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