The UN-sponsored Conference of the Parties concluded its discussion on climate change over the weekend in Egypt. The results were disappointing.
Waiting for nearly 200 governments to agree on urgent action to combat climate change has always been a big challenge. Since a significant number of countries, such as Saudi Arabia, could potentially face a severe loss of revenue in the medium term due to the phase-out of fossil fuels, there will always be strong resistance to change, even despite the long-term costs of inaction. are likely to be huge. Partly because of such destructive forces, no progress has been made on agreeing on global measures to curb temperature rise to 1.5 degrees by 2050.
One area of progress has been a limited agreement that richer countries provide funding to the poorest countries to help fight the looming damage to their societies.
In the absence of urgent action by the world’s major economies, it is clear that by 2050 the temperature increase will be well over 1.5 degrees, and may exceed two degrees. Under these circumstances, the world in general and Ireland in particular must take steps to prepare for the effects of significant warming.
As with any insurance policy, the cost of protecting our cities too much is likely to be far less than the cost of too little effort.
Science tells us that as temperatures rise above 1.5 degrees, the planet’s outlook deteriorates very rapidly. There is a lot of uncertainty about these effects. If rising temperatures cause most of the ice in the Arctic and Antarctic to melt, the consequences would be truly dramatic, leading to very large sea level rise. For island nations such as Ireland, the flooding of coastal cities would be extremely devastating. As a result, work must soon begin on measures to protect critical infrastructure, in particular our cities, from the effects of rising sea levels.
Planning for the Thames London Barrier to protect London from flooding began in the 1970s and was completed in the 1980s. In recent years, it has proven vital in protecting London from the effects of rising sea levels and increased storm surge. It was shut down over 200 times to save London from possible drowning, and it worked. However, it is clear that it will require extensive modernization due to the continued rise in global temperatures.
As with any insurance policy, the cost of protecting our cities too much is likely to be far less than the cost of doing too little. As a result, it is reasonable to plan for a temperature increase of more than 2 degrees after 2050, still hoping that the world will see the point and avoid such an outcome.
Because of the enormous cost of defending Dublin, Cork, Galway and Limerick, work must begin soon. We need to learn from countries like the Netherlands that have been building defenses against rising seas for centuries.
While we must prepare for the worst, the prospect of uncontrolled global warming is so scary for Ireland and the EU as a whole that it is increasing pressure to take action today. However, we also need more of the world to follow suit. Without the prospect of an effective global agreement, how can the EU best use its position to bring about change in other parts of the world?
Europe should impose a tax on imports of carbon-intensive goods from countries that do not set adequate prices for carbon emissions.
The first policy direction is to invest heavily in developing the technologies needed to move towards zero emissions. The US has already committed very large resources to this approach. If the research and development of renewable electricity makes it a cheap option, then market forces will force the rest of the world to move away from fossil fuels. China is already the largest investor in renewable energy without even signing a global deal.
The second policy direction is to encourage decarbonization at home. The best way to do this is to make the fossil fuel option more expensive. Ireland is already committed to this approach. However, getting the right price is only the beginning. Much of the burden of adjustment must be funded by the government, especially for low-income families.
A third major policy direction is that Europe should impose a tax on imports of carbon-intensive goods from countries that do not adequately price carbon emissions. If the EU does not do this, the dirty industry will go abroad and remain dirty. On the other hand, an EU tax on imported goods based on dirty technology will encourage third countries to change production methods. Since the goods we import are high in carbon, this will reduce Ireland’s carbon footprint.