Irish climate progress is ‘significant’ but ‘too slow’, says Friends of the Earth

Friends of the Earth Ireland has today (13 September) published an independent expert assessment of the Republic of Ireland’s delivery of environmental and climate commitments.

Smoke emitting from a chimneyThe Irish Government has been awarded a C+, with the charity stating that ‘significant groundwork has been achieved’, but current progress is ‘too slow’ to meet targets. The assessment gave the Irish Government marks out of 10 on each of the following categories – Climate, Nature & Biodiversity, Transport, Waste, Air Quality, Water & Marine, Buildings, Energy, and Agriculture & Forestry.

The report, entitled ‘The Report Card 2021’, was carried out by three academics from University College Dublin, Dublin City University and University College Cork. The Irish Government was assessed in relation to its 2020 Programme for Government, with the academics using this information alongside their own knowledge of Government policy to score each of the nine categories.

The Irish Government scored highly in high-profile categories such as Climate Governance and Climate Funding, receiving an 8 for both subcategories. The panel found that climate law "delivered on the Government’s commitments to make provision for the enactment of ambitious 2030 and 2050 emissions targets and 5-year carbon budgets, in addition to enhancing the expertise and diversity of the Climate Change Advisory Council."

The highest score received was for Waste, which saw the panel award the Irish Government an 8.5, citing the Waste Action Plan for the Circular Economy and policies addressing single-use plastic as markers of ‘substantial progress’ towards waste commitments.

However, lower scores were awarded for areas such as Biodiversity, the panel finding that "Commitments to review the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) mandate and convene a Citizens’ Assembly on biodiversity are progressing too slowly, and the Government has thus far failed to address their commitments on hedgerows, invasive species and implementation of the National Biodiversity Action Plan", awarding the Irish Government a 4.5.

The lowest mark, a 4, was awarded in agriculture, an area of policy that is frequently controversial and contested. The panel found that "progress on the sustainability of Irish agriculture and forestry has been disappointing. Food Vision 2030 is incompatible with climate goals and emission reduction targets, perpetuates an agricultural model which is directly responsible for escalating nutrient pollution and locks Ireland into damaging water quality for the remainder of this Government.”

Oisín Coghlan, Director of Friends of the Earth, who commissioned the independent assessment, said: "I would sum up this assessment as ‘Something done, a lot more to do’. The Government has laid the foundations for better climate and environmental performance in a number of areas but the pace of change is still too slow.

"For me, the report highlights how essential it is that people and communities stay engaged in climate campaigning. Civil society pressure helped to secure the progressive commitments in the Programme for Government and only sustained engagement with our elected representatives will ensure they are delivered.

“As the Government moves from the planning to the implementation phase of climate action there will be ever more desperate calls from vocal lobby groups for special treatment, delays or exemptions. Only people power can counterbalance that and ensure Ireland does its fair share of climate action, that every sector pulls its weight and that the affected workers and communities get the support they need for the transition to a safer, cleaner, healthier future.”

Dr Cara Augustenborg, Environmental Policy Fellow at University College Dublin, one of the authors of the report, added: "While many of the Government's commitments are not yet visible in our everyday lives, environmental issues have clearly moved up the political agenda in the past year.

“Significant groundwork has been achieved to turn the Government's environment and climate commitments into action over the next 3-4 years, particularly in the areas of climate and waste. However, serious concerns remain regarding the Government's progress in addressing the biodiversity crisis, declining water quality, and the role of agriculture and forestry in these areas."