Ireland is set to miss key targets in tackling waste, carbon dioxide emissions and water quality, the country’s environmental watchdog warned today.
Announcing its state of the environment report, Ireland’s Environment 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warned that greenhouse gas emissions will exceed the proposed 2020 target by seven million tonnes.
As the influential body issued its fourth state of the environment report, director general Mary Kelly said progress had been too slow to date.
“We are not making headway and we are not progressing at the rate we need to,” she said. “We have challenges on climate change, we have challenges on water quality and we have challenges on waste.”
“Climate change has been identified as the greatest challenge facing this generation and the EPA projections underline the difficulty in addressing this issue,” she said, urging Ireland to "rapidly" develop a greener economy.
The report said that major financial penalties will be incurred if the country fails to meet environmental protection obligations.
This would limit the State's ability to pay for environmental protection and other productive measures "and place Ireland in the undesirable position of being one of only a few EU countries penalised with environmental fines".
The EPA study has found that although the quality of Ireland’s environment is relatively good that there are some key environmental challenges facing Ireland due to the major economic, social and demographic changes that have occurred in recent years.
The agency called for the reversal of water pollution, remediation of contaminated land and protection of flora and fauna. The study found that 29 per cent of surveyed river channel has unsatisfactory water quality, for example, and that water quality in 15 per cent of lakes assessed is also unsatisfactory.
Ms Kelly called on Minister for the Environment John Gormley, who unveiled the report this morning, not to sideline important issues because of economic pressures.
“If we are to protect the important asset that is the Irish environment we must continue to invest in environmental infrastructure, despite economic slowdown.”
The EPA said massive investment in environmental research and technological development is required to understand and address the issues.
The Minister for the Environment welcomed the report’s finding that Ireland’s environment is of a high standard but noted that pressure on Ireland's environment has "markedly increased" as the economy has grown.
“My reading of this report card suggests to me a good student with many natural talents, but one who could do a lot better in certain areas,” Mr Gormley said.
“Our rivers, lakes and water sources are under more pressure than ever from pollution. Many of our natural habitats and species are in danger or in decline,” he noted.
“We have a sizeable legacy waste and legacy site issue, because in the past we did not clean up environmental contamination when we should have. We are producing more waste than ever despite the increases in recycling,” the Minister continued.
Mr Gormley identified limiting and adapting to climate change, complying with environmental legislation and agreements, reversing environmental degradation, and bringing environmental considerations in the mainstream as the main challenges facing the State in this area.
Responding to the report, Joanna Tuffy, Labour spokeswoman on the environment, said “concrete action” was needed to tackle the problems the State faced.
”Our emissions level for example, needs to be tackled as a matter of urgency, and to this end I believe that we need to establish a National Forum on Climate Change. In this way, everyone who has a stake in reducing our emissions can contribute to the solution.
"This is nothing less than an emergency. Ireland is not going to be able to deal with a challenge of this scale unless we are, as a society, working towards the same goal,” she added.
Ms Tuffy also called for “new and imaginative ways” to look at managing waste and creating a recycling industry.
Fine Gael’s environment spokesman, Phil Hogan, said the National Climate Change strategy should be binned and re-drafted in light of the latest report.
“The EPA report suggests to me that we have to start again. The figures produced in the report indicate that the environmental deterioration under Fianna Fáil in the last number of years is far worse than expected," said Mr Hogan.
Environmental charity Friends of the Earth said the report showed that Ireland now required a climate change law like the one that Britain is to adopt later this month.
Friends of the Earth director Oisin Coghlan said: "The Government has pledged to reduce Ireland's carbon footprint by 3 per cent a year. But this report shows our emissions spiralling further out of control unless the Government takes decisive action to turn the situation around."
"The Government has promised a carbon levy. Next week's Budget is the time to introduce it", Mr Coghlan continued.