With record drops estimated in carbon emissions, due to worldwide COVID lockdowns, the issue of global warming must not be set to the back pedal.
With headlines focusing on numbers of cases, quarantine restrictions and the hope of an end to this mayhem, very little has been said about the next incoming global crisis, climate change. It has been recorded that carbon dioxide emissions have plummeted during lockdowns with current levels in line with the annual reductions needed between 2020 – 2030 in order to limit our global temperature.
However, despite the closure of industry, transport and airline travel for many months, global carbon dioxide emissions are at an all-time high. The global response to the COVID pandemic has hardly made a dent in the concentrations of long-lasting gases in our atmosphere.
In simple terms, climate change is a long-term change in global or reginal climate patterns. Current warming trends are of particular significance because of their increasing rate and extreme likeliness to be a result of human activity. Changes in our climate is estimated to continue for the next 100 years, resulting in snow and ice melting, oceans will rise and some places will get hotter while other places will get colder. As carbon dioxide accumulates in our atmosphere, it takes decades for most of it to dissolve into the ocean, where it can take thousands of years to fully degrade. Carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels accounted for just under 60% of all greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland in 2018 1.
Atmospheric carbon dioxide is not our only problem, gases such as methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases all contribute to climate change. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas which can trap heat 28 times more effectively than carbon dioxide. Nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases also play their part in contributing to climate change.
But what is Ireland doing to help stop climate change? Ireland is failing to meet their targets to reduce global emissions by tackling difficult sectors, such as dairy farming and road transport. In 2019, the agricultural industry was responsible for 35.3% of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions, which greatly over takes that of the transport industry which was only ~20%. In the same year, Ireland had the third highest emissions of greenhouse gases in the EU, only exceeded by Estonia and Luxembourg 2.
With promises to become the “global leaders on climate action” more needs to be done before this new crisis becomes an even greater problem. When compared to EU targets set, Ireland is expected to miss its EU emissions reduction targets by a longshot. With Ireland already paying tens of millions of euro to avoid fines for breaching our annual limits for carbon dioxide emissions, more action needs to be taken to address our emission levels 3. Due to the legally binding agreements made during the Paris Agreements in 2015, many EU member states will be forced to pay multi-billion-euro fines, including Ireland.
It is clear from both scientists and government, that human activity is changing the Earth’s climate. Climate change is everyone’s responsibility. Public participation and acceptance will allow for rapid diminishing of this change. There needs to be a more focused approach to mitigation and adaptation to new strategies. Ireland’s Government has produced a Climate Action Plan 2019, which has set ambitious targets for change 4. The necessary steps to implement these targets into policy and everyday life must now be addressed.
It is the duty of everyone to work towards these goals to help save the planet. It is clear that the world can come together in times of crisis, and now is the critical time to address this new impending disaster.
1. Krebs W. CO emissions. Published 2013. https://www.seai.ie/data-and-insights/seai-statistics/key-statistics/co2/
2. O’Sullivan K. Ireland has third highest emissions of greenhouse gas in EU. The Irish Times. Published 2019. https://www.irishtimes.com/news/environment/ireland-has-third-highest-emissions-of-greenhouse-gas-in-eu-1.3998041
3. McDermott S. Is Ireland responsible for just 0.000012% of the world’s carbon emissions? https://www.thejournal.ie/article.php?id=4992542
4. Citizens Information. Climate change. Published 2020. https://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/environment/environmental_protection/climate_change.html