Global warming is the increase in the average temperature of the Earth's near-surface air and oceans in recent decades and its projected continuation. There is now a scientific consensus that global warming can be directly related to the greenhouse effect which is created through the generation of man-made greenhouse gases (principally carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O)). Since the industrial revolution, there has been a steady increase in greenhouse gas levels and in temperature variations. Global annual temperature near the earth's surface rose 0.74oC during the 100 year period ending in 2005 and climate change projections indicate that temperatures are likely to rise by a further 1.1oC to 6.4oC during the 21st century.
The impacts that global temperature rises may have on our lives arebelieved to be significant and include a worldwide sea level rise, changes in patterns of precipitation resulting in flooding and drought, increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, species extinction and increases in diseases vectors.
There is a consensus that the cost of inaction, in terms of combating global warming and militating against its impacts, will have serious repercussions for the global economy. One widely publicized report on the potential economic impact of climate change is the Stern Review; it suggests that extreme weather might reduce global gross domestic product by up to 1%, and that in a worst-case scenario global per capita consumption could fall by up to 20%.
At a UN conference held in Kyoto Japan in 1997, the industrialised world agreed on an historical protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to protect the environment. The Irish government as a member of the EU agreed to this legally binding document. Under the agreement, EU states agreed to limit their CO2 emissions by 8% while Ireland was allowed to increase their emissions by 13%. This was agreed before the unprecedented economic boom occurred in Ireland. Recent statistics by the Central Statistics Office (CSO), show that Ireland has more than doubled our greenhouse gas emissions above the agreed 1990 level.
The Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government (DoEHLG) is the lead department responsible for ensuring that Ireland meets its Kyoto Protocol commitments. Most of the strategies for achieving these commitments are set out in the National Climate Change Strategy 2007-2012. The strategy for reducing emissions will be shared across all sectors but the main focus will be on transport, residential, industry, electricity production, the public sector and waste.
The new Programme for Government outlines a 3% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions per annum. The programme will also require Ireland to join the top 5 countries in the world, as measured by the Environmental Performance Index (EPI). This is a method of quantifying the performance of a country's environmental policies, against actual targets that have been set. The National Climate Change Strategy will also be supported by other relevant government policy such as the National Development Plan, Transport 21, National Energy policy 2007 and the National Energy Efficiency Action Plan.
For further information Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Government