Climate Change - The time to act is now

Climate Change - The time to act is now

Local actions to help in the global crisis. We have to act now to become climate resilient

This has been a important week for Climate Change activity in Northern Ireland

Firstly, on Wednesday 16th June the UK’s Climate Change Committee (CCC) published its third UK Climate Change Risk Assessment, while also on the same day NI Assembly’s Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (AERA) Committee heard the second session of oral evidence on the cross-party private member’s Climate Change Bill, which is making its way through the legislative stages and is sitting currently at the Committee stage.  The AERA Committee has now taken evidence from the CCC (led by Lord Deben), The Woodland Trust, Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute, Northern Ireland Environment Link (with speakers from RSPB(NI) and Friends of the Earth) and Climate NI. Ulster Wildlife contributed to the NIEL papers for this session.

The public Call For Evidence remains open until 15th July.

So what are the headlines from what we’ve heard?

NI remains behind on its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, with a cut of only 1% between 2018-2019, and sitting at an 18% reduction compared to the base year of 1990.  The target for the UK is a 37% reduction compared to the base year by 2020.

Our emissions rate per person remains higher than in any other part of the UK

The risks to Northern Ireland from climate change are worse than previously thought: new evidence shows by the 2050s we will see a marked reduction in rainfall over summer months, and a significant increase in extreme, heavy rainfall episodes especially in the winter months, which pose significant flood risks.  Although temperatures are projected to increase in both summer and winter, warming is expected to be greatest in summer. Using scenarios for Belfast, sea level is expected to rise by between approximately 14 and 19cm by the 2050s, and by approximately between 27 and 58cm by the 2080s, compared to a 1981-2000 baseline and depending on greenhouse gas mitigation.  This poses huge shoreline erosion risk and flood risk.

Due to a lack of policy interventions, climate change risk to NI is more uncertain and potentially worse.

The structure of our economy, with a significant agri-food sector, and our pattern of land-use makes rapid change to reduce emissions harder: this is why the CCC has said only an 82% cut in all greenhouse gas emissions is realistic in NI for 2050, based on current evidence.

But there is hope that developments in methane reduction technologies and livestock feed supplements, coupled with harnessing natural habitat sequestration from, for example, restored peatlands[1] and crucially the oceans/marine habitats could make a more ambitious emissions reduction target possible.

We need high ambition and urgent action

‘Front-loading’ action is essential as cuts and changes made now will cost less than those made later, and have greater impact. But we are locked in to climate impacts as a result of existing emissions: there’s no avoiding many of these, but we can prevent impacts getting worse for future generations (and ecosystem ‘tipping points’ that come from global warming exceeding 1.5°C).

There is increasing evidence of how vital nature is to helping deal with the impacts of climate change as well as in reducing our emissions by sequestering carbon: but nature can only do this when healthy and resilient.

[1] Which connects with DAERA’s Peatlands Strategy consultation, out now.

There is a strong call to get a Climate Change Bill into law urgently, this year

This is the only way that that real progress can be made.

A Climate Change Bill must be truly cross-cutting: one that is not limited to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs. The Bill needs to act to fast-track emissions reductions and make sure that everyone is enabled to make the necessary changes to their lives and businesses to become climate resilient.

Nature must also be enabled. This means protected, managed and restored - especially as we will increasingly depend upon natural habitats to help tackle the climate emergency: in fact, we can’t tackle the climate emergency without nature’s help, whether through managing flood risks, reducing wildfires, protecting shorelines, preventing disease outbreaks or sucking out the damaging carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and locking it away.

What do we need to do?

Climate Change is already happening locally: we will need to change our lives radically to cope with it and to stop it becoming unmanageable, but we do have solutions and we can become climate resilient and reduce the impacts for future generations- for both people and wildlife.  What’s more, we can afford to make these changes, unlike many other countries, and must step up to take local action for a global crisis.