Ireland’s clean, fresh air and lush green landscapes attract millions of visitors every year and our natural, unspoilt environment is famous throughout the world.
Caring and protecting our natural resources and habitat is important, and not just for Ireland, as pollution and climate change jeopardises the future of everybody on our planet.
That’s why enabling EU citizens to live well, within our planet's ecological limits, is the primary objective of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Environment (DG Environment), which is responsible for EU policy in this area.
Being a part of the European Union means we can act in unison with other Member States to face the environmental challenges facing the world and achieve sustainable growth and job creation in a low-carbon economy.
A good example of this unity is the key role the European Union played in brokering a historic agreement at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 21, in Paris, where the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal was adopted.
As well as tackling climate change, improving water and air quality, reducing waste and increasing our recycling efforts the EU also needs to find new ways of securing affordable, climate-friendly energy for citizens and businesses.
For this reason, the Energy Union is now one of the main priorities of the European Commission and it will help protect Ireland and the rest of Europe from the threats of global warming and pollution.
The Environment Directorate General of the European Commission (DG Environment) is there to make sure Ireland and all Member States comply with EU legislation and polices that have been created to protect natural habitats, keep air and water clean and ensure proper waste disposal.
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.
- The clearest climate change trend in Ireland is evident in temperature records. Between 1890 and 2008 the increase in temperature was just 0.06º C per decade. The increase during the period 1980-2008 was equivalent to 0.14 C per decade.
- Six of the ten warmest years in Ireland have occurred since 1990.
- Ireland has experienced a reduction in the number of frost days and a shortening of frost season length.
- There has been an observed 0.85°C rise in Irish coastal sea waters since 1950. 2007 was the warmest year in Irish coastal records.
- Average Irish household energy consumption fell 32% between 1990 and 2013, helped by improved building energy regulations, energy ratings and better energy programmes.
- Ireland has legal obligations under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). The scheme requires governments to set emissions caps for various sectors.
- Ireland’s non-Emissions Trading Scheme sector annual emissions are projected to be 9-14 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. However, the target is 20 per cent below 2005 levels.
- Agriculture is the single largest contributor to the overall emissions in Ireland at 33.3% of the total. Transport and Energy are the second and third largest contributors at 19.5% and 19.1% respectively.
- Ireland’s agriculture emissions are projected to increase by 2% for the period 2013-2020.
- Transport emissions are projected to show strong growth over the period to 2020 with a 13-19 per cent increase on 2013 levels.
- Ireland had the third highest household electricity prices in the EU (€25.4 per 100kWh) in the second half of 2014. The EU average cost was €20.8. We were also in the top ten for household gas prices paying €7.5 per 100kWh, just above the EU average of €7.2 per 100kWh.
- Monitoring of public drinking water quality in Ireland shows that over 20,000 people on 20 public water supplies are affected by boil water notices. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) there were 121 supplies serving almost 940,000 people classed as ‘at risk’ at the beginning of 2015.
- As a result of a European Court of Justice (ECJ) judgment following a case brought to it by the European Commission, Ireland introduced legislation and a National Inspection Plan for septic tanks to regulate discharges from homes not connected to the public sewer network. However, a review of the first year of the plan found that almost half of household septic tanks failed inspection.
- During 2014 a total of 94% of designated bathing areas in Ireland met the minimum EU qualifying standard with 75% classified as ‘excellent’. The standards were increased that year under a new EU Bathing Water Directive.
- Figures from the EPA for 2013 show that Ireland is sending less residual waste (typically black bin waste) to landfill and more to energy recovery. The quantity of waste exported for use as a fuel increased by 197% between 2012 and 2013.
- A European Commission report published in May 2015 states that all of Ireland's wetlands have an unfavourable conservation status and are continuing to deteriorate.
- The EU Habitats Directive requires Ireland to provide an assessment of the status of our habitats and species every six years. The latest report from 2014 found many of our important habitats, such as peatlands, native woodlands and coastal habitats, are under continuing pressure.
- Of over 60 different species assessed in 2013 more than half (52%) were deemed ‘favourable, 20% as ‘inadequate’, 12% as ‘bad’ and 16% as ‘unknown’. The assessment report also found that bird species, such as the curlew and dunlin, are in major decline in Ireland.
Gas sold wholesale costs twice as much in Europe as it does in the United States and one of the main reasons is that the market on this side of the Atlantic is fragmented and not as secure as it needs to be.
We are losing our competitive edge in key energy technologies, wasting far too much gas and electricity and not co-ordinating efforts into securing supplies for the future.
The European Commission has taken a huge step forward to address these issues by creating an Energy Union to ensure a future where secure, affordable and climate-friendly energy is available for all citizens and businesses.
The Energy Union will allow Ireland and all Member States to develop a cohesive set of measures across policy areas at EU and national levels to meet Europe’s energy challenges and the global threat of climate change.
The Energy Union builds on the 2030 Framework for Climate and Energy policy, which is aimed at reducing greenhouse gases, and the European Energy Security Strategy, that’s designed to reduce our dependency on energy imports.
The EU imports 53% of the energy it consumes and one of the key ways to reduce this dependency is to build a fully integrated European energy market by exploring new, cleaner technologies, developing indigenous resources and improving infrastructure to access new sources of supply.
Plans to enhance Europe’s energy security are particularly important for poorly connected Member States like Ireland as our high dependency on imported oil and gas makes us particularly vulnerable to price and supply shocks.
Ireland’s future energy policies will tie in with Energy Union strategies and we’re already thinking ahead through measures like our membership of the North Seas Countries Offshore Grid Initiative and the creation of the all-Ireland Single Electricity Market (SEM).
As Ireland currently imports nearly all its gas from the UK, it’s important that new energy connections are developed to secure supplies and ensure this country is part of an integrated European energy market.
To help accelerate this process throughout the EU, the European Commission has drawn up a list of projects of common interest (PCIs) that will benefit from financial support totalling €5.35 billion up to 2020.
PCIs that will improve Ireland’s connectivity include a Celtic Interconnector between France (La Martyre) and Ireland (Knockraha, Co Cork) and at least one new energy interconnection to the UK.
The European Union has been at the forefront of global efforts to tackle climate change for more than two decades and has led by example through robust policy-making since 1991.
A comprehensive package of policy measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has been initiated through the European Climate Change Programme (ECCP) and Member States have put in place their own domestic actions.
Before the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 21, in Paris, the EU built a broad coalition of developed and developing countries in favour of ambitious action that helped shape a successful outcome to the talks.
The Paris climate change agreement saw world governments agree on ambition, commitment and solidarity to create a universal, legally binding global climate deal.
Governments agreed a long-term goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to aim to limit the increase to 1.5°C.
There was also a commitment from governments to come together every five years to set more ambitious targets as required by science. The EU, along with other developed countries, will continue to support climate action to reduce emissions and build resilience to climate change impacts in developing countries.
The European Union has made good progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) but Ireland is lagging behind most other Member States.
According to projections provided by Member States in 2015, emissions are estimated to be 24% lower in 2020 than they were in 1990.
The EU is on track towards meeting its Europe 2020 greenhouse gas reduction target but Ireland is one of four Member States failing to meet domestic goals in this area.
Ireland recognises the need for environmental concerns to be placed at the centre of all policy and decision making at national, regional and local levels.
However, our environmental policy and legislation needs to be driven by European and world developments as protecting our planet and building a better environment requires a coordinated, global approach.
The EU 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.
EU leaders have also agreed on a 2030 framework for climate and energy policies that aims to reduce greenhouse gas by 40% of 1990 levels and sets a target of at least 27% for renewable energy and energy savings by 2030.
The latest national projection for Ireland shows that emissions will increase here until 2020 due to an anticipated 19% increase in transport emissions between 2013 and 2020.
Emissions from agriculture are also expected to increase by 2% during this period of time. That means Ireland’s total emissions are projected to fall short of the 2020 target by 10 percentage points.
EU statistics show Ireland needs to increase its share of renewables in final energy consumption by eight percentage points to meet the country’s 2020 target of 16% and put us on track to reach the 2030 goal.
The EU is now committed to reducing its emissions to 80-95% below 1990 levels by 2050 and the European Commission has set out a ‘roadmap’ detailing how this can be achieved most cost-effectively.
The EU also plans to commit up to €14 billion in grants from the EU budget and the European Development Fund (EDF) over the years 2014-2020 to support climate action in partner countries outside the EU in line with the goal of investing at least 20% of the EU’s budget in climate-relevant actions during 2014-2020.
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 14% 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.
Ireland now has plans to restore some 685 hectares of raised bogs on 17 Coillte owned sites across seven counties as part of a major nature conservation project.
‘Demonstrating Best Practice in Raised Bog Restoration in Ireland’ will be jointly funded by the European Commission's Directorate General for the Environment, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Coillte under the EU LIFE-Nature Programme.
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 57 projects have been co-financed in Ireland including 38 on environmental innovation and 19 on nature conservation.
These projects represent a total investment of €124 million, of which €54 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 €3.5 billion and has sub-programmes for the environment and climate action.
For the period 2014-17 an indicative LIFE allocation is assigned to Ireland under the Environment Sub-programme. After 2017, selection of projects will be entirely merit based with Irish projects competing against applications from other EU member states.
The selection process for projects under the Climate Action Sub Programme is entirely merit-based.
Every year there’s a call for LIFE+ proposals under which successful projects can apply for funding under three headings; Nature and Biodiversity, Environment Policy and Governance and Information and Communication.
There are three ongoing LIFE+ Environment Policy and Governance projects currently taking place in Ireland. The DEPOTEC project is developing a process to transform waste tyres into substitute carbon filler materials for use in the production of rubber. The project, which started in September 2011 for a 51 month period, is being carried out by Erneside Engineering Ltd in Cork and it will run for 51 months in total.
The second GeoparkLIFE Project coordinated by Clare City Council aims to strengthen the integration of tourism and natural heritage over a 63 month-period. The project is also working towards the reconciliation of tourism development with the conservation of biodiversity in the Burren region.
The third Irish Environment Policy and Governance project benefitting 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.
There are six ongoing LIFE+ Nature projects in Ireland including two in Munster that were granted funding worth €8.1 million in 2014.
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 email the LIFE unit at the Department of the Environment at LIFE@environ.ie for advice and assistance in making an application.
- CLIMATE CHANGE: The Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill 2015 sets out Ireland’s objective of transitioning to a low carbon, climate resilient and environmentally sustainable economy in the period up to 2050. The bill calls for a National Mitigation Plan (NMP) to be published every five years to bring a clear focus to the challenges and opportunities of transitioning to a low carbon future. The NMP will also track climate action steps already underway and identify additional measures needed to ensure Ireland plays its part in contributing to both EU and global climate change objectives. Ireland’s first National Expert Advisory Council on Climate Change was appointed in 2015.
- 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. Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency also introduced an Air Quality Index for Health a web-based resource, calculated hourly, that shows air quality across Ireland and provides health advice.
- WASTE: Ireland’s policy on waste management is based on EU rules and includes measures aimed at prevention, reuse, recycling and safe disposal. It is designed to promote a recycling society, with a focus on resource efficiency and the virtual elimination of landfilling of municipal waste. Ireland’s waste management has improved dramatically since 1995 when 92% of our municipal waste went to landfill. By 2013 that figure had fallen to 42%, largely down to implementation of EU policy. However, that’s still above the EU landfill average of 31%. According to Eurostat figures, Ireland recycles 34% of municipal waste compared to an EU average of 28%. We also generate 586kg or waste per person, compared with an EU average of 481kg.
- 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 was 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. A 2014 report on the State of Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture in Ireland states that climate change is reported as a pressure on 10% of Irish habitats protected under the EU Habitats Directive, and there is evidence that it is already negatively impacting coastal habitats. The National Biodiversity Plan 2011–2016 is the main vehicle through which Ireland tries to meet its international commitments.