Communities will be central to our response to climate disruption. The best environmental and social ideas inspiring change begin in the heart of communities. Policy measures, training and dialogue will be essential to bring communities along on the decarbonisation journey; you can also be a positive influence for a better future within your own community.
A JUST TRANSITION
While companies and agencies take steps towards decarbonisation and reducing their environmental impact, there is a real need to ensure that jobs and livelihoods are protected. Investing in a Just Transition means that the Government is committed to making changes while ensuring that no member of our society gets left behind.
Workers need to become resilient to shifting industry practices through appropriate up-skilling, re-skilling, and education. This is already happening all over Ireland. Farms are embracing technologies that use their waste to produce energy. The ESB are training more engineers and apprentices in the installation of electric vehicle charging points.
Progress and resilience is growing in light of policies and initiatives that are supporting citizens through the transition and transformational changes in our economy. Future Jobs Ireland is a new economic pathway that embraces innovation and technological change, improving productivity, increasing labour force participation, enhancing skills and developing talent to make the most of opportunities in the future economy. The framework provides a set of 26 ambitions across five pillars that will enhance the resilience of our economy and ensure we are well placed to exploit future economic opportunities.
The Government has commissioned the National Economic and Social Council to develop policy recommendations relating to "Transition Teams" that are already managing the impact of transition on groups being affected by changes.
The Expert Group on Future Skills is also assessing what kind of skills a low carbon society will require. Meanwhile, Government is focusing on areas where education, apprenticeships and professional development, via organisations such as SOLAS or Skillnet Ireland can enhance awareness, knowledge and skills relating to sustainability and the green economy.
Informing, engaging, motivating and empowering citizens to act are at the heart of a just transition to a low carbon future. It is important to address challenges while creating positive choices for communities.
The Government has committed to undertaking representative research to gauge the level of citizen support, discover the barriers to engagement and develop ways to overcome them. Utilising the current networks and clustering initiatives detailed here, the Government aims to empower and engage citizens through greater collaboration.
National Dialogue on Climate Action
The National Dialogue on Climate Action (NDCA) is a forum of collaboration between citizens, the Government and relevant agencies covering a range of climate related issues. A number of regional meetings have already taken place, where members of the public took part in climate-themed workshops and identified the climate concerns affecting their local areas.
Working groups then collaborated with facilitators to identify ways individuals and communities could come together to tackle these issues on a local level. Suggestions and recommendations for wider reaching policy measures and national actions were also produced and later presented to relevant departments.
The Government intends on utilising the NDCA as a vital tool for community engagement and action. Clustering programmes will be rolled out nationwide to deliver locally based climate action initiatives, all with the support of a centralised 'knowledge hub' that will provide resources like tool kits, templates for action and other materials and information.
This approach will harness existing networks and help build new ones, supporting better communication, more focused deliberation, and effective action. This model will be essential for dealing with the more difficult and contentious challenges associated with transformational change.
- EPA Climate Lecture Series
The Environmental Protection Agency's Climate Change Lecture Series has been running since 2007, bringing a range of Irish and international speakers to The Mansion House in Dublin to update Irish audiences on the science of climate change and possible responses to it. The free lectures, as part of the NDCA, cover a range of aspects including health, homes, human rights, policy and ecosystems.
Green Schools is an environmental education programme that encourages long-term positive environmental action. The aim is to increase student and participant awareness of environmental issues and to transfer this knowledge into positive action in the school and also in the wider community. Many students bring home the lessons they have learned, spreading positive action through their homes and local areas.
Participating schools work through themes in order to be awarded the 'Green Flag', a prominent and recognisable eco-label. In order to keep the flag, schools must prove they are maintaining the green standard every two years.
Green Schools is an international initiative that is operated and coordinated here by the Environmental Education Unit of An Taisce, in partnership with local authorities throughout the country. An enhanced Green Schools Climate Change Action and Awareness Programme will be added to provide new engagement opportunities with students and their communities.
The Citizens' Assembly
Climate change was one of five issues under examination by the Citizens' Assembly and the 13 recommendations agreed upon were significantly more radical than expected. The Citizens' Assembly identified a clear roadmap for climate action in Ireland and the follow-up Oireachtas report, adopted with cross-party consensus, has identified the policy tools and options which can be used to make progress. The Climate Action Plan will ensure that these recommendations are operationalised and supported.
The process employed by the Citizens' Assembly shows great potential for the National Dialogue on Climate Action to be developed as a new model of citizen engagement on climate change, with deliberation leading to action at its core.
Drawing on inspiration from the Citizens' Assembly, the report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee and the National Dialogue, a new and improved model of engagement will become the place for engaging more citizens and building community clusters.
Action Plan for Rural Development
The current Action Plan for Rural Development (2017 – 2020) is centred on building sustainable communities, supporting job growth, maximising tourism, culture and heritage assets, and improving connectivity of rural areas. It also covers the key contribution of rural communities to the NDCA with regards to our transition to an environmentally sustainable, climate resilient, low carbon economy.
To prepare for the next strategy (2021 onwards) the Government intends to consult with rural communities to gain wider perspectives on the challenges and opportunities of climate change in their areas. The new strategy will also ensure that the resilience of vulnerable communities to climate change will be an essential component in future policies on rural development.
Local Citizen Engagement
Citizens can have an active and influential voice in instigating change in their community – through Local Community Development Committees (LCDCs) or via Public Participation Networks (PPNs) - a network that allows local authorities to connect with community groups around the country. The PPN is the 'go to' for all local authorities who wish to benefit from community and voluntary expertise in their area. Community groups can register to join the PPN in their local authority area. PPNs give citizens a greater say in local Government decisions which affect their own communities.
We can move towards a more sustainable future when awareness turns into action. Individually, citizens can play their part through their homes, workplaces, their travel and consumer choices.
There are also many benefits to collective community action. Citizens coming together to tackle climate change can inspire others to get involved. Group influence can also drive real change on a regional and national level, adding to the success of environmental policies and initiatives all over the country.
Community Action takes a number of forms, from simple clean-ups to community energy schemes to adaptation measures. Climate action on a local and community level is happening nationwide; here's how you can get involved.
The national Tidy Towns initiative involves participating areas being rated on all aspects of their local environment including Community Involvement & Planning; Built Environment and Streetscape; Landscaping and Open Spaces; Wildlife, Habitats and Natural Amenities; Sustainable Waste and Resource Management; Tidiness and Litter Control; Residential Streets & Housing Areas; and Approach Roads, Streets & Lanes.
All over the country the efforts of hundreds of TidyTowns committees and tens of thousands of volunteers improve the environment in which we live, and contribute to making our communities better places to live, work and do business in. The competition has increased awareness of environmental damage, climate change, nature and biodiversity alongside traditional issues like litter, dumping and built environment.
The overall winner is given the title of 'Ireland's Tidiest Town' but there are other awards including the 'Climate Action and Clean Air' Tidy Towns Special Award sponsored by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. This award recognises the positive contribution local communities are making in raising awareness and taking positive actions in addressing climate change and improving air quality.
National Spring Clean
National Spring Clean is one of Ireland's most successful anti-litter initiatives. The campaign encourages local groups to organise and participate in clean ups in their areas every April, removing litter and waste from communal spaces.
Over the last 20 years, the initiative has grown from humble beginnings to become a month long event with over 500,000 participants. In the time it has been running, National Spring Clean has removed over 30,000 tonnes of rubbish from our communities through 70,000 clean up events.
In 2017 over 35% of materials and waste collected was recycled and this figure is improving every year.
National Spring Clean is operated by An Taisce in partnership with local Government and local authorities.
Neat Streets is an anti-litter and waste programme for secondary schools across Ireland. Each participating school sets up a committee which oversees the implementation of anti-litter policies.
Through Neat Streets, students across Ireland are coming up with creative ideas and taking original, innovative and effective actions to reduce litter and waste in their schools and communities; all while learning leadership, project management, citizenship and communication skills.
The final stage of Neat Streets is where the students can take what they have learned and bring it to the wider community, helping to educate and raise awareness about litter and waste. Parents are more likely to change behaviours if their children are invested and communities come together around motivated young people.
The Neat Streets programme is operated by An Taisce who provide ongoing support, grants, training and equipment.
An Taisce's Green Communities works to enhance local biodiversity and sustainability, supporting community groups by providing information, training and guidance.
The training events are based on environmental management topics and skills that are relevant to people living in Ireland. The programme not only provides training to launch and sustain community projects, but also the support required to empower community groups working to enhance their local environment.
Green Communities Groups have worked on:
- Developing community gardens to promote local food production and bring communities together
- Developing wildlife areas
- Regular clean ups and conservation work (e.g. Marram Grass planting)
- Sensitive clearance work (e.g. clearing a neglected area of land so that it provides a green space for people to enjoy and an enhanced habitat for wildlife)
- Erection and maintenance of bird, bat, hedgehog, owl boxes
- Management of invasive species such as Himalayan Balsam, Rhododendron, etc
The Green Communities has also brought individual groups together to create larger environmental networks. Allotments, residents associations, schools, charities, Tidy Towns groups, community groups tackling addiction and community groups providing horticultural therapy can all avail of this collaboration and improve their knowledge and expertise.
See It? Say It!
Local authorities rely on community support and collaboration to tackle illegal activity and environmental damage.
The Environmental Protection Agency has developed an app called See it? Say It! to help people report environmental pollution in their local areas. The app allows users to submit photographs and details about pollution incidents which are then forwarded to the relevant local authority. See it? Say It! records the GPS location of the incident too so inspectors can find it easily and investigate. The app works alongside the existing National Environmental Complaints Line - 1850 365 121.
You can report issues such as backyard burning, fly tipping, water pollution, odours, littering, dumping, graffiti and noise pollution. You can track your complaint on the Fix Your Street website and see the response and result of investigations here when they are published.
Green Your Festival is an initiative to improve the environmental performance of events, festivals and destinations. Local authorities participating in waste prevention initiatives are determined to make fun in Ireland more sustainable and have already helped many event organisers and destination managers to go green. While festivals provide great social, financial and cultural benefits, they can also have significant environmental impacts.
The experience and know-how provided on the Green Your Festival website is available for free and has been collected from event organisers that have successfully transitioned to a more sustainable way of having fun in partnership with the local authorities in their regions.
ENERGY IN THE COMMUNITY
As the Government invests in substantial new energy infrastructures to support widespread decarbonisation, it is vital that communities recognise the important role energy has to play in creating a sustainable future.
To ensure efficient delivery of renewable energy, large national projects need to be augmented by local action and communities can play a big part in bringing that about. Working alongside social enterprises and Government agencies, communities across Ireland can avail of existing supports that will be grown and developed under the Climate Action Plan to tackle climate breakdown.
Sustainable Energy Communities
The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) runs Sustainable Energy Community Partnerships throughout Ireland. Communities can sign up to a three year partnership where they will be supported and guided by the SEAI through planning for their energy future. A collaborative partnership approach is at the core of the programme, encouraging mutual understanding and development of services.
Throughout the duration of partnership the SEAI are on hand, providing a range of supports to help the SEC committee achieve energy efficiency measures. Besides funding and access to services, a technical panel of experts and consultants will also provide continued guidance and mentoring while the committee builds up skills and competencies relating to energy efficiency.
The Sustainable Energy Communities Network provides access to a wider group of towns and villages who are also working towards a sustainable energy future. Over 200 communities are currently using the network to share knowledge, advice, case studies and development tools with other communities who need them. Driven by collaboration, an SEC is able to connect sustainable energy with local economic development and public wellbeing.
The Climate Action Plan aims to expand the SEC Network to 1500 communities all over Ireland receiving support to plan for a sustainable energy future.
Social enterprises like the Tipperary Energy Agency, 3cea, Codema, and Cork City Energy Agency have been providing their communities with the necessary tools for transitioning to a sustainable energy future. Most of these organisations work with individual homeowners or businesses to help them reduce their energy use and bring sustainable practices to their daily lives. They also support the wider community by providing access to SEAI grants and funding so they can make vital improvements to their buildings.
Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS)
The Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) will provide financial incentives to new renewable electricity projects across Ireland. The RESS will be an auction based scheme where support will be provided to the most cost effective projects within a competitive framework.
The scheme will be funded by the Public Service Obligation (PSO) levy, and one of the key deliverables of RESS will be the development of a national enabling framework for citizen and community participation. The framework will provide supports and opportunities for citizens and communities to own; to participate in; and to benefit from Renewable Electricity projects in their area.
Citizen Science is research carried out by members of the public who volunteer to collect scientific data. This research often focuses on monitoring biodiversity, invasive species and our climate. Participating in citizen science can increase public engagement with and understanding of important environmental issues.
Although citizen science is a relatively new term, citizens have been participating in and contributing to scientific research for years. The widespread use of smartphones means that scientific data can now be very easily shared and mapped, resulting in a rapid increase in the number and type of citizen science research projects.
In Ireland the EPA includes citizen science in many of its initiatives and schemes such as the GLOBE Programme, the joint EPA/European Environment Agency Air Quality Project, the National Biodiversity Data Centre, the NUI Galway/EPA Air Quality Study (2017) and the Safecast Project.
Other citizen science initiatives that you can get involved in are Bat Conservation Ireland, Birdwatch Ireland, Clean Coasts, Coastwatch, Geological Survey Ireland, Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, the Irish Wildlife Trust and Trinity College Dublin or Irish Times studies.
The media plays a key role in promoting and developing citizen science and community engagement in the climate challenge. Content designed to educate and engage citizens in science is an essential outreach tool. RTE has a growing slate of programmes, many supported by agencies such as the EPA and SEAI, which deal with various aspects of climate change and resilience, energy efficiency, biodiversity and environmental issues. This year, in collaboration with Science Foundation Ireland, RTE will focus on the climate challenge as part of its schedule of programming for Science Week.
ADAPTATION AND RESILIENCE
Effective climate adaptation can minimise risks and costs, and also protect lives, homes and communities by building resilience into existing systems. This can ultimately help minimise the level of emergency response required in the face of severe weather events. Actions should be risk based and determined by existing vulnerabilities in individual communities with a view to protecting vulnerable areas from future damage due to projected climate change.
Examples of adaptation measures include building flood defences that account for the projected impacts of climate change, updating building standards and spatial planning regulations to reflect the changing climate, making infrastructure more climate resilient, developing and planting more drought-tolerant crops and choosing tree species and forestry practices less vulnerable to storms and fires prevention.
Climate Adaptation is a critical aspect of community engagement in climate action. Adaptation measures may often be region- and community-specific, and require close collaboration and coordination at local level.
Climate Action Regional Offices
Under the National Adaptation Framework, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment set up four Local Authority Climate Action Regional Offices (CAROs) in January 2018. The role of these offices is to support the preparation of local adaptation strategies - due to Government in late 2019 - and to drive climate action (adaptation and mitigation) at local authority level.
Community and voluntary stakeholders can also take advantage of the support of the regional CAROs with training and development available to help improve the resilience of their communities. The Government is working with the CAROs to identify the most vulnerable areas and population groups to ensure assistance and support is delivered where it is needed most.
A number of other resources are also in place to assist sectors and local authorities with adaptation planning. These include the online resource, Climate Ireland, Sectoral Guidelines for Planning for Climate Change Adaptation and Local Authority Climate Change Adaptation Strategy Development Guidelines.
Office of Emergency Planning
To help communities prepare for extreme weather events caused by climate change, the Government set up the Office of Emergency Planning to support the Minister of Defence in coordinating different departments. The Office of Emergency Planning website brings together all the current, up-to-date information on Ireland's planning, response and management with regard to a wide range of emergencies.
The Irish Meteorological Service is another great resource for communities in efforts to become more resilient to climate change. They have a dedicated climate section on their website, which is a useful tool for communities in relation to preparing for future weather events.