Making Dublin Greener is back this academic year. To mark its launch, the Dublin Gazette spoke to Dr Bríd Walsh, climate policy co-ordinator with Friends of the Earth and policy and advocacy co-ordinator of the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition, about the speed and strides necessary to combat climate change in Ireland.
The argument of the individual versus the collective and who should be responsible for taking actions to mitigate climate change has been raging for decades now. My take on it is that, if you want to have the system change that we need, then you need everyone on-board,” said Dr Bríd Walsh during our interview.
“You need both individual and collective action. It is that simple. For example, reducing our collective energy demand by about 10 per cent would have the same impact on CO2 emissions as doubling the capacity of wind energy. It is also about individual changes to behaviour, like switching lightbulbs to LED, turning down the thermostat, switching technology off, pulling the plug out of the wall, but it is also about shifting to heat pumps where possible, all of these actions are really important.”
“The more that people are on board and engaged with the energy transition and can see the benefit, such as the health or economic benefits, the more that will drive political action and political change.”
What is particularly challenging when it comes to effective climate solutions, is the intersectional nature of the issue. Dr Walsh commented: “The thing about climate change is that it’s complicated by being a systems problem; it’s complex, it’s vast and it’s distributed in both time and space. It’s incredibly difficult to communicate the speed and the scale of action that we require on the one hand and on the other hand, the speed and scale of destruction and suffering, especially for those in the Global South, if we delay.
“We have the solutions. It just comes down to political will to implement all of this. We can do it, we just need to do it faster and more fairly. This must be this just transition.”
Dr Walsh’s work involves driving climate policy development and advocacy work forward in support of what Friends of the Earth refer to as ‘faster and fairer climate action’, which, she explains, is to make sure that everyone is brought along. This involves Ireland doing its fair share to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement and for the government to ensure that climate action reduces poverty and inequality at home and abroad.
Her PhD was in renewable energy development, focusing on meaningful citizen engagement in wind energy development and she has published on a range of topics, including renewable energy development, food waste, and energy citizenship.
“I have a broad background, which is useful when you’re talking about climate policy”, she said. “You could compare the impacts of climate change to a toddler running around the house with jammy fingers, you’re going to be finding and cleaning up that jam for a while. Climate change reaches into every corner of our economic system, our health system and our ecosystems. It’s a true global challenge and a wicked problem, which is why we need system change in how we live our lives.
“A lot of my work has focused on community renewables and also with Friends of the Earth, they have a campaign called Power to the People, which is all about community and citizen engagement with the energy transition with a strong focus on getting solar panels on school roofs. It’s so important that we promote this culture around energy transition that it is for all and that is inclusive.
“It’s also important that people aren’t living in cold, damp, mouldy homes anymore. When you think of the rising cost of living and the energy price crisis, all of that is going to disproportionally affect the bottom 20 per cent of the income distribution.
“We need to do more in terms of insulation and there are a lot of low-hanging fruit options, like pumping cavity walls and insulations for roofs, solutions that are relatively low-cost and high-impact. It’s about rolling those out as quickly as we can”, she stated.
Her recent work has focused in large part on Ireland’s carbon budget, which she described as an “incredibly useful tool” to phase out the use of fossil fuels. “It gives individual sectors a framework within which to take their actions and it gives limits to work within”, she said.
She highlighted that we should need to emit as little as possible if we are to avoid breaching the 1.5 degree celsius global temperature threshold.
Already, Ireland has been experiencing the effects of climate change, from a reduction in the number of frost days and an increase in intense storms to heatwaves that place our water supply under pressure. This is a trend that Dr Walsh expects to continue over the coming decades.
“To deal with these impacts, we need climate mitigation and adaptation”, she advised. “We need mitigation to move away from fossil fuels and towards renewables and we need climate adaptation to prepare for and adjust to the current and future impacts of climate change. Ireland hasn’t done enough on funding and developing climate adaptation measures. These measures might involve ecosystem protection, like building sea walls or flood retention areas.”
“If we can live well within the carbon budgets and rollout out renewables, grid development and battery storage in a fast, fair and environmentally sustainable manner, then the future looks bright.
“It’s now about speed and a relentless focus on delivering the actions that are set out in the Climate Action Plan, so that we can get to net zero as quickly as possible”, she concluded.
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