I thank the committee for the invitation to Met Éireann to give evidence. It was also a great honour for Met Éireann to present at the Citizens' Assembly in 2017.
Met Éireann is the Irish national meteorological service, as recognised by the UN Convention of the World Meteorological Organization, WMO, a specialised agency of the United Nations. Established in 1936, Met Éireann’s mission is to monitor, analyse and predict Ireland's weather and climate, as well as to provide a range of high-quality meteorological and related information to the public. This is focused on supporting public safety and promoting wider societal and economic well-being through the delivery of timely, actionable and reliable science-based weather and climate information.
In December 2017, Met Éireann put in place its ten-year strategy to help Irish society to be ready for and responsive to weather and climate risks with the vision of making Ireland weather and climate prepared.
Weather and climate science is intrinsically international in nature. The global network of national meteorological services collaborates internationally to share information, along with building the expertise and knowledge needed to support and develop the global predictive capability available for weather and climate systems. Met Éireann represents Ireland and actively contributes to the WMO, the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, EUMETSAT, and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, ECMWF, which, among other things, is responsible for the implementation of the EU Copernicus Climate Change Service.
Met Éireann’s public services are based on knowledge-leading, scientific expertise and capacity, developed in co-operation with a wide range of leading international scientific collaborative networks including the EC-Earth climate modelling research consortium, the HIRLAM numerical weather prediction consortium and EUMETNET, the European meteorological services network.
Met Éireann places a major focus on our international collaborative partnerships as they allow it to successfully build strategic national capacity and capabilities, while providing Ireland with the best possible weather and climate services based on world-leading expertise. Such co-operation and collaboration was at the foundation of how the international scientific community has detected and helped develop an understanding of the challenge of climate change, which brings me to the global context for climate change.
Climate change is a reality. It is likely that the world is now warmer than at any time during the past 125,000 years. The past four years were the warmest on record globally with the most pronounced warming in the Arctic. Latest indications show the average temperature of the past five years was 1.1° Celsius above the pre-industrial era. Last year was more than 0.4° Celsius warmer than the average temperature from 1981 to 2010. This warming is directly linked to increases in anthropogenic greenhouse gases, which are also higher in concentration now than any time in the past 800,000 years. Further warming is inevitable due to the continuing rapid and record rise in human produced greenhouse gases.
This global warming is now impacting global weather patterns. This includes changes in circulation patterns leading to, for example, changes in the Asian monsoon, changes to the behaviour of the jet stream, more heatwaves and droughts worldwide, increased flood events, as well as slower moving and more moisture-bearing hurricanes or typhoons. The frequency, severity and probability of extreme weather have also increased globally. Recent extreme events in Ireland, such as the flooding of 2015-16, including Storm Desmond, Storm Ophelia and Storm Emma, as well as the recent summer drought of 2018, are all consistent with, and part of, the trend of more frequent high-impact weather events.
How does global warming affect weather patterns in Ireland? Ireland currently benefits from a temperate oceanic climate with abundant rainfall in a predominantly westerly atmospheric circulation, moderated by the North Atlantic Drift with little in the way of temperature extremes. It is worth noting we have always had extreme weather in the past such as downpours, flooding, droughts, cold spells and windstorms. However, with increased global warming, Ireland is likely to experience a less dependable, less stable climate with more frequent and intense extreme weather events. In general, modelled projections show the Irish climate is trending towards a reduction in overall rainfall, particularly in spring and summer, along with more heavy rainfall events in autumn and winter. Heatwaves and droughts are becoming more probable and all seasons will be warmer with more hot days and fewer frosts. The overall number of storms affecting Ireland is likely to decrease. The number of extreme damaging storms, however, could increase. This, coupled with expected sea level rise, is likely to lead to an increased risk of coastal erosion and storm surges.
Ireland’s response to climate change is informed by national predictive capability. Met Éireann’s key role in meeting the challenge of climate change has been the development of national climate modelling capability. Table No. 1 in the annexe to my submission shows the development of this predictive capacity over the past 15 years. This strategic national resource has supported the formulation of climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies in Ireland over that period.
As members will see in the table, our climate modelling effort began in 2003 with C4i, a joint project between Met Éireann and UCD funded by the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, and Science Foundation Ireland, SFI. In 2008 Met Éireann joined the international EC-EARTH climate modelling consortium working with leading experts from 12 European countries to develop and run state-of-the-art climate projections which were then accepted and used in the IPCC fifth assessment report. Between 2009 and 2015 Met Éireann, with the Irish Centre for High-End Computing, ICHEC, developed the most recent model projection for Ireland’s projected climate change. Currently, Met Éireann is engaged in the next phase of EC-EARTH global model projections and regional climate model projections for Ireland, the outputs of which will be available for use by the wider climate change research community. Met Éireann’s analysis of the EC-EARTH global model output will be available during 2020, the findings of which are expected to be used by the IPCC in its sixth assessment report.
How do we unlock all of this scientific information and use it to promote climate action? As part of "Making Ireland Weather and Climate Prepared", Met Éireann is expanding its range of operational, high quality, user oriented climate information and prediction services. This is to support understanding and decision making in managing climate dependent risks for Ireland. This enhanced service will build on Met Éireann’s existing climate services. They include: the management of Ireland's national climate archive of quality controlled reference climate observations; the dissemination of climate products based on historical and current climate data; publication of synthesis reports on climate projections for Ireland; the development and dissemination of the award winning MÉRA re-analysis of the Irish climate and also other sector specific climate products, for example, for the agriculture sector.
The enhanced climate information and prediction services will involve providing climate information for citizens, decision makers and policy makers via an interactive, integrated national climate information hub equipped with interpretative tools to contextualise expected states of Ireland’s future climate and to enable understanding of climate risks at local level. The information provided will be user driven and support decision making for specific sectors such as agriculture, health, transport and energy to help further develop the understanding of climate dependent risks. Met Éireann is also building capacity in event attribution and actively involved in the development of a state-of-the-art, pilot event attribution service as part the EUPHEME European research project. To support adaptation, Met Éireann is also developing flood forecasting capability in conjunction with the Office of Public Works, OPW. Leveraging the latest developments in meteorological science, Met Éireann is developing local scale services extending from monthly forecasts and seasonal projections through to climate projections and analysis, based on state-of-the art ECMWF, Copernicus and EC-EARTH projections.
Turning to communication of climate information to the citizen, Met Éireann’s primary motivation when communicating with the people is to help to protect life and property and to promote economic and social well-being on the basis of the best available, evidence based information. Met Éireann’s existing communication channels include its work with RTÉ and other TV and radio broadcasters; its new website and app and extensive social media reach; its public outreach via its citizen-science climate observer network; seminars; workshops; conferences and through its partnership with the Irish Meteorological Society; its work with print media; its educational resources; its participation in the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition; the National Ploughing Championships; science week; mathematics week and so forth.
Met Éireann is now building on its extensive experience of communication and engagement with the public to raise awareness and understanding of how the Irish climate is changing. This work will include expanding our network of citizen scientists through the weather observations website, WOW, an interactive digital platform that will be launched during 2019. WOW will allow for more community involvement in directly contributing to our understanding of our changing climate and weather patterns. Met Éireann is also planning to expand its capacity for media engagement and to increase its contributions to scientific programming on the topic of weather and climate, primarily with the public broadcaster RTÉ but also through wider engagement with commercial broadcasters. This involves developing climate specific educational segments for TV, the web and social media. In particular, these segments will be used when educational opportunities arise such as in the aftermath of an extreme weather event or when weather or climate related news items occur.
While recognising the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment's responsibility for climate action and its overall national co-ordination role in the communication of climate change information, these communication initiatives by Met Éireann are intended to support the wider national climate action agenda through enhanced public awareness and understanding of the causes and impacts of climate change, founded on evidence based scientific information. This information will support Ireland’s national adaptation and mitigation plans by aiding citizens in making informed choices regarding the realities of climate change impacts.
I again thank the committee for giving me this opportunity to provide evidence. I am happy to provide further clarification, as required.