Monday, 28 July 2014

Engineers must face up to Climate Change

The McGill Summer School in Glenties County Donegal is always an interesting event and this year proved no exception. In political terms it is often an occasion to float a radical idea and then gauge public and media reaction. On the more technical issues the speakers tend to be more mainstream and factually more down to earth.

This years programme ranged from Trust and Credibility in our institutions (eg An Garda Síochána, The Church, Governments), how stands the European Dream post the recent Euro elections, Economic Recovery and Climate Change.

After years of scepticism around the subject of climate change, it is now accepted even in the large industrial powers such as US and China that the planet and humanity itself is at risk from global warming. It is now generally agreed that if we do not limit the rise in world temperatures to less than 2 degrees by 2050, it will have very severe adverse consequences on human life.

At the McGill Summer School our leading national expert on climate change Dr. John Sweeney (Emeritus Professor of Geography NUI Maynooth) told the School that it was as certain that human activity is causing climate change as we are that smoking causes cancer. He pointed to rising temperatures, record breaking weather, melting ice in the arctic and the Himalayas and cold water species like cod leaving the waters off Donegal for more northern climes.

Dr. John Sweeney, NUI Maynooth
  (image courtesy of

'We have 20 years to get our act together or face the most dire of consequences' Dr Sweeney stated 'there is a climate cliff just like there is a fiscal cliff, the longer we put off dealing with it, the more acute the consequences'.

EPA Director General Laura Burke (and UCD chemical engineering graduate) stated that business as usual in Ireland was not an option and that we need to see the opportunities for Ireland to move to a greener and more sustainable economy and society.

'Changes in the ocean and in sea levels will dominate our climate' she said 'A repeat of this year's storms so devastating in parts of Cork, Clare and Limerick would have an even more devastating effect if they came on top of a sea level rise of 20cm - 30cm'.

'We have to decarbonise our energy and transport systems. We are already at the forefront of key areas of agriculture and land use research' she said. The Agriculture and Transport sectors are responsible for 41% and 24% respectively of emitted carbon dioxide.
EPA Director General, Laura Burke
(image courtesy of

'The Government has no coherent strategy for reducing our carbon emissions right across the board.' Ms Burke stated 'the new Climate Bill needs to require each sector to lay out its road map for how it will reduce its carbon footprint' she concluded.

Engineers need to take these advices and warnings on board if we are to contribute to an environmentally sustainable future. Some do and unfortunately some don't - some even going so far as opposing in principle renewable energy projects like wind farms and transmission grid upgrades required to facilitate increased renewable energy towards our national targets. We need to reduce our gas imports and create a more balanced energy mix. We greatly welcome the commissioning of the Corrib Gas field in Mayo later this year which will dramatically cut our current gas imports over the next 20 years.

We will always have significant dependence on clean fossil fuels like natural gas but increasingly we need to switch our national energy mix as much as possible towards renewables mostly wind but also solar,waste,wave and tidal. In doing so we need to have due regard to environmental as well as technical and economic considerations. Otherwise we will not be taken seriously as a profession.

One of Ireland's principal renewable energy targets is 40% electricity
generated from wind power by 2020
There is currently a Public Consultation on the Government Green Paper on Energy Policy in Ireland. I urge all graduates with an interest in energy or indeed Irish economic development to make a submission on or before next Thursday, July 31st to The Green Paper is available on the Department website: