Environment to become central to policy development

Date released: Sep 07 2005

Ireland has one of the highest per capita rates of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions in the EU and is one of the furthest from meeting its Kyoto targets according to Dr Mary Kelly, Director General, EPA.  Appealing for the environment to be a primary factor in policy making across all aspects of the economy Dr Kelly said that “Ireland’s ‘environmental meter’ is already running with emissions trading expected to cost as much as €116m per annum”.  Dr Kelly was speaking at the first EPA sponsored Environment Ireland Conference in Jury’s Hotel, Ballsbridge.

In her opening address Dr Kelly said: “The two key environmental protection challenges in Ireland are to improve enforcement of environmental legislation and to better integrate environmental considerations into the policies, plans and actions of the economic sector”.  Dr Kelly said that whereas substantial progress had been achieved in environmental protection in Ireland over the past decade, much of this was ‘catching up’ activity, given a legacy of low investment.

“Environmental licensing in Ireland is now very well advanced and much of the EPA’s focus has shifted to enforcement.  Substantial enforcement and remediation costs that can run into millions of euro are an increasing deterrent to would-be polluters.  In addition, since January 2004, EPA has taken 27 successful prosecutions (17 in 2004 and 10 to date in 2005) with another 24 in the pipeline this year.  This includes four cases that have been sent to the DPP. 

“Within the broader enforcement network - co-ordinated by the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement - local authorities have carried out over 12,000 inspections, set up 377 check points and have taken 303 prosecutions under the Waste Management Act during 2004.  The Environmental Enforcement Network has also played a key role in stemming the flow of waste illegally to Northern Ireland as well as co-ordinating regional enforcement efforts including roadside inspections and raids on waste facilities and warehouses,” Dr Kelly added.

Climate Change

Under the Kyoto Agreement, Ireland has committed to limiting emissions growth to 13% above 1990 levels.  This can be achieved through an emissions reductions programme or by purchasing emissions allowances from countries that have successfully lowered emissions.  With carbon now trading at €20 per tonne under the pilot Emissions Trading Phase, the cost to Ireland could be as much as €116m per annum, with €74million of this coming from the public purse.  Irish emissions in 2003, were already 25 per cent above target levels, making it one of the highest per capita green house gas rates in the EU and one of the furthest from reaching its national Kyoto targets.

According to Dr Kelly: “Significant remedial actions are required under the National Climate Control Strategy to address GHG emissions in Ireland.  In addition, strict limits have been set for acidifying gases which arise mainly from power stations, road traffic, solvent use and agriculture (ammonia).  Fundamental changes, entailing substantial costs, are needed in these key sectors of the economy. Such changes require that the environment becomes central to all policy decisions and not simply a box to be ticked”. 

Water Quality

Eutrophication (over enrichment) of rivers, lakes and tidal waters continues to be the main threat to Ireland’s surface waters, with municipal discharges and agriculture being the key contributors.  Gains in water quality made in the late 1990’s have not been sustained. A key instrument in tackling this problem is the Water Framework Directive which requires the attainment of good quality in all waters by 2015.

Speaking at the Conference on Understanding the Water Framework, Dr Jim Bowman looked at the purpose of the Water Framework Directive in establishing a framework for the protection of rivers, lakes, estuaries, coastal waters and groundwater which will prevent further deterioration and protect and enhance the status of aquatic ecosystems and their dependant terrestrial ecosystems and wetlands.

Dr Jim Bowman said: “EU directives in the past have required the achievement of chemical standards in surface waters that were calculated to ensure that a healthy fauna and flora was sustained in our surface waters. The Water Framework Directive has now put the emphasis on clearly demonstrating the presence of healthy fauna and flora in our surface waters. The directive sets out an administrative and technical strategy and timetable for achieving its objectives by 2015.”

Waste Management

According to Dr Padraic Larkin, Deputy Director General, EPA, the cost of managing waste has risen by an average of 300 per cent per annum from just €10 per tonne in 1996 (when waste was simply dumped in a hole in the ground) to €240 per tonne in 2004.  The dramatic price shift resulted in a period of illegal dumping and cross border activity, which has now been contained, but requires costly remediation measures.

In the interim, waste management in Ireland has been transformed.  The number of landfills has reduced from over 100 unlined and unregulated dumps to 34 authorised municipal waste sites that operate to modern EU standards. Recycling has increased visibly with a 26% reduction in the proportion of waste being sent to landfill, though an on-going challenge exists as absolute quantities of waste continue to rise, up 10% in 2003.  In addition, the successful clamp down on large scale dumps has resulted in new threats including fly-tipping and backyard burning of rubbish which contributes over 50% of Ireland’s dioxin emissions.

Looking at future waste priorities, Dr Larkin said that: “Prevention will be the cornerstone of future waste management plans under the National Waste Prevention Programme. However, considerable challenges remain including a deficit of infrastructure and the requirement to de-couple waste production from economic growth. Regions facing the greatest challenges in the short term include Donegal and the South East where landfill capacity is expected to be exhausted within two and four years respectively”.