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?

Professor John Sweeney is Ireland’s foremost climatologists and was a  lecturer at Maynooth University’s Geography Department for 40 years until his recent retirement. Over the past 30 years he has published approximately 60 scientific papers and edited and co-authored texts on various aspects of climatology and climate change in Ireland.

Each feature and documentary is a unique collaboration between Derek and the expert presenters which creates a vivid word picture for the listener.  As Derek says "there’s no visual distraction on radio. You’ve got to get the right people to tell the stories and the stories have to be interesting".  Derek has produced a wide range of documentaries and features covering such diverse subjects as the Swedish botanist Karl Linnaeus, the story of Keiko the killer whale (star of the movie Free Willy) and 50 years of the Eurovision Song Contest - not to mention an absolute wealth of natural history documentaries!

Wildlife Documentaries In Order Of Broadcast

Irish Brent Goose Expedition (First TX 02/12/85)

Presented by Brian Hayes.  Produced by Dick Warner.  Duration: 45:02

A documentary about the incredible journey made by the Brent Geese from Bathurst Island in Canada to Ireland, in 1984.

Swansong Of A Toad (First TX 17/07/90)

Presented and produced by Dick Warner.  Duration: 34:18

Dick Warner travels to west Kerry, one of the last habitats of the Natterjack Toad.  He soon discovers that the toads are in a battle for survival - is it too late?

Robin - The Christmas Bird (First TX 24/12/99)

Presented and produced by Derek Mooney.  Duration: 26:28

A Mooney Goes Wild on One Special where Derek Mooney meets Ireland's robin experts for an in depth investigation into the life and times of the Christmas bird. Click here to find out more about this documentary.

The Long Way Home (First TX 05/01/00)

Presented and produced by Derek Mooney.  Duration: 42:14

The star of the movie Free Willy was an Orca (or killer whale) called Keiko.  This documentary charts Keiko's journey from a Mexico city amusement part to the Westman islands in Iceland where he is preparing for freedom - on his way back home.  Click here to find out more about this documentary.

World Wild #1: The Rainforests of Costa Rica (First TX 06/06/01)

Presented by Eanna ni Lamhna.  Produced by Derek Mooney.  Duration: 42:10

In the first of a series of wildlife documentaries called 'World Wide' presented by four Irish environmentalists, Eanna Ni Lamhna explores the rainforests of Costa Rica.  Click here to find out more about this documentary.

World Wild#2: The Trumpeter Swan (First TX 13/06/01)

Presented by Richard Collins.  Produced by Derek Mooney.  Duration: 42:30

Swan doctor Richard Collins travels to North America to view the 'Trumpeter' swan.  The Trumpeter is the largest swan in the world and the heaviest flying animal.  In this programme Richard Collins visits Airlie, Virginia, and talks to Dr. Bill Sladen, director of the Trumpeter Swan project, and his dedicated staff.  He also talks to the 'swan-mammas' who dress up in white suits before approaching the swans (so that the birds retain their fear of people) and the pilot (also dressed up for the occasion) who takes to the skies each day with his swan trainees.

World Wild#3: The Black-Tailed Godwit (First TX 20/06/01) 

Presented by Jim Wilson.  Produced by Derek Mooney.  Duration: 42:31

Ornithologist Jim Wilson travels to Iceland in search of the black-tailed godwit.  The black-tailed godwit is a large wading bird that breeds in Iceland.   Click here to find out more about this documentary.  For further information about the Icelandic Black-Tailed Godwit Project, click here.

World Wild#4: The American Alligator (First TX 27/06/01)

Presented and produced by Derek Mooney.  Duration: 42:30

The American alligator is the official state reptile of Florida.  They are an essential part of the ecosystem but not everyone likes them.  There are over 1.8 million people and an estimated 1.3 million Alligators living in Florida. Many residents of the sunshine state regard the Alligator as a nuisance while others wonder at the beauty of this American Anti-hero.

The Golden Eagle Project (First TX 07/11/01)

Presented by Richard Collins and produced by Derek Mooney.  Duration: 42:10

Thursday, August 9th 2001 was a historic day for nature conservation in Ireland, when six Golden Eagle chicks were released to the wild at Glenveagh National Park in County Donegal.  Click here to find out more about this documentary.

Birds#1: The Red Kite - Back From The Brink (First TX 03/11/04)

Presented by Richard Collins and produced by Derek Mooney.  Duration: 41:50

A new series of four wildlife documentaries.  From the Red Kite to the Whooper Swan and from Iceland to Africa, this four part series on RTÉ Radio 1 takes four highly-respected Irish ornithologists on a busman's journey of discovery.  This first documentary is presented by UCD lecturer, Dr. Richard Collins, who writes a weekly natural history column with the Irish Examiner as well as regularly contributing to the Mooney Goes Wild radio programme.  Click here to find out more about this documentary.

Birds#2: The Swallow - From Egg To Africa (First TX 10/11/04)

Presented by Eric Dempsey and produced by Derek Mooney.  Duration: 42:28

Ornithologist and author Eric Dempsey presents this second programme in the series, which looks at the amazing journey of the swallow which sees, in the space of five months, the bird go from being an egg to arriving in Africa.  This documentary looks at the whole life cycle of Irish swallows from the moment the adults arrive and and begin nesting to the laying of the first eggs. It will follow the progress of young birds in the nest to their arrival in South Africa.  Click here to find out more about this documentary.

Birds#3: The Jay - The Colourful Crow (First TX 17/11/04)

Presented by Terry Flanagan and produced by Derek Mooney.  Duration: 42:38

Terry Flanagan, who is a trained biologist and a regular contributor to the Mooney Goes Wild radio programme, presents the third programme in this series looking at the Jay.  Although shy by nature, Jays are found in every county of Ireland hidden in oak woodlands.  Often mistaken for a more exotic bird, the Jay looks as if it would be more at home in a rain forest than in Ireland!  Click here to find out more about this documentary.

Birds#4: The Whooper Swan - From Iceland To Ireland (First TX 24/11/04)

Presented by John O'Halloran and produced by Derek Mooney.  Duration: 42:03

Professor John O'Halloran is an ornithologist at UCC, and in this documentary, he focuses on the Whooper swan, which is one of three species of swan that occur in Ireland along with the Mute Swan and the Bewick's swan. This programme tracks the large migratory bird from its breeding grounds in Iceland, and follows their movements to Ireland in late September before their departure again in the spring.  Click here to find out more about this documentary.

Documentary On One#1: Wolf - Spirit Of The Wild (First TX 06/11/05)

Presented by Eric Dempsey and produced by Derek Mooney.  Duration: 40:52

In this documentary from the Mooney Goes Wild team, naturalist and author, Eric Dempsey fulfils a lifelong ambition when he comes face to face with one of the world's most elusive creatures, the Wolf.  Eric looks at the history of wolves in Ireland and the place the wolf has in Irish mythology.  Travelling to Germany, he discovers the status of wolves and the threats they face in Europe and across the world; he also comes face-to-face with captive wolves.  Finally, Eric makes a journey of discovery to the mid-western United States in search of wild wolves.  Click here to find out more about this documentary.

Documentary On One #2: Fallow Deer - The Dubliner's Deer (First TX 04/12/05)

Presented by Terry Flanagan and produced by Derek Mooney.  Duration: 40:53

In this documentary from the Mooney Goes Wild team, biologist and Secondary schoolteacher, Terry Flanagan looks at the life of our Fallow Deer.  Born within a couple of hundred metres of the Phoenix Park, Terry spent much of his childhood fascinated by these majestic animals that roamed the Park.  The population of Fallow Deer have been present in the Phoenix Park for over 300 years now.  They have become an icon, not just to to Dubliners, but to everybody in Ireland.  Many place-names throughout the country are derived from the former presence of fallow deer, or more particularly the parks in which they were confined.  There are locations called Deerpark in at least 16 counties.  The highlight of this year-long project for Terry was the birth of a young fawn and the subsequent intensive study, tagging and monitoring of the individual animals following their release.  Click here to find out more about this documentary.

Documentary On One#3: Kingfisher - King Of The Fishers (First TX 01/01/06)

Presented by Richard Collins and produced by Derek Mooney.  Duration: 39:45

In this, the third of a four-part series of wildlife documentaries from the Mooney Goes Wild team, Dr Richard Collins explores the mysterious world of the Kingfisher.  Irish birds are, by international standards, a dull unpretentious lot, the avian equivalent of the 'plain people of Ireland'.  The Kingfisher is so glamorous that it looks out of place here. Its extraordinary colours are more appropriate to the tropics than to a cloudy overcast island.  New ways of persuading kingfishers to nest have been developed at the Rye Meads nature reserve in London.  The discoveries there were used with spectacular success this summer in Wicklow.  Presenter Dr Richard Collins and producer Derek Mooney visit the RSPB site at Rye Meads and Druids Glen in Wicklow to talk to experts about the life and times of Ireland's most glamorous bird.   Click here to find out more about this documentary.

Documentary On One#4: The Arctic Fox (First TX 05/02/06)

Presented by Eanna ni Lamhna and produced by Derek Mooney.  Duration: 39:48

In this, the final programme of a four part series of wildlife documentaries from the Mooney Goes Wild team, ecologist and lecturer Eanna ni Lamhna looks at the life of the Arctic Fox.  The wild and beautiful Iceland forms a background to this whimsical look at the Arctic fox - an animal that was once here but fell a victim to global warming the last time round.  Click here to find out more about this documentary.

The Easter Bunny (First TX 17/04/06)

Presented by Dr. Richard Collins & produced by Derek Mooney.  Duration: 40:07

A Mooney Goes Wild special about the Rabbit - Oryctolagus cuniculus.  Zoological consultant: Dr Richard Collins.

Carl Linnaeus (First TX 31/12/07)

Presented by Richard Collins and produced by Derek Mooney.  Duration: 50:46

The great Swedish botanist, Carolus Linnaeus, was the first person to grow bananas in Europe!  But more than that, he gave his name to the method of naming new discoveries of flora and fauna.  Whenever the Latin name of a plant or an animal appears, the name of the person who first described it is also given.  Most of the plants and animals of Europe, and many from elsewhere, were described by him and the naming system, which he perfected, has proved to be an extraordinarily useful scientific tool.  Derek and Richard embarked on a Linnaean pilgrimage in 2007, visiting Sweden, Holland and England to make a radio documentary on the great man.  Click here to find out more about this documentary.

Starlings (First TX 02/01/15)

Presented by Derek Mooney & Richard Collins and produced by Derek Mooney.  Duration: xxxx

Each year, from late October through to February, hundreds of thousands of Starlings come together to form magnificent aerial displays just before they roost. Why do they do it?  In this special programme, Starlings, Derek Mooney and Dr. Richard Collins investigate one of nature's greatest spectacles: Starling murmurations...  Click here to find out more about this documentary.

All About Crows (First TX 07/02/16)

Presented & produced by Derek Mooney.  Duration: 55:38

The crow is a bird that is loved and loathed in equal measure.  Collectively known as a murder of crows, they are birds strongly associated with death.  In Hindusim, crows are believed to be ancient ancestors, Ovid saw the crow as a bringer of rain, and here in Ireland, the banshee often took the form of a crow.  So what's the real deal with these corvids?  Derek Mooney presents a special programme from the Mooney Goes Wild team called All About Crows... Click here to find out more about this documentary.

The Beeman (First TX 14/01/17)

Presented and produced by Derek Mooney.  Duration: 51:02

On Saturday, June 25th 2005, a man from Monaghan endeavoured to make it into the Guinness Book Of World Records.  The record-breaking attempt featured live on Mooney Goes Wild, and the man at the centre of all the buzz was our very own bee expert, Philip McCabe.  From that moment on, he became known as 'The Beeman'.  Fast forward twelve years, and Philip is now President of Apimondia, the International Federation of Beekeeper's Associations.  Click here to find out more about this documentary.

The Common Swift (First TX 15/01/17)

Presented and produced by Derek Mooney.  Duration: 56:44

This brand new wildlife radio documentary is all about The Common Swift (Apus apus).  Join Derek as he learns about efforts being made across Europe, from Cork to Warsaw, and from Belfast to Baku in Azerbaijan, to learn more and thus help save this favourite summer visitor!  Featuring Niall Hatch, Development Officer with BirdWatch Ireland.  Click here to find out more about this documentary.

Roosting Starlings & Rooks (First TX 29/01/17)

Presented and produced by Derek Mooney.  Duration: 55:41

In this special edition of the programme, we find out more about roosting starlings and rooks!  Where do birds roost - and why?  Derek Mooney teams up Richard Collins and Eugene Dunbar (from BirdWatch Ireland) at Lough Ennell in Co. Westmeath, as they find out about the marvellous starling murmurations that can be viewed there.  And in the nearby village of Kilbeggan, Terry Flanagan talks to local man TP O'Gorman, and Eanna chats to ornithologist Eric Dempsey, about the numerous amount of crows that can be found roosting there...  Click here to find out more about this documentary.

The Dipper (First TX 12/03/17)

Presented by Derek Mooney & Richard Collins and produced by Derek Mooney.  Duration: xxxx

Take a stroll along one of our rivers or streams, and there's a good chance that you may not be the only one walking.  Under the water, out of sight, one of Ireland's most interesting and unusual birds may be walking with you. The Dipper is a strange creature indeed.  It's the only European songbird which forages underwater.  In his new documentary, The Dipper, Derek Mooney learns about the latest research into the habits and characteristics of this most intriguing of birds, discovers how dipper nestboxes are constructed, learns about the many interesting names given to the Dipper, and he travels to Barcelona, to find out how analysing a dipper's feathers can indicate the stress level of the bird and the environment.  Click here to find out more about this documentary.

The Rat (First TX 19/03/17)

Presented by Eanna ni Lamhna and produced by Sheila O'Callaghan.  Duration: 58:27

They say you're never more than six feet from a rat. In this new documentary, we burrow into the underground world of one of our most vilified creatures, the rat.  Naturalist Eanna ni Lamhna, is our intrepid guide...  Click here to find out more about this documentary.



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