"Ireland at a crossroads- our decisions today will have implications for decades to come," says EPA Director General

Date released: Sep 21 2016

‘Ireland at a crossroads – our decisions today will have implications for decades to come,’ says EPA Director General

  • We need transformational change in Ireland - we are particularly vulnerable to climate change
  • Ireland can become a leader in the transition to low carbon economy
  • State of environment, overall ‘good’ – but a qualified good
  • ‘Good’ national figures can mask problems at local level

Ireland has particular vulnerabilities to climate change and has a very strong stake in ensuring that global action on reducing carbon emissions is effective, according to Laura Burke, Director General of the EPA.  Speaking at the annual ‘Environment Ireland’ conference, she stressed the need for urgent transformation of our energy, transport and agriculture sectors.  She also highlighted the need to re-frame the discussion of de-carbonisation as a positive, not a negative. 

 “Ireland has a great deal to gain by becoming a leader in the move to a low-carbon and resource-efficient economy,’ she said.  “We can capitalise on our natural advantages.  And we can promote rapid decarbonisation by other countries.  This will help reduce the costs and the impacts of climate change.  But what is absolutely clear is that we are at a crossroads and the choices we make now will have implications for the future of humanity.”

The fossil age is over, she said, and we are all now aware of the consequences of our large-scale consumption of coal and gas and oil over the past two centuries.  All citizens now need to be positively engaged in the move to resource-efficiency, she added, changing the way we work, the way we travel, heat our homes, produce our food and use our purchasing power.

Flagging the upcoming State of the Environment Report to be released later this year, she said that the overall state of Ireland’s environment is good, but a highly qualified ‘good’.  To take one example, she said, overall water quality compares favourably with our European neighbours – but meanwhile we have seen a dramatic reduction in the number of our pristine waters over the past thirty years.  And the Agency was also acutely aware, she said, that high-level national figures can mask problems at local level.

“Air quality problems, water pollution, odour problems, noise problems – these tend to be localised, and can have a profound impact on the health and well-being of a local community – yet localised problems like this may not show up in an overall national figure.   We need to make the link between our environment and our health ever clearer.  And we need rapid, targeted action in the right places if we are to address problems like this effectively and efficiently.”

Stressing the positive health benefits that the environment brings, she pointed to one recent study that makes a stark connection between the environment and its impact on our happiness and health.

“There is now a growing body of scientific evidence that links exposre to nature to benefits in coping wth mental stress and fatigue.  It has been shown that just  getting out in nature – whether in a park, on a beach or walking on a road – can bring real benefits to our mental well-being.  One recent study in Toronto found that ‘having ten more trees in a city block, on average, improves health perception in ways comparable to an increase in personal income of $10,000 a year, or being seven years younger’.”

 She also addressed the need for urgent implementation of legislation, and ever more focussed enforcement activity. 

“Poor implementation of legislation is a problem with real consequences.  It generates regulatory uncertainty for industry and it can harm both the environment and human health.  We face EU complaints in relation to drinking water and urban waste water treatment.  This isn’t about Europe making unreasonable demands on Ireland.  It’s about making sure that, at a minimum, for example, the water we drink, or the water we swim in  will not make us sick.  That is why implementing legislation and directives is so important and not, as people might think, unnecessary bureaucracy.”

In conclusion, she said that we cannot take our environment for granted and all citizens need to engage actively with the move to a more resource-efficient way of living.

“The EPA is an Agency of 400 people – we cannot protect the environment on our own.  We are seeing signs of recovery in our economy and now more than ever, it is vital that the environment is centre stage in all decisions.  This is a shared responsibility and it involves each and every one of us. We can exercise this responsibility when we make choices about how we heat our homes; how we consume water and how we manage our wastes. Of course these factors apply in our workplaces, colleges, schools, communities and across government but they also very definitely apply in our homes and personal lives. “

Further information: Niamh Hatchell/ Emily Williamson, EPA Media Relations Office 053-9170770 (24 hours) or media@epa.ie