One of the main topics of conversation in Northern Ireland is the weather, though quite often this is also a conversation-starter. However, recent weather patterns in Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK are a reminder that the weather has become an extremely serious subject which can have a dramatic effect.
This has been abundantly clear from the television pictures of flooding in Somerset, and the great distress it is causing people. Whole communities have been affected, with schools closed, village life disrupted and also threats to property and livelihood.
In Northern Ireland we had stark reminders of the damage caused by bad weather during the extremely cold snap in the early spring last year which led to the death of thousands of animals in the uplands. This followed a very severe Christmas not long ago when we were paralysed by deep snowfalls.
It is timely, therefore, that the launch of the region's first Climate Change Adaptation Programme is a reminder of the dangers facing Northern Ireland. It is predicated that by the 2050s, winter rainfall here will rise by 9%.
This will mean much wetter winters, and given that some 60,000 properties already lie within risk-flood areas, it is not difficult to understand the need for greater protection from severe weather.
Rising sea levels are also predicted for our coasts, as well as warmer, drier summers overall, so it seems that in almost every dimension of our usually wet and windy weather, as well as our summer temperatures, we can anticipate changes. One key element in taking proper precautions is to make people much more aware of the harsh effects of climate change, and to encourage them to do what they can to minimise the effects.
It is also important to stress that climate change is also partly man-made, and that 'green issues' need to remain a priority. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to do all we can to combat effectively the worst of the weather, from whatever quarter it may come.