Staying green while growing

 

IT IS always better if people take responsibility for protecting their heritage on a voluntary basis, whether that involves preventing air and water pollution; the preservation of ancient structures or the promotion of biodiversity. At times of economic difficulty and high unemployment, however, powerful interests tend to promote lower environmental standards as a trade-off for jobs. Such a race to the bottom should be resisted.

During the past decade, government action in response to climate change has been patchy, at best. In spite of that – because of the recession – it will meet the carbon dioxide limits agreed under the Kyoto protocol. It is unlikely, however, to achieve the tougher target set by the European Parliament, which requires a reduction of 20 per cent in its carbon footprint by 2020. According to projections published by the Environmental Protection Agency, greenhouse gas emissions will exceed permissible levels by 2017 and continue to grow from there. The primary culprit will be agriculture, which is expected to generate almost half of the affected greenhouse gases.

Tourism and agriculture are highly dependent for their success on a green, clean image. Both sectors are experiencing growth and generating employment. They have similar long-term objectives but diverging short-term aims. In order to meet a 50 per cent increase in beef output under the food harvest plan, farmers have proposed that environmental controls under the nitrate and water framework directives should be eased. The sector – one of the keys to economic growth – is expected to increase greenhouse gas emissions by 7 per cent between 2010 and 2020. For its part, the tourism sector has reduced its carbon footprint through a green hospitality programme and has saved money in the process.

Growth and job creation should not automatically involve damage to the environment. Doing things differently, with new technologies, can make a significant difference. In a recent submission on climate change, the Irish Farmers’ Association took as its objective “enhanced environment standards and more efficient agriculture” and recognised the need to develop cost-effective emission reduction strategies. Such an approach can pay dividends for everyone.

Protecting the environment and the quality of life of future generations will not be an easy or painless exercise. The optimal way forward is by way of official encouragement and communal solidarity. There will, however, be individuals or groups who act in a destructive or selfish fashion. For them, prosecution and the law are the only responses that are understood. As with drink-driving or any other anti-social activity, fear of prosecution can be a powerful deterrent. Because of that, an EPA policy that favours economic growth and moves away from its environmental watchdog and policing roles could send the wrong signal to wayward companies and individuals.