Galway City Council ill-equipped for scale of climate change crisis


From this week's Galway City Tribune

From this week's Galway City Tribune

Galway City Council ill-equipped for scale of climate change crisis

Bradley Bytes – a sort of political column with Dara Bradley

Local government is ill-equipped to deal with the scale of the climate crisis that experts predict we are facing.

As a coastal city, Galway is more at risk of rising sea levels due to global warming than most urban areas in Ireland. But the response from those in charge wouldn’t fill you with confidence.

There have been improvements. The existence of a directorate at City Hall that includes ‘climate change’ in the brief, acknowledges the threat. Climate now has a Strategic Policy Committee (with Recreation), to spotlight things like biodiversity.

And yet the local authority’s ability to respond to climate challenges is worrying.

Take the ordinary May meeting of Galway City Council, for example, which took place in the Boardroom of Atlantic Technological University. Item 4c on the agenda was Coirib go Cósta, the Galway City Flood Relief Scheme.

Councillors were given a brief (very brief) update on the project, which aims to “assess, design, and deliver a viable, cost-effective, and environmentally sustainable flood relief scheme for Galway City”.

The briefing was shoehorned in at the end of the meeting. It was an insult to the consultants and Council staff who are working on this project. But it also ignores the scale of the problem.

There was no time for councillors to ask questions. The meeting instead ended with a call for councillors to email their questions, which would be answered by the project team, via email.

This is a wholly unsatisfactory way to do business. It is not ideal for any topic to be treated so dismissively and certainly not one that is as serious as the city’s flood defences and its very survival into the future.

Some councillors might have left the meeting with good intentions to submit questions, but then, perhaps, life got in the way; they had another meeting; there were other issues and it slipped down the priority list.

Some councillors (those interested in climate) will have submitted questions. But those who most need to hear the answers (councillors who don’t prioritise this issue) won’t get the replies.

Emailed replies cannot be teased out or challenged in the same way that oral queries can be at Council meetings, a public forum where councillors can ask follow-up questions and seek commitments on the record.

Who knows when the Council will return to discuss this topic but it needs a dedicated special meeting on its own, not a rushed ten minutes at the end of a busy agenda when some councillors had already left?

The ‘lines of light’ project at Spanish Arch is a stark reminder of the problem. It is 1.9 metres high, the predicted storm surge based on a one-metre sea level rise, which is what experts forecast will happen inside 80 years, at current levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

To be serious about climate, we need to first get real about how our City Council conducts its business.

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