The Government must put its money where its mouth is in the upcoming 2022 National Budget in order to address our worsening climate and biodiversity crises.
This is the call from the Environmental Pillar, Ireland’s largest coalition of environmental groups, who have recommended a number of measures to confront these twin crises while improving the resiliency of our communities.
- Integrating sustainable development into the budgetary process
- Removing environmentally harmful subsidies
- Implementing an aggregates levy
- Expanding bike-to-work schemes
- Increasing funding for our National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS)
- Introducing a plan for basic income within the lifetime of this Government
All of these actions must be taken with the underpinning of a Just Transition, which guarantees that communities who are most impacted by the transition to a sustainable economy are centred and invested in every step of the way.
Our current framework for decision-making fails to include one of the most crucial elements of our planetary and collective health: our biodiversity.
We are entirely dependent on our natural world for our physical and mental well-being, however our National Budget continuously fails to reflect that reality.
This process needs to include all aspects of the environment, including biodiversity, which the Government itself acknowledged was in a state of crisis in 2019. 
Therefore, we are calling on the Government to launch a public consultation on Green Budgeting and reform of the budgetary process to promote and integrate sustainable development into decision-making.
Removing environmentally harmful subsidies
According to the latest CSO data, Ireland provides over €2 billion in fossil fuels subsidies a year as of 2018. Of that total figure, only a small fraction directly affects households. The vast majority are indirect subsidies, which apply to industry. 
We need to eliminate these subsidies as a matter of urgency. Doing so could bear sizeable climate benefits, as their removal could reduce economy-wide carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent by 2030 compared to a business-as-usual scenario. 
This damaging practice must be wound down completely over the next five years and we are asking the Government in our pre-budget submission to set out a timetable on how it plans to do so.
Implementing an aggregates levy
Promoting a circular economy could raise revenue and promote job creation, all the while reducing our emissions and pollution.
Bringing forward a levy on aggregates used in the construction industry such as gravel and stone would help discourage the use of virgin resources, encourage recycling of aggregates and boost the reuse of existing buildings.
We need to see the construction industry pivot to using material that is sustainable and appropriate when building much-needed homes in order to ensure people have high quality housing that also has the most minimal impact on our climate.
Expanding bike-to-work schemes
Between 1990 and 2019, greenhouse gas emissions from transport skyrocketed by 137 percent. The sector accounts for roughly a fifth of our national emissions, and we need to take concrete steps in reducing its impact. 
For both our climate and our health, we need to shift away from car-reliant modes of transport and encourage people to opt for transport that is active and public.
A key way of doing this is by expanding the bike-to-work scheme, namely by expanding the programme to cover electric bikes at a higher amount and to include second-hand bikes.
Increasing funding for the NPWS
Following the onset of the financial crisis in 2008, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) saw its current spending more than halved up until last year. 
Simply put, this is unacceptable and we’ve seen firsthand the devastating ramifications of underinvesting in nature protection this year with the fires that raged through Killarney National Park. 
The Environmental Pillar welcomed the increase for NPWS funding last year, however, the service is still down 38 percent compared to 2008 funding.
This budget must set out a plan to not only reinstate previous levels of funding for this vital body, but it must plan for future increases in line with our legal responsibility to protect nature.
Introducing basic income
It is well-documented that many of us are facing mounting economic pressure as individuals, as households, and as communities. The economy-wide transition we need to make over the coming years to a sustainable society must include an easing off of these challenges, and one of the best ways to do that is to introduce a basic income.
Introducing such a system would open up spaces for people to develop their creativity. It would foster new ways of thinking, entrepreneurial ideas and appropriate lifestyle changes.
It would also help phase-out the most environmentally and psychologically damaging elements of the current system and we are strongly encouraging the Government to make this a reality by the end of its lifetime.
Caroline Whyte, Environmental Pillar and Feasta spokesperson, said:
“Two years ago, the Government declared a joint climate and biodiversity emergency, making Ireland one of the first countries to do so.
“While recently introduced legislation is certainly a welcome first step to address the scale of these crises, we are still waiting for the Government to back what they have continuously referred to as the biggest challenge of our time with their wallet.
Pledges and commitments are all well and good, but they are merely words unless action and significant investment follows suit.
“The measures we have recommended are ones that have the potential to reduce emissions, protect our depleted biodiversity, better our quality of life and create jobs all at the same time.
“What we have put forward today is sensible, far-reaching policy and we urge the Government to consider them in this critical upcoming budget.”
Roger Warburton, Environmental Pillar and Rediscovery Centre spokesperson, said:
“One of the many structures we will need to rely on in addressing the climate and biodiversity crises is the circular economy, and we know that its benefits will reach far-beyond these issues.
We can adopt this model and see our quality of life improve alongside job creation. We can reduce waste and help bolster a Just Transition along the way.
While we welcome the commitments the Government has already made to a circular economy in the 2019 Climate Action Plan and the 2020 Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy, we need to see action and ambition in this realm scale up significantly.
This budget is the key opportunity to do so and we are calling on the Government to back the financial model of a sustainable future.”
Oonagh Duggan, Environmental Pillar and BirdWatch Ireland spokesperson, said:
“It is certainly not news to either the Environmental Pillar nor to our fellow concerned citizens that our Government has consistently under-invested in nature.
“The National Parks and Wildlife Service is a critical component in addressing our biodiversity crisis, and we need their funding to match the scope of their responsibility. While last year’s increase in their finances was a welcome development, it is nowhere near enough to restore our depleted biodiversity.
“This budget has to go much further than just restoring the NPWS’ funding. It must lay the groundwork for methodical financial increases for the organisation.
“Protecting nature is not only the morally right and sensible thing to do, it is also a legal requirement for us as members of the European Union.
We need to see the Government step up and act like it’s the biodiversity emergency they claim to see it as, and we will continue to put pressure on them until they meet this moment.”
Notes: “Ireland becomes second country to declare climate emergency”, RTE, 10 May 2019: https://bit.ly/3imu7Rg  “€2.4 billion in revenue forgone to fossil fuel subsidies”, Social Justice Ireland: https://bit.ly/3hh5i7Q  De Bruin, Monaghan and Yakut (2019) Impacts on lower income households can be tackled through the social welfare system  “Ireland’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions”, The Environmental Protection Agency: https://bit.ly/3ATiqsu  The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) suffered a serious decline in funding following the financial crisis, with an 83 percent reduction in capital spending and a 57 percent reduction in current spending between 2008 and 2020.  “Killarney National Park wildfire burns for third night”, RTE, 25 April 2021: https://bit.ly/39QWfYb
The full submission from the Environmental Pillar is available at: https://bit.ly/3FbJZA2