On the cover of the Report, “Ireland at Risk,”is a photograph of a flooded center of Mallow, County Cork in 2009. This image was taken before the recent widespread and catastrophic flooding in November 2009 in the cities of Cork, Galway, Ennis, Enniskillen, Kesh and elsewhere across the island of Ireland. The November floods damaged Cork city’s main pumping station cutting off water supplies for much of the city, and restoration of that service was likely to take a week. University College Cork was closed for a week because of the flooding. With the damages to wastewater and other infrastructure, contaminated water created health risks. Farmers lost feed stocks and suffered damages to farm buildings and land. Homes and businesses were flooded, roads were washed away, trains and other forms of travel were severely interrupted. Bridges and other infrastructure were at risk of damage or failure from the torrential rains and floods and would have to be inspected. Retailers suffered up to 90% drop in trade at the critical shopping period. The insurable damages were expected to top €100 million, and total losses might exceed €300 million, and insurers are reevaluating what areas will be excluded from coverage in the future. Only last August, widespread flooding led to €98 million in claims.
This November flooding was just one event, spread over several weeks. While no single rain event or storm, no matter how torrential or long-lasting, can be said to be “caused” by global climate change, it is fair to say that we’re just beginning to see the world in which we will all live if we do not take immediate and long-term action to address climate change.
The caption that accompanies the cover photo of Mallow says, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Whether it is a pound or euro of cure, that message underlies the detailed discussion of the looming consequences of climate change on the critical infrastructure on the island of Ireland. It also reinforces the findings of the Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change that the benefits of strong and early action to minimize the effects of climate change far outweigh the economic costs of not acting.
The Irish Academy of Engineering is a cross-border body that has analyzed the impacts from climate change on certain infrastructure — water supply, flood alleviation, and energy — on the island. The Report focuses on the need for island-wide adaptation strategies, as opposed to mitigation. The Academy relied on the growing body of research that is now beginning to pinpoint climate change impacts on local levels, as well as the deliberations at a symposium of experts in April 2009, which produced four commissioned papers included with the Report. See a digest of one report on local impacts, “Climate Change – Refining the Impacts for Ireland (April 2009),” in the “Reports” section of this magazine.
For water, the effects of climate change on the island are the west and northwest regions will experience greater rainfall, in the winter, and the east and southeast regions will experience water shortages. Unfortunately, it is in the east and southeast where the populations on the island are concentrated and where the need for water is most acute. Summer droughts will lead to shortages for drinking water, cleaning, irrigating, animal stock, and industry. In addition, sewage treatment infrastructure is already inadequate and will become even more so with climate change impacts. None of this bodes well for the economy of the island
Flooding will increasingly become a problem. It is after all an island and many of the major cities —Belfast, Cork, Derry, Dublin, Enniskillen, Galway, Limerick, Waterford — are situated along the coast or rivers. That geography was most advantageous for the development of the cities and the economic life of those cities. The future, with climate change, won’t be so kind to the cities. As we witnessed in November 2009, flooding from storms and extended rain bring down power lines, interrupt communication systems, create dangerous driving conditions and disrupt travel generally. Add to the storm events a rising sea level and catastrophes will become commonplace.
On energy, the report is less detailed on the consequences and fixes. At a minimum, with low flow periods for water resources, more pumping will be required, which will use more energy. More heat waves will lead to more air conditioning that requires more energy.
Two additional, specific issues are noteworthy. To minimize the water impacts, the Report calls for an all-island adaptation strategy, to be implemented in part by an all-island water resource authority. As pointed out by the report, such an authority is consistent with implementation of water policy and strategy on a regional basis under the EU Water Framework Directive, River Basin Districts. Such an approach is being implemented
in northwest RoI and NI through the North South Share River Basin Management Project
Another important issue raised in the report is the role and responsibilities of local authorities. Local authorities own and manage the infrastructure that is at risk. Much of what must be done to counter the effects of climate change is going to fall on the shoulders of local government and they are not funded or equipped, with resources or expertise, to handle the crises that loom on the horizon. Once again, the local authorities will be expected to carry the burden and at the same time they are well short of the resources for doing that.
“Ireland at Risk: Critical Infrastructure – Adaptation for Climate Change (October 2009)” available at the Irish Academy of Engineering website at www.iae.ie/news/article/2009/nov/17/new-report-critical-infrastructure-adaptation-clim/
John Sweeny, “Living with and learning lessons from the floods,” The Irish Times, November 27, 2009. [link]
John Gibbons, “Talk of ‘once-off’ flooding offers only false comfort,” The Irish Times, November 26,2009. [link]
For the cross-border river basin management plans, see www.nsshare.com/