Counting the cost of last winter’s flooding: Evidence from disruptions to the road network

[Post co-authored by Paul Kilgarriff and Tom McDermott]

This time last year Ireland was in the middle of its wettest winter on record [PDF]. A series of Atlantic Storms battered the country, beginning with Storm Desmond in early December, followed by Eva and Frank. Rainfall levels in some areas were up to 300% of normal levels. Extensive flooding around the country caused widespread damage – hundreds of homes and businesses were flooded, and thousands more were cut off by flood waters. In many places the floods did not recede until well into the new year.

Various impacts of the flooding are detailed in the recent report by the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management (NDFEM)[PDF]. Almost €1.8million in humanitarian assistance was paid out to affected households; close to €1m to farmers; local authorities received special funding of €18m for clean-up costs; while damage to the road network was estimated at over €100m. Aside from damages, the flooding also caused substantial disruptions to everyday life — 350,000 customers suffered disruptions to electricity supply, and 23,000 households were placed on boil water notices. The flooding also resulted in substantial travel disruptions – in particular as a result of flooding on the road network.


As predicted, the 18th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change did not bring much, despite the arduous effort of most of the 17,000 delegates in Doha. The Doha Gateway Package promises that a new treaty will be negotiated by 2015. The 2007 Bali Roadmap promised the same, only to fail two years later in Cancun. I predict that the Paris negotiations will not deliver either.

Doha did extend the Kyoto Protocol from 2015 (as agreed in Durban) to 2020. The Kyoto Protocol is now a European affair, with Australia as an honorary member. The emissions targets agreed in Doha are the same as the targets adopted a long time ago in Brussels.

Doha did agree to end the twin-track negotiations, with one track for Europe to do what it wants and another for the rest of world to be in deadlock. Europe will join the deadlock so.

At the moment, donor countries divert development assistance to climate aid, meant to reduce overseas emissions and help poor countries adapt to climate change. (By the way, development assistance also pays for the international travel of Ireland’s climate negotiators.) In Doha, there was much talk of changing these voluntary contributions to mandatory ones, based on some form of accountability.

Needless to say, the USA are dead against any admission of liability. China’s position will rapidly change once they realize that they are the greatest contributor to climate change since 1992, when climate change was internationally recognized as a problem.

Today’s editorial in the Irish Times paints a different picture. However, the EU did not take on further commitments to reduce emissions. Sandy and Bopha cannot be attributed, either physically or statistically, to climate change.

The Irish Times also calls for a Climate Bill. Draft Bills would have created new bureaucracies, but would not have contributed to emission reduction (as argued here and here).

Climate policy does not need bureaucrats. A carbon tax would work just fine. I was therefore pleased that as of Budget2(0)13 solid fuels will no longer be exempted from the carbon tax. Let’s hope that the fiscal problems elsewhere will force other countries to follow Ireland’s example and introduce a carbon tax too. It would be even better if austerity would cull the excessive numbers of climocrats.

Durban: Jobs and climate

The UNFCCC Job Creation Program once more demonstrated its awesome force. Some 20,000 people met in Durban for 2 weeks. If you add travel, preparation and debriefing, that is easily 1,000 person-years.

What did we get for this? The final documents have yet to be published, but here is what seems to be reasonably accurate summary. There were three agreements.

First, further details were added to the mechanisms through which rich countries would transfer money to poor (and not-so-poor) countries for (a) reducing emissions and (b) helping them cope with climate change. The latter is an imperfect form of liability and compensation (we emit most, they suffer most). The former is an imperfect form of arbitrage (emission reduction is dear here, cheap there). This is progress of sorts, but the money to be transferred has yet to materialize (and no one seems to have much to spare at the moment).

Second, the Kyoto targets were extended to 2015. This creates the diplomatic illusion of having saved the Kyoto Protocol, but all countries that are bound by Kyoto had already adopted unilateral targets that are more stringent. Well, the EU has, and Canada, Japan, and Russia have already indicated that they will not take seriously this part of Durban agreement.

Third, the Durban Platform was established. The Platform pledges an agreement by 2015. It replaces the Bali Roadmap, which pledged an agreement by 2009. Once more, the countries of the world agreed to agree at a later stage.

Nothing much to show for those 1,000 person-years of work. And this was the 17th Conference of the Parties. One wonders whether there really are no better investments of the time and effort.

COP17 in Durban

Today, the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) starts in Durban, South Africa. Unlike the summit of 2009 in Copenhagen, expectations are low. The political attention is firmly fixed on the economy. The negotiators will thus make the same demands that were rejected by their counterparts at previous conferences.

Climategate 2.0 broke last week, too late to influence official positions. Besides, the new batch of emails show more of the same. The main new element is the role of the BBC.

Some 20,000 people are expected to travel to Durban. These events are expensive, definitely when compared to the expected result. Some Irish civil servants are rumored to travel in style. This is not at the expense of the Irish taxpayer. Travel to climate negotiations is covered by the development aid budget. As the aid budget is fixed, Irish travel to Durban comes at the expense of people in Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Timor-Leste, Uganda, Vietnam, and Zambia.

The low expectations for Durban are a blessing in disguise. I have argued that the current international climate regime is complete. The UNFCCC has standardized monitoring of emissions. The Kyoto Protocol / Marrakesh Accords has created international trading mechanisms for emission reduction credits. (Kyoto’s targets end in 2012 but the Protocol itself has no sunset clause.) The COPs have increasingly morphed into fora for pledge and review of domestic policies and targets. That is all that is needed, and all that is feasible (bar a transfer of sovereignty to the UN).

The negotiators in Durban should therefore focus on refining the existing mechanisms. That is quite boring stuff, so that hopefully the majority of the 20,000 in Durban will decide not to return to COP18 in Qatar or South Korea. UPDATE: It will be Qatar.

UPDATE: After pretending to be greener than Labour for a while, the Tories now argue that jobs are important too. This would put London on a collision course with Brussels. The UK will want to rid itself of the Large Combustion Plant Directive too.

UPDATE: Less than 72 hours after I predicted nothing much would happen in Durban, the EU changed its tune. Poland is not particularly keen on EU climate policy. They have the presidency. Talking tough, they at once please the greens and reduce the chance of success.

More on the climate bill

The Sunday Business Post yesterday published an op-ed by me. It’s a shortened and updated version of last week’s blog, and it sketches emission reduction options in transport:

“There is already a carbon tax on fuel, while motor tax and vehicle registration tax favour low emission cars. There are strict European rules about the fuel efficiency of new cars. Fuels are blended with biofuels. Public transport is subsidised. If the economy returns to modest growth and policies continue as they are, but the carbon tax rises, then emissions from transport in 2020 would be roughly the same as they are today. (Transport emissions doubled between 1990 and 2000, and another 20 per cent was added between 2000 and 2010.) According to the climate bill, however, transport emissions should fall by 20 per cent.

How can this be achieved?  If we ignore all the evidence that biofuels are bad for the environment and bad for poor people, and we increase the mandatory blend from 3 per cent to 10 per cent (in energy terms), emissions fall by 7 per cent. If 10 per cent of cars were all-electric, emissions would fall by 2 per cent. (This is small because electric vehicles appeal primarily to urban households with two cars.)  Some 60 per cent of commutes by car are less than 10 km long. If half cycled to work instead, emissions would fall by 7 per cent. If the sale of two-litre cars is banned from 2012, emissions would fall by 2 per cent.

These four measures together reduce emissions by 18 per cent. Even this is not enough to meet the new targets.”

The SBP dropped a paragraph: “The climate bill would also establish a National Climate Change Expert Advisory Body, which would oversee the measures to reduce emissions taken by the various departments. This is welcome in principle. Like monetary policy, climate policy is best removed from day-to-day politics. The Expert Body would be like the Central Bank. Unfortunately, the Expert Body as foreseen in the climate bill is different. Any civil servant can be declared an expert, but others are excluded. Experts can be removed at will by the minister. And the government can block any publication by the Expert Body. The Expert Body would not have the required expertise or independence to do its job.

The same edition carried another article on the climate bill, which cites the IFA and Teagasc. The IFA’s 4 billion euro is an estimate of the loss of export revenue; the cost would of course be much lower. It’s not clear where the number comes from. A 40% reduction in the herd size is probably much more than is needed to meet the 2020 target (although it is hard to imagine that the herd size would not be cut). I could not find a source for that number.

The IFA used to be firmly opposed to climate policy.  Over the last couple of years, their position has become milder as they realised that climate policy would bring new opportunities (carbon storage, bioenergy). In fact, Irish dairy is among the most climate-friendly in Europe, so EU policy might improve our competitive advantage. The publication of the climate bill seems to have reversed a positive trend.