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The Environment

Image of Killarney lakesOver three million holidaymakers visited Ireland in 2013 and the country’s reputation for clean, fresh air and lush green landscapes was one of the major attractions that brought them here.

In fact, a visitor attitudes survey carried out by Fáilte Ireland during the year found that 84% of respondents cited our natural, unspoilt environment as a very important reason for coming here.

That’s just one of the many reasons why caring for our natural resources and habitat needs to be one of Ireland’s most important on-going objectives, and it’s a top priority for the rest of the European Union too.

Protecting the environment for future generations is essential not just for Ireland, as pollution and climate change jeopardise the future of everybody on our planet.

We’ve made improvements in areas such as waste management and air quality, but there’s still a lot to do in terms of protecting nature, improving water quality and tackling climate change.

Being a part of the European Union will help us reach our goal of a better, smarter environment as EU policy is designed to ensure Member States act in unison to challenge the threats to our world and achieve sustainable growth in a low-carbon economy.

European environment policy will be guided up to 2020 by an Environment Action Programme called Living well, within the limits of our planet , which was agreed during the Irish Presidency of the Council of European Union in 2013.

Environment facts

  • Make up of greenhouse gas emissions in IrelandEmissions of greenhouse gases from Irish companies in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme in 2013 decreased by 7% overall compared to 2012. However, official estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency indicate that overall emissions of greenhouse gases in Ireland in 2012 increased by 1.4% (0.78 Mt CO2eq) compared to 2011, reversing a trend of decreasing emissions since 2006.
  • Ireland is signed up to the Kyoto Protocol that sets binding obligations on countries to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Under the protocol, Ireland's total emissions were limited to an average of 62.8 Mt CO2eq per annum in the period 2008-2012. By 2012 Ireland was 5.68 Mt CO2eq below the limit but when the impact of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and forest sinks is taken into account it was exceeded by 2.1 Mt CO2eq.
  • Emissions from energy (mostly electricity) increased in Ireland by 7.1% in 2012. This reflects a rise in the use of coal and peat in conventional fossil fuel fired power stations, by 27% and 16% respectively, and a corresponding decrease in natural gas use of 12%. Electricity generated from wind decreased by 8.4% between 2011 and 2012.
  • Greenhouse gas emissions from the residential sector were 5.9% lower in 2012 compared with 2011 levels. However, this reflects higher than average temperatures in 2012 with consequently lower heat demand from households.
  • Agriculture remains the single largest contributor to overall emissions from Ireland, at 31.9% of the total, followed by Energy (primarily power generation) and Transport at 21.9% and 18.6% respectively.
  • A total of 97% of designated bathing areas in Ireland met the minimum EU qualifying standard in 2013 with 84.4% classified as ‘good’. The quality will be measured under stricter EU standards outlined in a new Bathing Water Directive from 2014.
  • A total of 71% of river channels and 44.6% of lakes monitored in Ireland is at high or good status. However, similar to many other EU countries, Ireland still faces considerable challenges to meet the objectives of the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) within the required timeframes.
  • The main causes of poor water quality in Ireland are point source pollution, like pipe discharge into a river, and diffuse pollution, where contaminants like fertiliser or chemicals seep into water systems. Better use of the full range of legislative measures in an integrated way is also needed.
  • In Ireland, 82% of the population gets drinking water through 932 public supplies. The other 18% source drinking water from group water schemes, private supplies and wells. Since 2005, there has been a 92% reduction in reports of public water supplies exceeding E. coli levels. However, the country faces challenges in providing safe and secure drinking water including completing a number of major water supply projects and ensuring supplies are capable of delivering quality water during all weather conditions. In May 2014 Irish Water announced plans to invest €1.77 billion to deliver urgent improvements in water quality.
  • As a result of a European Court of Justice (ECJ) judgment following a case brought to it by the European Commission, Ireland introduced legislation to regulate wastewater discharges from all homes not connected to the public sewer network. The new law meant the registration of all on-site septic tank and domestic wastewater treatment systems to make them easier to inspect so that public health and the environment can be better protected.
  • Ireland is expected to achieve a 2013 EU Landfill Directive target of diverting biodegradable municipal waste from landfill when official data is released. However, meeting the 2016 target is at risk, particularly should economic recovery lead to increased generation. The number of landfills accepting municipal solid waste for disposal decreased from 19 in 2012 to 11 by the end of 2013.
  • Globally, wildlife species are currently being lost at up to 1,000 times faster than the natural rate, primarily as a result of human activities. It’s estimated that, in the EU, only 17% of habitats and 17% of species protected under the Habitats Directive are in a favourable state.
  • The most recent evidence available indicates that Ireland’s biodiversity capital is dwindling rapidly. The majority of Ireland’s habitats listed under the Habitats Directive are reported to be of poor or bad conservation status. Only 7% of listed habitats are considered to be in a favourable state. That’s 10% less than the EU average. Many of the listed habitats in Ireland are bogland, and much of it has been damaged by unregulated turf cutting.


EU Environmental Action Programme logoIreland recognises the need for environmental concerns be placed at the centre of all policy and decision making at national, regional and local levels.

In 2012 the Irish Government outlined the strategy in its framework for sustainable development , which sets out a long-term structure for advancing sustainable development and the green economy in Ireland.

But in order for it to be successful, our environmental policy and legislation need to continue to be driven by European and world developments as protecting our planet and building a better environment requires a coordinated, global approach.

The EU as a whole has its own framework - an Environmental Action Programme (EAP) - to ensure care of the environment is taken into consideration at every stage of all EU decision making.

The European Commission’s first EAP was introduced in 1973, the same year that Ireland became a Member State.

Over the decades there have been seven EAPs and the latest one - ‘Living well, within the limits of our planet’ - is now guiding environment policy in Europe up to 2020.

This policy is also an integral part of the Europe 2020 Strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.

The current EAP sets out a vision of where Europe could be by 2050 and, in order to get there, lists nine priority objectives and outlines what the EU needs to do to achieve them by 2020.

The EAP also identifies three priority areas where action is needed. These include ‘natural capital’ like fertile soil, clean seas and fresh water and the biodiversity that supports it and Member States are committed to speed up delivery of the objectives outlined in the 2020 Biodiversity Strategy.

More effort will also be channelled into transforming the EU into a resource-efficient, low-carbon economy through reducing waste, increasing recycling and meeting agreed climate and energy goals set out under the ‘20-20-20’ targets.

Tackling air and water pollution, excessive noise and toxic chemicals is also a priority area included in the current EAP, which ties in with the Sustainable Growth aspect of the Europe 2020 strategy for growth and job creation.

Ireland is currently lagging behind the EU average in the areas of climate change and energy, with the share of renewable energies at 7.2% of energy consumption, a 8.8 percentage point distance from the country’s Europe 2020 target of 16%.

The EU also has a strategy to stop the decline of endangered species and habitats by 2020. The centrepiece of this is Natura 2000, a network of 26,000 protected natural areas covering 18% of the EU’s land mass. Ireland has 583 protected sites, covering 13% of the total land mass.

There are concerns over Irish implementation of EU legislation that protects peat bog habitats included in Natura 2000. As well as being an endangered form of biodiversity, peat bogs are critical carbon stores and they provide important ecosystem services such as flood prevention.

The European Commission has asked Ireland to take urgent action to protect Irish peat bog habitats following reports from scientists warning that up to 35% of certain priority habitats have been destroyed since the Habitats Directive was introduced.

The Commission also believes bans on turf cutting in 56 active raised bogs introduced in 2010 and 2011 haven’t been met with an effective response and it remains a contentious issue in Ireland. 


Funding for EU Environmental policy implementation comes from the LIFE programme, Since 1992, LIFE has contributed approximately €3.1 billion to the protection of the environment throughout Europe.

A total of 55 projects have been co-financed in Ireland including 38 on environmental innovation and 17 on nature conservation.

These projects represent a total investment of €112.5 million, of which €48 million was contributed by the European Union.

The LIFE+ programme for 2014-2020 falls under the new LIFE Regulation for Environment and Climate Action . The programme has a total budget for the period of €3.4 billion in December 2013 prices, and has a sub-programme for environment and a sub-programme for climate action.

Boilerhouseproject, BallymunOne of the Irish projects that will benefit from LIFE funding is WISER LIFE run by The Rediscovery Centre Ltd in Ballymun, Dublin. The project was granted funding worth €3.6 million in 2014 to transform an unused boiler house in the area into an environmental centre that will demonstrate best practice in waste reuse and preparation for reuse.

Two projects in Munster were also granted funding worth €8.1 million in 2014 under the LIFE+ Nature category.

LIFE Kerry, run by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, aims to improve the conservation status of pearl mussels on the catchments of the Caragh and Blackwater rivers which form part of the Killarney National Park.

The Raptor LIFE project run by IRD Duhallow Ltd in Co Cork is working is to restore hen harrier populations and enhance habitats for a range of species in the area.

The LIFE+ Programme is run by the European Commission and applications for funding are made by submitting an online proposal. Potential applicants can contact the LIFE unit at the Department of the Environment at for advice and assistance in making an application.


Taking action

  • CLIMATE CHANGE: The National Climate Change Adaptation Framework published in December 2012 is the plan that will guide Ireland’s policy in regards to climate change into the future. The plan is designed to provide local agencies with analysis and tools to help cope with and reduce disruption from the impacts of climate change. New climate action and low-carbon development legislation is also planned and a report on Ireland’s climate change challenge has been published by the National Economic and Social Council Secretariat to the Department of Environment.
  • AIR QUALITY: Ambient air quality monitoring and assessment in Ireland is carried out in accordance with the requirements of EU Directives that set targets for a range of pollutants including sulphur, nitrogen, carbon monoxide and ozone. Ireland has banned bituminous (smoky) coal in all cities and major towns and aims to ban all sales by 2016.
  • WASTE: Ireland’s policy on waste management is based on EU rules and includes measures aimed at prevention, reuse, recycling and safe disposal. It’s designed to promote a recycling society, with a focus on resource efficiency and the virtual elimination of landfilling of municipal waste. Household waste collection is highlighted as crucial to achieving the overall policy objectives. Ireland has a poor record in waste management scoring just 19 out of 42 points in a European Commission report published in August 2012. In comparison, Austria and the Netherlands scored 39 points out of the 42. Ireland ranked 15 out of the 27 Member States. In 2013 Ireland introduced new regulations designed to promote the segregation and recovery of household food waste to help meet targets set out under an EU Directive designed to reduce the amount of landfill waste.  
  • WATER QUALITY: Water quality has been identified as being strategically important to Ireland’s economy, and it’s an area that needs to be improved on. Water resources need to be managed in a sustainable way and the Government is committed to taking a national approach to improve cost efficiency associated with water provision. The introduction of water metering and charges for domestic water users will play a role in achieving this goal. The average annual rate of freshwater use in the EU is between 50-100 cubic metres per capita. In Ireland, where use of water from the public supply is free, the average is 141 cubic metres. Local authorities are empowered under Irish legislation to prosecute for water pollution offences.
  • BIODIVERSITY: The majority of Ireland’s most important habitats are reported to be of poor or bad conservation status, including raised and blanket bogs, dune systems, oligotrophic lakes, fens and mires, natural grasslands and woodlands. Certain wildlife species, particularly of wetland and freshwater environments, such as the Atlantic salmon and freshwater pearl mussel are also threatened. There’s also evidence that some species of birds are undergoing significant declines. The National Biodiversity Plan 2011–2016 is the main vehicle through which Ireland tries to meet its international commitments.



Useful links

The EU Directorate-General for the Environment

Department of Environment, Community and Local Government

The Environmental Protection Agency

European Environment Agency

Last update: 17/06/2014  |Top