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Head of Defence Forces says climate change is single biggest threat to Ireland

Mellett, who holds a PhD in environmental governance, believes Ireland must act to prevent the impact of climate change.

An Air Corps helicopter fire fighting in Howth.
An Air Corps helicopter fire fighting in Howth.
Image: Sasko Lazarov/RollingNews.ie

CLIMATE CHANGE IS the biggest threat to Ireland, the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces has said.

Vice Admiral Mark Mellett, who has served as the leader of Ireland’s military for six years and has a PhD in environmental and ecosystem governance, believes that climate breakdown is already creating conflict and destabilisation across the globe.

“There’s no doubt there’s a growing sense that we’re physically experiencing the impact of climate breakdown,” he said. 

Mellett noted that the Defence Forces have increasingly been responding to incidents related to the climate crisis as extreme weather events become more frequent. 

“A large piece of the Killarney National Park burned down in the middle of April – that is unprecedented.

“We’ve had helicopters fighting fires in Howth for the last week or so. We saw what happened in Germany, we saw what happened over the weekend in the UK, flash flooding cars being washed down the street – this is an existential threat to survival.

“We’re putting that in a Defence Forces context and we have to be prepared for more extreme weather events.”

Mellett, speaking to The Journal at the Naval Base in Haulbowline, Co Cork, said that the Defence Forces has a dual role of providing defence for the country and also ‘as an insurance policy [to help] the State’s ability to absorb shocks, like we’ve been doing for the last 500 days with the pandemic response’. 

Mellett gave the example of the increased desertification of sub-Saharan Africa which has driven people from the land. The Army Ranger Wing – Irish special forces – are on the ground dealing with extremist groups in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. 

Image from iOS An Irish Army Ranger Wing member on the ground in Mali. Source: Irish Defence Forces

Mellett says that the current violence in West Africa will cause an increase in refugees and migrants leaving the area to enter Europe and in turn this could cause destablisation and disharmony among EU member states.  

He said that Ireland has a “false sense of security” and the State needs to position itself to deal with the problems caused by climate change. 

“When Ireland talks about a multilateral framework, it’s not out of a sense of idealism.

“It’s actually a real practical experience that if countries like Ireland don’t play a role in terms of safe and secure environments, who will?”

COS-3 Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces Vice Admiral Mark Mellett. Source: Irish Defence Forces

The UN’s IPCC has said that global warming has caused an increase in the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events. 

The world has already warmed by about 1 degree Celsius since pre-industrial times due to human activity, and the UN IPCC has warned that this is likely to pass 1.5C between 2030 and 2052 if the increase continues at the current rate.

It is not only temperature that has changed: there have also been changes in rainfall, declines in snow and ice, and increases in sea-level as the oceans heat up. 

Mellett, who is due to retire from the Defence Forces in two months’ time, said Ireland is set to become a world leader in renewable energy with Cork Harbour set to play host to the construction of a giant windfarm off the south coast. 

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“The Government has committed to five gigawatts of offshore renewable energy, primarily floating wind farms, by May 2030 and this infrastructure will cost billions of euros, this harbour area here is going to be transformed.

“It is going to become a hub in terms of service in this industry as some of the richest renewable wind energy resource in the world is just off the south coast here.”

The full interview with Mark Mellett will appear on The Journal at the weekend

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