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Ireland is becoming warmer and wetter - new report paints stark picture of impact of climate change

 Seagulls soaring in the wind on a wet weather, gloomy day in the seaside town of Galway on the west coast of Ireland.
James Ward, PA

Ireland is becoming warmer and wetter due to climate change, with extreme weather events more frequent, a new report has found.

The Status of Ireland’s Climate study has outlined that greenhouse gas levels hit a record high in 2019, rain fall has increased by 6% in recent decades, and the country’s temperature has risen by one degrees over the last century.

Sea levels have risen by about 16 centimetres since the foundation of the State, bringing with it the risk of “significant coastal flooding”, one of the report’s authors has said.

The joint study by the Environmental Protection Agency, Met Eireann and the Marine Institute has painted a stark picture of the impact of climate change in Ireland, following on from the UN’s IPCC report that warned of a “code red for humanity”.

Co-author Dr Ned Dwyer, an academic at University College Cork, said the report showed Ireland does “not have the luxury of of taking a breather” in the battle against climate change.

He said: “The temperature across the country has increased by about a degree over the last 100 years, which is in line with what we’re seeing globally.

“The rainfall amounts have increased by about 6% over the last few decades.

“And in fact, work done at Maynooth University showed us the rainfall in the period 2006 to 2015, was the wettest period since at least 1700, when they went back through all the records available.

“We’re seeing more frequent extreme events, like heat waves and wet spells lasting longer.

“And also sea levels have risen by about 16 centimetres since the foundation of the State.

“So if my grandmother was standing on that point on the southeast coast, 100 years ago, she would have been on dry land.

“Whereas if I stood on that today, I’d have water way above my ankles.”

The report tracked the rise of greenhouse gas emissions and found, when compared with pre-industrial levels, carbon dioxide levels have risen by 50%, nitrous oxide by 20%, and methane by 170%.

Dr Dwyer warned that these are “the main drivers of climate change”.

He told RTE’s Morning Ireland: “It’s not that the emissions that we’re making in Ireland are causing Ireland’s climate to change… it’s all part of a global situation.

“But Ireland is obviously contributing to the those emissions as well.”

He said most of the heat from these emissions ends up in the oceans and contributes to rising sea levels.

He added: “Most of the carbon dioxide that’s emitted is absorbed into the ocean and 90% of the excess heat we’re generating ends up in the ocean.

“More globally, as the Arctic ice cap is melting and glaciers are melting, that additional water is going into the sea and with the warmer ocean expanding, it is leading to the sea level rise.

“That is a particular issue for Ireland, especially in the softer coasts to the east and south, we are seeing and we’ll continue to see rising levels of coastal erosion and also coastal flooding.

“Because although few millimetres per year doesn’t sound a lot, when you put that on top of a high tide and a storm surge, then you can get pretty significant coastal flooding during those types of events.”

He said that everyone in Ireland would have to put their “shoulder to the wheel” to tackle climate change, but expressed optimism that there has been a “huge awakening” about the dangers it poses.

He welcomed the Government’s Climate Action bill, and the promise of a new, detailed plan for climate action by the autumn.

Dr Dwyer said the questions facing Ireland now are: “How do we ensure that our towns and cities do not get flooded?

“How do we ensure that our roads and rail infrastructure is going to stay good and not either get melted because of heat waves or get flooded due to excess rainfall.”

“We don’t have the luxury of of taking a breather, we essentially have to continue to do more,” he added.

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