The final report of the Citizens’ Assembly on biodiversity loss has called for the public to be encouraged to switch to a “more plant-based diet”, as well as recommending the Government review the role of semi-State body Coillte.
Current State policy on the management of biodiversity on agricultural land is “not sufficient” and required “fundamental review”, the report said.
Some 60 per cent of the group voted to adopt a recommendation that the public be encouraged to switch to a more plant-based diet.
Dr Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabháin, who chaired the 99-person assembly, said this was one of the “more robust discussions” of the group.
The wording of the recommendation had changed from “eating less meat to eating a more plant-based diet”, she said.
The assembly voted to recommend a review of the role of semi-State forestry body Coillte, over a current “conflict of interest” between “business aims and corporate responsibility”.
The group called for the legislation underpinning Coillte to be reassessed to ensure biodiversity protection was at the core of its aims.
“State-owned woodlands should be recognised and managed as a strategic, long-term national asset for the benefit of the common good,” the report said.
It recommended a “significant proportion” of current profit earned from Coillte should be set aside to be put back into “biodiverse forestry initiatives”.
Speaking on Wednesday, Dr Ní Shúilleabháin said members took a view that Coillte focusing on its commercial interest could “drag it away” from work on biodiversity and ecosystems.
“What the members really wanted our politicians to do in that regard was consider amendments that might be made to the Forestry Act, to support Collite in considering biodiversity as a core of their mandate rather than a small percentage,” she said.
The assembly also recommended the State introduce legislation to “considerably reduce single-use plastics and microplastics” as a matter of urgency.
In two other more closely contested decisions, two thirds of the group voted to recommend new levies be introduced on agricultural exports and retailers, to fund efforts to support biodiversity.
Dr Ní Shúilleabháin said the intention behind these recommendations was to suggest something similar to the plastic bag levy, for example to be placed on the sale of plants deemed invasive species.
The Government must phase out “environmentally harmful subsidies” in the agriculture and food sector, as well as incentivising organic farming, the assembly said.
The assembly voted for a recommendation that a new State body be set up to co-ordinate the oversight of freshwater standards, which would ensure legislation governing water quality is enforced.
The report said planning levies should include a ring-fenced contribution to be put towards conservation and biodiversity.
The group also voted to recommend “urgent increases” in funding to Irish Water to build new water treatment plants and improve current plants, to prevent the “unacceptable” discharge of raw or partially treated sewage into lakes and seas.
Penalties for polluting rivers and lakes needed to be “significantly increased and enforcement considerably improved”, the report said.
The use of pesticides in both public and private forests should be cut in half, it recommended.
The State should also “act immediately” to bring forward a timeline to phase out and then ban the sale of invasive species, such as Cherry Laurel plant.
It should also use public spaces such as the top of bus shelters to create “green corridors” of flowers and vegetation for pollinators such as bees.
Anca Cerbu, one of the 99 members of the public who took part in the assembly, said the recommendations reflected detailed debates that took place. “It is not enough to talk about it and write about it, we need to act, biodiversity needs us all to be its advocate,” she said.
The assembly report is now to be sent to an Oireachtas committee before the Dáil rises for the summer, with the recommendations to be considered.
The current decline and loss of biodiversity across the country was “quite depressing”, Dr Shúilleabháin said.
“The people are ahead of the politicians on this, environment is key to the people ... They really want to make sure we are leaving it in a better condition than it is right now,” she said.