The Government is failing to protect Ireland's natural heritage from imminent threats posed by Brexit and climate change, according to the Environmental Pillar (EP).
The group, a coalition of 26 of Ireland’s leading environment organisations, is to spell out its concerns at the Environment Ireland conference in Croke Park on Thursday.
The Government should ensure that strong environmental protection on an all-Ireland basis should feature in the forthcoming fourth round of Brexit negotiations, EP co-ordinator Michael Ewing will say.
"The Brexit deadline is fast approaching. However, to date negotiations and discussions have been focused solely on the economy, with little mention of the potential negative impact on our natural heritage," Mr Ewing told The Irish Times in advance of the conference.
“It is crucial that the island of Ireland and its surrounding waters are considered as a single bio-geographic unit, and mechanisms exist to effectively manage cross-Border environmental issues post-Brexit.”
Without oversight by the European Commission and the European Court of Justice, a significant governance gap could open up in the system of environmental law enforcement in Northern Ireland, leading to a de facto weakening of environmental protection on the island of Ireland, he warned.
He warned that the crucial role played by cross-Border co-operation in addressing biodiversity loss and climate change across the whole island should not be underestimated. The importance of maintaining common environmental standards across the entire island was necessary to avoid the emergence of a “hard environmental border”.
The potential weakening of legislative protection in the North was “perhaps the single greatest environmental risk posed by Brexit”, Mr Ewing said.
Some 650 pieces of EU legislation are in place that act as the principal drivers of environmental protection in both the Republic of Ireland and the North.
“Any future divergence or lowering of standards on either side of the Border will be bad for the environment, bad for citizens, but also bad for business.”
He said it was estimated that Europe's network of protected nature sites provided economic benefits of €200 billion to €300 billion per year. This had been pointed out to the Oireachtas Good Friday Committee earlier this year but "the message has yet to filter up to the Cabinet".
The Environmental Pillar will also call on the Government to back its commitment to tackling climate change with concrete measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Environmental Pillar representative and Friends of the Earth director Oisín Coghlan said the Government was “failing to go far enough to reduce Ireland’s climate-changing pollution”.
He said Minister for Climate Action and the Environment Denis Naughten should heed the advice of 51 environmental and civil society organisations as outlined in their recent submission to the Citizens' Assembly from the Environmental Pillar and Stop Climate Chaos.
This included setting an end date for peat-burning and coal-fired electricity generation; support for small-scale community renewable projects; and funding for deep retrofitting of Ireland’s housing stock, said Mr Coghlan, who is also to address the conference.
With the assembly due to meet this weekend on the issue, he hoped the Minister “will listen closely to what our citizens have to say”.
“By implementing policy ideas in our submission, the Government could bring years of inaction to an end, move Ireland to the level of most of our EU partners, and take a leadership role in some areas.
“The Minister is honest about the scale of the challenge we face and our lack of progress so far, but has yet to commit to enough new actions to reduce pollution.”