Sunday 4 January 2009

What are the hopes and fears for 2009 of leading environmentalists and conservationists?

Oisín Coghlan, director of Friends of the Earth

My biggest hope for 2009 is that Brian Cowen goes to the UN conference in Copenhagen joining other world leaders to sign an historic deal to prevent runaway climate change. To achieve that, the deal must see rich countries cutting their emissions by 40 per cent by 2020. At home I'm hoping the Oireachtas will pass a climate protection law.

My big fear is that our political leaders, preoccupied by the immediate economic challenges, delay or dilute action on climate change. Their response to the economic crisis must not tip us from climate crisis into climate crash. What we need is a "Green New Deal" with massive investment in green-collar jobs, green homes, green energy and green tech.

Michael Starrett, chief executive of the Heritage Council

My main fear for 2009 is the possible use of blunt instruments to resolve our economic woes. [That] would mean public and private investment in heritage, rather than seen as a vital element of our economic, social and environmental recovery, will be hacked off as a luxury.

My main hope is that we resolve the disconnect between economic development and the sustainable management of our vital heritage resources. To do that we need to improve the legal structures which conserve and manage our heritage and in doing so, safeguard it for future generations.

Eanna Ní Lamhna, president of An Taisce

My hope for 2009 is that Irish people will look at their own environment and ask themselves is this really what they want. Then, I hope that they make a connection [between that environment and] the powers of councillors in rezonings and country development plans and go out and vote for people who will act in the interest of the common good rather than the good of the individual.

My fear for 2009 is that people will not make the connection. Also, I hope that we have a normal year weather-wise that will suit our wildlife rather than an excessively wet summer which is so hard on swifts, swallows, butterflies and other insects.

Richard Douthwaite, Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability (Feasta)

Feasta's main fear is that, if a climate treaty is actually agreed in Copenhagen next December, it will be too weak to avert disaster because it will not lead to global emissions being cut by at least 3 per cent a year.

We hope 2009 is the year in which leaders accept that the growth economy cannot continue if conventional oil supplies cease to grow around 2020 as the International Energy Agency expects. They will need to plan completely different energy, food-supply, transport, money-creation and resource-allocation systems. As part of this, we hope the National Pension Reserve Fund begins to diversify out of assets which depend on the continuation of global economic growth, such as bonds and equities, into productive domestic ones such as renewable energy.

Dr Mary Kelly, director general of the Environmental Protection Agency

When we started work on the flagship report on the state of Ireland's environment published in the autumn, there was little indication that the world was facing an economic crisis on the scale witnessed in the past few months. Alongside this crisis, we still have to face up to and deal with climate change; our waters and habitats still need to be protected, and restored; all sectors of the economy still need to reduce their impact on the environment; and we still have to comply with the ever-growing number of environmental laws and agreements. These are all challenges that we must continue to face.

I am hopeful that we can meet these challenges by working to identify and overcome individual problems. It is encouraging that there are also many opportunities for Ireland to become a low-carbon, greener economy. Ireland's environment is a key strategic asset for the country and we must protect, manage and invest in it to secure a healthy society and a strong economy into the future.

Irish Times

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