All-of-Gov Climate Plan falls far short on biodiversity measures

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Plan fails to join dots and see biodiversity protection as a solution to the climate crisis 

The new All-of-Government climate plan falls flat on nature protection, insufficiently joining the dots between the biodiversity and climate emergencies facing us, Ireland’s largest environmental coalition said this morning.

The Environmental Pillar – a coalition of over 30 national environment groups – laments the general lack of clarity, ambition and urgency in the new Climate Action Plan to Tackle Climate Breakdown to also tackle biodiversity decline as a solution to the climate crisis.

For example, the forestry sector of the report is mostly aspirational with scant details on how we increase treecover in Ireland – a vital cog in trapping and storing CO2. The wording around forestry is also very vague, with no mention of the words native woodlands or native forests or even native species.

In addition, topline peat proposals such as Bord na Mona transitioning away from peat by 2028 is nothing new and it is also vague as to whether this is just for electricity generation or if the semi-state will still continue to harvest peat for horticulture.

Also, the Plan only confirms that it will restore or rewet all raised bogs that are currently in protected nature areas, and will only undertake further research – with no clear deadline – to assess the potential to sequester and store C02 through the management, restoration and rehabilitation of peatlands.

In addition, the Oireachtas recently passed legislation that would ultimately allow for the de-designation of peatland Natural Heritage Areas likely to facilitate further turf cutting.

In particular, the Pillar is highly critical of the exclusion of many of the nature-friendly recommendations from the landmark Joint Oireachtas Climate Action Committee report in the new Plan despite assurances that they would feed directly into Government policy.

Several key policy asks from the JOCCA are missing from the plan including:

  • A National Hedgerow Conservation Strategy – this is a missed opportunity to link biodiversity conservation and climate action. Instead, the Government proposes to commission a study by 2021 to quantify the climate mitigation and adaptation potential of hedgerows.
  • Prioritise a forestry model of native trees and biodiversity-rich woodlands in the right place, including riparian planting
  • Commission an independent review of Coillte to ensure that the commercial semi-state body manages its large public land bank in a climate resilient manner
  • Review the Forestry Act 1988 which established Coillte to ensure that policy is consistent with the objective of environmental, social and economic sustainability in this sector

If adopted by the Government, these recommendations could help clear the decks for the State to forge a climate action plan for the following decades that puts Ireland on track to do our fair share to meet our climate commitments.

The Pillar is adamant that protecting our biodiversity is the best foundation on which to lay the road-map for real and lasting leadership in tackling climate change. This requires concrete policy proposals, yet unfortunately, the plan is vague in terms of where nature fits in as a climate solution.

Environmental Pillar Spokesperson, Charles Stanley-Smith, said of the Plan and its biodiversity aspects:

“There is a clear and urgent need for a sense of direction and understanding as to how Ireland will take action to aggressively respond to the imminent threat of climate change in line with our Paris Agreement commitments.

“The Government has conceded that current policies and measures are not working and that we need a reset, clearing the decks for this all-of-Government plan and policy steps that recognise the vital role that a healthy environment can play in controlling our emissions. 

“While the Plan is strong on renewables and retrofitting schemes, new and vital biodiversity policy changes are not evident in the report that is vague and lacking urgency in this section.

“We would urge the Government to now take on a more progressive, real and lasting strategy to turn us from laggard to leader on biodiversity protection as part of its climate action policy, especially in light of Ireland’s failure to act to date.”

Environmental Pillar Spokesperson, Andrew St Ledger, said on forestry:

“While the report points to serious concerns regarding forestry planting rates in policy and the importance of tree cover in climate mitigation, it is entirely vague on what type of forestry model the State intends to push for in this regard.

“Will the Government focus on increasing plantations of alien conifers designed for clear fell? In this situation the current forestry model will not only be failing to mitigate against climate change, it may be making it worse.

“There is also no mention of a review of Coillte, who are in charge of the largest public land bank of seven per cent of the land mass and are not managing this land to ensure climate mitigation, resilience and ecosystem services to harness the full potential of the public forest resource for the public good.

“We hope that the vague language in the report will be followed by the Government taking up the Oireachtas Committee’s call and seek to see this large Coillte public land bank transitioning to mixed native woodlands and real forests that ensure sustainable management of this vital natural resource for long-term climate mitigation and adaptation.

“We need radical changes in the Forestry sector, including reform within the Forest Service that is too embedded in a timber Industry-led production policy. Instead, we urgently need to see a three strand Forestry Programme, targeting not just timber production, but also biodiversity conservation and enhancement and community native woodlands overseen by a new Forestry Task Force.”

ENDS

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