Much more Government investment in “environmental capacity at both State and civil society level” is required to address Ireland’s biodiversity and climate crises – and to ensure Ireland’s renewable energy ambitions are realised, according to a joint statement by environmental NGOs and representative bodies in Irish renewable energy.
Wind Energy Ireland (WEI) and the Irish Solar Energy Association (ISEA) have joined forces with leading environmental NGOs including the Irish Wildlife Trust, BirdWatch Ireland (BWI) and Friends of the Earth (FoE) in calling for windfall corporation taxes to be used to resource and to build up expertise in Government departments and State bodies, while also strengthening environmental groups.
This was to ensure “an environmentally sound transition to a zero-carbon power system”, they have told the Government in advance of the budget. The country’s renewable energy and environmental objectives are at risk due to lack of resources and expertise, they warn.
The joint statement, which is unprecedented, sets out a range of targeted measures to protect and restore nature when scaling up the switch to green energy.
In light of State commitments to ramp up renewable energy sources in accordance with Ireland’s legally binding carbon pollution limits, the organisations say greater funding must be in environmental protection, nature restoration and monitoring as part of the delivery of renewable and electricity grid infrastructure.
Lack of environmental capacity in State agencies is undermining renewables objectives and compliance with environmental law, while lack of resources among NGOs means “they are often prevented from substantially engaging in the planning and development process”.
Their statement calls for a fast-track recruitment process for State bodies critical for delivering a zero-carbon power system and enhancing nature, “to ensure enough ecologists, for example, to progress their work in a timely fashion”.
The climate and nature restoration fund should finance climate and nature infrastructural and capital investments, “including nature-based solutions”.
A dedicated new funding stream is essential to support training and upskilling of existing staff in public bodies carrying out environmental impact assessment, it says.
At least €7 million in 2024 is necessary to achieve the target of fully protecting 10 per cent of Ireland’s ocean and seas, and at least €55 million to support longer term designation of marine protected areas and ongoing management until 2030.
The group recommends a new funding stream for science- and research-focused conservation organisations to enable them to fund staff posts “so they can meaningfully engage in ecological research, active conservation, infrastructure consultation and planning processes”.
An increase annual funding to the Irish Environmental Network by €1 million will improve the ability of environmental NGOs to engage in environmental planning and policy, it adds.
WEI director of external affairs Justin Moran said: “Budget 2024 is an opportunity for the Government to invest resources in building the foundations of a net-zero energy future. The planning system must be given the resources it needs to assess applications for renewable energy projects thoroughly, but quickly, so that people can have confidence in the process and we can deliver the projects required to decarbonise our energy supply.”
This meant properly funding An Bord Pleanála, the National Parks & Wildlife Service, the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority and key environmental stakeholders, he underlined.
BWI head of advocacy Oonagh Duggan said Dáil Éireann declared a climate and biodiversity crisis in 2019 yet warnings on the state of biodiversity in Ireland had grown starker; two-thirds of Ireland’s bird species were threatened, and more than 70 per cent of our peatlands were in bad status.
“The time to invest in nature for a sustainable future is now,” she added.
ISEA chief executive Conall Bolger said an environmentally sound energy transition needed to be underpinned by decarbonisation of energy systems through renewable electricity.
“But that is the beginning of the story rather than the end. To embed this transition requires strengthening capacity for State and civil society actors. For example, for our planning system to properly function, stakeholders should be appropriately informed and empowered to participate,” he added.
FoE head of policy Jerry Mac Evilly said with climate breakdown happening, the case for getting off fossil fuels had never been clearer.
“This means rapidly ramping up renewable and grid infrastructure now, not in 10 years’ time,” he said. “However, lack of capacity at both State and NGO level is putting both our renewables and environmental objectives at risk. Budget 2024 is an opportunity to adequately invest in an environmentally-sound energy transition.”