Climate Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability: How can Ireland and the world respond?

2 March 2022

Climate Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability: How can Ireland and the world respond?

On 28 February the report of Working Group II of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was published. The report, focusing on “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability”, assesses the vulnerability of people and nature to climate change, and identifies options for adapting to it.

In the week of its publication, the Centre hosted a webinar with a panel of experts from academia, policy and civil society to reflect on this landmark report and how Ireland and the world can respond.

Watch the recording here. 

Sadhbh O’Neill, staff member at the Centre and researcher in energy systems, noted that this report is much more accessible and relatable than other IPCC documents, because it includes reference to the impacts of climate change on humans – not just physical impacts, but aspects such as loss of culture, and the stress of living in a climate-vulnerable place. She also called for a much more integrated, joined-up response across governments, and government agencies across mitigation and adaptation.

Dr Darren Clarke of DCU’s School of History and Geography highlighted that the report tells us three important things. Firstly, at a global level, adaptation is well-below what’s needed and we need to broaden the financial focus, which is currently only on mitigation. Secondly, when it does occur, adaptation is fragmented, incremental and sectoral; this siloed approach reduces possibility for transformational adaptation. Thirdly, the report underlines the need for climate resilient development. This means that adaptation and mitigation need to be integrated; they are connected issues.

Dr Sinead Walsh, climate director and deputy director general of Irish Aid, highlighted that Ireland has one of the largest budgets on adaptation and that we will be doubling this. She emphasised the need to be more integrated in our approach and to focus on long-term, multi-country projects and biodiversity. However, she also stressed that the issue of maladaptation, whereby some of our actions are making things worse, also needs to be addressed. Sinead also noted the report’s focus on non-environmental losses and concern for non GDP related costs, such as protecting cultural heritage and people’s cultural and spiritual lives.

Clare O’Connor, energy policy officer with Friends of the Earth Ireland, the report’s findings on the injustice of the climate crisis stand out. The report identifies that 3.5 billion people are now vulnerable and the climate change is a ‘real, lived, experience’. Clare argued that moving forward, government policy needs to be focussed on fossil fuels and phase out of subsidies and extraction as well as building the climate justice movement in Ireland.

Moderator Kevin O’Sullivan, environment editor with the Irish Times, relayed audience questions on maladaptation. Darren explained that most adaptation measures in Ireland relate to flood defences. Hard engineering interventions can affect biodiversity upstream and downstream. Elsewhere, planting of forestry on unsuitable soils can have unintended consequences.