Government must declare ‘climate and biodiversity’ emergency

Children may have to be taught about life forms ‘in the past tense’, claims Senator

The Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) has called on the Government to declare "a climate and biodiversity" emergency following the publication of the latest UN report to warn of catastrophic consequences for humanity in the face of a global mass extinction.

Biodiversity loss has impacted Ireland more than most countries, with 120 species documented as having been entered extinction here since the arrival of people, IWT campaign officer Pádraic Fogarty said.

He was speaking after the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report was issued in Paris on Monday.

An average of one-third of all Irish species assessed by scientists were categorised as threatened with extinction or “near-threatened”, Mr Fogarty said. Whole ecosystems had practically vanished including forests and raised bogs.


“Our seas have been emptied . . . Nature has all but vanished from our hills, rivers and farmland due to pesticide use, wild fires, land drainage, pollution, plantations of conifers, reseeding and artificial fertilisation of soil and neglect of our ancient hedgerow network.”

Nature laws

Mr Fogarty said the Government should fund and administer a new nature conservation agency for Ireland and implement all nature laws as well as a commitment to hold a referendum on the rights to a healthy environment in the Constitution.

He called on Government to abandon agricultural intensification targets in favour of a new model based on low-carbon regenerative farming and end “bottom-trawling” in Irish waters. Large marine protected areas should be created and overfishing ended by 2020.

The practice of plantation forestry should be ended with a move towards creating large areas of native woodland, primarily devoted to nature, as well as converting commercially oriented plantations to “continuous cover forestry”.

Mr Fogarty also said Bord na Móna should be mandated to rehabilitate and “rewild” all its bogs, while the State must implement an already-agreed Peatlands Strategy.

Life and habitat

Meanwhile, the Green Party called for a national land use plan with “restoration of biodiversity and natural habitats” as its main objective. Senator Grace O’Sullivan said there was a need to protect and restore Ireland’s biodiversity before it was too late.

“The planet is experiencing loss of life and habitat at a devastatingly high rate. It saddens me to consider that in the near future we might have to teach our children about life around us in the past tense – that ladybirds, robins, bees and dandelions might only be learned about through pictures,” she added.

As an ecologist, the report was deeply upsetting, Ms O’Sullivan said. “We’re facing a loss of biodiversity and species at an alarming rate, with up to a million species at risk. The rate of decline is too rapid and we must get on with halting it.”

The Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action had recommended drawing up a national land-use plan. "Central to that has to be the restoration of biodiversity and natural habitats. These are practical first steps towards getting the planet back on track."

“We need to empower communities to not just protect nature in their own areas but to restore it too.”

The UN report on biodiversity showed a global ecological collapse “is not far away”, according to BirdWatch Ireland.

‘Ecological emergency’

“The report, which was last released in 2005, dedicates 1,800 pages to showing the social and ecological emergency the world is now facing,” it added.

Habitat loss and degradation from land use change was the primary driver of this loss. "This is also the case in Ireland with the intensification of agriculture, afforestation and exploitation of peatlands negatively impacting nature here. Climate change in turn will put significant additional pressure on habitats, species and people," BirdWatch Ireland said.

In Ireland, it outlined the current status of wildlife including bird populations:

* Two thirds of our 202 regularly occurring birds are on the Red and Amber Lists of Birds of Conservation Concern, including the Curlew which has declined by 96 per cent since the 70s.

* 40 per cent decline in waterbird species in Ireland in less than 20 years.

* 91 per cent of Ireland’s internationally important habitats (bogs, grasslands) have ‘bad’ or ‘inadequate’ status.

* Ireland has 99 wild bee species: over a third of these are threatened with extinction.

* Butterfly populations have declined by 6 per cent since 2008.

* Data from 17 County Hedgerow Surveys show one third of hedgerows are in good condition for birds and other wildlife.

Birdwatch Ireland called on the Government to require all sectoral policy decisions, especially those relating to agriculture, peatlands, freshwater and marine ecosystems, to ensure wildlife and habitats are protected and enhanced.

“Substantially increasing investment in habitat restoration will pay dividends in terms of ecosystem services including carbon sequestration, climate regulation and food and fibre, as well as supporting wildlife populations. Ireland’s weak enforcement of environmental laws must also be addressed,” it said.

The NGO urged the public to vote for local and European election representatives who will tackle biodiversity loss and climate change. “These crises must be tackled together,” it said.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times