The recommendations from the Citizens’ Assembly on Biodiversity Loss, published this week, demonstrate a remarkable breadth and depth of understanding of a complex crisis, which threatens our prosperity, our well-being and even our survival.
Many good reports on the degradation of our ecosystems have been produced. But anyone needing a quick, comprehensive introduction would do well to read this short document. Once again, our “ordinary” citizens have produced something extraordinary.
It is important, however, to read all 159 recommendations, along with the succinct supporting material, as a whole. This provides a context in which the more controversial proposals can be better understood, and the few less coherent ones can be discounted. It also reflects the insight that informs ecology – everything in this field is connected to everything else.
The assembly highlights the dismal deficiency of our national representatives and institutions in protecting and restoring our natural heritage: “the State has comprehensively failed to adequately fund, implement, and enforce existing national legislation, national policies, EU biodiversity-related laws and directives”, the second recommendation states baldly. “This must change.”
This is grimly familiar to anyone aware of the very poor ecological management even of our nominally protected sites, including on occasions our national parks, as laid bare in the devastating 2021 review of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. A handful of chairs on the decks of our biodiversity ship have been rearranged since, but it will continue to sink until we grasp that the protection of our environment is an urgent imperative, not a luxury. The assembly rightly calls for a further “independent review of implementation and enforcement of biodiversity related legislation”.
It is welcome that the recommendations range beyond these points, making dozens of proposals that focus on the specific and immediately practicable, from restoring hedgerows to declaring marine protected areas, from eradicating invasive alien species to engaging local communities.
Land management, whether by farmers or by Coillte and Bord na Móna, comes under tough scrutiny. It is a pity that the IFA has been so defensive in its first responses. The agricultural sector can actually take much heart here. While farmers are certainly being asked to make radical and painful changes, the recommendations repeatedly insist that they must be well supported, financially and culturally, along with other vulnerable sectors, through this transition.
The chairperson, Aoibhinn Ní Shúilleabhaín, and the participants, have done a good job. The Citizens’ Assembly form of deliberative democracy has, again, given us much food for thought, and should give us much needed impetus for action.