Failure to convene citizens’ assembly on biodiversity criticised

To delay further ‘long-fingers an existential crisis’, warns Climate Case Ireland

Last month, CCI and more than 20 civil society organisations wrote to the Government calling on it to ‘treat the biodiversity crisis like a real emergency’. Photograph: Fran Veale

Last month, CCI and more than 20 civil society organisations wrote to the Government calling on it to ‘treat the biodiversity crisis like a real emergency’. Photograph: Fran Veale

 

The Government’s credibility in addressing the biodiversity crisis has been called into question by Climate Case Ireland (CCI) because of a two-year delay establishing a citizens’ assembly on how best to address accelerating species and habitat loss in Ireland.

In a letter to Taoiseach Micheál Martin on Tuesday, the campaign group said there was “widespread disappointment” over the failure to announce a date for the assembly before the Dáil’s summer recess this week.

Last month, CCI and more than 20 civil society organisations wrote to the Government calling on it to “treat the biodiversity crisis like a real emergency” and set the date for the long-promised move.

“The citizens’ assembly on the biodiversity crisis was promised over two years ago,” Emer Slattery from CCI said in the letter, “yet the Government still has not set a date for it to convene. The Dáil declared a climate and biodiversity emergency on May 9th, 2019 – so the pandemic can’t even be used as an excuse”.

‘Emergency action’

“Declaring an emergency and then delaying taking any action for years is a statement in itself. Having lived through almost 18 months of Covid, we all know what emergency action looks like – this is not it.”

The Green Party’s Malcolm Noonan, Minister of State for Heritage, insisted in a recent tweet that the citizens’ assembly on biodiversity “was a key programme for Government commitment”.

However, he added “work is ongoing via the UN convention on biological diversity [CBD] on a new global biodiversity framework that will set out targets and actions for the next decade”.

It is due to be presented for agreement at the CBD summit known as COP15 in China next October. “Our next national biodiversity action plan will be informed by these global objectives. It’s due to be published in 2022,” he said.

CCI said the plan “should be generated by the people, and the way to do that is to convene the citizens’ assembly without any further inexcusable delay”. This was to ensure the public’s views and concerns were the basis of policy, “not to act as a rubber-stamping for pre-ordained policy”.

The assembly should at the very least be convened immediately after the global framework was agreed in October, it said; “the outcome of the citizens’ assembly should inform the new national biodiversity action plan; not the other way round”.

Appropriate forum

CCI also cited the observation of Chief Justice Frank Clarke in his Supreme Court judgment striking down the Government’s national climate mitigation plan as inadequate that the potential and the precise type of a constitutional “right to the environment” could be the “subject of debate and democratic approval” and “express incorporation into our Constitution” rather than relying on a decision of our courts.

The forthcoming citizens’ assembly would be the appropriate forum for this debate “and consideration of the incorporation of a right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment in our Constitution, as has been done by more than 100 countries worldwide”, CCI said.

“The success of the All-Ireland pollinator plan testifies to the public’s willingness to play their part in addressing the biodiversity emergency,” it concluded.

“While we can see the sense in the global biodiversity framework informing the citizens’ assembly’s discussions, to delay establishment of the assembly beyond the end of October would long-finger an existential crisis.”