An international delegate learns some hurling skills at Pearse Stadium as part of the 2017 Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security Conference in Galway. Photo: NUI Galway
May 05 2017 Posted: 12:08 IST

GAA hurling demonstration for international scientists in Galway’s Pearse Stadium highlights how climate change will impact the future ‘clash of the ash’

Over 100 of the world’s leading experts in climate change, agriculture and food security converged in NUI Galway last week for a week-long International Conference on ‘Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security – Where is the cutting edge?’ The Conference was co-hosted by the NUI Galway Plant and AgriBiosciences Research Centre and the global research program.

The Conference delegates from around the globe identified portfolios of Climate Smart Agriculture practices and innovations for decarbonising agricultural systems to provide food and bioresources for an expanding global population. The delegates discussed approaches for improving the resilience of agriculture and smallholder livelihoods in developing countries to climate change.

With support from the GAA, the international delegation of climate change scientists were given a presentation on the history and development of Gaelic games. The presentation was hosted in Pearse Stadium by Galway football legend, and current Connacht Provincial Games Manager, John Tobin. The scientists were taught some of the skills involved in Ireland’s native sports by local athletes and took part in a poc fada competition.

NUI Galway agricultural economist, Kevin Kilcline explained how almost half a million hurleys are produced in Ireland each year. The delegation heard how hurley sticks have been made from ash trees by craftsmen since before the recorded history of Ireland. Due to the problems with sourcing healthy ash trees for hurleys, the GAA has approved a wood-free, synthetic carbon-fibre hurley, which the group compared on the pitch to the wooden versions made from ash. The GAA stars and NUI Galway scientists explained how the best hurleys can only be made from the ash tree, which is now threatened by the ash dieback fungal disease. As ash dieback is affected by temperature changes, it provided a good example of how our national sport can potentially be impacted by climate change.

In recent weeks, the Mauna Loa Atmospheric Research Observatory in Hawai’i recorded its first-ever carbon dioxide (CO2) reading in excess of 410 parts per million. NUI Galway’s Mace Head Atmospheric Research Station has also recently been recording CO2 readings over 410 parts per million. Dr Peter McKeown, coordinator of the inter-disciplinary Masters (MSc) degree in Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security associated with NUI Galway’s Plant and AgriBiosciences Research Centre, highlighted that children born today will likely never live in a world with CO2 levels below 400 parts per million. 

The last time Earth had such levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide was about three million years ago. Back then, global average temperatures over long periods of time were estimated to be about 3.6 to 5.2 degrees warmer than it is today, and the planet may now be headed in that direction.

While the conference was focused on the impact of climate change on agriculture and food security, it also highlighted global warming and extreme weather effects due to climate change will impact on all sectors of society in the years ahead. For instance, climate change will affect the geographic distribution of pests and diseases (of humans, animals and plants), with some diseases becoming more widespread, while others may become less prevalent. Global temperature increases have also affected the spread of ash dieback disease and emerald ash borer beetles, both of which represent significant threats to the security of European ash woodlands and forestry.

Professor Charles Spillane, Head of the Plant and AgriBiosciences Research Centre at NUI Galway, said: The impacts of climate change on the predicted spread and distribution of ash dieback disease across Europe are being analysed, in conjunction with plant breeding efforts to identify naturally occurring genes that can be hybridised to make ash trees that are resistant to ash dieback.”

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