June 29, 2022

Climate Committee highlights the far-reaching consequences of Biodiversity Targets for Ireland

Dr Deirdre Lynn, scientific officer with the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS), informed the Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Action that Ireland must prioritise new targets on biodiversity and recognise the implications nature protection has on industries and Government.

All national, regional and global assessments have pointed toward a decline in biodiversity. Worldwide, we are continuing to degrade our natural resources by up to 19 trillion euros every year, according to NPWS. In response, the EU is introducing ambitious targets for its biodiversity strategy within the European green deal and is due to release legally binding restoration targets in its nature restoration law. This new policy will include actions across multiple industries, including agriculture, forestry and fisheries. The reality is we need to restore thousands of kilometres of terrestrial land, eliminate and reverse the decline of pollinators, decrease the use of harmful pesticides and restore freshwater habitats.

Targeted habitat, peatland restoration and enhanced protection of freshwater ecosystems in Ireland will be critical focus areas. The committee has explored Ireland’s response to biodiversity issues before next year’s COP15 global summit. Alan Farrell of Fine Gael has emphasised his concerns that local authorities in Ireland lack the resources to tackle biodiversity issues, particularly in river basin management. Farrell believes Ireland is dependent on volunteerism, which is a positive for the country but believes additional support and investment are required to manage and implement biodiversity strategies.

Dr Lynn explained that the NPWS was developing the capacity within local authorities to take more action on biodiversity issues. Dr Lynn also highlights that Ireland has the lowest cover of native woodlands in Europe, standing at just 2%, which also needs tackling.

With approximately 10% of spending on biodiversity by the NPWS and 78% by the Department of Agriculture, a result-based approach ensures money is invested in the right place and works, particularly supportive finance for the farming industry. Bog and peatland restoration in Ireland also requires solid plans to ensure any effort is reaping benefits for biodiversity. Industry leaders have highlighted that a shortage of eco-geologists is one barrier to progressing action plans in this area.

Richard Bruton of Fine Gael believes Ireland has the ambition but questions whether the country is equipped with the right policies to meet its targets, particularly for farmers and other landowners. Green Party TD Brian Leddin suggested the need to reassess long-term policies such as the Arterial Drainage Act, which currently restricts the ability of the land to retain water, leading to downstream flooding and impacting the biodiversity.

The climate, environmental and biodiversity challenges we face are significant, and the truth is we need to utilise every means possible to tackle these issues. The agricultural industry has a critical role to play in meeting the climate and biodiversity challenges by developing resilient farms for the future. Biodiversity protection has been moving in the wrong direction for many years, but farmers and landowners are in a position to influence this pattern and impact climate and biodiversity change.

The new agri-environment scheme within the next CAP, called the Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES), will follow that ambition. Mr Martin of Taiosearch recently spoke at Dublin Castle following approval of the scheme, explaining that farmers play a vital role in the future of Ireland’s biodiversity and water quality. Martin explained that farmers must stand at the core of national efforts to achieve our climate ambitions.

The Common Agricultural Policy is a vital tool which can support farmers through achieving an income while producing food in an environmentally sustainable way. Nearly 50,000 farmers will be supported through the scheme for the next five years, supporting climate, biodiversity and water quality improvements nationwide. Martin explains that the new plans provide the funding for real farming families in Ireland and show a clear commitment from the Irish Government to support this industry.