D-Day for Climate Change as Kyoto Protocol Comes into Effect

D-Day for Climate Change as Kyoto Protocol Comes into Effect. Evening Herald, 19th February 2005

It’s D-Day for Climate Change. The Kyoto Protocol came into force this week. Named after an ancient city in Southern Japan, the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change is a United Nations Treaty that tackles Global Warming. This is the build-up of Greenhouse Gases in the earth’s atmosphere that traps the heat from the sun and causes changes to the Climate. In Ireland this may bring milder wetter winters and warmer summers. It may also have intensified the storms last January, and made flooding worse in recent years.

While the effects of Climate Change in Ireland are difficult to measure over the usual variation of weather that we experience, other countries are facing life-or-death decisions because of changes that have already occurred. In the Pacific Ocean the tropical islands of Tuvalu north of Fiji are at risk of being swamped by rising sea-levels due to melting polar ice. Islanders know that their children will have to move country or perish. In South America the city of Lima in Peru may lose its water supply due to changing weather patterns. Glaciers that were stable for centuries have simply melted away in the space of a generation. In China drought has led to a new category of migrants: ‘environmental refugees’ that are forced from their homeland by climate change.

Last year’s popular film “The Day After Tomorrow” dramatised the effects of sudden changes in our climate. In the movie Dennis Quaid plays a climatologist who tries to find a way to save the world from sudden global warming. Although it is highly unlikely that we will witness the dramatic changes pictured in the movie within our lifetime, it brought the message home that climate change will affect us all. Ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream ensure that Ireland has a comparatively mild climate. However increases in global temperature could ‘switch-off’ or reverse such currents, and bring about sudden catastrophic changes.

In Kyoto in 1997 the European Union countries agreed to legally binding targets that would limit emissions of greenhouse gases. In Ireland’s case we promised to limit the increase in emissions to 13% over 1990 levels by the year 2012. Ireland has experienced huge growth in that period and emissions today are over twice the increase that we signed up to seven years ago. The Irish Government published a National Climate Change Strategy in 2000. It was intended to provide a blueprint for Ireland’s response to the issue. The Report identified Climate Change as the most significant and threatening global environment problem facing humanity today. Although it made significant proposals to address the issue, five years ago not enough has been done, and Ireland’s emissions exceed our targets.

In the construction sector, the Government could provide new homes with an energy rating similar to fridges so that purchasers could see at glance their new home’s contribution to climate change. More encouragement for timber-frame construction would reduce emissions. Incentives could be provided to homeowners installing solar panels and heat pumps so that less energy would be required. Higher insulation standards would also help. Given that homes built today will last a lifetime it is important that we tighten up the Building Regulations so that all new homes and workplaces meet much higher standards. This should also increase the value of new buildings. In the area of agriculture, methane emissions from cattle form a large part of Ireland’s total emissions. Although this sector is relatively stable, more encouragement of organic farming would reduce fertiliser use and help Ireland reach the targets. More beef processing here at home could create jobs and contribute to Kyoto targets.

In the energy sector, converting the Moneypoint power station to gas instead of oil would contribute towards our Kyoto targets. A private company Airticity provides ‘green’ electricity from wind farms to customers. More wind farms are required in order to reduce our dependence on imported oil that increases greenhouse gas emissions. In the area of transport it is important that we get the balance right between road building and public transport. Rail freight could play an important role in tackling Climate Change. The success of LUAS in Dublin could be repeated in cities like Cork, Limerick and Galway.

The introduction of a Carbon Tax could shift taxation away from income tax and onto polluting industries that create emissions and use up our oil reserves. We should already be thinking about what to do when the oil runs out in order to maintain for Ireland to remain competitive in the world economy. Implementing the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change won’t save the Earth overnight. Countries such as the Unites States haven’t even signed up to the agreement. It is however a small but significant milestone in tackling a global issue that effects all of our lives. Our children will thank us for it.


First published Evening Herald, 19th February 2005, page updated 9th January 2018