Significant changes are projected to occur in Ireland’s climate over this century. This report suggests that Ireland needs to plan for these changes, which are already occurring, but which will be clearly evident within 40 years. (1) With Ireland having one of the highest per capita rates of greenhouse gas emissions in the world, more attention to the consequences of those emissions is sorely needed.
The report is based on the increasingly sophisticated and more reliable modeling work available for climate studies, as the result of more computing power and better inputs from observations on the ground. To allow for assessing impacts on local levels within Ireland, and within specific regions and even catchment areas, the authors employed a statistical downscaling approach to three key sectors: water resource management, agriculture and biodiversity. Downscaling is a way of estimating local climatic impacts from large-scale climatic conditions.
As a result of increases in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, Ireland will experience warmer temperatures, with increases of 1.4 to 1.8°C by 2050 and greater than 2°C by 2100. At the same time, summers will be drier and winters wetter. The summers may be 12-17% drier by 2050 and14-25% drier by 2080; the winters may be 10% wetter by 2050 and 11-17% wetter by 2080. As these are country-wide estimates, it is important to realize, as the Report notes, that some areas will have more extreme changes, as in the southern and eastern coasts where, for example, there may be 30-40% less rain in summer.
Before you book a winter holiday flight to Italy or Spain (which will add to GHG emissions), and go out and buy a barbecue grill and tons of sunscreen for your sunny warm summer holidays at home, read on. For the report details the concrete implications of these changes not all of which will be so benign and some of which will require adaptive measures and behavior.
While there may be less rain in summer, at the same time the summer downpours may be more intense, and there will be longer heat waves with possible droughts, especially in eastern and southern parts. Soils will have reduced capacity to store moisture, and groundwater recharge will be lower for longer periods. In some areas of the east the streams will have a reduced flow of water that could reach a 70% reduction in autumn by 2100. What we know as a 50-year flood will come on us every 6.5 to 34.4 years by 2050, and every 10 years by the end of the century. The floods will also be more intense.
The report provides a detailed analysis of seven different regions and the impacts on agricultural production systems in the regions. Agriculture, at least in terms of production based on low-cost, grass-based milk production, which is the focus of the report, will survive without extreme impacts. Yet the wetter winters and drier summers will take some toll on the dairy farming community. The soil type in a particular area is critical to the impact that will be experienced: the lower the capacity of the soil to store moisture, the greater the sensitivity to climate change. Since soil moisture conditions impact on the length of the grazing season, grass growth rates and nutrient uptake, drier soil conditions will put stress on certain crops and dairy farming. However, in some areas there will be some offset with the need for less fertilizer, a savings in cost and in the burden on the environment. If summer feed is reduced, supplemental feed may be required or cows may need to be housed in the summer. In parts of the east, perhaps the worst impacts will be felt. Other areas may be less affected. For the specific impacts on agriculture in your area, consult the full report.
The impact from climate change on natural ecosystems may be seen especially in the impact on fens, bogs and turloughs. As a result of the warmer temperatures and drier summers, by 2050 the suitable climate areas for fens may decline by 40%, raised and blanket bogs by over 30%, and turloughs by over 45%.
The changes in our water resources that are detailed in the report will result in increased erosion with suspended loads burdening the rivers. Drainage systems will be overloaded and threaten water quality as a result of the increased discharges. Modifications to the present permit requirements for such discharges will likely be required. Assessing areas that are subject to flooding will present major challenges, and planning decisions on where residential buildings can be built will require renewed scrutiny. Engineering solutions to the erosion and discharges will be needed, as will the money to pay for all these costly upgrades. Calculations on how much water will be available to urban centers, as well as rural areas dependent on wells and springs, will have to be recalculated.
All these changes will affect drinking water supplies, whether from groundwater or surface waters. Eventually, all users of water resources — residences, farming, industry — will be competing for the same lessened water supplies. Fights over water supply will intensify, as is already evident in the dispute over tapping water resources in the west to serve Dublin. While the current stress on water for Dublin may be the result of significant population growth and residential and commercial development, presently on hold, the reduction in water resources in the near future will affect any economic recovery.
The increase incidence and intensity of floods will have important implications for property and flood plain development, the reliability of flood defences, water quality and insurance costs.
Having to face warmer drier summers is not much of a threat and the tourism industry should be delighted and calling for more global warming. But you might want to think about where you’re going to get your water in that summer heat, and where all the tourists, overrunning Ireland, are going to get water for bathing and drinking. And what about the cows. They are going to be demanding water in such a climate. Not to mention the commercial and industrial interests.
Perhaps it’s time to explore, not just think about, capturing rainwater for toilets, washing machines, gardens and other uses. And perhaps it’s time to reduce your water consumption. And what about water rates. Would they help?
Prepared for the RoI Environmental Protection Agency by National University of Ireland, Maynooth. Authors: John Sweeney, Fabrizio Albanito, Anthony Brereton, Amelia Caffarra, Rosemary Charlton, Alison Donnelly, Rowan Fealy, Joanne Fitzgerald, Nicholas Holden, Mike Jones and Conor Murphy. This report is published as part of the Science, Technology, Research and Innovation for the Environment (STRIVE) Programme 2007–2013 (2001-CD-C3-M1). Copies available online at www.epa.ie/downloads/pubs/research/climate/name,26008,en.html ; you can contact the principal author for further information at John.firstname.lastname@example.org