Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Global warming: Northern Ireland's call to action revealed

New plan highlights how we must adapt to meet the impact of climate change

Flood-hit areas are on alert with more storms forecast
Flood-hit areas are on alert with more storms forecast

Northern Ireland could face a stark future of floods, water shortages and power cuts as climate change tightens its grip.

The warning comes in a new blueprint for how the province must adapt to meet the impact of climate change – the region's first Climate Change Adaptation Programme.

More than 60,000 properties across Northern Ireland already lie within areas at risk of flooding, meaning one in 18 properties is at risk if an extreme event does occur.

By the 2050s mean winter and summer temperatures in Northern Ireland are predicted to rise by 1.7C and 2.2C respectively, while winter rainfall will rise by 9% and summer rainfall drop by 13%.

The Climate Change Risk Assessment (CCRA), published by the Department of the Environment a year ago, warned that flooding could become the greatest single climate change concern for businesses, causing disruption to trade, threats to securing mortgages and financial losses to tourist assets.

Flooding also poses a major threat to buildings and built heritage, as well as transport, energy supply, water and ICT infrastructure.

Sea level rises are predicted to hit our coasts, claiming as much as 100 hectares of beach by the 2080s, while wildfires are expected to increase by between 10% and 30%.

Climate change could also hit the emergency services, as they respond to more flooding and fire calls. While winter deaths are expected to drop because of the milder weather, this could be offset to an extent by increases in heat-related deaths – around 30 more per year by the 2050s, and rising to 60 more by the 2080s.

Launching the new Climate Change Adaptation Programme, Environment Minister Mark H Durkan said flooding had been identified as one of the priority climate change risks facing Northern Ireland and there were further threats to people, property, critical infrastructure and key natural habitats.

"In recent years we have experienced at firsthand extreme weather in the form of heavier snowfalls, more intense rainfall and flooding. Many of us as individuals and as part of the wider community have felt the severe and harsh consequences of these events," he said.

"The Northern Ireland Climate Change Adaptation Programme provides an integrated Government response to the challenge of climate change and presents the first steps in ensuring the North is better prepared for the impacts our changing climate may bring.

"Crucially, our planned approach boosts resilience and outlines how we can deal with the challenges and opportunities of climate change in order to safeguard our environment, society and economy."

The Climate Change Adaptation Programme promotes action under four primary areas – water, flooding, agriculture and forestry, and natural environment.

A number of actions and activities have been identified by all departments which aim to reduce the impact of climate change through awareness, integrating adaptation into key policy areas and building and improving the evidence base.

Mr Durkan said: "This adaptation programme is a call to action for everyone in the North. We must all be aware of the impacts that climate change will bring.

"We all need to understand how each of us can play our part in taking responsibility for actions which can help minimise those impacts and maximise the opportunities presented by our changing climate."

Under the plan, Government departments will be asked to 'climate change proof' their policies and proposals and a cross-departmental adaptation programme will be introduced.

The plan suggests raising awareness of climate change and helping to develop the business case for adaptation.

Scientific evidence will be collected to address the gaps in the risk assessment and links will be developed with other devolved administrations and jurisdictions to share and learn from experiences.