Mooney Goes Wild Monday 11 November 2019

Ireland and Climate Change: Are we up for it? Professor John Sweeney - Maynooth University

When the countries of the world assembled for the now famous Rio Earth Summit in 1992 to adopt the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, they undertook to take the necessary steps to prevent ‘dangerous’ climate change. Defining what was dangerous proved a difficult task, however, and largely as a result of the European Union’s prodding, a value of 2oC warming above pre-industrial times was generally adopted as the criterion. Gradually the rest of the world fell into line with this, except the Small Island Developing States of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. For them this was something that would have condemned their island homes to submergence beneath the rising sea. So when the Paris Agreement emerged in 2015, it had a nuanced objective: "to hold increases in global temperatures to well below 2 °C and pursue efforts to limit increase to 1.5 °C." To flesh out what the 1.5oC target would actually mean, the Conference asked the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to produce a Special Report, which they did in October of last year.

The report confirmed that significantly greater climate problems would be experienced at a warming of 1.5oc compared to the present day, even though we have already warmed by 1oC over pre-industrial levels. These would include increases in extremes of heat and heavy rainfall events in several regions, accompanied by more frequent and more intense droughts. But most worrying was the realisation that the remaining carbon budget to avoid this warming would only last for a decade or two at the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions. After this budget was exhausted the carbon would be in the atmosphere for a century or more. Globally, emissions needed to fall by 45% on 2010 levels by 2030. It was this realisation that galvanised many groups and energised many individuals around the world, culminating in the mass protests we see around us. This was true, even in an Ireland whose compliance with its international obligations are failing miserably and its laggard status approaching the level of a national shaming. As a developed country with historical responsibility, we should be bearing more of the burden of tackling this problem than most other countries. Instead our per capita emissions are 50% higher than the EU average and place us as the second worst contributor to climate change on a per capita basis within the EU. The recently released 2018 figures confirm we are now 5M tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over the limit we agreed solemnly with our EU partners over a decade ago.

At the same time as we declared a climate emergency in Ireland this year we also declared a biodiversity emergency. This was in recognition that Ireland was also experiencing serious threats to its species and habitats, partly due to climate and also a number of other drivers, such as agricultural intensification. Another UN report in spring 2019 confirmed that human actions are now threatening more species with global extinction than ever before. The current rate of species extinction is 10-100 times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years. Around 1 million species already face extinction, many within decades.

In Ireland, our peatland, coastal marsh and mountain habitats are particularly at risk. 29 different bird species and 120  species of flowering plants are in serious decline. Some bird species such as the Corn Bunting and Corncock have become extinct. Others such as the Curlew have been decimated and many species such as the pearl mussel, bumblebee, barn owl and marsh fritillary butterfly face serious threats. At the same time invasive species are moving into newly favourable ecological niches providing additional competition and stress to native species.

Ireland has warmed by 0.5oC over the past 30 years and is likely to warm by a similar amount over the next 2-3 decades. This  will have impacts on our growing season, making crops like maize much more feasible to grow. However, projected changes in rainfall are likely to be the main climate change problem Ireland will face. Already we are seeing an increase in intense rainfall events. Increased winter flood problems will result and the government will need to find €1B of taxpayers’ money to protect against future events. Winter storms are also likely to become more problematical. Winter 2013/14 was the stormiest winter in Ireland for at least 143 years. Winter 2015/16 was the wettest winter on record over half of Ireland. Former hurricanes such as Ophelia and Lorenzo pose additional late autumn threats which are likely to increase as the Atlantic warms and summer droughts will bring their own difficulties for agriculture and municipal water supplies. All in all, it is changing weather extremes which will bring the message of climate change home to Irish people and instil in them the urgency of playing a constructive role in international negotiations.

Conscious that it their legacy that is under threat, young people have been in the vanguard of protest. The ‘Fridays for Future’ schools protest has taken up the baton of Greta Thunberg who has become the icon that communicates the reality of climate change more effectively than a hundred graphs and tables. Armed with the factual knowledge of the Green Schools, it is to these inspirational leaders that the rest of society must now turn. The time for tinkering around the edges with excuses about efficiency or identifying ‘low hanging fruit’ on the basis of economic cost benefit curves is now over. The problem is now an ethical one of intergenerational equity, one where scientists can no longer be labelled ‘alarmists’ but rather ‘realists’. In an emergency the unthinkable has to be considered and Ireland is now at a crossroads where the next decade will determine what legacy we leave to the next generation. It’s an awesome responsibility. Are we up for it or not?

Mooney Goes Wild Climate Change Special

Mooney Goes Wild Climate Change Special

Climate change special

Mooney Goes Wild Climate Special

Sir David Attenborough is to address the UN’s climate change summit in Poland, taking up a newly established "people’s seat" at the negotiations.

Greta Thunberg's full speech to world leaders at UN Climate Action Summit.

Climate Change - Professor. John Sweeney

Ireland recently became only the second country in the world, after the UK, to declare a climate and biodiversity emergency.  

The bold move followed the Extinction Rebellion climate change protest in London and a landmark UN report.  This report concluded that nature is at more risk now than at any other time in human history - with over one million animal and plant species in danger of extinction.

The issue is focusing the minds of the global climate science community, and none more so than in our own in Maynooth University

Professor John Sweeney is Emeritus Professor of Geography at Maynooth University. His climate credentials are well-established.  He was a contributor to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 4th Assessment Report which set out the causes and effects of climate change.  The IPCC was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for the report.

Richard Collins talks to Professor John Sweeney - to listen to the full interview Click Here

Paleobotanist - Jennifer McElwain

Jennifer McElwain is a paleobotanist.  "Paleo" means old and "botany" means the scientific study of plants. So she studies fossil plants, many of them older than the dinosaurs.

These ancient plant remains can tell us a lot about climate change in the past, and can provide critical clues and warning signs on climatic changes today.

Jennifer is Chair of Botany at Trinity College Dublin, and works on The Program for Experimental Atmospheres and Climate or PEAC.  The program can simulate a range of environmental conditionals allowing scientists to predict how a changing climate will plant life on earth. It is within the School of Biology and Environmental Science UCD - which is home to one of the largest and most diverse groups of plant scientists in the world. 

Matthew Jeb is Director of the National Botantic Gardens, Glasnevin.  He recently met with Jennifer at UCD.

Jennifer McElwain is a paleobotanist.  "Paleo" means old and "botany" means the scientific study of plants. So she studies fossil plants, many of them older than the dinosaurs.

These ancient plant remains can tell us a lot about climate change in the past, and can provide critical clues and warning signs on climatic changes today.

Jennifer is Chair of Botany at Trinity College Dublin, and works on The Program for Experimental Atmospheres and Climate or PEAC.  The program can simulate a range of environmental conditionals allowing scientists to predict how a changing climate will plant life on earth. It is within the School of Biology and Environmental Science UCD - which is home to one of the largest and most diverse groups of plant scientists in the world. 

Matthew Jeb is Director of the National Botantic Gardens, Glasnevin. He recently met with Jennifer at UCD.

To listen to the full interview Click Here

Professor Peter Thorne - Methane Gas

Ireland is currently 85 per cent dependent on fossil fuels and its greenhouse gas emissions are rapidly rising.  Beef and dairy production are central here, as grass is a cheap way to feed cows, but as methanogens break down grass in the stomach, they produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Under the new climate action plan, the government has made a commitment to reduce green house emissions in agriculture, resulting in a fall in the national herd, particularly in the beef sector.

Calls to address methane emissions, both urgently and aggressively, have long been made by leading expert on global climate change, Professor Peter Thorne.  Professor of Geography at Maynooth University, Peter is also  Director of the Irish Climate Analysis and Research Unit - as well as a ‘Coordinating Lead Author’ to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as it enters its Sixth Assessment Cycle.  This is the most senior position an Irish scientist has ever held within the IPCC, which is the leading international body for assessing the science related to climate change.

Earlier this year, Eanna Ni Lamhna met Peter to discuss the critical role the reduction of methane emissions play in climate change policy planning.

To listen to the full interview Click Here

Richard Bruton - Minister for Communications, Climate Action & Environment

The future is electric when it comes to getting about and transportation will have to be a top priority in the coming decades as we confront the climate change crisis. 

In June, the Irish government published its major blueprint on how this country will reach its targets on greenhouse emission reductions set for 2030 and 2050.  But how will it actually go about achieving them?  Richard Bruton, Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment has responsibility for the plan and how it’s going to be delivered.  Eanna ni Lamhna has been speaking with him.

To listen to the full interview Click Here

Antarctic Ice Loss

A newly published study which reveals that parts of the Antarctic are losing ice five times faster than they were 20 years ago. Sea levels rise as these glaciers slide into the surrounding Southern Ocean. The East Antarctic ice sheet contains enough ice to raise sea levels by about 60 metres.  It had been considered stable, but recent research has found even this stronghold is showing signs of melting.

Of more immediate concern, however, is the loss of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which is dissolving rapidly.  More than 100 metres of ice thickness has been lost in the worst-hit places.  Its complete loss would drive global sea levels up by about five metres – flooding coastal cities around the world.

Professor Andy Shepherd, a Polar Scientist from the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds and Director of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling in the UK, led this study.  He recently spoke with Dr Richard Collins about the extraordinary thinning of ice sheets inside Antarctica and what the consequences of this process could be.  

To listen to the full interview Click Here

Mary Robinson Climate Change Interview

Éanna ní Lamhna talks to former Uachtarán na hÉireann Mary Robinson about climate change and the injustice that it affects the poorest countries more severely than rich countries.

To listen to the full interview Click Here

The Second Chance Archive

Have another chance to hear some of our Mooney Goes Wild programmes uncovered from the RTÉ Radio 1 archive. Click the links below for more information. 

The Dance of the Cuckoos - Mooney Goes Wild Special 

The Blue Whale - Mooney Goes Wild Special

Feathers - Mooney Goes Wild Special

Bergen Whale - Mooney Goes Wild Special

Sparrows  - Mooney Goes Wild Special 

Wildlife Film Makers - Mooney Goes Wild Special 

The Common Swift - Mooney Goes Wild Special 

E-mail: mooney@rte.ie        Facebook: facebook.com/rtenature          Twitter: @NatureRTE

 

Hedgerows

Statement from BirdWatch Ireland, Thurs Feb 28th 2019:

BirdWatch Ireland wishes to remind the public, local authorities and contractors that hedge-cutting is NOT permitted between 1st March and 31st August inclusive, except in the case of any of the derogations permitted under the Wildlife Act 1976, as amended. The Heritage Act 2018 gives the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the power to make certain changes to these dates, but it is important to note that, as yet, the Minister has not done so. As a result, the usual dates when hedge-cutting is prohibited currently remain unchanged.

It is an offence to 'cut, grub, burn or otherwise destroy hedgerows on uncultivated land during the nesting season from 1 March to 31 August, subject to certain exceptions'. For more information, click here.  To read the Heritage Bill 2016, as passed by Dáil Éireann on July 5th 2018, click here.  To read the Heritage Act 2018, click here.

To contact your local wildlife ranger, click here for contact details. To read the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000, click here.

Caring For Wild Animals

Please note that many species of mammals, birds, invertebrates etc... are protected under law and that, even with the best of intentions, only someone holding a relevant licence from the National Parks & Wildlife Service should attempt the care of these animals.  For full details, please click here to read the NPWS Checklist of protected & rare species in Ireland.  If you are concerned about a wild animal, please contact your local wildlife ranger - click here for details.

IMPORTANT NOTICE

Please DO NOT send any live, dead or skeletal remains of any creature whatsoever to Mooney Goes Wild.  If you find an injured animal or bird, please contact the National Parks & Wildlife Service on 1890 20 20 21, or BirdWatch Ireland, on 01 281-9878, or visit www.irishwildlifematters.ie

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E-mail: mooney@rte.ie

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Presenter: Derek Mooney

Series Producer: Ana Leddy

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