The missing piece which undermines Irish Climate Policy

There was a remarkable moment earlier this week, when Fingal County Council Director, Robert Burns, shared the following map:

The map does not, for the sake of clarity, show that large parts of Dublin will be underwater in just eight years. It refers to the risk of flooding. According to this map, based off the IPCC’s most recent report into climate change, and based (as ever) on the worst case scenario, these are the areas of Dublin that will be at risk of severe flooding by 2030.

Unless, of course, we reverse Climate Change.

For the purposes of this article, we are going to assume that this map, and indeed the wider IPCC modelling, is correct. In eight years, without sudden and dramatic climate action, large swathes of suburban Dublin will be populated by people whose homes come with their own bonus swimming pool.

Clearly, serious climate action is needed. But this is where we run into something of a problem.

The problem is that it is not in the power of the Irish State to reverse Climate Change. Sure, no doubt, we can take drastic action – we could basically switch the country off, and eliminate our own emissions. But that would make no difference to the bigger picture, because Ireland is so small as to have virtually no impact on global climate change one way, or the other.

No, if the Climate Change is to be reversed, and the flooding of Dublin prevented, it will require massive action by the Chinese, the Americans, the Russians, the Indians, and the Europeans.

Which poses the following question: How confident are we that Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and the US Senate will take drastic climate action before 2030? Because to me, it seems highly unlikely.

Which leaves us with an obvious question: Shouldn’t we be investing in flood defences for Dublin?

This – more than anything else – is the missing piece which undermines the seriousness of Irish Climate Policy. On the one hand, we are told that disaster is imminent without global action, and Irish action. On the other hand, a fool can see that the necessary global action is not coming. So why are we doing next to nothing to prepare for the disaster?

Is it, perhaps, because our politicians are comfortable using the IPCC’s worst case scenario projections – as in this case – to scare the public? Is it because they do not really believe them?

The costs of building a sea wall for the affected areas, after all, are high. But they are probably lower than the costs that would be incurred from annual flooding of some of the nicest, most middle-class parts of north Dublin.

Indeed, the absence of any major climate mitigation efforts at all is a stunning omission from current Irish climate policy. All of the eggs, it seems, are in the basket of reversing global temperature increase – even though achieving that is not within the power of the Irish state, and never will be.

The thing that is in our power – if we indeed believe that disaster is on the horizon – is to prepare for it. To protect residential areas that may be at risk of flooding. To invest in water infrastructure in case of drought. To invest in accommodation for the tens of millions of predicted climate refugees. These are all things a country that really believe a climate disaster is likely would be doing now.

So why aren’t we?

There are really two possible explanations: The first is that politicians don’t really believe any of this stuff is serious. The second is that they do believe it is serious, but haven’t realised that it is very unlikely to be prevented. It is either cynicism, or naivete.

Neither is comforting.

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