Ireland's Environment- A strategic asset to protect and manage for future generations

Date released: Jun 25 2012

  • Assessment shows Ireland’s environment is a key national asset.
  • A clean and vibrant environment is essential for our health and well-being.
  • Protecting the environment plays an essential role in protecting the health of the population. 
  • A protected and well-managed environment is essential for economic renewal.
  • Report highlights that Ireland’s environment is generally in good condition overall.
  • Formidable challenges to meet in coming years particularly the areas of water, climate change and nature protection.
  • New online tool also launched providing up to date information on the state of Ireland’s environment.

The Minister for the Environment, Community & Local Government, Mr Phil Hogan, T.D., today launched the EPA’s fifth ‘State of the Environment Report’, Ireland’s Environment 2012: An Assessment.  The ‘State of the Environment Report’, produced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) every four years, is the most comprehensive evidence-based assessment of the environment undertaken in Ireland. 

Drawing on data produced by the EPA and a range of other bodies, the Report collates in one document the state of all key aspects of Ireland’s environment. This includes climate change, air, water, waste, land and soil, nature and biodiversity.  It analyses the multiple pressures being placed on our environment, the way in which we are responding to current and emerging environmental issues, our progress against all key European targets, and the steps we need to take to protect this vital asset.   The 2012 Report includes, for the first time, a chapter on the link between environment and the health of the population and there is also an extended section on the link between the environment and our economy. 

“The EPA ‘State of the Environment Reports’ are important milestones for Ireland.  They provide a snapshot of our environment at a point in time as well as tracking trends and changes in the environment,” said Laura Burke, Director General of the EPA, speaking at the launch. 

Ireland’s Environment, An Assessment, 2012 shows that in some areas, such as waste management and air quality, we are generally doing well.  But it also shows that in other areas, such as nature protection, water quality and climate change we have major challenges to meet and critical decisions to take to protect this most precious resource.”

“A number of things stand out,” Ms Burke continued: “the growing body of tangible evidence that the quality of our environment impacts on our health and our wellbeing; and the equally compelling evidence that our future economic growth depends on the state of our environment.  This is not about putting one or the other first, our environment or our economy.  It is about making the right choices; it’s about recognising the imperative for each one of us – in our homes, in our businesses and at a policy level – to take every action we can to be more sustainable.”

The Report outlines four key challenges which we must meet as a country in the coming years to protect our environmental resource and to meet the challenges we face:

  1. Valuing and protecting our natural environment, in particular water and nature protection; 
  2. Building a resource-efficient, low-carbon economy;
  3. Implementing environmental legislation; and
  4. Putting the environment at the centre of our decision-making.

The last ‘State of the Environment Report’ was issued in 2008 at the end of Ireland’s economic boom period and that Report described our environment as ‘an asset under threat’.  One of the most significant factors affecting our environment in the interim has been economic recession.

“Our levels of emissions to air and our waste generation have paused due to recession, and in some cases they have reduced,” Ms Burke said.  “However, we cannot confuse a reduction brought about by recession with responsible management of the environment.  Ireland needs to ensure that future economic renewal and recovery is based firmly on the principles of sustainable development and that we decouple future economic growth from environmental pressures.”

The current ‘State of the Environment Report’ is being published at a time when the country is facing severe economic challenges and when public finances are under considerable pressure. 

Ms Burke concluded: “Ireland’s environment has an intrinsic value in its own right.  It is a precious national asset and an essential component of our health and well-being.  We must recognise that a protected and well-managed environment underpins the development of our key economic sectors such as tourism and agri-food which thrive on the clean, green image and reputation of Ireland.  Meeting the four challenges we have identified will ensure that Ireland’s natural resources will not be degraded or exhausted and that the environmental conditions are in place for a  successful economy and for the health and well-being of this and future generations.”

To complement this Report, the EPA has also developed a dedicated website which will provide the public and decision-makers with regularly updated information on key environmental indicators. This valuable resource will provide up-to-date information in a variety of formats including videos, dashboards, charts and graphs, environmental assessments, and links to other sources of information.  The Report and the new on-line resources are available on the EPA’s website. 

Further information: EPA Media Relations Office 053-9170770 (24 hours)

Notes to Editor

MAIN MESSAGES FROM THE FOUR MAIN CHALLENGES:

Challenge 1: Valuing and Protecting our Natural Environment

  • Ireland’s natural environment has an intrinsic worth and like any other resource requires protection and well-informed management to maximise benefits.
  • Clean air and safe water are some of our most basic human needs. 
  • Evidence suggests tangible health benefits associated with a clean environment.

Water 

  • In comparison to many other EU countries, Ireland has better the average water quality.
  1. 71% of river channel is at high or good status o 46.6% of lakes monitored are at high or good status
  2. 46% of transitional and coastal waters are at high or good status
  3. 85.6% of the area of groundwater aquifers is at good status.
  • Meeting the requirements of the Water Framework Directive is an important and difficult challenge for Ireland -  but one that will deliver many benefits.

Biodiversity

  • Progress has been made in the designation of EU-protected areas in Ireland, but the process is still incomplete.
  • In Ireland, only 7% of habitats and 39% of species that are listed under the EU Habitats Directive are considered to be in a favourable state.
  • Full implementation of the National Biodiversity Plan (2011– 2016) will help protection of biodiversity for future generations.

Air 

  • Air quality in Ireland is among the best in Europe, meeting all EU air quality standards in 2010.
  • Ireland faces future challenges to meet new air quality standards for particulate matter concentrations by 2020. 
  • Ireland has complied with the 2010 EU emission ceilings for sulphur dioxide, volatile organic compounds and ammonia. 
  • Ireland did not meet the prescribed 2010 ceiling for nitrogen oxides emissions due to sustained emissions from road transport.

Land and Soil

  • Despite rapid development in the past two decades, Ireland’s landscape is predominantly rural and agricultural.
  • Artificial surfaces (e.g. built-up areas, roads) account for 2% of the land surface, which is half the Europe-wide average.
  • Ireland’s soils are considered to be in good condition generally, however the information available on soil is currently not sufficient.
  • Ireland has fewer contaminated land problems than most other industrialised countries, but needs an overall policy framework for the identification, management and remediation of contaminated land in Ireland.

Challenge 2: Building a Resource-Efficient, Low-Carbon Economy

  • The severe economic downturn halted unsustainable growth patterns, and levels of emissions and waste generation have paused - and in some cases reduced.
  • Investment in resource efficiency - from waste prevention to renewable energy – will bring increased competitiveness and potentially new sources of growth.
  • In 2011, €3 million was invested in resource-efficiency projects as part of the EPA National Waste Prevention Programme, resulting in economic savings worth in excess of €12 million for the participant organisations.
  • Establishing a resource-efficient society is complex and involves changing production and consumption behaviours in our homes and in the workplace.

Waste

  • In 2010, municipal waste generated amounted to just over 2.85 million tonnes, a 16% reduction on the peak seen in 2007.
  • Household waste generated per person in Ireland in 2010 amounted to 368 kg which is considerably less than the EU average of 444 kg.
  • Ireland’s recycling rate in 2010 was 38%, close to the EU average of 42%.
  • Ireland has achieved its EU waste recycling and recovery targets for waste packaging; for waste electrical and electronic equipment; for household waste paper, metals, plastic and glass and for diversion of biodegradable waste from landfill. 
  • However, Ireland has failed to meet the EU re-use and recovery targets for end-of-life vehicles.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Climate Change

  • Ireland is on track to meet its Kyoto greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions target for the 2008–2012 period.
  • Ireland’s 2020 target for greenhouse gas emissions presents real challenges for the country.
  • The single largest contributors to overall GHG emissions in Ireland are Agriculture (30.5%) Energy (21.8%) and Transport (18.9%).
  •  Even under the most optimistic scenario, Ireland will exceed its annual limit in 2017 and exceed its EU 2020 target.
  • Ireland’s position within the EU as the country with the highest national proportion of agriculture emissions will present major challenges in limiting emissions and meeting future targets.
  • Ireland needs to reduce its dependence on imported fossil fuels, increase energy efficiency and increase the use of alternative energy sources (wind, biomass etc).

Challenge 3: Implementing Environmental Legislation

  • Ireland’s clean, green image provides benefits in terms of tourism and agri-food marketing.
  • It is critical that Ireland’s image is not undermined by perceived poor environmental performance.
  • It is important that Ireland complies with the international commitments and ensures that legislation is implemented in a timely and appropriate manner.
  •  Costs of inaction include fines, remediation costs to clean up avoidable environmental damage and a reputational cost.
  • In 2010 Ireland had 32 EU infringements proceedings against it. This has more than halved, with 14 cases open at the end of March 2012.
  •  Ireland faces formidable challenges in meeting international obligations in coming years.
  • Environmental regulators in Ireland are responsible for in excess of 500 environmental protection functions contained within over 100 pieces of legislation.
  • There is a continued need to have a strong culture of compliance with environmental legislation, so that those who flout the laws are made to pay for their actions.

 

Challenge 4: Putting the Environment at the Centre of Decision Making

  • The environment is a strategic and valuable asset for Ireland.
  • Economic growth, social cohesion and environmental protection go hand in hand.
  • The development of key economic sectors in Ireland, such as the agri-food and tourism industries, is strongly bound to the quality of our environment.
  • We can save future infrastructure and investment costs by incorporating environmental considerations into new policies and developments.
  • Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is a process for integrating environmental considerations into the preparation of  national and local plans and programmes.
  • A review of the effectiveness of SEA in 2011, showed that SEA is fulfilling its role and is providing a vital tool for environmental protection in Ireland.
  • There is a shared responsibility for all of society for achieving and maintaining a healthy environment. 
  • We need to mobilise each of the more than four and a half million people living in Ireland and ensure that the environment is placed at the heart of our decisions and actions.