Ireland's only dedicated building services engineering journal
Ireland's only dedicated building services engineering journal

Decarbonising Ireland — well-meant rhetoric colliding with harsh reality?

Professor Barry McMullin, Executive Dean, Faculty of Engineering & COmputing, DCU
Professor Barry McMullin, Executive Dean, Faculty of Engineering & Computing, DCU

From typhoon Haiyan to the drought-fueled conflict in Syria, human-caused climate change is already having very serious impacts on vulnerable communities around the world. Because of the decades-to-millenia time lag between release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and the resulting climate disruption, the challenge is now both stark and urgent. It has been accurately described as a “planetary emergency”.

In response, the Paris Agreement on global climate action was adopted by consensus of the 195 participating countries to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in December 2015. While it must still be formally ratified, it has received widespread welcome for its unambiguous acceptance of the urgent need for strong, shared action, both to respond to climate disruption that is already unfolding, and to limit its ultimate severity and impact.

Further, there is recognition that this action must respect global fairness and equity, and that if it is to be effective, it must be planned in accordance with the best available scientific understanding. Concretely, the agreement quantifies an overarching goal of limiting global average warming (the trigger for global climate disruption) to “well below 2ºC” above pre-industrial levels (we have already reached about 1ºC above pre-industrial). Scientific analysis is clear that the only assured way of hoping to meet this goal is to somehow leave the vast bulk (80%+) of known remaining fossil fuel reserves (coal, oil, gas, peat) in the ground.

Ireland fully supported the adoption of the Paris Agreement. Separately, we enacted our own first dedicated climate change legislation, the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015. December 2015 also saw the publication of a new White Paper on energy policy entitled Ireland’s Transition to a Low Carbon Energy Future 2015-2030.

Most recently, following the general election and the ultimate formation of a partnership government, we now have, in Denis Naughten TD, our first dedicated Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment. It would seem that all the relevant factors are now aligned, both nationally and internationally, for decisive progress here in response to the climate change challenge.

But, do all these lofty words actually add up to a commensurate national response, or do they simply represent another round of green-tinted political waffle, half-measures and high-risk procrastination? Are we embarking on a pathway of rapid, but managed, post-carbon transition, or are we  sleepwalking into a chaotic and dangerous unravelling of our current globalised technological society in the immediate coming decades – an unravelling that we are actively, if subconsciously, promoting (by our deeds as opposed to our words)?

See Professor McMullin’s full analysis by clicking on the Cover of Latest Issue on our home page where you can download the full 3-page article as part of the entire journal.

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