Opinion pieces

The time to act against climate change is right now

The science is clear. Climate change is widespread, rapid, & intensifying according to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). However, no-one needs scientists to tell us that the climate is changing. Apocalyptic scenes of forest fires in Greece and the United States provide us with daily reminders that the planet is in trouble, and we are to blame. The IPCC was set up over forty years ago by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme to provide us with objective, scientific information on man-made climate change. Since 1990 it has produced reports every five years or so that update us on the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on our planet. Monday’s report – “Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis” makes for a sober read. Scientists are generally cautious, and their findings require approval by governments, but the language couldn’t be clearer: It says human influence on the climate system is now an established fact. Each of the last four decades has been warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850. It goes on to say that heatwaves, flooding, and extreme rainfall are set to increase in the coming decades. Areas of biodiversity are threatened by changes in weather patterns. Some say we can’t link specific floods or storms to climate change, but the likelihood that they are influenced by greenhouse gas emissions is rising. Here in Ireland, we have seen birds such as the Corn Bunting and flowers like the Meadow saxifrage lost within our lifetimes. The Corncrake is endangered. Many more species around the world are being lost or endangered due to the changing climate.

You might ask, is there any good news? Well, there is now a growing realisation amongst governments that we must act fast to prevent catastrophe. This November in Glasgow, National Governments from around the world will gather at the Conference of the Parties (COP26), the 26th United Nations Climate Change conference that was postponed form last year due to the pandemic. I’ve attended several of these over the years, and I have rarely seen as much interest as we are seeing in this Autumn’s meeting. Hopefully it will result in greater global agreement to reduce emissions. All eyes will be on China, as well as the USA to see what these large economies will announce. President Biden of the USA is ambitious in his plans for climate action, but his wishes has been tempered by Republicans who either deny climate change is happening, or who don’t feel business should be hampered by climate ambition.  Some argue that small countries shouldn’t have to make an effort, but our emissions are amongst the highest per capita in Europe, and we can hardly put pressure on large countries if we don’t try ourselves.

European Union policy makers have announced a ‘Fit for 2030’ series of measures that aim to reduce the European Union’s greenhouse gas emissions 55% by 2030 compared to the 1990 base year. Much of my work as an MEP over the coming years will be to hammer out the details of these changes, from electric vehicles to investments in low-carbon trains and shipping. Here in Ireland the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 has been passed by the Oireachtas and signed by the President. It aims to reduce Ireland’s emissions by over 7% per year over the coming decade. At a regional level Climate Action Regional Offices (CAROs) are helping local governments make the transformations that are required.

Climate action can be a good news story. If we retrofit our homes with high levels of insulation and new heat pumps, we can reduce heating bills to near zero and create thousands of jobs over the years ahead. If we develop massive offshore wind farms and link together European energy grids, we can export clean electricity when the wind blows and import it on calm days. There’s huge potential to make our cities, towns, and villages safer to walk and cycle, so that we don’t have to use a car for everyday journeys. Less emissions can improve our air quality and reduce the incidence of asthma and other respiratory diseases. Agricultural reforms can and should reward farmers who enhance biodiversity. However, Governments must ensure that changes are part of a ‘Just Transition’ that protects those on low incomes from high price hikes on their everyday needs. If we make the right changes, we can deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals and improve the quality of peoples’ lives. Faced with the prospect of climate breakdown if we fail to act, the time is right to take swift action to avert catastrophe.

Ciarán Cuffe is the Green Party MEP for Dublin.


August 10, 2021

first published

Irish Independent

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