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Our Policy Officer looks at the climate policy landscape for 2009

30 Jan 2009

Molly and a hobo polar bear at the UN climate talks in Poland in December

Molly Walsh, Friends of the Earth Policy Officer, who represented the organisation at last month's UN climate talks, sets the scene for a critical year in climate policy at home and internationally.

Friends of the Earth is an environmental NGO with a broad remit "to shift the balance of Irish policy and practice in favour of environmental justice and sustainability, at home and internationally." In practice, we are focused on climate change as it is the
Climate change is caused by the build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. These greenhouse gases are being emitted as a result of human activities. On average each Irish person is responsible for 17.5 tonnes of emissions every year. This is almost double the European average which is around 9 tonnes.

The global rises in temperature will affect every aspect of our climate. For Ireland the most destructive changes will be in our rain. Torrential rainfall and all the associated problems of landslides, and floods will become more common. This is especially true for the upland areas in the North and West. According to Icarus research unit in Maynooth, by 2055, Ireland's annual precipitation will have increased by 11%; this will be particularly evident in the northwest, where rainfall looks set to be up 20%. By contrast, the South and East will see summer rainfall decreases of up to 40%, leading to increased drought conditions in that part of the country.

To Friends of the Earth a very important aspect of climate change is its inherently unjust nature. This often goes under reported. The very people who are the worst affected by climate disasters are those in developing countries who have done least to cause them. The people dying now are people who have never taken a flight or had the opportunity to eat meat every day.

2009 is going to be pivotally important. This December will see minister s and heads of state gather in Copenhagen for UN negotiations on a new global deal to succeed the Kyoto agreement. Copenhagen is our last chance of keeping rising temperatures within a safe level (usually seen as 2C). This is because if we continue a Business-As-Usual approach to polluting the atmosphere we will build up so much gas that dangerous warming will take place, no matter what we do. Once we reach the climatic tipping point positive feedbacks will mean that the climate will continue warm itself.

We need a strong global deal to be done at the talks in Copenhagen. It is a matter of humanity's survival.
For this is to happen developed countries like Ireland, that are high polluters, must make clear commitments to reduce their emissions.

Friends of the Earth believes the best way to do this would be with a climate change law. This sends a clear signal that we intend to reduce our emissions and that we are putting in place permanent binding structures to do so. Friends of the Earth in the UK ran a very successful campaign for a law backed by Radiohead's Thom Yorke called The Big Ask. Largely as a result of this campaign the UK's Climate Change Bill became law there last autumn. This commits the UK to making emissions reductions of 20% by 2020 and 80% by 2050.

Barack Obama has also stated clearly that he wants to use legislation to bring US greenhouse gas emissions down to what the science suggests is a safe level. In an address to state Governors in November he said "Few challenges facing America -- and the world -- are more urgent than combating climate change," and "My presidency will mark a new chapter in America's leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security and create millions of new jobs."
Friends of the Earth here in Ireland hail the timely progress of the climate law in the UK as the right action at the right time. We need a similar piece of legislation passed here before the talks in Copenhagen next December. We are urging the government to introduce a Climate Bill into the Dáil in 2009 and not to go to Copenhagen without a law in place at home.


What Friends of the Earth do is put pressure on politicians and policy makers to take the action needed. We work to empower our supporters and the public to demand a safe and just future. There are lots of ways to be involved. Join any actions or demonstrations that we are having. Write to your TD or send one of our postcards. Or even visit your TD in person and ask them to support a law to prevent runaway climate change.
Our generation is in danger of making mistakes that will allow a catastrophe. History will rightly judge us harshly if we were the ones that looked at climate change, understood it and then still did nothing.
2009 is the year to act.

We are currently dealing with the economic hangover of irresponsible and short-sighted practices. If we make the same mistakes with regard to polluting the atmosphere the results will be unthinkable.

If you think a credit crash is bad, you don't want see a climate crash.

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