25 May 2016
The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Mr. Denis Naughten T.D., today (25 May 2016) launched the Local Authority Climate Change Adaptation Strategy Guidelines. The guidelines, which were prepared on behalf of the Environment Protection Agency by UCC, are designed to assist local authorities to develop local climate change adaptation strategies, which will assess local vulnerability to climate risks and identify, cost and prioritise adaptation actions.
Speaking at the launch today in the Hodson Bay Hotel in Athlone, the Minister said –
"Climate change is rightly gaining increasing recognition as THE global challenge of our generation and this recognition is reflected in the Programme for a Partnership Government which has identified Climate Change as a policy area requiring radical and ambitious evaluation and action."
While climate policy has and must continue to be primarily focussed on the issue of reducing emissions in accordance with EU and international obligations, adaptation is also an urgent policy priority. Notwithstanding any success in limiting and then reducing greenhouse gas emissions, our planet will take time to recover from the greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere and we will be faced with the impacts of climate change for decades to come.
The Minister pointed out that potential impacts for Ireland are serious –
"…....storm surge events may increase in frequency; there is likely to be increased flows to river catchments; sea level may rise; and rainfall amounts may increase in winter and decrease in summer. These changes, in turn, will impact on a number of sectors including agriculture, energy, infrastructure and water resources. The challenge for policy-makers is to understand these climate change impacts and to develop and implement policies to ensure an optimal level of response by way of adaptation."
Reflecting the need for a whole of Government approach, the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 provides that relevant Ministers will be required to develop sectoral adaptation plans which will be undertaken under the terms of a statutory national adaptation framework to be approved by Government. Local authorities will be mandated under the national framework to prepare local adaptation strategies, the subject matter of the guidelines launched today. In relation to the involvement of the local government sector, the Minister said -
"Devolution of decision-making to the local level is appropriate – the impacts of climate change, and the capacity to respond to them, are very different in different areas of Ireland. Rainfall shortages in one region may not affect another; local knowledge of how to rapidly implement temporary flood defences in one area may be lacking in another, which has no living memory of flooding. There is no uniform impact regime or adaptation response that can be managed centrally; local understanding of and sensitivity to change is crucial to getting adaptation right.
The purpose of the guidelines is to support local authorities in the development of adaptation strategies which will allow for a long term and planned view to be taken of the challenges that climate change poses and of the adaptation and other measures that need to be taken.
The Minister concluded –
"Greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are warming the Earth and causing changes in the global climate. These changes are having increasingly severe human, economic and environmental impacts and will continue to do so over the coming decades. The cause of climate change and the case for mitigation and adaptation action in response to it are no longer in any doubt. As the first Minister with specific responsibility for climate change, I intend to address this subject with the utmost seriousness and determination at national, EU and international levels.
We have no choice now but to take adaptation measures to deal with unavoidable climate impacts and their economic, social and environmental costs. By prioritising a coherent, flexible and participatory approach at national, sectoral and local levels, we can aim to plan, in a considered way, how to adapt our towns and cities to the future impacts that climate change will bring."
Note for Editors.
Policy response to climate change
The policy response to climate change is two-fold: -
- mitigation of emissions of the greenhouse gases that are driving climate change in accordance with our EU and international obligations, and
- adaptation to the positive and negative impacts of climate change.
To address the mitigation challenge, Ireland will pursue and aim to meet its national, EU and international greenhouse gas mitigation commitments through the adoption of a series of 5 yearly statutory National Mitigation Plans (NMP). The NMPs will track the implementation of measures already underway and identify additional measures in the longer term to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Work on developing Ireland's first NMP is well advanced. A similar long term process, operating in parallel with and informed by the mitigation effort, will develop the process of adapting Ireland to the impacts of climate change.
Climate change impacts
Ireland is vulnerable to the adverse effects of global climate change, in terms of increase in average temperature, changes in precipitation patterns, weather extremes (storms and flooding, sea surges, flash floods) and sea-level rise. Climate change will have diverse and wide ranging impacts on the environment, society, economic sectors and natural resources. These include managed and natural ecosystems, water resources, agriculture and food security, human health, coastal infrastructures and marine environment. These impacts are expected to increase over the coming decades.
Climate change adaptation
Effective actions are needed to reduce vulnerabilities to the negative impacts of climate change, take advantages of opportunities and to increase social, economic and environmental resilience. Adaptation can be defined as 'adjustment to natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities'. In other words, adaptation seeks to protect people, buildings, infrastructure, businesses and ecosystems against the negative impacts of climate change but also to build resilience to climate change, allowing society to take advantage of any opportunities that it might bring. These actions are taken in parallel with, and in addition ongoing and planned changes in the relevant sectors.
Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015
The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015 establishes the national objective of transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable economy in the period to 2050. It also provides a statutory basis for the institutional arrangements necessary to pursue and achieve the objective; these arrangements focus on mitigation and adaptation. While climate policy has been primarily focussed on the former, adaptation is also becoming an urgent policy priority, with climate change now acknowledged as a certainty throughout the coming century.
Under section 5 of the 2015 Act, the Minister must submit to Government for approval (not later than December 2017), a national adaptation framework (NAF). The NAF will specify the national strategy for the application of adaptation measures in different sectors and by local authorities in their administrative areas in order to reduce the vulnerability of the State to the negative effects of climate change and to avail of any positive effects that may occur. The 2015 Act also provides that relevant Ministers will be required to develop sectoral adaptation plans which will specify the adaptation policy measures the Minister in question proposes to adopt.
Role of local authorities
Local authorities will be mandated under the NAF to prepare local adaptation strategies, the subject matter of the guidelines launched by the Minister. The guidelines, which were commissioned by the EPA and prepared by UCC, are designed to assist local authorities to develop their own adaptation strategies which will be distinct and separate to the NAF and will complement adaptation plans to be prepared by Government Departments on a sectoral basis.
The guidelines describe, in six steps, the tasks that a local authority needs to complete in order to develop, adopt and implement an adaptation strategy. The six stages are as follows: -
- Forming an adaptation team and preparing the ground.
- Assessing the current adaptation baseline.
- Assessing future climate risk.
- Identifying, assessing and prioritising adaptation options.
- Developing an adaptation pathway map and drafting the adaptation strategy.
- Mainstreaming, monitoring and reviewing the adaptation strategy.