Thursday, 29 April 2021
Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)
I will begin with a short history of climate in numbers. When I was born, the carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere was 333 parts per million, ppm, which is above pre-industrial levels but consistent with a relatively constant global temperature. When I went to college, the figure stood at 360 ppm. On the day of my wedding, the concentration was 385 ppm. When my first child was born, the reading was 393 ppm. Today, the CO2concentration measure at Mauna Loa Observatory stands at 411 ppm. The composition of our planet's atmosphere has significantly altered in less than a human lifetime.
The changes in our climate system have been studied by scientists for almost 100 years. Thousands of experts from all over the world have been collecting evidence, reviewing scientific research and debating results. The resulting message is blunt: human-induced climate change is now a reality. According to the World Meteorological Organization, as of December 2020, the Earth's average temperature has increased by 1.2oC above pre-industrial levels, dangerously close to the 1.5oC limit set out in the Paris Agreement and the temperature limit which scientists regard as safest before climate change is irreversible. Worryingly, if the current trends of warming continue, as they have during my 44 years on this planet, we can expect to hit the 1.5oC limit as soon as 2034. Thereafter, we increasingly run the risk of triggering climate tipping points - points of no return. I refer to Hemmingway's response to the question, "How did you go bankrupt?" which was "Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly." So it may be with climate breakdown. It is our children's futures that we stand to bankrupt.
How does a 1.5oC increase in temperature translate to reality? The answer is sobering. Here in Ireland, summer droughts such as those we have seen in recent years will become the norm, damaging agriculture and food production. In winter, intensified storms will lash our coastal communities more often and flooding events from increased rainfall and rising seas will threaten to inundate our urban centres. Cork, Galway, Limerick, Dublin and my home town of Waterford, all of which are coastal and at sea level, are all vulnerable. There is an ugly truth in how climate breakdown will affect those beyond our shores. Climate modelling shows that people in the developing world, those who have contributed least to the emissions causing climate breakdown, will be the most adversely affected. I refer here to sub-Saharan subsistence farmers scraping a living from desiccating soils, Middle East families displaced by conflict over scant resources and Pacific islanders, whose entire nations may well sink beneath the waves. These are people who have done little to contribute to the changing of our atmosphere, yet they will be the ones to pay the highest price if we here continue to fumble in the greasy till.
As much as we owe it to our children to take action in respect of the climate, we owe it to those in developing countries too. In the sustain development goals, SDGs, we promised them climate action and action on biodiversity and on land and below water and, also, peace, justice and partnership. We are under binding obligation to our brothers and our children or, faoi geasa, as it would have been in Celtic myth. No good ever came of reneging on promises made. By contrast, our implementation of the SDGs in international solidarity and in intergenerational solidarity can strengthen societal and economic support for climate action.
There is no planet B. On this shared planet, this is our shared future. Let us act now. The decades of work to build and communicate the scientific evidence of climate change underpins the growing movements of activists demanding bolder and more ambitious climate action. It underpins the continuous efforts of policymakers and political leaders to agree on collective climate action for the next 30 years. It also underpins the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021 before the House today. We are past the point of debating the science of climate change. Anyone in this House who wishes to make electoral hay by undermining unequivocal scientific evidence - we had a few of those voices in the debate last week - let them consider Isaac Cordal's sculpture, Electoral Campaign, and consider, too, if they wish history to count them among those grey heads slowly sinking under water. We must never underestimate the role that research and scientific evidence play in plotting our course. If anything, we will be leaning on research and science more and more as we develop solutions to mitigate the causes of climate breakdown. In availing of scientific research and innovation, we can plan a way ahead that averts the worst impact.
A great deal has happened on the international stage since this Bill was present a week ago. Last Wednesday, we set ourselves firmly apart for all the right reasons in the context of our stated ambition. One week on, we are hearing about commitments made across the world's major economies in their efforts to tackle climate crisis. We have set ourselves apart in establishing this climate Bill, but we are not alone in our efforts. We are at the centre of something much greater and more impactful. The science is clear and the need is great. In moving to our shared future, I do not see barriers, I see only opportunities.