Council budgets to be decimated by climate change impacts

Joe O’Brien stands at the Dorn in Skerries, the narrow piece of land that connects Red Island to the mainland. If predictions in the recent International Panel on Climate Change report come through this area of land will be under water and Red Island will be disconnected from the mainland.

Joe O’Brien stands at the Dorn in Skerries, the narrow piece of land that connects Red Island to the mainland. If predictions in the recent International Panel on Climate Change report come through this area of land will be under water and Red Island will be disconnected from the mainland.

We will be known as the most irresponsible and short-sighted generation in the history of mankind if there is not a fundamental change in political attitudes towards climate change urgently. For those of us with young children we must now be aware that they will be burdened with the worst impacts of our fossil fuel based economy as predicted in the recent UN climate report.

If we are to be steered off the now almost inevitable path towards devastation of homes, livelihoods and infrastructure particularly those in coastal communities and communities in or near flood plains it will require one of the most comprehensive and committed coalition building exercises at local, national and international level. For Ireland it will require a new patriotism that is based on protecting and saving our country and communities from the worst impacts of climate change.

As Prof. John Sweeney said in Skerries back in May ‘the scientific debate about climate change is over’ and it has been for some time. Now frankly we need leadership with a lot more guts and foresight to help adjust the way our economy and our lifestyles are set up into a more sustainable way. It’s a type of leadership that demands looking beyond election cycles and annual budgets and therein lies the problem.

At the local level in Ireland what we are facing in the years ahead is a decimation of Council budgets – with rising sea levels and a wetter climate huge amounts of money will have to be poured into works to keep our homes habitable and our roads passable. The major floods of November 2009 represented the largest insured loss ever in Ireland at €244 million at the time and the science has been telling us for some time now that we can expect more events like this.

Local authorities across the country have been mandated with the responsibility of preparing for and acting on the impacts of climate change. In this context I wrote to the County Manager many months ago suggesting that the Council should be keeping account of weather related expenses that the Council is incurring such as flood prevention works and repairs to infrastructure after storms and flooding. I was frankly baffled to be fobbed off on such a basic and sensible suggestion. I have little doubt that such expenses have been rising yet there seems to be no interest in forward planning for what will be the biggest challenge to our communities and our lifestyles in the years to come.

The way we are sleeping walking with unsustainable energy, transport and agriculture policies at the moment is frighteningly akin to our lack of awareness of the property bubble when we were right in the middle of it. Ireland is one of the highest per capita emitters of greenhouse gases in world and we accordingly need to act as one of those with most responsibility to lead by example. The size of our nation has not prevented us from being ambitious when it comes to punching above our weight in relation to development aid. Neither should it allow us to pass the buck to larger economies who are actually for the most part lesser offenders when it comes to per capita emissions of greenhouses gases.

Looking at my hometown of Skerries alone – the three main roads into Skerries have all shown themselves to be prone to serious flooding in recent years, businesses have been adversely affected and indeed Red Island which is in many ways the hub of Skerries social and leisure life is at long term risk of being disconnected from the mainland.  It will be disconnected from the mainland if some of the scenarios in the most recent UN climate change report come true. Across Fingal people need to start thinking of how flooding has or has nearly impacted upon their homes and way of life and they need to start planning for more of these and worse events. The fact that Met Eireann are now publicly proclaiming the impacts of climate change will now I hope also help to bring the public and political establishment around to the realisation that dramatic action is needed to curb our carbon emissions.

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