During the General Election, the Environmental Pillar, a leading environmental coalition of 32 members, published a 10-point blueprint for all parties to show they are serious about turning the tide on climate action and reversing the worrying trend of biodiversity loss in Ireland .
We are pleased to see some key critical policy developments that we have advocated for included in the Programme for Government, as important first steps in addressing our climate and biodiversity crises:
- The support of a Green New Deal and just recovery as we work to rebuild our communities, economy and society following the Covid-19 pandemic;
- Clear direction and funding towards a low-carbon public, active transportation model;
- The adoption of a Deposit and Return Scheme is a long-sought measure to combat littered drinks containers and preserve material quality for future recycling. We look forward to working with the Government and other stakeholders to eliminate single use plastic and significantly reduce plastic packaging through reduction and reuse opportunities, and we urge the Government to adopt ambitious reduction/reuse targets.
- The suggestion that the Good Friday Agreement could provide a much-needed North-South framework for environmental protection and addressing the climate and biodiversity crises is a positive one. We remain hopeful that this will indeed be the case as negotiations continue as birds don’t know what borders are.
- Commitment to “greater focus on sustainability and stakeholder engagement” in a future integrated marine sustainable development plan, together with a ban on all pair trawling in the 6-mile zone. The commitment to establishing a Producer Organisation for the inshore fleet is positive. Further, the Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) section confirms concrete commitments that would see MPAs through every stage of designation to active management, and it would meet our legal commitments.
- A land use review is a step in the right direction, as are objectives to improve soil health, biodiversity and fertility. The inclusion of agricultural emissions as part of our overall target to reduce emissions by 7% is also welcome, as is the reduction of nitrogen fertiliser use in agriculture. Further, support for farmers to incorporate more trees on their land is essential and welcome.
- We have long advocated for appropriate funding, staffing and resources for the protection of nature. The inclusion of a review of the structure and funding of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), tasked with protecting biodiversity, needs to be on the basis of strengthening the NPWS. Funding for, and a long-term commitment to, the National Biodiversity Data Centre is also needed. The pledge to carry out a hedgerow survey and review are both steps towards establishing a clearly defined hedgerow conservation strategy.
While the above developments are all positive in the right direction, it is disappointing and a missed opportunity that some further clear, and potentially transformative, measures were not included or described in sufficient detail.
- While there is an overall recognition that the direction of travel is moving towards sustainability, the hard decisions in how we do that are being left to the new Agrifood Strategy and the next CAP Programme.
- Agriculture policy must be in line with the EU Biodiversity Strategy targets. There is a need to bring agriculture in line with the Paris Agreement and to specifically tackle methane.
- In addition, the targets to restore favourable conservation status of EU-protected and internationally important habitats and species must be met by 2030. Biodiversity must be restored to all farms especially farmland bird populations.
We will continue to advocate and push strongly for a sustainable farming future and for protection of rural communities and livelihoods.
Marine and Fisheries
- There is still fractured management of the marine environment across multiple departments. Further, many points which relate to the Common Fisheries Policies (CFP) in the Programme for Government are weak commitments to achieve things we are already legally committed to achieve. Objectives are not clearly stated and do not reflect the actual legal obligations.
- There is an opportunity to become a leader in CFP implementation, and the Programme for Government has missed a trick by excluding this critical area.
- There needs to be a commitment to introduce 10% highly protected MPAs as part of the 30% total, as the EU Biodiversity Strategy has done. Further, the establishment of a marine national park, while positive, lacks the appropriate protective measures to deliver the full range of benefits that are possible. We need far more than a “learning experience” from our MPAs.
Access to Justice
The rights of communities and local environmental groups to access justice with regard to environmental matters have not been explicitly protected in this Programme for Government, which needs to be addressed.
- We need a date for the Citizens’ Assembly on biodiversity, which was first recommended in 2018 and is well overdue.
- A set of concrete actions is also required, backed by appropriate resourcing, to address species loss and stem the tide of our loss of habitats, which are at a critical point.
The priority for Irish forestry sector has to be to achieve the globally accepted standard model of sustainable forestry. That means an end to industrial plantations of monocultures designed for clear felling. The Environmental Pillar published a document titled ‘Greening Irish Forestry,’ which sets out a pathway to a sustainable forestry model .
- The Circular Economy Action Plan is a cornerstone of the European Green Deal and the Green Recovery envisioned by Europe. Now more than ever, the circular economy should provide the basis for the future of the Irish economy.
- By driving a circular transition in Ireland, the Government can mitigate climate change, save resources and avoid waste. It can also create jobs, support social enterprise and SMEs and provide affordable products and services to the Irish public.
- Additionally, it can ensure that the Irish economy becomes more resilient and less dependent on global resource flows, while promoting innovation and new ways of consuming and producing.
- Ireland’s Circular Economy Action Plan needs to go beyond the concept of effective waste management to support a holistic shift that promotes sustainable production and consumption and provides the basis for a robust and resilient Irish economy for the future.
- Such a Strategy needs to be cross-governmental and cross-sectoral, to realise the established societal, economic and environmental benefits being afforded to other EU-15 countries and numerous European cities and regions that have set clear actionable plans for their transition to a circular economy .
- The Department of Communication, Climate Action and Environment has already committed to producing a separate Circular Economy Strategy that goes beyond waste action. This commitment needs to be reaffirmed to avoid confusion and the distinction between the draft Waste Action Plan for the Circular Economy and the proposed all of government Circular Economy Plan made clear in the Programme for Government.
- To realise the opportunities of a Circular Economy, the new Government has recognised the need to provide a dedicated resource for the circular economy, committing to the creation of a Circular Economy Unit in Government to ensuring a whole-of-Government approach to the circular economy. This commitment is a welcome and necessary step towards circularity in line with other European countries .
- Under the new Programme for Government, Ireland can establish and commit to new ways of working, which prioritise reduction, reuse and recycling while also supporting local communities, which can benefit from the investment and opportunity in the months and years following the covid-19 pandemic.
 10-point Environmental Pillar Blueprint for Biodiversity Key Issues
- Increased funding through the carbon tax to support a Green New Deal for Ireland
- Increased support for agencies and NGOs working to protect our natural world
- Creation of a unified biodiversity and climate Department under one cabinet Minister
- Commitment to support marine and freshwater biodiversity
- Transform to a low-carbon public, active and vehicle-sharing transport model
- Kick-start a circular economy revolution in line with the European Green Deal
- Reform farming and forestry for close to nature management systems, biodiversity restoration and permanent native woodland creation
- Get tough on construction industry impact on the natural world
- Ensure wide access to justice right on environmental matters
- Ensure that our borderless biodiversity on the island of Ireland is Brexit-proofed
 EU-15 countries with CE strategies/action plans: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, United Kingdom; examples of cities and regions with CE strategies/action plans: Scotland, England, Amsterdam, Paris, London, Aragon, Extremadura, Catalonia, Flanders, Brussels, Wallonia, Finnish regions (Riihimaki, Vantaa, Porvo, Central Finland region, North Karelia, South Karelia, Southwest Finland, Paijat-Hame).
 Countries such as Finland, France and the Netherlands have anchored their future sustainable development in the switch to a circular economy, aiming to be leaders in circularity. This policy direction is not only based on the need to reduce waste and save resources but will also reduce the countries’ resource dependency, create new jobs (particularly for disadvantaged communities) and increase business competitiveness and innovation. Scotland, a frontrunner in the field of circular policy, has invested £18 million in funding for a more circular economy in small and medium enterprises alone.
Biodiversity: Oonagh Duggan, Birdwatch Ireland 086 889 3990
Circular Economy: Sarah Miller, the Rediscovery Centre 087 127 6098
Forestry: Andrew St. Ledger, CELT 087 933 3157