IRELAND WILL miss key targets for tackling waste, carbon dioxide emissions and water quality unless radical action is taken now, the director general of the Environmental Protection Agency Dr Mary Kelly warned yesterday.
Dr Kelly said under even the most favourable scenario Ireland's greenhouse gases would exceed targets for 2020 by seven million tonnes, resulting in the purchase of additional carbon credits and a substantial bill for taxpayers.
The analysis of likely future developments across all sectors of the economy suggested that pressure on environmental quality will continue to build over the next two decades.
Dr Kelly said it was vital that the State continue to invest to reverse areas of environmental degradation, despite the economic slowdown and budgetary pressure.
She called for more investment in research and development of new "green technologies", and use of resources in a more sustainable manner.
Presenting a copy of 2008 Ireland's Environment a four-year assessment of Ireland's environment to Minister for the Environment John Gormley yesterday, Dr Kelly said progress generally had been too slow.
Outlining the key issues confronting Ireland's future, she said current trends would see:
• Landfilling of biodegradable municipal waste diversion targets for 2016 exceeding its target level of 451 tonnes by 800,000 tonnes;
• The greenhouse gas emissions target of 38 million tonnes by 2020 being exceeded by 7 million tonnes, even at the most favourable scenario;
• Emissions of nitrogen oxides, currently well above the 2010 ceiling, remaining high, mainly due to emissions from cars.
Emissions above target would ultimately cost the State more in purchasing carbon credits under the European Emissions Trading Scheme, she said.
Dr Kelly said Ireland faced four significant challenges in the immediate future and these were limiting climate change, reversing environmental degradation, mainstreaming environmental considerations and complying with environmental legislation and agreements.
She said additional measures were needed to limit emissions from transport, energy and agriculture, while further action would have to be taken to limit and reverse damage to habitat, flora and fauna.
In addition, Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEAs) would have to be imposed on all major projects, while the State must comply with EU environmental legislation.
Accepting the report yesterday, Mr Gormley said it was clear there was a bleak future unless "additional measures" were implemented to bring Ireland on target.
In relation to the Budget, he said "mainstreaming environmental issues" was a key goal, and one which most members of the Cabinet had now accepted.
Mr Gormley said retrograde steps had been made in "tough budgets" in the past - such as the abolition of An Foras Forbartha, which he was thankful to note had subsequently been re-established - and he added there would be no such retrograde steps in the water services programme. "It is unacceptable that people don't have clean water."
The Minister also said he had made commitments on flood defences - particularly to the people of Carlow - and these would have to be honoured.
He also said public transport in Dublin was a key issue for the Green Party in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Asked whether the provision of the Luas and Metro systems was an issue akin to the retention of An Foras Forbartha, he replied: "Public transport is vital, I can't be clearer than that."
The Irish Times