‘More than a quarter’ of species in Ireland at risk of extinction

Citizens’ assembly on biodiversity loss hears climate change is having a dire impact on native flora and fauna

Greenhouse gas emissions are going in the wrong direction and Ireland will not meet its climate change commitments by 2030, the Citizens’ Assembly has heard.

Environmental Protection Agency director-general Laura Burke said emissions rose by 4.7 per cent in 2021 over 2020. This was to be expected because of the impact of Covid-19 on emissions in 2020, but the 2021 figure was also higher than 2019.

Ireland missed its 2020 EU targets and had to buy carbon credits from other nations - money that could have been used to invest in climate reduction in Ireland, she stated.

She told the 100 citizens gathered for the assembly on biodiversity loss that the debate on climate change is “over”. Record temperatures across Europe during the summer have demonstrated that climate change is happening now.


This is already manifesting itself in the timing of lifecycle events – daffodils which flower too early and then are killed by frost being an example.

The citizens’ assembly on biodiversity loss, chaired by academic Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin, is holding two days of plenary sessions this weekend to consider recommendations to the Government.

Dr Liam Lysaght, director of the National Biodiversity Data Centre, said a quarter to a third of all species that have been assessed are threatened with extinction.

“We are unable to provide living environments. We can’t co-exist with these species to the extent that we can’t even allow them to survive in the environment we have created,” he told the assembly.

“Our legacy to the next generation is that we are presenting them with a much less diverse landscape and some of the species are going to become extinct because of our actions in Ireland. I think it is a really sad legacy.”

The places that are protected under the Habitats Directive are not getting any better. There has been a 90 per cent fall in the Herring Gull bird in the last 30 years in Ireland. Its natural maritime habitat has been disturbed so much that it is moving into human populated areas and creating a nuisance.

The grey wagtail population has fallen by two-thirds between 1998 and 2016, the stock dove by almost 60 per cent in the same period.

There have been notable decreases in the populations of butterflies such as the green-veined white, the small copper and the small heath.

Species at risk in Ireland include the European eel, the freshwater pearl mussel, the Atlantic salmon and the great yellow bumblebee.

The great yellow bumblebee was once widespread throughout Ireland. Now it is only confined to the Belmullet peninsula and a few other places, he said.

He warned that we may end up not being able to grow enough fruit of vegetables because of the loss of pollinators.

A total of 54 (25.4 per cent) of all bird species in Ireland are now threatened with extinction. At the same time many invasive species are spreading across the country because of climate change, he stated.

The Great Spotted Woodpecker was once only seen on the east coast but now can be spotted as far away as Cork and Kerry. The Emperor Dragonfly has spread from the south and east coast to almost the whole of he south of Ireland.

Ms Burke warned that even if all the mitigation measures being proposed are implemented, including 1 million electric cars on the road by 2030, Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions will still only decrease by 28 per cent. The State has committed to a 51 per cent drop on 2018 levels by 2030.

Ms Burke pointed out Ireland had committed under the 2015 Paris agreement to cut greenhouse gas emission by at least 40 per cent from 1990 levels.

In September 2020 the EU Commission updated those targets to cuts in greenhouse gas emission by at least 55 per cent in 2030 compared to 1990 levels.

The State could find itself being sued in the courts for not meeting the climate targets it had set itself.

She described the closure of peat fired power stations as a successful outcome of the previous Citizens’ Assembly on climate change.

Restoring Ireland’s unique peatlands has been a “win-win” for the environment. Peatlands store carbon while also providing a habit for many species.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times