Ireland 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.