Biodiversity: grasping the nettle

It should be a matter of national shame that 90 per cent of habitats listed for protection are still in “bad or inadequate” condition

 

The National Biodiversity Action Plan 2017-2021, launched last week by Minister for Heritage Heather Humphreys, contains many welcome aspirations. Environmental groups have rightly pointed out serious gaps in what is proposed. But it is nevertheless true that, were all the aspirations met, Ireland would have a much healthier environment in four years’ time. The core problem, however, is that the 2011-2016 national biodiversity plan was packed with equally good intentions and we failed to realise most of them. We simply must do much better this time around.

It should be a source of national shame that 90 per cent of the habitats that we are already committed to protecting are still in “bad or inadequate” condition, according to the plan itself. If the same could be said of our farms, or our factories, or our roads, or our schools, would we not consider it a national emergency, and commit the necessary expertise and resources to resolving the crisis? But there is nothing concrete in this plan showing that the magnitude of our environmental emergency, exacerbated by climate change, has been grasped by this Government.

It should be a source of national shame that 90 per cent of the habitats that the State is already committed to protecting are still in “bad or inadequate” condition, according to the National Biodiversity Action Plan. Photograph: Jenni Roche
It should be a source of national shame that 90 per cent of the habitats that the State is already committed to protecting are still in “bad or inadequate” condition, according to the National Biodiversity Action Plan. Photograph: Jenni Roche

The National Parks and Wildlife Service, tasked with implementing many of the objectives on the ground, remains grossly understaffed and underfunded, to a degree that makes a mockery of many of provisions. It should be a cause of greater concern that a key guardian of our environment is not in a position to deliver on its enormous responsibilities.

It is good to see that the plan recognises the dependence of all our economic activity on the biodiversity produced by robust natural capital reserves and healthy ecosystem services. Its first objective, then, is to “mainstream biodiversity into decision-making across all sectors”.

This could produce joined-up thinking to save us, for example, from the folly of pursuing agricultural and transport policies that directly contradict our commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Such painful nettles must be grasped if this plan is to be taken seriously.

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