Significant climate change impacts expected in Ireland

Date released: Mar 14 2007

Significant climate change impacts are expected to occur in Ireland over the coming decades even if the EU target, of limiting global climate change to EU 2° Celsius, is met. Planning and adaptation actions are needed to reduce the worst effects of unavoidable climate change in the coming decades. 

These are some of the findings of the research report, entitled Implications of the EU Climate Protection Target for Ireland, published today by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

Commenting on the report, Mr. Gerard O’Leary, Programme Manager, EPA, said,

“This report reinforces the need for continued prominence to be given to climate change issues, and for strong action to be taken on greenhouse gas emissions reduction, such as the steps agreed recently at EU level.   However, it is not just a matter of reducing emissions, but also of adapting to those changes and impacts that are now unavoidable. These must now be taken on board in planning and investments in infrastructure.”


The report predicts that a global temperature rise of up to 2° Celsius would result in negative changes include the following:

  • Increased likelihood and magnitude of river and coastal flooding
  • Water shortages in summer in the east, increased need for irrigation of crops
  • Negative impacts on water quality
  • Changes in the distribution of species, and possible extinction of vulnerable species requiring cooler conditions, e.g., the Arctic Char
  • Effects on fisheries, which are sensitive to small changes in temperature, e.g., Cod
  • Increased frequency of wild fires and pest infestation.

The EU considers that the most dangerous climate impacts can be avoided if global average temperatures do not exceed 2° Celsius above pre-industrial levels.  Co-ordinated international actions to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are required to ensure that this temperature limit is not exceeded.  Developed countries need to take the lead on these reductions.Should this EU target not be achieved, however, the report states that a global temperature increase higher than 2° Celsius would eventually lead to the loss of major ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica.  Globally, millions would be at risk of displacement, hunger and disease, as a result of water shortages, coastal flooding and disruption to food production.   Impacts in Ireland would include significant sea level rise, more intense storms and rainfall events.

The report was prepared as part of the programme of the EPA’s Environmental Research Centre by the Irish Climate Analysis and Research Units from the Department of Geography, National University of Ireland, Maynooth. It is the first study to directly address the implications for Ireland of a 2° Celsius increase in mean global temperatures. The research project highlights major changes that occurred in Ireland about 8000 years ago when a relatively sudden influx of fresh water from northern Canada is considered to have temporarily switched of the Gulf Stream flow. This resulted in an abrupt and widespread cooling event in and around Ireland. 

Dr John Sweeney of National University of Ireland, Maynooth, one of the authors of the Report stated that,  

“This shows what could happen if the Greenland Ice shelf melts. Long-term impacts of global warming could include collapse of major ice shelves and resulting devastating effect on Ireland.    Time is rapidly running out for achievement of the 2° Celsius target and so avoiding the most dangerous impacts of climate change.”


Download the climate change report

Additional material

The objective of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is to stabilise atmospheric greenhouse gases at a level that would prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system.  The UFCCC provides the framework under which actions, to address climate change, are agreed. The Kyoto Protocol was established under the UNFCCC.

There is no international agreement on what constitutes a dangerous level.  The EU considers that if global average temperatures do not exceed  2oC above pre-industrial levels then the most dangerous climate impacts can be avoided.   The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 4th Assessment Report indicates that at current  GHG levels the earth’s surface is committed to warming of  about 1.3O C above pre-industrial levels,  i.e., greater than half the EU 2 OC climate protection target.

The global average temperature is a regionally weighted average value. The increase in the global temperature caused by increased greenhouse gas levels will vary from region to region.  The average Arctic temperature, for example, has increased by twice the global average rate over the past 100 years.