September 28th, 2017
The government is failing to protect Ireland’s natural heritage from the “imminent threats” posed by Brexit and Climate Change, Ireland’s leading environmental conference heard today.
Environmental Pillar coordinator Michale Ewing told the Environment Ireland conference in Croke Park today that Ireland must lobby for strong environmental protection in ongoing Brexit negotiations.
Speaking during a discussion on how Brexit may impact our environment, Mr Ewing stressed the crucial role played by cross-border cooperation in addressing biodiversity loss and climate change.
He emphasised the importance of maintaining common environmental standards across the entire island in order to avoid the emergence of a “hard environmental border”.
Mr Ewing’s comments come off the back of meetings with officials from the Article 50 Taskforce and the European Parliament’s Brexit Steering Committee in Brussels earlier this week.
The potential weakening of legislative protection in the North is “perhaps the single greatest environmental risk posed by Brexit”, Mr Ewing said, pointing to the 650 pieces of EU legislation that act as the principal drivers of environmental protection on the island of Ireland.
He added that “any future divergence or lowering of standards on either side of the border” will be “bad for the environment, bad for citizens, but also bad for business”.
It is estimated that Europe’s network of protected nature sites currently provides economic benefits of €200 to €300 billion per year.
Opening the conference, Environment and Climate Action Minister, Denis Naughten said that continued good relations between regulatory bodies north and south of the border will be important post-Brexit.
Also speaking at the event, Friend of the Earth Director, Oisin Coghlan said that the Government needs to “step up its game in tackling climate change”.
Mr Coghlan’s comments come just days before the kick-off of the Citizens’ Assembly on Climate Change, and he urged the Minister to listen closely to what our citizens have to say.
While acknowledging the Minister’s honest and accurate appraisal of the scale of the challenge we face, Mr Coghlan stressed that there has simply not been enough progress to reduce our emissions.
He pointed to the weakness of Ireland’s long-overdue National Mitigation Plan – “more action promise than action plan” – and the exclusion of rooftop solar from the new Renewable Electricity Support Scheme as examples of how the Government is “failing to go far enough to reduce Ireland’s climate-changing pollution”.
He asked that the Minister takes account of the recommendations from 51 environmental and civil society organizations outlined in a submission to the Citizens’ Assembly from the Pillar and Stop Climate Chaos.
Recommended actions include setting an end date for peat burning and coal-fired electricity generation, support for small-scale community renewable projects, and funding for deep retrofitting of Ireland’s housing stock.
“Ireland has been a laggard, not a leader for far too long as our political leaders have failed us on climate change,” Mr Coghlan said.
He added: “The bottom line is that this Cabinet is failing the fundamental test of setting out a clear plan to identify the emissions pathway we are on now and put concrete measures to reduce emissions in place.
“By implementing the policy ideas in our submission, the Government could bring the years of inaction to an end, move Ireland to the level of most of our EU partners, and take a leadership role in some areas.”