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.