Ireland is facing formidable environmental challenges, particularly in relation to water, climate change and nature protection, concludes the latest country report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). That’s despite the environment being described as ‘generally in good condition overall’.
The impact of Ireland’s economic pressures on environmental issues also receives prominent mention in the EPA’s fifth ‘State of the Environment Report’, a comprehensive national assessment carried out every four years.
While the previous report in 2008 followed a period of economic boom, the new assessment, launched by Minister for the Environment, Phil Hogan, acknowledges that one of the most significant factors affecting the environment in recent times has been economic recession.
EPA’s Director General, Laura Burke, said however that while levels of emissions to air and waste generation have paused due to recession, even reducing in some cases, it was important not to confuse reductions brought about by recession with the responsible management of the environment.
“Ireland needs to ensure that future economic renewal and recovery is based firmly on the principles of sustainable development,” she said, “and that we decouple future economic growth from environmental pressures.”
Ms Burke added that in some areas, such as waste management and air quality, Ireland was generally doing well.
“In other areas, such as nature protection, water quality and climate change we have major challenges to meet and critical decisions to take,” she said.
The report lists four key challenges: valuing and protecting the natural environment, in particular water and nature protection; building a resource-efficient, low-carbon economy; implementing environmental legislation; and putting the environment at the centre of decision-making.
“Meeting these challenges will ensure that Ireland’s natural resources will not be degraded or exhausted and that the environmental conditions are in place for a successful economy and for the health and well-being of this and future generations,” said Ms Burke.
One of most ‘fundamental challenges’ identified by the report relates to greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and climate change where it’s said that Ireland is on track to meet its Kyoto emissions target for 2008-2012 but not the 2020 target. This is described as presenting ‘real challenges’ for the country as even under the most optimistic scenario, Ireland will exceed its annual limit in 2017 and exceed its EU 2020 target.