Ireland's environment has a bleak outlook, with biodiversity, air quality, and rivers among aspects under threat, unless dramatic shifts occur in policy, a major new report has warned.
In its four-year analysis of the state of the country’s environment, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did not pull its punches, saying “indicators are going in the wrong direction across many areas”.
In a blunt assessment of the nation’s environmental health, it said that while local and piecemeal initiatives were well-intentioned and robust, the lack of a comprehensive national strategy encompassing all areas was glaring.
The 460-page report by the agency’s leading scientists and researchers highlighted specific examples where Ireland is falling down, including:
- 90% of energy is generated from fossil fuels, giving rise to greenhouse gases;
- Air quality in some urban areas does not meet World Health Organisation standards;
- Nature and habitats are being damaged, with 85% of EU-listed habitats across the country in unfavourable condition;
- Wetland bird species, such as curlew, are under threat as a breeding species;
- Raw sewage is being discharged to water from 35 towns and villages, while pristine river water quality is down from over 500 areas in the 1980s to just 20 areas in 2020;
- Over 1m tonnes of food waste is generated each year in Ireland.
The lack of an overall national strategy means "the sum of the parts does not make up a coherent whole", said the EPA.
“The overall quality of Ireland’s environment is not what it should be, and the outlook is not optimistic unless we accelerate the implementation of solutions across all sectors and society,” said EPA director general Laura Burke.
The state of the environment report, completed every four years, said that Ireland has underachieved in curbing emissions and meeting stated targets.
It found that “the longer we delay, the more difficult it will become to turn things around to meet our obligations”.
The report said that nature and wild places are under "unprecedented pressure" and need better safeguarding locally and in protected areas.
While, overall, many of the national environmental indicators are going in the wrong direction, good actions were being taken at local level in many areas, it said.
Landfill operation has improved dramatically, industrial regulation is highly successful, environmental information is openly available to all, and the plastic bag levy has altered behaviours and reduced litter, said the agency.
It added that the integrity and monitoring of drinking water supplies have improved, national monitoring programmes for air and water have been greatly enhanced, conservation projects for habitats and endangered species are taking place, and Ireland is consistently among the top-performing EU states for reporting on environmental data.
Those measures now need to be acted upon and accelerated if the country is to change the course of its environmental destiny, said researchers.
Measures that need attention up to 2030 include “restoring the precious habitats and water bodies that we have lost”, leaving space for nature as part of a new approach to biodiversity protection, and designating more marine areas as protected.
The ramping up of cleaner fuels and energy for transport and heating homes will dramatically improve air quality, said the report.
"Ireland is already losing much of what is important in its environment," said director of the EPA’s office of environmental assessment Dr Micheál Lehane. "Unspoilt areas are being squeezed out and we are losing our pristine waters and the habitats that provide vital spaces for biodiversity."