An Taisce is one of two Environmental Pillar representatives who sit on the Biodiversity Forum. The Environmental Pillar is made up of 28 national environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who work together to represent the views of the Irish environmental sector. While An Taisce represents the Environmental Pillar within the Biodiversity Forum, this submission reflects the views of An Taisce alone. An Taisce has fed into the current draft of the National Biodiversity Action Plan 2017-2021 (NBAP) through our participation in the Biodiversity Forum and we have previously made a submission on an earlier draft of the NBAP. That submission and the previous draft of the NBAP are referred to in our submission.

It is clear from the NPWS’s Article 17 and Article 12 reports on the conservation status of Annexed habitats and species under the Habitats and Birds Directives respectively that current and future conservation threats and pressures on habitats and species are well known. The species which need prioritised action are also known. It is also clear, based on the terminal declines in the conservation status of many habitats and species over the last twenty years that if serious action is not taken immediately, there is no hope of saving many of our most cherished species from the abyss of extinction. Many of these issues are not unique to Ireland or even the EU. It is accepted that we are living through the Earth’s sixth mass extinction event and that this stark chapter in our planet’s history is being driven by human activities. The major pressures on biodiversity globally include: loss, degradation and fragmentation of natural habitats; over-exploitation of biological resources; pollution; the impacts of invasive alien species on ecosystems; and climate change and the acidification of the oceans. We know that in Ireland the main drivers of biodiversity loss are unsustainable land use change and unsustainable resource use. The main sectors driving these pressures are the agricultural sector, the forestry sector, mining including peat extraction, fisheries and aquaculture, and infrastructure. These sectors are regulated by the government, driven by government policy, subsidised by public money and in the case of Bord na Mona or Coillte state or semi-state owned. It is very clear that the government therefore has it within its power to make huge strides in tackling biodiversity loss over the next four years, if the political will to do so exists. This could be achieved by improving environmental regulation and enforcement. By ensuring that the most damaging sectors start operating in a sustainable way and that they are legally compliant with Irish and EU law. Government and sectoral policies and strategies must be reviewed and altered so that they are compatible with the cross-cutting challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change. Biodiversity loss is one of the most critical issues of our epoch. The response from our leaders must me commensurate with the scale of the challenge we face.

In the past, top down approaches to conservation have in many instances hindered progress and created distrust and resentment towards the NPWS and environmentalists. Communities must be educated about the importance of biodiversity and empowered to lead the way in its conservation. Bottom-up solutions are clearly the way forward but they are not strongly emphasised within the NBAP. Conservationists must work closer together in collaboration with each other and with the broader community. Agri-environmental schemes should be place-based, targeted, multi-annual and developed in collaboration with farmers and environmental experts. Structural supports for farming, such as decoupled area-based payments, have driven environmental degradation and failed to protected small and marginal farmers or prevent the ongoing collapse of many rural communities. We need rural development policies which offer more than socialism for the rich and free market economics for the poor. We need to reward the custodians of biodiversity and offer incentives which are consistent with the true services they provide. This means looking beyond the myopic lens of the volume of food produced and start looking at the quality of food produced, the added value, the ecosystem services supported and the true socio-economic benefits. The intangible benefits of biodiversity must be valued while at the same time we must not reduce them to commodities which can be dispensed with by the highest bidder.

The Polluter Pays Principle must be enforced. Our environment belongs to us all, to all living things and to future generations. No one should have the right to damage or degrade our shared birth right for their own short term benefit. Anyone who does damage the environment should have to pay to have it restored. Any industries which are externalising the true cost of their operations on the environment and society are not compatible with the indivisible reality that we live on a finite planet with a limited capacity to absorb our pollution and replenish its resources. Such industries must evolve to reflect this reality or be forced to go extinct and be replaced with systems which operate in a way which ensures that species have the right to exist and that the long-term interests of society are more important than the short-term interest of the few.

Please find 74 page submission attached. If you have any questions about the report or on the work that An Taisce advocacy do to protect our natural heritage please contact [email protected]

Download the submission here.