Citizens’ Assembly calls for referendum on biodiversity loss

State has ‘comprehensively failed’ to tackle the biodiversity crisis and radical overhaul needed to manage environmental concerns

The State has “comprehensively failed” to tackle the biodiversity crisis and a referendum on the issue as well as a radical overhaul of the approach Ireland takes to managing key environmental concerns is needed according to the Citizens’ Assembly on Biodiversity Loss.

As well as voting overwhelmingly in favour of a referendum on an amendment to the Constitution to protect biodiversity and a radical overhaul of the national approach to managing biodiversity loss, the Assembly also agreed to extend its deliberations on a series of sector-specific recommendations.

The recommendations as well as the extension – which will require the backing of the Oireachtas – were agreed upon by the 99 randomly selected members of the public at the seventh meeting of the Assembly which took place in Malahide, Co. Dublin over the weekend.

Members voted overwhelmingly in favour of holding a referendum and recommended it include a “range of protections for substantive and procedural environmental rights for both people and nature”.


The view that the State has “comprehensively failed in relation to biodiversity” was also endorsed while recommendations for “fundamental change to the funding, implementation, and enforcement of national policies, EU biodiversity-related laws and relevant directives” were also agreed upon.

Members said an extension to their deliberations to allow further discussion on sector specific recommendations on: agriculture; freshwaters; marine and coastal environments; peatlands; forestry/woodlands/hedgerows; protected sites and species; invasive species; and urban and built environments were needed.

Once the Assembly has concluded its work in the new year, the recommendations will then be compiled into a final report that will be provided to the Government and Houses of the Oireachtas in compliance with the Assembly’s terms of reference.

Speaking at the conclusion of the two-day session, Assemble chairwoman Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin noted that it had been the first Citizens’ Assembly on Biodiversity Loss anywhere in the world.

She said “significant and major decisions including inserting a specific commitment to protecting biodiversity [in the constitution] ... demonstrates the level of priority that we believe needs to be afforded to environmental protection.”

She noted the calls for “new centralised structures for co-ordinating and implementing national policy on biodiversity loss to ensure that those laws and regulations to protect the environment that are already in place are properly enforced.”

On Saturday the Assembly heard that climate change cannot be ignored, with flooding, droughts and bushfires taking place around the world.

Well-known conservationist Dr Jane Goodall told the Citizens’ Assembly that her “greatest reason for hope” in terms of biodiversity loss and climate action are young people who are “changing the world”.

Dr Goodall was speaking to the 99 members of the Citizens’ Assembly via a virtual address.

“My greatest reason for hope is the young people,” Dr Goodall said. “Once young people understand the problems and we empower them to take action, they are changing the world. It’s not that they can, they are.”

Dr Goodall said her Roots & Shoots education programme on environmental conservation for young people had grown from 12 students in 1991 to “hundreds of thousands of young people”.

“Young people’s imaginations are extraordinary, they are always coming up with new ways of helping the environment,” she said.

“They’re my greatest reason for hope, they’re raising awareness among their peers, changing attitudes of their parents and grandparents, who may sometimes be in high decision-making positions.”

Dr Goodall also stressed the importance of collaboration partnerships and the “greening of cities”, in order to bring about urban biodiversity.

“This will be incredibly beneficial for the people living in inner cities who don’t have the chance to go out into nature,” she said.

“We now know that being in nature is beneficial for our physical and mental health. In fact, doctors in some places are prescribing time in nature for people with mental problems or people who are stressed from overwork and so on.”

Ian Talbot, chief executive of Chambers Ireland, said while small and medium-sized enterprises are aware of their responsibility to address biodiversity loss, the sector needs assistance from large businesses, relevant authorities and the State in order to implement the changes that are required.

Codie Preston of the Irish Schools Sustainability Network told the members of the need for biodiversity loss to be made part of the national curriculum with necessary resources and training for teachers.


Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast