Two significant reports were published in the past fortnight. The first was released to much clamour and made headlines around the world. The second was specific to Ireland and received far less media attention. However, the two are intrinsically linked.
Special Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
The former is the latest Special Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations body for assessing the science related to climate change. This latest report, ‘Climate Change and the Land’ serves as yet another clarion call in the face of climate breakdown and environmental collapse and builds on the stark warnings contained within the Special Report on Global Warning of 1.5oC published last year.
The report, prepared by 103 leading scientists from 52 countries, illustrates that our current land use contributes 22% of global greenhouse gas emissions, compared to 35% for energy and 14% for transportation. The report also underscores the catastrophic toll climate change will bring to bear on global on water and food systems. This vicious cycle, where unhealthy soils and woodland exacerbate climate chance, which in turn exacerbates soil and forest degradation, will have widespread repercussions, from which Ireland will not be immune.
The Grim Findings
The impacts of warming on our ecosystem read like something from a dystopian novel. “North America, South America, Mediterranean, southern Africa and central Asia may be increasingly affected by wildfire. The tropics and subtropics are projected to be most vulnerable to crop yield decline. Land degradation resulting from the combination of sea level rise and more intense cyclones is projected to jeopardise lives and livelihoods in cyclone prone areas”, the report states. It warns that warming beyond 2oC will turn farmland to desert, cause infrastructure in northern latitudes to collapse as the permafrost thaws, while droughts and extreme weather events will cause food scarcity as our systems of production are put at risk. Yet again, the IPCC warns “The most vulnerable people will be more severely affected”.
Teagasc National Farm Survey Results
The second report in question is the is the Teagasc National Farm Survey Results for 2018 which was released on July 30th. It didn’t receive the same attention here as the IPCC Special Report, but the findings contained echoes of the key messages emerging from the IPCC. Year on year the average Family Farm Income (FFI) was down 25% as a result of chaotic weather patterns.
The report cites increased fodder and feed costs, resulting from ‘very challenging weather conditions’, in the form of stormy and snowy conditions followed by a major drought period, as the main reason given for this decrease in income. The worst hit system was dairy, with incomes falling from €86,069 to €61,446, a drop of 29%. At the other end of the income spectrum, cattle rearing farm incomes fell by 22%, with an average family farm income of just €8,311. An average reduction in Sheep farm income of 23 percent was experienced, falling to €13,297.
The report also finds that 83% of all farmers cited weather as a major cause of stress in 2018, higher than any other cause of stress. This also caused almost half of all farmers to feel stress as a result of financial pressure in 2018.
What does this mean for Ireland?
The reality is that, globally and nationally, we are chronically underprepared to adapt to the type of impacts which the IPCC are forecasting and our commitments to mitigate climate breakdown remain woefully inadequate. Currently, the Carbon Action Tracker, operated by the New Climate Institute, ECOFYS and Climate Analytics, project that policies currently in place globally result in a 3.3°C of warming above pre-industrial levels by 2100. So stark are the impacts at 2oC, that the IPCC doesn’t go into any detail as to the further impacts we would experience beyond a 3oC temperature rise.
Can anything be done?
The IPCC report does point to solutions which, if implemented, can deliver environmental, social and economic benefits - these include: sustainable food production, soil organic carbon management, sustainable forest management, ecosystem conservation, land restoration, reduced deforestation and degradation.
B2.3. Most of the land management-based response options that do not increase competition for land, and almost all options based on value chain management (e.g. dietary choices, reduced post-harvest losses, reduced food waste) and risk management, can contribute to eradicating poverty and eliminating hunger while promoting good health and wellbeing, clean water and sanitation, climate action, and life on land (medium confidence).
- IPCC SRCCL, Summary for Policymakers
The IPCC make clear that an overall focus on sustainability coupled with early action offers the best chances to tackle climate change. However, for climate action to be successful, the IPCC report stresses that the design of climate responses must be responsive and respect the rights of communities and the knowledge contained within them. In Chapter 7, the report states:
Participation of people in land and climate decision making and policy formation allows for transparent effective solutions and the implementation of response options that advance synergies, reduce trade-offs in sustainable land management (high confidence), and overcomes barriers to adaptation and mitigation (high confidence).
- IPCC SRCCL, Chapter 7: Risk management and decision making in relation to sustainable development
Inclusive and participative processes and mechanisms take time to develop and establish public trust in – they also require significant support and resources to work effectively. Furthermore, the transformation for which we are planning is unprecedented in scope and poses challenging questions about the future of livelihoods, communities and traditional practices. In Ireland, we have very little time remaining to create the mechanisms that will allow for meaningful participation and enable the design, planning and implementation of people-centred climate action. Ignoring the warnings contained within the IPCC Special Report and this year’s Teagasc Farm Survey Results will not make this challenge any easier.
As part of TASC’s ongoing work on Rural Local Wealth Building, we will be conducting extensive outreach to rural communities over the coming two months. We will be meeting with farming and fishing communities, as well as other rural stakeholders, to understand, and provide a platform for, their aspirations for the future and their concerns about climate change and climate action. If you would like to engage with this work, please contact me on email@example.com. Special thanks to Tate Donnelly for his research assistance on this topic.
Sean holds an B.Sc in Applied Physics from Dublin City University and an M.Sc. in Development Practice awarded by Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin. Prior to joining TASC, Sean worked as a Policy Officer with the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice for five years. During this time he engaged with the negotiations leading to the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. He also led the Foundation’s work on intergenerational equity. Sean spent five years working in the private sector, as a catastrophe risk analyst with Renaissance Reinsurance. He also spent 2 years working in a hospice in Kolkata, India, and worked with the Environmental Protection Agency in Sierra Leone building the agencies capacity in Geographic Information Systems.