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Friday 1 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C
Alamy Stock Photo Tourists refresh themselves at a public drinking fountain during their visit to the Acropolis in central Athens
Climate Change

The era of climate change denial is mostly gone, Micheál Martin says

Severe heatwaves have gripped southern Europe, parts of the United States, Mexico and China this month.

LAST UPDATE | Jul 25th 2023, 12:17 PM

THE ERA OF climate change denial is mostly gone, Tánaiste Micheál Martin has said.

Severe heatwaves have gripped southern Europe, parts of the United States, Mexico and China this month, with temperatures above 45 degrees Celsius.

Speaking to reporters ahead of a Cabinet meeting, Martin said that the vast majority of the Irish public believed that the world’s climate was changing and Ireland needed to focus more on adapting itself to withstand more extreme weather events.

The Tánaiste said the coalition Government had put a legislative framework in place within the last two-and-a-half years that “will result in progress” on climate issues.

He said that Ireland’s economy and rising population presented challenges to achieving further emission reductions.

Responding to record-high temperatures in Europe and wildfires in Greece, Martin said he believes there has been “an appreciable shift in public opinion” on climate change.

“I mean, the era of denial is gone, more or less, bar the fundamentalists who still don’t believe in the fact and the reality of climate change.

“But the vast, vast majority of people accept that the climate is changing.”

Martin said that there was a need for a greater focus on “adaptation” to climate change, as warnings were issued in recent weeks that Ireland would experience more storms, heavier rainfall and higher temperatures.

“We will have potentially increased flooding, so people need to realise that in terms of the flooding schemes that have been designed by the OPW, you know, a lot of people have been objecting to various aspects of those, but those are critical in terms of our capacity to adapt to the climate change that is occurring in Ireland.”

He added there was also a need to adapt transport and food production systems in the face of a changing climate.

Responding to the warnings from an independent climate advisory group that Ireland will not meet carbon targets for 2025 or 2030, Martin said that a 30% reduction by 2030 should not be “dismissed”.

Martin said that some progress had been made, but it needed to happen faster.

The Foreign Affairs Minister said that a change of US presidency “has made a difference” in global aims to decrease emissions, and said that policies had been put in place that will lead to reductions in the future.

“The (Climate Change Advisory Council) report does acknowledge progress, albeit not enough,” he said.

“In other words, on current trajectories we get 30% reduction by 2030, which is not to be dismissed because that is progress and significant progress, more than anything we’ve achieved in the previous two decades.

“But we need to do more and we need to do much more faster.”

Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan told reporters “we have to do more, we have to be more ambitious” in delivering low-carbon solutions.

“We do need to think bigger and to act faster because what’s happening in the world now demands real action.

“It’s not just in Europe, it’s the fact that in Europe, America, China at the same time, you have three heat domes, the fact that in the Antarctic, the formation of sea ice has gone down way below anything previously seen, as well as temperatures in the North Atlantic being ahead of anything previously seen.

“This summer it is truly scary, because our weather systems have gone into patterns that we’ve never seen in recorded history.

“And that’s why, absolutely, we need to think bigger, act faster, do more.”


Martin and Ryan’s comments come as researchers said today that blistering heat that has baked swathes of North America and Europe this month would have been “virtually impossible” without human-caused climate change.

With tens of million people affected in the northern hemisphere and July on track to be the hottest month globally since records began, experts warn that worse is to come unless we reduce planet-heating emissions.

In the new rapid analysis of the scorching temperatures, scientists from the World Weather Attribution group found that the heatwaves in parts of Europe and North America would have been almost impossible without climate change.

Temperatures in China were made 50 times more likely by global warming, they found.

“The role of climate change is absolutely overwhelming,” said climate scientist Friederike Otto, of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London.

Intense temperatures have swept much of the southwest and southern United States – including in Phoenix, Arizona, which suffered a record-breaking three straight weeks of highs above 43C.

Blazes on the Greek mainland and islands have caused tens of thousands to flee, sent tourists scrambling for evacuation flights and prompted the prime minister to say the country is “at war”.

In Beijing, the government urged the elderly to stay indoors and children to shorten outdoor playtime to reduce exposure to the heat and ground-level ozone pollution.

Here at home, the Climate Change Advisory Council, which is tasked with advising the government on climate action and assessing Ireland’s progress, today warned that the country is at risk of not meeting the targets in its first and second carbon budget periods.

It said 2023 is a “critical year” for delivering on climate action and that the current pace of implementing policy is not acceptable given the existential threat posed by the climate crisis.

‘More extreme’

Scientists have already established that climate change – with about 1.2C of global warming since the late 1800s – has made heatwaves in general hotter, longer and more frequent.

To trace how far the July heatwaves in the northern hemisphere had departed from what would have been expected without that warming, Otto and her WWA colleagues used weather data and computer model simulations to compare the climate as it is today with that of the past.

Researchers said they focused on periods when “the heat was most dangerous in each region”.

Otto said in the past it would have been “basically impossible” that such severe heat waves would happen at the same time and that people should no longer be surprised to see temperature records tumbling.

The future could be even worse.

“As long as we keep burning fossil fuels we will see more and more of these extremes.”

The researchers found that these severe heatwaves can now be expected roughly once every 15 years in North America, every 10 years in southern Europe and every five years in China.

And they will become even more frequent – happening every two to five years – if temperature rise reaches 2C, expected in around 30 years unless countries fulfil their Paris Agreement pledges and rapidly cut emissions.

The study also found that these heatwaves were hotter than they would have been without climate change.

Last week leading NASA climatologist Gavin Schmidt told reporters that July 2023 is not just on track to be the hottest absolute month since records began, but also the hottest in “hundreds, if not thousands, of years”.

Experts have said that the surging heat cannot be attributed solely to the warming El Nino weather pattern, which is not expected to strengthen until later on in the year.

As with other impacts from climate change, it is those most vulnerable who are most at risk.

Last week, the World Health Organization said the extreme heat was straining healthcare systems, hitting older people, infants and children.

The WHO said it was particularly concerned about people with cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and asthma.

- With reporting by Press Association and © AFP 2023

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