An Taisce Submission on National Risk Assessment

12th July 2016
Submission Summary

Executive Summary

Our society and economy are entirely reliant on preserving environmental integrity, maintaining biodiversity and ensuring climate stability. Climate change is the critical planetary boundary being crossed in the world today and over the coming decades. As climate change is a threat-multiplier in all policy areas, so continued greenhouse gas emissions should be upgraded to a top-priority risk in the National Risk Assessment. In fact, climate change is a superordinate threat which is sui generis, unprecedented, implying impacts of a magnitude that exceed all other risks. In signing the Paris Agreement and as a high per capita emitter of greenhouse gases, Ireland has agreed to restrict total future emissions to a decarbonisation pathway aligned with “well below 2ºC” average global warming above pre-industrial levels in accord with science and equity. Ireland urgently has to address both the economic mitigation risks of achieving a stable pathway and the national responsibility for past and future emissions causing escalating climate risk already for poorer tropical nations and for future generations globally. Global warming causing climate change is essentially irreversible but can be stopped and stabilised if net emissions go to zero as soon as possible. Risks that are expected to be exacerbated by greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change include:

  • Extreme weather events leading to involuntary migration. Especially droughts in vulnerable regions, are likely to add to political instability leading to mass involuntary migration and unrest causing social and political tension affecting Europe and Ireland.

  • Food security that will be negatively impacted by climate change. Ireland’s current position as a net calorie importer due to a dependence on livestock agriculture negatively affects global food security. A diversification of agricultural production away from beef and dairy could contribute to increased global food security, reduce our dependence on export markets and cut emissions, thereby contributing to climate change mitigation.

  • Energy system change: Ireland’s inordinate dependence on fossil fuels adds to climate risk globally and for Ireland. Urgent and rapid decarbonisation of Ireland’s energy system is needed, especially so that low carbon electricity is available for transport and heating as well as power. Achieving this requires planning for immediate closure of peat burning power plants and closure or carbon capture and storage (CCS) refit of Moneypoint. Demand-side measures must also be affected in order to make carbon-neutrality feasible. Failure to implement a transition to a low-carbon economy risks a ‘hard landing’ as global fossil fuel prices rise over coming decades.

  • Land use change: Current plans for energy system change are wrongly reliant on unsustainable forestry and biomass-use, based on a misleading assumptions of carbon neutral energy from biomass and equating carbon sequestration with climate mitigation. These are high risk assumptions because both are false. In fact, biomass can produce very high emissions and continuing high emissions in agriculture and energy cannot be offset with forestry or soil sequestration.

  • Biodiversity loss is another ‘core’ planetary boundary. The safe threshold has already been crossed and biodiversity has deteriorated badly over past decades. Ireland’s terrestrial and marine wildlife is threatened mainly by unsuitable agricultural and afforestation practices.

  • Economic risks. The costs of failing to act far outweigh the investment costs of reducing emissions, investments that will pay off in long-term resilience, economic sustainability and societal wellbeing. Unfortunately, due to the large uncertainties attached to climate risk analysis, traditional cost-benefit and risk assessment fails to properly weigh the benefits of action therefore policy goals based on the precautionary principle need to be set and adhered to under all circumstances to reduce risk.

Climate change is the most significant global challenge facing humanity today. All countries are affected and facing very significant impacts.

Ireland has the opportunity to create a resilient, fair and prosperous society that contributes to global climate stability and food security. To do this seriously Ireland must act with urgency to decarbonise rapidly across all sectors. This will require Ireland to adopt society-wide, whole-economy and politically agreed approaches to reducing climate risk as a top priority.