In the EU, according to a five-year report produced by the European Environmental Agency, progress has been made, leaving the continent generally in as good a state as it has been since the Industrial Revolution.
However, lifestyles and economic systems need to make huge adjustments if we are to halt the kind of climate change that threatens populations, the report says.
It adds that Ireland takes too much for granted and the Government does not have an overall strategy.
Only a fraction of our protected native flora and fauna is likely to survive; organic food production is minuscule; half of all waste still goes to landfill; and not enough action is being taken against water polluters.
When it comes to switching over to renewable and cleaner energy, Ireland is again to be found near the bottom of the list. This compares to Norway which, despite producing much of Europe’s oil and gas, has the second-highest share of renewables in its fuel mix.
Some countries are just doing the bare minimum to meet their EU targets, while others, such as Denmark, Germany, and France, are co-ordinating their policies across a wide range of sectors, from building to transport, and setting targets for energy-intensive industries.
On Ireland, the report quotes the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA): “Renewable energy resources are abundantly available in Ireland. However, only a fraction of these resources have been tapped so far. They offer sustainable alternatives to our dependency on fossil fuels as well as a means of reducing harmful greenhouse emissions and opportunities to reduce our reliance on imported fuels.”
The experts looked at each country’s consumption of materials and found that, between 2000 and 2007, Ireland had the highest per person in the EU, and three times the average.
This was largely due to the building boom and our unique mono-agriculture system of beef and dairy, with the national herd emitting vast amounts of methane gas — a greenhouse gas.
The collapse of the housing market saw a reduction but the country is still number three at 77% above the EU average. The report warns Ireland will have to find ways to curb increases as construction resumes and the economy revives.
Irish people generated more waste than any other Europeans in 2007, but the economic crisis and improved waste management saw this drop by a quarter, leaving us the as the sixth-highest producers.
The country has slowly increased the amount of waste it recycles to just over a third, but in 2010, the latest year for which there are figures, just over half of waste ended up in landfill. This was down from 77% in 2001.
Some of the most stark figures are in the section looking at Ireland’s biodiversity — the range of wildlife species under threat of extinction.
As an island nation, we have have a smaller variety than many other countries but has smaller protected areas than most. About a quarter of protected habitats in the EU are listed as having a favourable status — but in Ireland this drops to just 7%, leaving the vast majority with a questionable future.
When it comes to listed species, a third are said by the IEPA to be in favourable state — less than the EU average of 40%.