The EPA’s 6th State of the Environment Report - a reality check?
An Taisce welcomes the EPA’s call for what it calls the “transformational change needed to deal with climate change and other risks to our health and natural environment”. We also welcome the EPA’s description of climate change as “the defining environmental issue of our times”
Speaking on behalf of An Taisce’s Climate Change Committee, John Gibbons stated “However, beyond the headlines, there is little evidence within the body of the EPA Report for specific, measurable actions in any way commensurate with the need to urgently implement ‘transformational change’ across all sectors of Irish society and economy”.
On climate change, on the one hand the EPA says: “Climate change is now with us, and the sooner we act, the less damage will be done to our society, economy and environment”, yet in the next breath, it repeats the government line that Ireland’s largest emitting sector – agriculture – should “approach carbon neutrality” at some vague future date, as long as “it does not compromise capacity for sustainable food production”.
Given that Ireland Inc. brands subsidised and emissions-intensive beef production, as well exporting baby milk powder to sell to Chinese mothers as “sustainable food production”, it is extremely disappointing to see the national agency charged with protecting our shared environment repeating agri-industrial talking points as a reason to exempt this entire sector from the same scrutiny demanded of every other sector in Ireland.
The EPA report notes that some 1,200 premature deaths per annum in Ireland occur as a result of poor air quality – traffic in urban areas, as well as “high dependence on coal, turf and wood for home heating” is contributing to this.
John Gibbons stated “Around 160 people die annually on our roads, and the government response to this unacceptable carnage is to invest in road safety, enforcement and public education. Yet eight times as many people die from poisoned air, yet our response to this crisis is to make it worse. First, we subsidise and encourage peat burning. Next, the ESB is now burning record amount of cheap imported coal for electricity production, while the same ESB refuses to pay small scale green energy producers a single cent for electricity exported to the national grid.”
In contrast, Climate Minister Denis Naughten recently announced new incentives for renewable heat and for solar. An aggressive national retrofitting programme would reduce our dependence on dirty, expensive and dangerous fossil fuels, both domestic and imported, while giving Irish people dry, warm homes and healthier air in their local vicinity. This would reduce pressure on our health system from the tens of thousands of people, especially the under-fives and elderly, most vulnerable to air pollution.
Diesel particulates have been identified as especially dangerous to human health, yet diesel is significantly cheaper at the pumps than petrol, and agricultural diesel is heavily subsidised.
John Gibbons continued “Genuine ‘transformational change’ demands that we rapidly phase out the most damaging practices and aggressively support, nurture and subsidise clean alternatives, yet there is little or nothing in current government policy to suggest this message has been received, let alone understood.”
Ireland’s biodiversity is in freefall. According to the EPA report, a staggeringly low 9% of habitats ‘considered threatened across Europe and protected by the Habitats Directive’ are in what the EPA calls ‘favourable status’. Similarly, only half of all threatened species in Ireland are in ‘favourable status’.
Strangely, the EPA report is silent on the single greatest driver of biodiversity loss in Ireland, namely agricultural expansion and intensification – both of which are official government policy via Food Harvest 2020 and Food Wise 2025.
An Taisce welcomes the EPA’s call for the ‘phasing out, by 2020, of environmentally harmful subsidies at a national level’. This means the €100+ annual PSO subsidies to keep three loss-making peat burning plants open must go within the next three years. Also, any and all local authority or state supports or subsidies for the Dublin Airport Authority’s planned North Runway should be eliminated, given the massive expansion in emissions-intensive aviation this development is facilitating.
John Gibbons concluded “This EPA report shows that there a critical steps the Government must take for Climate Change, Health, Transport and Biodiversity. This report should act as a reality check for the Government, but did the previous reports?”
John Gibbons, An Taisce Climate Change Committee. Tel: +353 87 233 2689
Charles Stanley-Smith, Communications, An Taisce. Tel: +353 87 241 1995
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland
Note  Carbon tax is currently €20/tonne, and raises €400m pa, a €10 rise would net an extra €200m pa. This would only add 3 cent/litre to petrol/diesel.
About An Taisce
An Taisce is a charity that works to preserve and protect Ireland's natural and built heritage. We are an independent charitable voice for the environment and for heritage issues. We are not a government body, semi-state or agency. Founded in 1948, we are one of Ireland’s oldest and largest environmental organisations.