EPA calls for action on climate change
LOWER GREENHOUSE gas emissions due to the recession should not be confused with responsible management of the environment, the director general of the Environmental Protection Agency, Laura Burke, has warned.
Commenting on the agency’s latest four-year State of the Environment report published yesterday, Ms Burke said Ireland’s environment was “generally good”.
But she warned the State faced “tough challenges” in meeting a range of EU directives and 2020 emissions targets, including those relating to water, waste, air quality and greenhouse gases.
The report called on the Government to show leadership, arguing that action on the environment was “imperative”.
In addition to what it calls “a snapshot of the state of Ireland’s environment in 2012”, the report provides a detailed commentary on policy implementation.
It notes that levels of emissions to air and waste generation have paused due to the economic recession.
But while Ireland is therefore on track to meet its Kyoto greenhouse gas reduction targets for the 2008–2012 period, meeting the 2020 targets “presents real challenges for the country”. These latter targets will very likely be exceeded as early as 2017, according to the report.
The report says Ireland needs to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, increase energy efficiency and increase the use of alternative energy sources, such as wind and biomass.
In relation to implementation of EU directives, it noted that in 2010 Ireland had 32 infringement proceedings outstanding. While this number has now more than halved, there remained 14 cases open at the end of March this year. The section concludes that there is a need “for a strong culture of compliance with environmental legislation so that those who flout environmental laws are made to pay for their actions”.
The report also argues that protecting Ireland’s environment should be seen not as a financial cost in weak economic times but as an asset where, for example, abundant clean water can give the State an advantage in attracting foreign direct investment.
It points out that Ireland’s biodiversity is worth €2.6 billion per year and is extremely important to tourism. It claims the country’s “green” status is also vital for agricultural exports, food production and general wellbeing.
In relation to the latter, EPA programme manager Dr Mícheál Lehane said a healthy environment was increasingly important in combating modern health problems.
“Increasingly the medical profession are giving ‘green prescriptions’ – getting out for a walk, a cycle or a swim – for problems like obesity and diabetes,” he said.
Claiming that much of the economic development throughout the boom years was unsustainable, the report says the opportunity now exists to build environmental protection into plans from economic resurgence.
But it identifies four “formidable challenges” to this process. These are:
* Implementing the EU directives and avoiding fines;
* Developing a low-carbon economy;
* Putting the environment at the centre of decision-making;
* And valuing and protecting the natural environment.
The report is to be debated at a number of seminars for policymakers and stakeholders over the coming days. The first of these is a conference to be held in the Radisson Blu Hotel in Golden Lane in Dublin tomorrow. This will be followed by a seminar in DIT Kevin Street at 6pm. On Thursday a seminar on EPA research will be held in Trinity College Dublin.
The EPA has also put together an interactive website, epa.ie/irelandsenvironment, with see-at-a-glance indicators of performance in areas such as waste generation and air pollution.
The report is the fifth report in the EPA’s State of the Environment series.
Natural environment: Key challenges
In comparison with many other EU states, Ireland has had better than average water quality. But while more than 70 per cent of river channels have "high" or "good" status, just under half - or 46 per cent - of the monitored lakes achieve this level of purity.
Concern has been expressed for the freshwater pearl mussel, which has a life expectancy of 200 years but which has largely stopped reproducing here.
The principal cause of pollution is nutrient enrichment from both municipal waste water treatment plants and agricultural run-off. Meeting the requirements of the EU water framework directive will be "an important and difficult challenge", the Environmental Protection Agency said.
In Ireland, just 7 per cent of habitats and 39 per cent of species that are listed under the EU habitats directive are considered to be in a "favourable state".
Progress has been made in the designation of EU-protected areas in Ireland, but several areas of national importance remain undesignated, the Environmental Protection Agency said.
Ireland has international and legal obligations to halt biodiversity loss by 2020. The agency's report said full implementation of the National Biodiversity Plan 2011 - 2016 "will help".
Air quality in Ireland is among the best in Europe. However, problems persist, with levels of nitrogen dioxide in Dublin and Cork nearing maximum EU levels in traffic-affected areas.
Levels of particulate matter have decreased largely due to improvements in vehicle engines, but this decrease in not seen in smaller towns where domestic solid fuel emissions are more significant than traffic emissions.
Ireland has achieved its EU waste recycling and recovery targets for waste packaging, waste electronic and electrical equipment, and household waste paper, metals, plastic and glass.
Ireland has also achieved the first target for diversion of biodegradable waste from landfill, as required under the EU landfill directive.
Making things easier is that waste volumes associated with the construction sector have collapsed by 81 per cent since 2007. Industrial waste volumes, including those of hazardous wastes, are stable, reflecting the relative stability of Ireland's manufacturing industry.
Ireland's first merchant municipal waste incinerator began operating in 2011, and the use of waste-derived fuels in industrial energy plants has grown significantly.
However, Ireland has failed to meet the EU reuse and recovery targets for end-of-life vehicles. In addition, 15 of Ireland's 28 operational municipal landfills will run out of capacity in three years. Ireland continues to export nearly half of its hazardous waste for treatment/disposal.