Grim climate warning from a former Irish border hotspot
2019-01-01 13:00:28 -
Opinion
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By Michael McGowan

 

I travelled by bus from Dublin and crossed the border from the Republic to the North, arriving in Newry, which lies in the most south-eastern part of both Ulster and Northern Ireland.

The border town of Newry has a population of about 26,000.

The Clanrye River runs through the town, which hosted the 2018 annual meeting and seminar of the UK-All Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities that discussed ‘the impacts on councils of nuclear policy development, climate change and Brexit’.

Newry is an attractive town with its river and backdrop of the Mourne Mountains which inspired one of Ireland’s most famous folk songs. It has a strong republican history and culture with public representatives from Sinn Fein and the SDLP. During the conflict known as the Troubles, the town saw several violent incidents.

Newry welcomed and hosted the UK and all-Ireland grouping of local government authorities who are committed to promoting sustainability, alternative energy and peace. It is a special grouping of local councils with the potential to be an important influence across local government.

The seminar took the form of a panel with three keynote speakers which was chaired by Councillor Mark Dearey of Louth, chair of the All Ireland Forum of Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA). The key message from the Newry meeting was that the future cannot be taken for granted without changes in energy policy and addressing the urgent threat of climate change.

The first speaker was Dr Paul Price, based at Dublin City University, who raised the question: “What is the scale of the climate change challenge? How does government at all levels drive a low carbon, renewables programme to help mitigate climate change?”

Fossil fuels are running out, and we need to reduce and share what we have under the Paris Agreement. Dr Price said we are acting so late when we should have started early, and must now keep playing catch-up on our commitments. We should re-invest all the benefits we can save, and we need urgent action in developing wind and solar energy.

Ireland is 10 years behind other European states in its action on the Paris Agreement commitments and immediate action is required, including an end to digging up the peat resource.

Attracta Uí Bhroin, vice president of the European Environmental Bureau, stressed the importance of demanding the right to be consulted, and said Irish councils and the Irish Government should be kept in the loop on any changes of the UK’s nuclear programme.

The forum agreed that the assumption that accidents are unlikely to occur is worrying after the experience of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Fukushima. One sea surrounds our islands, which should co-operate more on everything.

Sean Morris, NFLA UK and Ireland secretary, addressed the seminar on the potential impacts, challenges and concerns of Brexit, saying the UK’s pending exit from the European Union “creates one of the most confused eras of public policy since 1945”.

He expressed concern that there is not much co-operation between local authorities in UK and Ireland, as well as of the uncertain future role of Eurratum, and the UK and Ireland’s shared responsibility for electricity.

There is no doubt that Brexit has brought many longstanding concerns about the future of the planet to the surface, and the grim message from the Newry meeting is that life on the planet is under serious threat — and requires determination to share all our precious resources if our planet is to survive.

It was, however, encouraging to hear a positive and hopeful comment from a councillor who said it was a refreshing change to take part in a discussion on an Anglo-Irish basis instead of separate meetings which makes little sense for close neighbours across the Irish Sea.

After two days of dialogue addressing some alarming and urgent aspects of climate change, renewables, nuclear and energy policy and peace, I left Newry for Belfast with a sense that change isn’t always for the worst.

 

Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament.

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