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Ireland’s Environment – An Assessment 2016



This is the sixth State of the Environment report published by

the EPA since its first such report in 1995, twenty one years

ago. These reports provide the national evidence base about the

condition of our natural environment and the challenges and

opportunities associated with its protection and management.

They chart both the successes and failures of national

environmental policy over these years and are a critical resource

for the State in planning for the next quarter of a century.

Ireland and the world are at a crossroads and the choices

we make over the coming decade will have implications

for the future of humanity for centuries to come. We are

fast approaching the end of the fossil age and we now

fully understand the consequences of the large-scale

consumption of fossil fuels over the past two centuries for

the future health and wellbeing of our planet.

We must now, with a far greater sense of urgency, make

the transition from a society and economy dependent

on fossil fuels and the wasteful consumption of natural

resources to one that uses renewable and clean energy

and one that takes much greater care of our precious and

non-renewable natural resources. Transformational change

is urgently needed across our entire economy and society,

change that will affect how we work, how we live, travel,

heat our homes, produce our food and use our purchasing

power as consumers and citizens.

We have nothing to fear though from these changes.

Ireland, in fact, has much to gain by becoming a leader

in this transition to a low carbon and resource efficient

economy and by making sure that this transition is

underpinned by a clean, healthy and well-protected


The overall quality of Ireland’s natural environment, the

subject of this report, is good in comparison with many

other countries and this gives Ireland a competitive economic

advantage which is of great value and needs to be protected.

As an island nation, Ireland also has particular

vulnerabilities to climate change and so has a strong

stake in ensuring that global action on reducing carbon

emissions is effective. Ireland now has a clear policy

direction and legislation for tackling climate change and

the key challenge is to convert this policy intent into

action to bring about a transformation in the most carbon

intensive sectors like energy, transport and agriculture.

The most pressing issue we face is to work out how we

de‑carbonise our economy. This will affect all parts of

society as we are all dependent on energy for almost

everything that we do, and as things stand, most of

that energy in Ireland is still generated from fossil fuels.

Full and urgent implementation of the White Paper on

Energy will be central to making progress, as will the full

implementation of a strong and ambitious set of climate

mitigation measures and adaptation plans, across all

sectors, as required under the Climate Action and Low

Carbon Development Act.

While the overall quality of Ireland’s natural environment

is “good”, I would qualify that “good”. Many of the

problems such as air quality, water pollution, odours and

noise in Ireland tend to be localised and these problems

can be masked by national level assessments. These

localised problems can have severe impacts on the health

and wellbeing of the people in affected communities and

on the quality of their local environment.

Making the link between environment and health is

therefore of critical importance in both understanding

and dealing with these problems and this is a key theme

of the report. Targeting actions in the right places is also

of critical importance if we are to address the problems

in both an effective and efficient manner. This applies, for

example, to problems with water and air quality which

tend to be localised in many cases.

We have in Europe and in Ireland a strong suite of laws for

protecting our natural environment. We have made progress

in several areas, including waste recycling, reduction in

landfilling of waste, bathing water protection, reductions

in transboundary pollutants and reducing emissions from

industrial facilities. However, we face particular challenges

in meeting our climate change commitments and in the

implementation of a number of Directives designed to

protect the environment, such as the Water Framework