputy O’Rourke, spoke about the little things ordinary people can do to improve the environment. Those of us who stay in hotels see notices about towels and the excessive use of detergents. Deputy O’Rourke mentioned turning off lights.

If we think outside the box, we can effect change. In the mid-west, the Limerick Clare Energy Agency was established in 2005 through co-investment from Limerick and Clare County Councils. Counties Clare and Limerick have tremendous renewable energy resources. We are fortunate that the local authorities, local businesses, rural development and third level colleges all work together to solve our climate change and energy problems. Perhaps the Shannon Estuary has the greatest potential for development. The wave energy of the Clare coast could make a major contribution to the regional and national electricity demand if captured. A programme of investment of upgrades at the Moneypoint power station in Clare is already under way with regard to retrofit and scrubbers.

Public transport is also important and would be improved if the western rail corridor were in place.

According to the 2002 census, 34% of households in County Clare had second cars and 83% of all households had at least one car. We need to put a good public transport system in place. As Al Gore has said, it is time to rise again to secure our future.

A conference will be held in Bali next month and 16 Asian countries have already signed an agreement on climate change and reducing greenhouse emissions. Let us look forward to a new beginning and a replacement for the Kyoto Agreement within the next two years.