Ireland wants climate action: What experts think of the new EPA report

13 Dec 2021

Image: © VanderWolf Images/

We asked politicians, professors and researchers for their views on the EPA’s report on attitudes to the climate crisis in Ireland.

A new report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicates that people in Ireland believe the climate crisis is happening and that more must be done to address it.

Nearly all (90pc) of those surveyed in the report said the country has a responsibility to act and reduce emissions in order to deal with the crisis, while 85pc admitted they are somewhat worried about it and 37pc are “very worried”.

The report – Climate Change in the Irish Mind – also showed a large increase in people’s engagement on climate issues, with 91pc of people saying the matter is important to them and 72pc claiming they often discuss it with family and friends.

The EPA surveyed 4,000 people in Ireland engaged in a diverse range of topics related to the climate crisis. The report was conducted with the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

Green Party MEP Ciarán Cuffe said it’s heartening to see greater interest in climate issues along with more knowledge and concern from citizens, but more has to be done by the Government to address the issues.

“The changes that we need to make to tackle climate change won’t all be easy. There’s a really important role for the State to help citizens with information and finance in certain areas,” Cuffe noted. “For example, the Common Agricultural Policy provides a lot of farm supports and consumes over a third of the EU budget, we need to make sure that money goes to climate action instead of just business as usual.”

Cuffe added that there are important areas the State needs to consider “very carefully”, such as what aspects of transport to focus on, so savings aren’t given to those who can afford to make necessary changes anyway.

‘I sincerely hope this provides the needed evidence for the policymakers to take heed and act on the climate action plans’

A majority of Irish people surveyed by the EPA were shown to support climate action, with 79pc believing it should be a high priority for Government. Most people support spending carbon tax revenues on programmes to reduce carbon emissions and to prepare for impacts of the climate crisis.

Prof Jennifer McElwain, chair of botany at Trinity College Dublin, said the report clearly shows the public is “shouting loudly” for political leadership and climate action.

“We should be very proud as a country of the high level of engagement and understanding demonstrated in the responses to this survey,” McElwain said.

But while a majority of people in the country support climate action, a 2021 review by the Climate Change Advisory Council released last week found a significant time lag between climate policy and action in Ireland.

In science we trust

Scientists were regarded as the most trusted source of information about the climate emergency, with the EPA coming second at 89pc and educators at 88pc.

Prof Patrick Guiry, director of the Centre for Synthesis and Chemical Biology at University College Dublin, said it’s a good sign for the future that people seem to appreciate the views and knowledge of the scientific community.

“It is reassuring that in contrast to many countries worldwide, the Irish people respect its scientists and the fact that their views are based on evidence,” Guiry noted.

Dr Brian Kelleher of the School of Chemical Sciences at Dublin City University (DCU) echoed this, adding that the report seems like a “big improvement” overall in terms of people’s views on the climate crisis.

He voiced some concern that 33pc of people surveyed said they believe the climate crisis is equally caused by natural changes and human impact, adding that he believes climate education at a younger age is an important step to making people more aware of climate issues.

“Education is important, what I’d like to see is teaching on past climate. It’s trying to understand what we don’t know as well as what we do know. It’s humbling but it gives you an idea of the hugeness of our environment and climate, and what we need to do to understand it.

“I think that’s a great foundation for children and I don’t think it has to be dark. I did this with a school last year, we looked at natural history. The reaction from the students and the questions were brilliant,” Kelleher said.

But he also believes that the Irish Government still has a long way to go if it aims to cut emissions in half by 2030, as laid out in the Climate Action Plan, adding that the change required to make this happen is “huge, more than most of us can fathom”.

Last month the Climate Action Tracker report found that with current pledges, global emissions will still be twice as high as they need to be for the world to meet its 2030 targets.

‘The rubber hasn’t hit the road yet with changes people need to make’

While trust in scientists and the EPA as sources of climate information was very high, people’s trust in mainstream media and journalists was lower at 69pc and 66pc.

David Robbins, director of the DCU Centre for Climate and Society, said he would like to see the media become a trusted source of information and believes that a huge amount of communication work needs to be done.

He added that while he’s “pleasantly surprised” by how prevalent the climate crisis is in people’s thinking, there are still challenges ahead when it comes to implementing policies.

“People have clearly become more informed and more aware of the issues. That’s fine, but then you try and put a cycle lane in Sandymount. When policies impact people in how they want to travel or heat their homes, I think that will be another challenge,” Robbins added.

“While we may talk about it a lot, there’s still a lot to be done in getting the policies in … The rubber hasn’t hit the road yet with changes people need to make.”

Water fears

A strong majority of those surveyed were concerned with the potential impacts of the climate emergency, with 88pc believing it has impacted Irish weather and 75pc fearing that moderate to extreme weather changes will impact their communities over the next 10 years.

People were also concerned with local environmental hazards, with 81pc of people surveyed saying they were concerned about water pollution. Prof Fiona Regan, director of the DCU Water Institute, said there was a “remarkable response” to the survey.

“If we take all of the water-related hazards; water pollution, flooding, rising sea levels, water shortages – over 20pc are very worried or over 30pc somewhat worried about some of these threats.”

Regan said she was “amazed” at the results of this report and curious to understand more about people’s concerns, such as if the fears of pollution are focused on bathing water pollution or drinking water.

“I congratulate the EPA and Yale collaborators on this survey, and I sincerely hope that it provides the needed evidence for the policymakers to take heed and act on the climate action plans.”

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic