Belfast Telegraph

Forecast for 2050: Catastrophic floods, crippling droughts and intense heatwaves

By Linda McKee

Torrential rains and heatwaves are predicted to increase in Ireland as climate change tightens its grip.

That’s the warning in a new research report published by the Environmental Protection Agency in the Republic, which forecasts that many of the coming changes will be clearly visible within 40 years.

Intense one-in-10-year flooding events are likely to appear every three years in most river catchments by 2050, the report said.

Last August, the newly opened Broadway underpass on Belfast’s Westlink was left under 20ft of water after torrential rain caused widespread flooding across Northern Ireland.

Green campaigners urged the Northern Ireland Assembly to take immediate steps to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The report says summer and autumn will warm faster than winter and spring, with the midlands and east warming more than coastal areas. The midlands will also be hit by the largest winter rainfall increases.

Overall, winter rainfall is expected to increase by 10%, while summer rainfall will reduce by 12 to 17% by 2050.

Average annual temperatures have already risen by 0.7C over the past century and are predicted to rise by between 1.4C-1.8C by 2050.

By the end of the century, temperatures will have risen by 2C compared to the 1961-1990 baseline, according to the report Climate Change in Ireland: Refining the Impacts for Ireland.

Changes in the frequency of extreme events will accompany these climate changes.

“Longer heatwaves; a substantial reduction in the number of frost days; more prolonged rainfall events in winter and more intense downpours in summer are projected. Conversely, longer dry spells in summer may increase propensity towards drought, especially for eastern and southern parts of Ireland,” the report said.

Last year, the National Trust warned that parts of the Giant’s Causeway could be under water by the end of the century as global warming forces the sea level to rise.

Friends of the Earth activist Declan Allison said the projections were worrying but it wasn’t too late to stop runaway climate change.

“A programme of home insulation and installing renewables, for example, would reduce carbon emissions and at the same time would create thousands of good quality jobs, save people money on their fuel bills and help to alleviate fuel poverty,” he said.

The report warned of an urgent need to adopt appropriate mitigation and adaptation responses to the risks posed by climate change — despite the challenges of the economic downturn. Separate adaptation plans may need to be drawn up for different regions in Ireland, with farmers facing challenges to wetter soils in some areas and drier soils in others.

The projections are in line with earlier reports by the National University of Ireland (NUIM), Maynooth and Met Eireann, |but are based on outputs from a wide range of global climate models.

Professor John Sweeney, NUIM, the lead author of the report, said: “We are looking at changes in extremes at both ends of the spectrum, more rain and more intense rainfall at one end and then heat waves and droughts at the other.

“However, considerable uncertainty still remains in several areas, particularly in relation to rainfall. A risk management type approach to adaptation will be required to take account of these uncertainties.”

Laura Burke, director of the Office of Climate, Licensing and Resource Use in the EPA, said: “Further research is required to reduce scientific uncertainties and increase confidence in projections for decisions on investment in infrastructure and development.

“The EPA Climate Change Research Programme has a key stream of work which aims to support such research.”

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